How To Choose The Best 3D Printer To Create Your Own Tabletop Miniatures
Updated: October 2018
3D printing your own gaming miniatures is a trend that already has a small army of dedicated followers. And thanks to the price of 3D printers continuing to drop it’s set to grow massively in popularity.
Using 3D printers to create your own minis can really take your mini painting, design and game creation to a whole new level.
Not only have 3D printers continued to drop in price, they’ve also dramatically increased in reliability, quality, and ease of use. There are now many different models available that can reliably print the level of detail you need to create your own miniatures at home.
Designing and building your miniatures not only gives you the freedom to print whatever figures you like it also allows you to create your own completely original figures or even your own entire game!
Where To Download Minis To 3D Print
If designing from scratch seems like too much of a challenge there are thousands of readily downloadable models available from sites such as Thingiverse that you can simply download and print. All you need is a 3D printer slicer program, I like to use Cura because it’s free, easy to use, and gives great results.
You should check out some of my favorite tabletop mini designers to see what designs are available for you to download:
Here are some incredible examples of what’s possible with the 3D printers recommended in this article. These models are available to download for free by the highly skilled Dutchmogul on Thingiverse:
Can I Really 3D Print Minis On A Home 3D Printer?
Yes! But you need to have realistic expectations. If you can afford an SLA printer like the Wanhao Duplicator 7 then you can easily achieve the same levels of detail as manufactured miniatures but it will take some practice to get the best results.
If however, you have a smaller budget and want to print your minis on an FFF/FDM 3D printer (these printers use a spool of filament) then the super-fine details of small (28mm) minis are not as easy to achieve, but you can still get some great results.
You will need to refine your models and printing processes to get the most detail you can, and then add what’s missing with paints and manual sculpting.
As you’ll see below, you can get fantastic results with a little effort, just don’t buy an FDM 3D printer thinking you will have instant perfectly formed 28mm figurines!
FDM printers are also perfect for printing terrain, landscapes, and scenery. Anything that has details larger than 0.1mm will look perfect printed on most well setup 3D printers.
FFF vs SLA
There are two main types of 3D Printer on the market now, FFF (also known as FDM/Filament) and SLA (also known as Resin). The most common type is FFF, but SLA printers are becoming more common as they reduce in price and increase in reliability.
FFF 3D printers use a spool of plastic filament that is passed through an extruder. A hot-end then melts the filament and deposits it onto a platform, building up your print layer by layer. FFF printers are generally cheap to buy, easy to use, and less messy than SLA printers. However, an FFF 3D printer will never replicate quite the level of detail on your minis as an SLA printer can. They can however print a surprisingly high level of detail if you buy the right model and are willing to put in a little work to tune the settings.
SLA 3D printers start with a vat of liquid resin and solidify each layer by shining a highly accurate laser or light source. The main benefit SLA printers have over FFF is that they are much more accurate and precise, enabling them to print minis with as much detail as commercially available cast figures. SLA printers are generally more expensive to run, a little less reliable than FFF printers and are not able to print such large objects either. The liquid resin is also quite messy to deal with, and your prints will need cleaning of excess resin after printing.
What Specs To Look For
If you want to achieve the same level of detail you can see on these excellent minis, then there’s some important criteria you should look out for when choosing a 3D printer.
The most important specification you should look for is how much detail it will replicate. This is determined by the following factors:
Nozzle Diameter is the size of the hole that the heated plastic is extruded through to create your model. The most common size is 0.4mm, and you should ideally avoid any nozzle size above this. You should look for 3D printers that allow you to swap your nozzle for a smaller size like 0.2mm. This slows down the printing but produces finer details.
XY Precision is the precision of the printer head movements in the X and Y directions, i.e. every direction except up and down. This is determined by the quality of the bearings, belts, motors and how rigid the frame of the printer is. You should look for a 3D printer that is all metal construction as this provides the most stable platform for achieving good precision.
Layer Thickness is the height of each individual layer of heated plastic that is laid down to create your model. The lower the thickness, the more detail will be seen, but the build will be slower. To achieve the accuracy needed for printing miniatures I would only recommend printers with a layer thickness of 100 microns (0.1mm) or less.
If you choose an FFF printer this will mostly be ABS, PLA+, or PLA. To get the highest quality surface finish you will want to carry out some post-processing once the part is built.
With ABS plastic, cleaning up your figurine after you’ve printed it is a little easier as it can be sanded and vapor bathed in Acetone to give a super smooth finish.
