If you’re reading this I assume you are interested in 3D printing miniatures and/or Wargames Terrain. Below we are going to take a look at the best 3D printers for Miniatures & Models.
Before we begin properly, let’s get this out of the way. As of right now, it is simply not possible to replicate your favourite models. One, it’s highly illegal to steal other companies intellectual Property, and Two the print quality just isn’t there yet. But it is damn close if you’re willing to spend the money!
Don’t get me wrong, you can make incredibly high-quality prints. But if you’re looking at 3d printing a Space Marine or printing a Stormcast model you’ll be quite disappointed. Especially if you are hoping for something comparable to Resin Sculps. If that’s the case I’d either come back to 3D printing in a few years or just accept this and have a load of fun with the things you can do now.
Whilst whole models printed at 28mm isn’t quite at its pinnacle yet. Larger models and slightly lesser detailed models are still very achievable, even with the existing printers, people are improving on their model printing results every day.
The Best 3D Printers for Miniatures & Models – Summary
If you aren’t too bothered about the reasoning and just want to see the list, check out this quick summary below of the best 3D printers for Miniatures & Models.
|1||Anycubic Photon S|
|4||Creality Ender 3|
|5||Monoprice Select Mini v2|
|6||XYZ – DaVinci Mini|
Why 3D Print Minis?
There’s a lot of great reasons to use 3D printing in your miniature Hobby. You can print incredibly detailed models. Albeit not quite to the same quality level as the extruded plastic models you will get from retail. But still god enough to exist as parts of your armies. They’re great for making a great multitude of terrain pieces. But the best thing is making custom components and conversion parts for existing models. Think Weapons, Emblems and armour pieces.
If you want your models to stand out on the tabletop, as I’ve said many times. they just need to look that little bit different from the norm.
Another fun thing to do with 3D printers is making yourself some hobby tools or supporting components. You can make a brush or paint holders, storage for your models, water pots and mini holders. A fan favourite Miniature painter Garfy, who is very active in the community and has written a ton of incredible guides over on Tale of Painters (one of my personal favourite blogs) has even started up his own little business making some of the best Miniature handles you can buy.
Print Quality & types of 3D Printer.
It’s worth noting that there are 2 main types of 3d printer. One of them uses a plastic filament which is fed through a nozzle (or multiple nozzles) These are Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) printers. The other uses a bath of liquid resin which is hardened when light is focussed within it, commonly known as resin printers. Even within these 2 main categories, there are some further subcategories.
To understand print quality, you need to know how the printers work.
FDM printers have a reel of plastic wire called PolyLactic Acid (PLA) or Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene (ABS). The latter of which is generally stronger, but requires more head to become usable. They are types of thermoplastic which means they can be heated to a temperature which makes them act like a liquid.
An FDM printer will feed this reel of plastic wire into a nozzle which heats it to its reformable temperature. The plastic is extruded through the printer’s nozzle and the print head is moved around. The printer extrudes the plastic layers. Once a layer of a model is complete, the head moved up and prints the next layer.
The quality of these prints is based on many factors, the type of plastic used, the size of the nozzle, the minimum layer height you can achieve and your patience.
Resin Printers are quite a different beast altogether. Instead of a reel of plastic wire, you create a bath of liquid resin. the resin hardens when UltraViolet (UV) Light is directed at it. here’s where we have the subcategories.
StereoLithography Apparatus (SLA) technology uses UV lasers focused on particular points causing the resin to harden. Unlike FDM printers where the print head moves. with Resin printers, the light sits below the resin bath. The print base itself is raised upwards as the laser is focused. You’ll see many resin printers which actually print the models upside down.
Digital Light Processing (DLP) is identical in the way it works except instead of lasers this usees a screen or UV projection plate. this also prints in layers, however with SLA printers where the laser traces teh surface of each layer. DLP will actually print a whole layer at the same time. This makes them faster than SLA printers. But the quality of your print is limited by the resolution of the panel. unlike the ultrafine beam of a laser
The most noticeable impact on quality is with the individual layers of the model. If these are too thick, you will see ridges on teh individual layers which are printed. These are quite prominent on FDM printers and will show even after a model is primed. Ther are ways to smooth these out like manually sanding, which takes forever or using acetone vapour which smooths out the whole model, including any intentionally sharp edges.
