Monday, February 6, 2017

Adventures in 3D Printing

This is a bit of a retroreview of my initial (and only so far!) foray into 3D printing from about 5 years ago.  After playing through the first two Mass Effect games, I was thoroughly captivated by the universe they created and wanted it to cross over a bit into my tabletop gaming hobby (both minis and RPGs).   The Krogans interested me most (although the Turians weren't far behind!) and I decided to dip my toes into the new waters of 3D model design and printing.  Not being a 3D artist myself, I decided to instead make a "conversion" of my favorite existing Krogan in game model, the Krogan Blood Pact Warlord Garm.  I downloaded the 30 day trial version of 3dsmax and combed various forums and website devoted to pc game modding in order to figure out how to import and then alter the models to my tastes.  Here is the original inspiration for my model (additionally GIMP'ed by myself to incorporate the weapon I added on the model):

It took me a few weeks of hobby free time but eventually I learned how to pose the model to an acceptable degree (it started in the Da Vinci "anatomical" pose), hollow it out to save on 3D printing costs, exaggerate the features for 3D printing's resolution, and most importantly "fix" the model for 3D printing.   I was both playing in and running RPG campaigns at the time using 25-28mm miniatures so I decided to scale the Krogan to match the existing line of Star Wars prepainted miniatures we were using for one of the campaigns.  The alternative, matching a space marine terminator, for the other campaign was cost prohibitive as well especially for a project that I considered a hobby gamble like 3D printing.  That was a few years ago but the reason I'm bringing it up now again is because I converted the miniature further this past week (along with another five year old unfinished 40k conversion!) and realized that it might make an interesting blog post.  Here are the results of printing the model at FUD (frosted ultra detail) on shapeways at the cost at the time of $26 including shipping (minus the left hand that I just converted from a normal fist).

 First, the good news... it worked and I had a 25mm Krogan model!  The bad news was that, even at the then max quality of FUD, I wasn't quite happy with the detail.  The face especially had alot more detail than the resolution of the printing supported and all I could do was put down a primer, thin base color coat, and some thin washes to not obliterate the shallow detail.  I had anticipated that it might be an issue due to my research and had even already "thickened" into acromegalic proportions the face of the 3D model.  Additionally, Shapeways unfortunately printed it "sideways" in the vat leading to half the model having a coarse sandpaper surface texture due to a known side effect of their 3d printing method.   Sadly, I didn't take a picture myself and am unable to find one of the issue online after five years but it was distinctively different from the typical "stepping" you see with large 3D printed models.  The rough texture was, like the Batman villain Two Face, over almost half the model and the result of Shapeways reorienting my model in their bin to fit in with others for maximum profit/models per batch print run.  The sandpaper roughness is a known issue with the process that they use but it typically mitigated by orienting the model so that the "underside" surfaces are the ones that are affected. When they reoriented my model sidesways laying down on his side in their tray, that roughness instead covered half the visible surfaces instead.

Overall, I'd say that the detail at FUD was equal to mid range board game quality.  As you can see next to a 40k (also converted this week!) plastic figure from the same era, there is a notable difference in sharpness and detail.  The edges of the model are a bit soft and rounded instead of the sharp corners modelled and most of the intricate facial detail is gone.  I was able to clean up most of the roughness over large surfaces without losing any appreciable detail so didn't ask/inquire about a replacement.  That said.. at the time on their forums... Shapeways was denying customers replacements for this issue despite the cause being their poor choice of RE-orientation of models printed at their highest quality so I probably wouldn't have gotten a replacement even if I had raised the issue.  This past weekend, I converted the left hand to include a "omnitool blade" from an old D&D prepainted minis model as well as touched up the paint a bit.

In doing updated research for this post, it looks like some of the above has improved in the years since.  When I test added the same model to my cart this week, it actually gave me an option for confirming the model's orientation so the sand paper texture I got should be avoided nowadays.  Additionally, it looks like they've incorporated both a higher resolution material (Frosted Extreme Detail) as well as one that is specifically smother (High Def Acrylate) albeit at a higher price than what I originally paid.   Unlike with other technologies and services that improve over time, it doesn't look like Shapeways has lowered the price of older offerings by passing on the value to consumers but instead just offers improvements at constantly higher prices.  I paid $20 before without shipping and a resized (25% larger so 4.8cm tall instead of 3.8cm) model would cost me $33 at the same quality or $54 at the higher quality.  Dropping the size down and using a slightly less bulky (without the edge thickening I used) and not as upscaled (only 22% larger) earlier version of the model I uploaded without any base or gun, the price drops down to $26 and $42 without shipping.  Unfortunately, I don't see any of those as a reasonable alternative even with the free shipping they now occasionally offer that I previously wasn't an option.  If the pricing changes in the near future, I'll reassess the situation periodically.  With the new video game coming out with higher detail 3d models, I'll be on the lookout for the next Krogan I'd like to potentially add to my collection.

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