If you use PLA+ then its extra toughness allows you to remove support material easier without damaging the mini itself.
SLA 3D printers use a liquid resin material. There are less material choices available for SLA printers because the resin has to translucent to enable UV curing to work. However, there are some other exciting possibilities with SLA printing, such as the ability to print using castable resins which enable you to create moulds and then cast your own fully metal figurines.
What Do You Want To Print?
Terrain, landscapes, props – This is the easy option! There are lots of FFF 3D printers that can achieve this. The CR-10 family are a perfect fit for this type of printing as they can replicate details of 0.1mm and up perfectly and have build volumes from 200mm x 300mm and up so you can print large bits of terrain easily and cheaply.
Miniature figurines 54mm and up – A good quality and well setup FFF 3D printer can print objects like this perfectly well. You will need to do some post-processing of your prints to make them look their best. And you will need to add some of the finer details on by hand, either by paint or sculpting. You could also invest in an SLA printer for these types of minis, but you should be aware that larger objects will use a lot of expensive resin.
Small detailed figurines 28mm to 54mm – This is the hardest type of mini to 3D print. An SLA printer will print these easily with great details, but you should realize that it will take some patience and practice to get the best out of an SLA printer. The best quality FFF printers will do a great job at replicating these fine details too, they just come at a price and will still have some print lines that you will need to manually remove to make your minis look their best.
I would always recommend that where possible, you prioritize the quality of print over build size as it’s always possible to split up larger models into small parts and then simply bond them together once built. It’s actually quite a fun challenge working out the best way to split up your terrains and orient the parts in the build to get the best possible finished part.
If you want some more tips on how to 3D print miniatures then check out my guide to printing miniatures.
Best SLA 3D Printer For Minis
If you want to achieve perfect quality, super high-resolution 28mm (~1:58 scale) miniatures with lots of details then your best bet is the Anycubic Photon.
The Anycubic Photon is an LCD 3D Printer. It works by using an LCD screen like a miniature TV to project an image of UV light across an entire layer at once. This cures the resin wherever it hits it. The platform then lifts to repeat the process for the next layer, and so on.
The LCD screen in the Photon is 2K (2560 x 1440) resolution which enables it to print down to a resolution of just 47 microns.
This means you can replicate the tiniest facial details on minis as small as 28mm or even smaller. You can even match the detail of GW or Corvus Belli.
The Photon includes many features that make it reliable and easy to use compared to previous generations of SLA printers such as a touch screen controller,
So what can you expect from the Anycubic Photon?
- Layer thickness as low as 25 microns (0.025mm)
- At the highest resolutions (25 microns) the print speed is comparable to FFF/filament printing (approx 2cm/0.75″ build height per hour)
- You get a far superior part finish compared to filament printers with very little sanding or smoothing required
- Great online community more than willing to help fellow owners
There are also other resins available that allow you to do exciting things like creating molds for investment casting, this opens up a whole other avenue of metal casting to you which could be perfect for casting metallic minis or jewelry making.
Here are some of the downsides to SLA printing:
You need to take good care of the resin. When adding resin to the tank, you have to wait for any bubbles to dissipate before starting the build. After the build has finished, you have to ‘rake’ through the resin tank to make sure no bits of cured resin are floating around that could get in the way of your next build.
When a build is finished, you have to wear latex gloves to remove your part and wash it in Isopropyl Alcohol to remove uncured resin.
In short, you need to be a careful and methodical person to use an SLA printer. If you’re messy and likely to be spilling resin and not taking care to clean up you probably won’t be able to achieve successful prints.
Thankfully there is an ever growing community of Anycubic Photon owners who are more than willing to offer any help they can. Lots has been learnt from this printer since it was first released so you can easily avoid most of the common pitfalls.
If you want top quality miniatures that feature the minutest detail, then the Anycubic Photon is the best choice.
The Wanhao D7 is also a popular SLA DLP 3D printer that is perfect for printing highly detailed minis. It is comparable in performance to the Anycubic Photon but offers slightly larger build volume at the expense of its lowest resolution and ease of use.
The main differences between the Wanhao Duplicator 7 and the Anycubic Photon are:
- LCD mount in Anycubic Photon is a better design making it less prone to damage by lowering onto a piece of cured resin
- Anycubic Photon is easier to use
- Wanhao Duplicator 7 has a larger build volume
- Wanhao Duplicator has a larger community and more proactive manufacturer support
The Duplicator 7 is now on version 1.5 which incorporates a long list of design and manufacturing improvements since the first version was released. This includes uprated power supply, uprated cooling fans, improved reflector surface finish, improved build plate precision, and more. The Duplicator has come a long way in these four versions and is now at a level where users find ownership to be a positive experience.
