It’s been a year or so since I last posted. I don’t need to go into what a mess 2020 was or make excuses. I just didn’t have it in me last year. I’ll do a recap article maybe, as I did paint and build from January to August, then a full-scale terrain project (my daughter’s bedroom) took the month of September. Once that was over, I was off game. And still haven’t really gotten back in. Sorta.
That jumps right into this article. I was having a brief conversation with Roger over at Rantings From Under the Wargames Table about shielding and lockdowns and all that. We briefly mentioned increases in model count beyond increases in painted model counts. In 2019 I was on a buying bender. In 2020 not so much. Purchasing at least. The model count increased dramatically in December 2020 and January and February 2021 due to additions to my hobby tools. What tools might increase model counts you might ask? 3d printers.
3d printers. The wave of tomorrow or just another hobby tool?
I had avoided purchasing a 3d printer for years. I read and heard about all the issues people had with them, and frankly, it scared me off. Bed leveling. Failed prints. Expensive consumables. Expensive printers. Maintenance. Lots of maintenance. And many other issues. I saw what people were printing, and lots of it was cool. In a lot of the filament prints however, the level lines were so evident that it would be of little use to me. I am not saying my terrain is Games Day or Historicon worthy stuff, but it doesn’t LOOK 3d printed. Resin printers seemed way out of my price range. So, I just waited.
Then, late 2019 and into 2020 I started seeing the progress that had been made in printers. Quality of the printers themselves had come up. Quality of the printing had skyrocketed. And best of all, prices had dropped dramatically. I started researching best printers, easiest to use, and most idiot-proof. I also started backing a number of Kickstarter campaigns for 3d files. I ended up with two for World War 2 buildings and scenery, one for modular sci-fi (aka 40K), another for modular fantasy terrain and one for hex terrain tiles (ala Mighty Empires from GW). I’ll list them at the end in case you are looking for a couple years’ worth of files to print! I actually don’t even know how many total files I have. Its in the high hundreds. Maybe even pushing 1,500. That is individual files. Walls, doors, floor tiles, an entire Type IV U-boat, cranes, Carentan buildings, space ships, hex tiles, figures, roof pieces, windows, and many, may others.
The research led me in two directions. Resin and FDM. I won’t get into the deep details of both since there are way better blogs and articles out there. The basics are fairly simple. Both build prints layer by layer. One layer at a time, the print is created from resin or plastic filament. Resin printers (the home ones) use DLP (Digital Light Processing) while commercial ones use SLA (Stereolithography) to cure a photoreactive liquid resin into whatever you are printing. SLP uses lasers and mirrors and are extremely expensive printers. The cheapest DLP printers use an LCD screen as a mask to control the light as it cures the resin. FDM (Fused Deposition Modeling) uses a roll of filament that passes through a hot end and is extruded as a melted plastic that cools nearly instantly.
As I researched and looked and dreamed, I realized I really need two printers. One of each type, Resin can produce incredibly detailed models, but is somewhat limited by size. And cost. The resin can cost $30-65 USD per 500ml (16.9 oz). Filament is as cheap as $15 a kilogram (2.2 pounds). Not that those numbers mean anything without context. I can print 16 hex tiles (approximately 3” across) with a half-liter of resin. I can print a 28mm U-boat (25 inches long), a two-story WW2 French building, half a mobile dock crane, an 8” diameter satellite dish and a dozen modular wall pieces (each one is approximately 3”x3”), plus five failed prints, and still have maybe 100 grams of filament left on the spool. I planned then to purchase a resin printer for detail parts (windows and doors and such) and a FDM printer for terrain pieces. I hadn’t really decided on a resin printer until I spent untold hours building windows for two big terrain builds. I was busy last year on two large terrain pieces for a planned Mordheim board and built 50+ individual windows for the two buildings. Each window is crafted from 9 pieces, 8 wood and a piece of wire sculptors’ mesh as the leading. It took so long and was such a pain that the resin printer bumped up in priority.