With Resin printers, these layer ridges are almost non-existent, but they are still there.
Ease of Use
3D printing is as much a skill as it is a new technology. If you want to get the best out of any of these printers, it’s unlikely you will get those results out of the box. There are a lot of settings to understand for 3D printing which makes or breaks a quality model.
In a similar vein to 2D printers, there are various options to consider. When you get a 2D printer (it’s rather standardised now) you get the option to print in various qualities. Black & White or Colour? are you printing a document or a photograph? What quality do you want that photograph? All of these options can use more or less ink, print quicker or slower. Even the paper you use and the printers knowledge of that paper type can have a dramatic impact on quality.
It’s the same with 3D printing but more, much more. 3D printing doesn’t have many standards yet, it’s still in its infancy which should excite you with how far it can go. I was still using a Dot-Matrix printer ess than 20 years ago. (because my school was cheap). But this means you need to fine-tune many of the intricate settings to get the results you want.
In regard to quality, there are 2 primary considerations. nozzle width, laser beam width or UV projection panel resolution will control the level of detail on the X & Y axes. (left/ right and back & forth, like a 2D printer) the precision of how incremental the print head of build place can be moved on the Z-axis (up & down) will control your vertical quality.
If you’re getting into 3D printing, please understand that high-quality comes from time and understanding. Thankfully there are numerous resources out there and many people have already come up with some of the best settings you can use. A consideration we’ve taken when compiling the list below.
It’s not just 3D printing which has a large community, but each printer has its own sub-communities and miniature printing is a 3d printing sub-community in itself. So don’t worry, you’re not on your own in this and there are numerous resources which will accelerate your progress. With these guides, you will be printing good quality models very quickly.
The Best 3D Printers for Miniatures & Models
The below list focuses on Print Quality Order, but please note that this is based on the best possible quality which has been learned through trial and error using specific settings for each device. You are not likely to get the best possible print quality out of the box. Unless you want to pay for it.
With that in mind, expect the top half of this list to be FDM printers and the bottom half of the list to be Resin. Resin printers are currently unrivalled when it comes to print quality. Please bear in mind that people find new things out about these printers every day, so the best quality on one printer today can easily be trumped tomorrow.
This model exists on this list for one reason. It’s a cheap, (mostly) pre-built desktop printer. It is a low-resolution printer. It lacks onboard controls which means it requires tethering to a PC or Smartphone (although the latter has a limitation on what models can be printed). This model also requires you to buy XYZ’s own filament. A filament which is more expensive than generic filament. And their customer service has been rated as terrible.
It is cheap, easy to set-up and use, it’ comes in various colours. If you aren’t too bothered about print quality and just want something cheap to play with, it’s worth looking at, but if you spend just a little bit more you can get a much better printer.
Print area: 150mm x 150mm x 150mm (6″ x 6″ x 6″)
The Monoprice maker select is another low-budget FDM choice which is only slightly more expensive than the option above but is better in every way. With the exception of a smaller build plate. This printer is pretty sturdy and you can use any standard filament. You also have controls on the printer and can plug in an SD card with your 3D model files on it.
This printer is pretty much set-up out of the box. Whilst the print area is only 120mm³ this is still large enough for most miniature models and smaller pieces of terrain. The Monoprice Select also has numerous amazing communities which will help you get the best printing quality possible.
(Cheap) with ok quality, small build plate
Print area: 120mm x 120mm x 120mm
Creality is a very well known name amongst 3D printing brands. Again this is only a slight bump in price over the budget models above which still keeps this in the low budget category. The communities for this printer are huge and this is the first of the printers which can really provide some competitive print quality.
There’s more work to do with this printer as you need to assemble it yourself, although it’s not that difficult if you just follow the guide. but there are numerous video guides online too.
Beyond that you can even print out upgrades and mods for this printer, using the printer itself.
This printer has a generous print area which is perfect for larger models and terrain pieces. Once assembled you can print straight away, but for the best quality, you will have a lot of learning to do. Once you get your settings right you can make some incredibly high-quality prints
Print area: 220mm x 220mm x 250mm
One of the most popular printers, it features a very large build plate. and an active online community. This is one of the higher quality printers too. For the price, it really has a great balance of everything from quality to size.
