So again, in short: 3D printing is the act of making three-dimensional objects from digital files and it is a growing field. Its scope is expanding to the fields such as manufacturing, food industry, musical instruments, and body parts/prosthetics as well as designing intricate mechanical parts of planes, robots, etc.
The art of figurine creation has taken a new meaning with 3D miniature printing techniques, so today, I am going to write you a walkthrough/tutorial on the topic.
Miniature 3D printing.
3D printing has greatly revolutionized the field of miniature printing. Miniature creation has been a humongous task, with the miniaturists giving their sweat and blood in the process considering the lavish costs of such miniatures.
However, with the advent of 3D printing, miniature creation has become easier, quicker, and more sophisticated. Lately, miniaturists, art enthusiasts, and video gamers have resorted to DIY 3D printing techniques, which are more time-effective and cost-effective.
This article is going to offer a detailed overview of all you need to know about 3D miniature printing.
Materials used in 3D miniature printers.
There are several materials that are used for making 3D miniature objects. Following is a list of the most commonly used materials for 3D miniature printers:
- Nylon is a well-known material used in miniature printers. It is a synthetic thermoplastic linear polyamide and it provides durability, flexibility low friction, and corrosion resistance. When creating delicate and complex geometrics, it is very suited and it is mostly used as filament in FFS and FDM 3D printers. The costs are low and it’s the toughest material used in 3D printers.
- ABS is acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene, a thermoplastic commonly used as filament in 3D miniature printers. It is available in a variety of colors. It is cheap and accessible, mechanically strong with a large lifespan.
- Resin is one of the most used materials in the filament of 3D printers. Many types of resins such as castable, tough and flexible resins are used in printers. It is rigid and delicate, with low shrinkage and high chemical resistance. They are used in SLA, DLP, and CLIP technologies. You might want to take a look at this Youtube video to see how a resin printer works!
- PLA or Polylactic Acids are acquired from sugarcane or cornstarch, also called ‘green plastic’. They are compatible with FDM desktop printing. However, they are not very sturdy and may deform on exposure to heat.
- Other materials such as gold, stainless steel, titanium, ceramics, PET, are also used for making 3D objects. They have diverse qualities, which make them desirable to use in the printing field.
When you are done with choosing the suitable materials and printers for 3D miniature printing, the next important step is choosing a suitable design for your miniatures. There are countless options for designing your miniatures.
You can choose from infinite samples already present on the web market, or you can also create your own customized miniature designs. There is an online marketplace such as Shapeways, offering tutorials on how to create your own customized miniature designs.
Those miniaturists, who are not much into tech and software programs, have the option of using several online platforms available on the web, which can be amazing sources of 3D miniature designs. Following are the most commonly used platforms if you are looking for unique miniature printing designs:
These websites act as a source for miniature 3D printing design files and offer you to download and share an infinite number of designs of your taste. They also offer designs in different categories ranging from jewelry, dollhouses to more intricate engineering parts of planes, etc.
Assembling printed parts.
Assembling the printed parts of your miniatures is quite an easy but elaborate process. Certain things should be kept in mind while assembling the parts of miniatures:
- Model designs of your miniature should be designed in a way that could be broken down into smaller parts. It is also important to consider the expansion or contraction of materials used for designing the miniature parts.
- Printing your parts comes next. You need to take your files and slice them for your printer. You must keep in mind the orientation of a particular part to give it structural strength.
- Cleaning your print is of utmost importance. You need to remove the support and clean up the surfaces underneath.
- Assembling the parts is the next step. It depends on what you designed and the number of parts you broke it into. If the parts are designed to snap into each other, they should be fitted carefully. Parts that are designed for glue or epoxy should have properly cleaned bonding surfaces. Then, they should be glued and held into the position. Here’s a great video of the assembling process that I found on Youtube:
- Filling the gaps and layer lines is essential for giving your miniature a seamless look. There are a number of fillers available in the market. High-fill primers are good for covering small layers and gaps. Then use waterproof sandpaper in order to protect your print from warping.
- Prime your print to get a uniform base coat. It helps in highlighting the areas that still need some filling. Simple spray primers work fine for large items. Thinner primers work fine with small resin models. You have to repeat this step and then your model is ready to be painted.
Painting your models.
Painting your model is a very critical step because it gives the final look to your model and makes it attractive. There are some materials that are required to paint the models such as acrylic paints, paintbrushes of different sizes, a color palette for mixing the colors, water, and your 3D printed model for painting. Following are the steps:
- Smoothing the prints before painting:
Your 3D printed models need smoothing before you start to paint them. It gives a smooth surface to be polished. Some complex parts need support while smoothing them. The 3D prints have some lines and layers on them; these should be sanded out using sandpapers.
- Application of primer:
Primer paint prepares the surfaces for painting. The primers ensure the adhesion of paint on the surfaces, fill and cover gaps and layers.
You can apply one to five coats of primer, along vertical and horizontal planes depending on your requirements.
After the application of primer and in between, you need to dry the models properly, and then sand out the models further to smooth the surface for painting.
- Painting 3d prints:
These are the steps where your artistic capabilities are becoming visible. You can move away from the actual prototype of the model and add customized painting according to your preferences. Diluting the paint will be needed and then clean the brushes while shifting between different colors. You must not apply several layers of paint to small details.
- Start painting from the center towards the outer area of your print. You should start by painting the bright-colored parts and work your way to the darker-parts. . You need to use goggles and gloves while painting.
- Applying effects:
When the painting job is done, you can either leave it there or you can apply different effects such as opaque, silver, golden, worn out, or antique. Gold or silver effects can be achieved by spraying gold or silver paints; while antique or worn-out effects can be achieved by scraping off the paint from margins.
You can also experiment with airbrush technology. It involves the use of an air-operated tool that sprays the paint on the surface in multiple droplets. This is a popular technology among miniature enthusiasts as it allows you to apply finer coats on your 3D models.
The most striking feature of a 3D model is its third dimension, height. Top layers and layer heights are very important and should be carefully measured. Thinner layers give fine details.
You must start with a 0.01mm layer, increase the layers for the miniatures that show mobs such as armies, and then you can experiment with adaptive layers. Several top layers will be needed to give it a finer height and to avoid pillowing.
You must slowly navigate in the first layer, as the aspect of speed is very important to consider. Too much speed is sometimes dangerous; therefore, you should optimize your speed.
It is the last stage where the extra layer lines or striations are finally removed. Some refining is done during the painting stage while final refining is done in the end. This gives the final finishing look to your 3D miniature model by adding and subtracting certain materials to attain the desired surface finish.
There are different materials used to refine the surface of the printed object. It includes sandpapers, medium to extra fine sand sponges, Matte Acrylic Varnish, etc. After refining and smoothening the surface, XTC-3D is applied to the surface to give a smoother and printable layer.
Well, I think by now, with the means of three blog posts, that you get the idea of what 3D printing (miniatures) is all about. For tutorials of the software used, I would like to refer you to Google, at the moment, but I will surely review 3D printers in the future and do the research for you! (if you would like a specific 3D printer reviewed on my site, let me know and I will see what I can do!)
Do you have any questions or is there something that you would like to share with me? Then please leave a comment below or join me on my newest Facebook group (almost a 1000 people now in my group, we have a lot of fun!).
I wish you happy crafting!