Best Budget 3D Printer For Minis – Creality Ender 3
The Creality Ender 3 is my favorite budget 3D printer and is a model I use again and again in my workshop. It shares its configuration with a few other popular printers but is built to a very high quality and carries some features that give it quite an edge over the competition.
Most importantly the Ender 3 is constructed using solid, sturdy materials and components that allow it to achieve the high precision printing needed for minis out of the box. If you print using small layer heights of 0.05mm and slow speeds around 25mm/sec you can achieve an impressive level of detail. If you fancy pushing the limits you can also swap out the stock 0.4mm nozzle for something smaller to further improve accuracy.
On arrival it’s easy to setup with just a few bolts and electrical connectors to plug in and Creality include a full spool of filament to get you started.
The latest model has recently benefited from an upgrade to the build platform which is actually a game changer for FFF 3D printers. It’s a glass bed with a hard-wearing grippy coating which your first printing layer readily sticks to. This coating means you avoid all the hassle of failed prints due to them not sticking to conventional glass or aluminum beds. And it’s also super easy to remove your prints when they’re finished by just waiting for the bed to cool and gently snapping your prints off.
If you don’t want to spend a fortune and are happy sacrificing a little detail then the Creality Ender 3 is a great choice for printing minis on a tight budget.
Best FFF 3D Printer For Minis – Ultimaker 2+
The Ultimaker 2+ is hard to beat in terms of quality. The build plate has a Z positional precision of 5 microns. While the Extruder position is accurate to within 12.5 microns on the XY plane.
Such high accuracy can only be met because of Ultimaker’s use of high-quality materials and components in the manufacture of the Ultimaker 2+.
This makes the UM2+ one of the best 3D Printers for printing the high levels of detail needed to print miniatures.
Of course, all this quality has to come at a price, other than financially, and that cost is the time it takes to print. Thankfully, there are some quality settings in the included Cura software that allow you to dial down the quality in return for a faster print speed. In fact, the standard setting gives you a significant speed increase with little compromise in quality.
The Ultimaker 2+ also comes complete with the Olsson Block Kit which allows you to change your nozzle size quickly and easily. It comes with four nozzle options from 0.25 to0.8mm, which give you a good range of quality vs. speed choices.
If you’re interested in trying other filament types, then the Ultimaker 2+ couldn’t be a better choice. It can easily handle standard materials like PLA and ABS. But it is equally capable of printing with more exotic filaments such as blended wood and metal, Nylon, and Ultimaker’s CPE (copolyester) which has similar properties to ABS without the smelly and toxic fumes.
The build volume is a generous 8.5″ x 8.5″ x 7.9″. As with the other 3D printers in this list, if you need to print something larger than the build volume you can simply split the model into several parts and bond them together with a suitable glue afterward.
If you want the most detail you can get on your miniatures or if you’re planning on printing small-scale minis, then the Ultimaker 2+ should be at the top of your shopping list.
Not only will it print your minis in exquisite detail, but it will also do so reliably and repeatedly without you needing to get under the hood to diagnose problems. Leaving you time to do what’s important and get on with printing your army!
Check out my full review of the Ultimaker 2+ here.
Best Easy to Use 3D Printer For Minis – Sindoh 3DWOX 1
The Sindoh 3DWOX 1 is my favorite recommendation for anyone looking for a high-quality 3D printer that’s going to work perfectly straight out of the box and do so repeatedly for years.
It’s a great choice for 3D printing miniatures as the accuracy and build quality are as good as you will ever get on an FFF printer allowing it to print the detail needed for minis with ease.
The surprising thing about the 3DWOX 1 is it rarely features on best of lists, and yet the user reviews are always unanimous in their praise, a sentiment that I wholeheartedly echo from my own experiences.
Both software and hardware of the 3DWOX 1 are perfect for beginners and anyone who doesn’t like the hassle of unreliability and diagnosing problems. There are so many features to like about this 3D printer:
- Heated Flexible Aluminium Teflon coated build bed.
- 50 micron (0.05mm) resolution.
- HEPA filter and enclosed build chamber which is perfect for printing with ABS filament.
- Assisted bed leveling.
- Hassle free filament cartridge system.
If you have any worries about whether you’re buying a good printer or not the 3DWOX 1 is a perfect choice. It just works, straight out the box, and can always be relied on.