Luckily, I received a settlement check last year (work was ripping me off for years) that made the decision easy. Buy both! I had my heart set on a Creality CR-10s Pro v2, but the C-19 nonsense also saw prices soar for some 3d printers. And weirdly, plummet for others. The CR-10 went from around $450 USD to $675 USD. Much more than I wanted to spend. More research, and a pull towards Creality in general, led me to the Ender series. The Ender 3 got good reviews and had been upgraded to the v2. My partner at work had been egging me on for a while. He was always surprised that with my war gaming hobby I didn’t have a printer already. Around early December Anycubic had a sale, the check had deposited, and I was finally ready. I ordered an Anycubic Photon resin printer and a Creality Ender 3 v2. I was able to purchase both for under $500 USD. Crossed my fingers and should have started watching more YouTube videos on how to actually use them…
The Anycubic Photon arrived first. The Photon is a resin printer with a smallish build plate [115mm *65mm *155mm (4.52″*2.56″*6.1″)]. It’s a pretty compact machine. It doesn’t take up much space, but does have a little odor depending on the resin being used. The resin that I ordered with the printer didn’t arrive at the same time, so I jumped on Amazon and ordered a bottle of Anycubic Eco Resin. While I waited for the resin to arrive, I assembled the printer. Which mostly involved putting the resin vat in place and attaching the print bed. Then taking the resin vat out so I could level the print bed…
As a disclaimer, resin printing is more involved than using a filament printer. Resin prints need to be washed in alcohol, washed some more, dried, then cured under a UV light. Or sunlight. Which Michigan, USA in December does not have… Don’t forget gloves, goggles and a mask when you mess with the resin or fresh prints. Or gloves, my glasses and no mask if you are like me. Apparently, some resins are more toxic than others, so do your homework.
But wait… There’s more! After a printer is a set up, you need files. While waiting for resin to arrive I jumped on Thingiverse and found some suitable files to print. Thingiverse is an online depository of coolness. It is full of free, and also for purchase, files of nearly anything you can think of. I found files for sci-fi scatter terrain, a bicycle (my WW2 buildings need them as details), a 55-gal drum, 28mm wine cellar parts, a Razor Crest in a variety of scales, and a bunch more. I started down loading all those files I purchased through Kickstarter and ended up with so many files. I just checked. 34 gigs and around 3000 files. Not sure if that is counting the zipped files too, so it might be around half that number as I still have the zipped files stashed. Still, there are a lot of files.
Once you have files, you still need to “slice” them. Slicing involves using a slicer software to prepare a file for printing. Depending on your printer, you have a few options. I use Chitubox for my Photon as the Anycubic software would not run. I used the Creality software initially for the Ender, but have switched to Cura since it has better tools for adding supports. Slicers take a file created but someone (often in the .stl format) and slices it into the layers a printer will use to create the object. Each software has settings for your particular model, so it knows what the printer can do. The Photon can print layers as small as 25 ~ 100um, while the Ender 3 can print at a resolution of .1mm. The sliced file can then be loaded into the printer for printing.
Both the Photon and Ender 3 are stand-alone printers, and don’t need to be connected to a computer to function, The Photon uses a USB thumb drive for files, while the Ender 3 uses a micro-SD card. Once the media is inserted, there are visual menus to get to the files and choose print. There are more menus than that, but the rest are for set-up or fine-tuning the printers during print operations. Both printers have a small lcd screen and buttons (Photon) or a rotary/push knob (Ender) for maneuvering through menus. Pick a file, make sure the resin or filament is loaded, and push print. Then wait 45 minutes (window frames in resin) to 39 hours (WW2 French building in filament) for the print to finish.
