As you can see, I upscaled the model as my original scaling was meant to match the old WOTC Star Wars prepaint on the far right. I was surprised by how small the original 2012 fig actually ended up so this time I increased the height from 37mm to 49mm thinking that it would be too big. Instead, it's a comfortable size that fits most other scif I miniatures instead of dwarfing them like I expected. Whereas before I exaggerated most features by extruding them out, I hoped that this time the larger size plus smaller printing layer height would allow exactly modelled is printing. The large alien turned out just fine but the two others are very frail (especially the female alien shown below) and I wish I had "thickened" them a bit for durability . Additionally, my tweaking this time around let me actually pose and combine the miniature with the weapons instead of using a clumsy sprue/base system to (unsuccessfully) keep it all together.
The most noticeable change since 2012 is the decrease in price likely largely brought about by the downward pressure caused by affordable home printers. A friend of mine, Albertorius, got the Anycubic Photon earlier this year and his results exceed the highest Shapeways quality possible back in 2012 (Frosted Ultra Detail with a layer height of 29 microns). I paid $10 more for 3 figs at a higher quality (16 micron layer height) than I did for the previous order of a single smaller figure. The quality also is notably improved with individual polygon facets visible in the printing this time around as shown below on the chest with flash photography. The facial features are recognizable but shallow so in retrospect I do wish I had extruded them out as I suspect some of the features will disappear with even thin succesive primer/paint/wash layers.
The tools on the website have also improved and you can now specify the model orientation in the print bed whereas before it was determined by the company not for max printing quality but rather for the most densely packed/efficient print run. Unlike with home printers that use a scaffolding system to prevent failure (as shown here in my friend's Photon home printer), the fine plastic detail quality utilizes a solid bed of waxy support material that is then melted off with a solvent. While it doesn't require any clipping, it does mar the surface somewhat leaving a rougher texture. Last time, my model had the support border line run literally straight down the front of the model (shown below) leaving one side smooth and the other rough. Admittedly, it didn't end up showing through after some careful sanding and painting but I was still concerned about it this time around. I'm pleased to report that I was able to both successfully orient my model to minimize it and that the surface effect was less prominent this time where it did appear. I apologize for the quality of the pictures but the opaque resin was difficult to photograph as it was too dark with no flash and the model would largely disappear with flash.
The main complaint that I have is that I could have gotten a slightly better quality model for a bit lower price had I ordered over the summer when I finished the model instead of waiting for a free shipping sale that never actually came. Over the summer, they switched the materials classification from Frosted Extreme Detail previously available to the Smoothest Fine Detail Plastic that I ordered. Whereas the layer height (which they stopped listing at all on their website!) is still the same at 16 microns, the listed accuracy is 2-3x worse. Now, to put that in perspective, the new worse accuracy still amounts to at most a 0.25mm deviation for my model size but it's still technically worse than before. Additionally, they raised the price of my model by about 10% in October meaning that I paid more for that slightly worse model. I'm still quite happy with what I got and it is a noticeable improvement since 2012 but it deserved mention for completeness' sake.
While the online tools are improved as mentioned above, the nitty gritty details on the website have decreased leading to worse transparency for the consumer as quality settings can be quietly changed behind the scenes without most users ever knowing. Simply finding out the layer height of the highest quality setting involved me posting to their forum (no response), tweeting at them (also ignored), and then emailing customer service to actually get the information.
Finally, it did take a almost an entire month to get my order after paying. This year, they introduced priority printing in addition to the expedited shipping that previously existed, neither of which I paid extra for. Some of the delay is in all likelihood attributable to me ordering during the Christmas rush but the long lead time might deter some folks from ordering. For me, I was comfortable getting a good deal while letting others pay for the faster service as I consider that a comfortable middle ground if not taken to the extreme.
Again, not too much to report here other than one miscast on the large alien figure. As shown in the picture below, his gun is supposed to have multiple extended protrusions around the barrel. Those apparently did not print out or attach correctly despite passing the automated and manual checks. The automatic check did add a few gobs of extra material here (for example visible on the front surface of the hammer) but they're not as obvious in person as I initially feared. The other two aliens printed out flawlessly with razor thin protrusions like weapon fins and head spikes surviving intact (although we'll see if they last long in use or storage!). I've contacted the support team about reprinting just the large alien due to the miscast weapon and will update this post when that process eventually concludes. As it is currently between Christmas and New Year's at the time of writing this post, I suspect it may take more than a few days to sort it all out.
As always, I'm keen to hear any questions or comments so feel free to leave them below. I hope everyone had a merry Christmas in 2018 and will have a happy New Year as well in a few days!