You do still need to build most of this printer yourself but it’s only a 30-minute job. Making it a bit easier to assemble than the Ender 3. Like it’s little brother the Ender 3, you will need to do some tinkering with the settings to get the highest level of quality and no matter what you do it will still print with visible layers but you can minimise these down considerably. You can make incredible improvements to print quality with a smaller print nozzle.
Print area: 300mm x 300mm x 400mm
A further step up from this is the Creality CR10s, which is a bit more stable. it detects when you are out of filament and you can resume your print job halfway through, but these features are more useful for large prints where the filament volume is hard to gauge or prints which take days.
Print area: 300mm x 300mm x 400mm
If you are looking to print your own parts and miniatures, quality is paramount. Beyond the listed FDM printers above, there are other models with much better print quality. But these come at a price. Even the Creality CR10 is more expensive than the lower-priced resin printers, but the huge build volume it offers makes up the quality loss.
With Resin Printers, the quality is much greater. However, these printers and the models they create, require a higher level of care.
Resin prints are created by using UV light against a bath of resin. After each print, the resin bath must be emptied and thoroughly cleaned. the model needs to be rinsed of any liquid residue using alcohol and it also needs to be further cured in UV light (such as sunlight or a specialist light-oven). All this is before you start the clean up of supports.
Oh, and resin stinks and you need gloves to handle it because it’s toxic.
2. Elegoo Mars
The Elegoo Mars in agreat Entry level 3D printer, you will be hard-pressed to find any quality differences in your print between this and the model below. The main drawback is that it is not as widely available and therefore has a smaller printing community behind it.
The Elegoo Mars has a slightly taller build area, the build quality of the printer itself is a little more basic. Not bad in any way, just not quite as sturdy. The benefit of this, however, is you can easily remove the whole IR shroud and get access to all the printers components.
This is a DLP printer which means it cures the resin using an LED screen. Many believe this is the same component used in the Ancubic Photon S, although I havent found confirmation of this. Layer height is 30-60 microns. which is 0.5microns larger than the Anycubic Photon S. To put this into perspective the average human hair is 75microns in diameter.
Onestly if it comes to deciding which of these to get, it’s probably worth going with whichever is cheapest at the time.
This is another entry-level resin printer and it is loved. This is a DLP printer which means the UV light is projected on a screen below the resin bath. In regard to quality level, let’s look at the layer height. unlike extruded plastic, this printer has a resolution of 47 microns (0.047mm vs the 0.25mm of an FDM nozzle) a minimum layer height of 25 microns. That’s 3 times thinner than the average human hair!
This has the smallest maximum print volume of any printer on this list, but for miniatures, it’s more than enough. The unit comes pre-built so all you need to do is calibrate the print bead and print. this can be ready to go in less than 30 minutes out of the box. Don’t rush it though. you need to understand how to clean this printer before you begin. resin printers require care and attention.
Whilst this is has a smaller build volume, as Anycubic has been around longer. The community of support behind this printer is much larger. this is what just slightly tips the hat to the Anycubic getting that number 1 spot. But it’s by a split-hair margin (pun intended), either of these printers would give impressive results.
Nevertheless, at an affordable price, this is one of the best printers you can buy for miniatures. Beyond this, you are spending serious money!
The Best 3D Printer for Miniatures & Models – Final Thoughts
As I said at the top, 3D printing whole miniatures is not quite there yet. Although with the 25-micron layer height of the Anycubic Photon, you can get very close if you want to spend the money.
It’s important to decide what your budget is and how much effort you want to put in. With FDM printers the effort is put in upfront in practising to get the right settings for fine layers on your printer. you may think just print everything in the thinnest layer but the issue is that when you print the next layer, ambient heat will reactivate the layer beneath causing it to warp. FDM is bets for miniatures and terrain over anything else. It’s just about how much you are willing to spend.
With resin, you are looking at more clean up afterwards but this is the only way to get smooth quality prints. It has the added bonus of being a bit more plug and play too.
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