Back to the Photon. Resin arrived, I filled the resin vat, closed the lid and pressed print. I was printing the cube test file that came on the thumb drive. Five hours later I took the build plate off and found… Nothing. There was no print. The aluminum build plate was bare of anything save a bit of liquid resin. I figured something went wring with the file, so like a noob, I picked a different file, pushed print, and wait 4-5 more hours. Nothing. Frustrated is not strong enough word for what I was feeling. Many hours of interwebs searching I and I thought maybe I hadn’t leveled the build plate properly. A bath in alcohol, a good clean and dry, and I pulled the resin tank out to re-level. When I did, I noticed something in the resin. Stuck to the film on the bottom of the vat. Oh, there is my print. Or a few layers at least of two prints. I filtered the resin (something I learned while searching for answers. Never put resin back in the bottle without filtering it through a paint strainer.) and cleaned the vat. And then tried to get the stuck prints off the film. A resin printer has a vat of resin at the bottom of the print area. It sits on top of the LCD screen in a Photon, this vat is actually a frame of milled aluminum with a clear plastic film on the bottom (held in place by a bunch of screws and two pieces of stainless steel). The UV light shines through the film to cure the resin as the print is created. This plastic film is clear and tough. But not as tough as my efforts to remove the failed prints. A week in, and my printer is down. Off to amazon for more FEP films. I’m ready to throw this printer in the trash at this point. I was seriously questioning my desire to own a resin printer, or my ability to use one. I went from super excited as I found files and sliced them for printing, to frustrated and dejected.
The new films arrived, I watched a video of Anycubic’s site on replacing the film, and went at it. It was a little tedious. The are A LOT of screws. But at the end it seemed like I did it right. I re-leveled the print bed again, re-installed the resin vat and tried again. While I was waiting for the new films, I was researching what might have happened. Somehow in my research and learning I missed that the initial layers in a resin print need to be cured much longer than the rest of the layers. 10-12 times as long was recommended. So, I changed the settings in Chitubox and set the printer at 80 seconds cure for the first 9 layers, and 8 seconds a layer for the rest. I pressed print on the new print. This time a model of BD-1 from the game Jedi: Fallen Order for my daughter. Five plus hours later I looked in, and there it was. My first successful print. I was excited beyond belief. The film replacement had worked. My tweaks to the file had worked. The supports Chitubox added seemed to work. Success!
It popped of the build plate easy enough, and into the alcohol. The print bed went into another alcohol bath also. Like a noob, again, I cleaned the bed meticulously after each print. Only to have it plunge straight in to the resin tat the start of the next print. Now I just wipe it off and make sure no cured resin is stuck to the plate.
Washed and dried, I carefully removed the supports and cleaned up the little droid before putting it under the UV light. Daughter was super happy. Now she wants a full-size BD-1. And found a set of files to print it in like 25 parts so it fits on smaller printers…
As soon as the print bed was clean, I was printing again. And again. And again. And again. I burned through $150 in resin in a matter of weeks. The printer basically ran 24 hours a day. I would schedule long prints for when I was at work, and the first thing I did when I got home was take the print off, and start another one. I found out Elegoo resin works just as good as Anycubic resin for about half the price. The Photon ran non-stop for at least 6 weeks. I printed everything I could think of, but mostly 100+ map tiles from the Hexton Hills Kickstarter from Graven Hills.
I love that printer. The detail is incredible. When I discovered I could print figures in 28mm scale, I was blown away. I found a multi-part 28mm villager model a guy was posting on Facebook for critique and had to print on. Wow. Once painted no one will be able to tell it from any other commercial model. Which led to some not-Bretonnian models from the Kingdom of Mercia Kickstarter. Resin printing is a bit of a pain, but the detail is incredible. I had planned to loan out the Photon once the Hexton Hills tiles, and a good supply of windows and doors, were printed. Now, I want another one.
I can print ships for Star Wars X-Wing, the game from Fantasy Flight Games (now produced by Atomic Mass Games). I can print detail parts for terrain builds. I can print torsos and legs to use up all the spare GW Empire State Troops weapon arms and heads I have stashed. I can print an entire army of incredibly detailed models. I can print anything that fits in the build area. It’s wild.
While I was basking in my resin print success, the Ender 3 showed up. Needless to say, my wife wasn’t excited. “Two printers? Why do you need TWO printers?” and the eye-roll when I tried to explain.
Opening that box was a bit of an “oh crap” moment. There we so many parts… And screws… And some of the crappiest instructions I’ve seen outside a retailer from Sweden. YouTube videos didn’t help. Either they went too fast and I had to keep rewinding the video, or too slow as they pointed out all the things I would defiantly want to upgrade right now while I build it versus later when it is harder to get at. No, I just want to build the stupid thing!
Five to six hours later I was done. I thought. I hoped. New printer meant new slicer software. New learning curve. I had to sort through the hundreds of files for the first print, and decided to try the cat sample file. Three or four hours later… Success!! It printed perfectly. I was so happy. All the horror stories of endless bed-leveling and failed prints and my first print was a success. FDM printers are far easier in post-production. Pop the print off the build plate, scrape any excess plastic off and wipe it down with alcohol. Start new print. By the way, the print area on the Ender 3 is 220x220x250mm (8.6×8.6×9.8 inches). Quite a jump form the Photon.
I settled on a Tudor wall section from the Clorehaven Kickstarter for #2. It would take about 4 hours to print and uses a mere 15g of filament. Easy print for a first. Perfect print. Go big, right? The next was a 36-hour, two-story WW2 French corner store. I went down to check on it many times as it printed. Astounded at the detail. When it was done, off the plate, and on to number 3. The Ender was going to run as hard as the Photon! I picked a big satellite dish from a the Warlayer 4.0 Kickstarter. Super cool, super detailed. When it was done, I found it had some errors in it. About half the support arms for the dish itself were little bird’s nests of filament. Total messes. 95% of the print was fine, and since it is for 40K and damage is part and par, the print is usable. The next print was a modular 40k wall from the same Kickstarter. It was fine when I went to work, but fell over about the ¾ mark and was another bird’s nest. That’s when I learned about brims for tall, narrow prints.
It ran like a champ until we got an intense cold snap. The temperature plummeted outside, which meant my basement did too. I was printing a dock crane for a WW2 port, and the parts were spread over six print jobs. The first went fine. Then the polar vortex arrived. The next print was a weird. It was soft. Sort of printed, sort of didn’t. I thought maybe the hot end had turned off or cooled too much, something wonky. A second try was the same. While searching for answers I found that PLA filament cannot be printed below 59 degrees F. I haven’t taken the temp down there, but I am guessing it is below that. The plastic cooled too fast to stick to the layer below. Since that, the Ender has been off for a couple weeks. I have an enclosed work bench drawn up, I just need a truck to run to the lumber yard for a dozen 2x4s, a couple sheets of plywood and a sheet of XPS foam to insulate it with. It will make venting easier, too, so it’s a good upgrade for my print area. I won’t lie, I am pretty excited to build something like this.
I was caught up with printing hex tiles, the Graven Guild released some new tiles. Which means the Photon is going be back at it as soon as I have time to build prints and get files sliced. And as soon as either the bench gets built, or spring arrives, the Ender will be busy also.
Thanks to Roger for inspiring this post. I was feeling guilty about not painting any figs in months when hit me that I had been busy, just in another part of the hobby.
3D printing. That’s where I have been the last couple months. There is a pretty steep learning curve to this hobby-within-a-hobby. Lots of research, reading, watching videos, and learning. It’s been a fun ride so far, and if I told you I had two more printers downstairs waiting to be setup would you be surprised?
Some teaser pics for the next post on terrain building.
The Kickstarter campaigns I backed:
Really informative post. Congrats on putting it together, nicely written indeed. By the time I get through all of my planned projects and lead mountain I’ll either be 100 or will have a replicator from Star Trek, so no printer for me!
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I was kinda waiting for a Replicator.
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But I gave up waiting and gave it a shot.
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Great to see a post from you Harry, you have been very productive with not only your daughters bedroom, but delving into the world of 3D printing as well.
Great insights into your purchase process and experiences with both printers
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Thanks Dave. Its been a dive, for sure. I really can see why people have ‘print farms’ at home. So many things to print!
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What a great post Harry, I know I said I needed things to read, but you didn’t have to write a book!!! 😁
3D printing seems to have taken America by storm, I know there are people over here doing it too, but it doesn’t seem as widespread over here yet.
Does it always print in that clear green colour?, as that throws up some interesting possibilities in its self.
Four printers! I can see a business in the offing here! 😉
Great to see you posting again, you have been missed (and nice work on your Daughter’s room by the way)
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Thanks Roger. Onve i started it just flowed. One of those posts.
I think part of it is that we tend to have extra space. The printers make noise, I forgot to mention that. The stepper motors that move the print bed on resin printers, or the print head on filament printers, or the fans, can be a little noisy. Or just annoying since they are repetitive for hours. Since many have basements, its a place to hide them away.
No, there are actually many colors of resin. The translucent green was the resin they discounted with the purchase of the printer. And yes, ive been thinking about things to print in that color. Mostly I print in black, since I’m printing terrain. Filament comes in an array of colors, from solids in nearly any color including glow-in-the-dark, to metallics and translucent. I’m printing gaming stuff. My nephew has a printer and uses colors to print decorative items like bases. Lots and lots of options.
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An interesting read, warts and all! 🙂 At the moment I know the best thing for me to do is NOT buy a 3-D printer, since once I had one I would not be able to resist printing stuff continuously! Now, if you could also get a 3-D painter to go with I’d be in!
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I know John! I need a team of painters!
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Thanks for this post, it’s really informative. I’ve been thinking about 3D printing since seeing some of the stuff on various Kickstarters and being blown away by them. They’re pretty much GW level sculpts in terms of detail.
I’ll have to look into it more seriously, although my girlfriend will probably murder me if I get a machine that will produce even more little toy soldiers…
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Glad you enjoyed it Mut. I still live with that fear, too. My wofe isn’t really a fan. “Machines that make more crap? Weekly packages weren’t enough? ”
The resolution is really astounding. More than I ever imagined.
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Very interesting post. I recently looked into the cost of both a 3D printer and a laser cutter, as I was curious as to how much these cost. Seems that for a decent machine of either type, you are looking at the same initial cost, but I was trying to work out whether the cost would be offset by the amout of use I’d get from it.
I decided that as my forte lies in sourcong cheap miniatures from the Internet and building cool things out of trash, I probably couldn’t justify to myself why I’d need one, so it was added to the “nice to have” list.
However, good to hear that you’re finding a decent use for it. You just need to show your partner how useful it could be to HER, and then she’ll be on board.
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Thats my plan for a laser cutter Jez! You figured out my plans for household dominance!
The printer is easier to source stuff to print. I think a cutter I’d have to learn CAD. I was just thinking how I wish I could create my own paint racks out of mdf. Do they have Maker Spaces in the UK? Its a workshop full of tools like cutters and CNC machines amd maybe even 3d printers you can get trained on then rent time to use. There is one close enough that I am thinking about using to make a paint rack. If it works, that woukd save the cost and space of a laser cutter.
A few comments if I may. I only use a resin printer. I also only use water washable resins. That means only tap water goes into my Cure and Wash, no gloves are needed (just wash your hands), no EPA or other toxic cleaners are needed, and there is (almost) no smell. The last few resins I bought are from Eryone and are plant based. They work great. My biggest hurdle when I started about 2 years ago, was a defective Photon S that refused to work properly from the get go. That was frustrating. Switched to an Elegoo 2 Pro Mono and never looked back. My misprints can be counted on 1 finger out many dozens of prints. I would also recommend only buying Mono screen printers if you are in the market.
Interesting comments. I haven’t tried water washable resins. What do you print? I have switched to Elegoo resins. Better, a slightly rubbery versus brittle when cured, and much cheaper. No fancy wash and cure on my bench. Haven’t even looked at them yet.
What do you mean by Mono screen printers? Some of the terminology is still foreign to me.