Compared to its predecessors Sindoh have also opened up this latest model to accept all filament brands so you can choose whichever brand your happiest without fear of voiding the warranty.
Best Dual Extruder 3D Printer For Minis, Terrain, and Props – FlashForge Creator Pro
A dual extruder 3D printer allows you to use a second dissolvable filament as a support material. This allows you to print highly complex minis with multiple overhangs without the problem of build supports leaving witness marks on your final print.
Using dissolvable supports greatly reduces the amount of time and effort you will need to clean your minis once they are printed.
The Creator Pro will happily and reliably print minis as small as 28mm but it won’t be able to replicate the finest details, particularly facial details like eyes will have to be painted in after printing.
The FlashForge 3D Printer Creator Pro is essentially a clone of the very popular Makerbot Replica. However, it has the huge benefit of having all the user enhancements that were commonly done to the Makerbot machine already included as standard.
Enhancements like metal support arms for the build plate. These provide much better thermal stability and prevent the build plate from moving during a build. Plastic coated adjusters make leveling the build plate very easy.
You also have a CPU with the power necessary to install Sailfish firmware; this is a great enhancement that will give you a superior auto leveling ability, more precise heater control and higher print quality due to the prioritized timing of CPU operations.
All of these small features add up to make the Creator Pro a highly accurate and reliable 3D printer that is perfect for building larger figurines.
The chassis is fully enclosed therefore printing reliably with ABS filament is not a problem. So you can take advantage of the superior finish and strength ABS can offer.
The Creator Pro is also a dual extruder printer, meaning you can print using two different types or colors of filament at the same time. Other than for aesthetics the biggest advantage of this is you can use a soluble build support in one of the extruders. This allows you to design highly complex miniatures with additional supports that can be dissolved away once the build is complete. This means the supports won’t spoil the surface of your mini as you don’t need to manually cut them away.
Finally, because the Creator Pro is based on the successful Makerbot Replica, there are a wealth of tips and info available online to help you get the most out of the printer.
Check out my full review of the Creator Pro here.
Best 3D Printer For Large Terrain and Props – Hictop CR-10S
The Hictop CR-10S is one of the best budget 3D printers available. It’s based on the proven Prusa i3 design. Unlike many of the other i3 clones this Hictop uses quality components for the power supply, motherboard, and motion systems. The frame is fully metallic construction and has a sturdy design.
Because of its large build volume and good accuracy out of the box, it’s a great choice for printing terrain and other larger objects. It can also print minis as small as 28mm with a good amount of detail, but you won’t be able to replicate fine facial details like eyes, instead, you can paint these details in afterward.
Although it looks like a kit printer, you only have a minimal amount of assembly to carry out when it arrives. Basically bolting the two main frames together with four bolts and connecting up the wires. I total it shouldn’t take you longer than one or maybe two hours tops before you can start your first print.
The important thing to note about the CR-10S is that ‘S’ at the end of the name. This upgraded model has two z-axis lead screws and stepper motors.
This dual axis system improves the accuracy of the vertical movement of the extruder, giving you more accurate and consistent printing. This makes it well-suited to printing detailed miniatures where you are more likely to notice small imperfections.
The upgraded ‘S’ model also has a filament detection sensor that stops the printer and warns you if it’s about to run out of filament. This protects your prints from being spoiled if you run out of filament during a print. It’s pretty useful when you’re printing large models and can’t keep a constant eye on progress.
You can reliably print in both PLA and ABS, so if you’re looking for a super smooth finish on your minis you can use ABS and vapor treatment.
The CR-10 family of 3D printers are very well regarded and have a large enthusiastic following. If you should run into any problems you will certainly not have any trouble finding help online.
The CR-10S is also almost infinitely upgradable, you can improve the usability almost instantly by printing yourself a new set of bed level adjusters. And there are plenty of other tweaks available, from a new extruder fan duct that you can print yourself to fully automated bed leveling.
In summary, the Hictop CR-10S is a fantastic 3D printer for the money. Right out of the box it prints reliably and accurately enough for you to create an army of miniatures and acres of terrain.
I hope this article has helped you make a decision. From D&D through LOTR to Warmachine & Hordes, 3D printing and gaming miniatures are a perfect combo. Any of the 3D printers on this page will give you a successful start in a very rewarding hobby.
If you’re still not sure which 3D Printer is best for you to print miniatures, and you have the budget, then I would recommend the Ultimaker 2+. It’s a real workhorse of a 3D Printer that won’t let you down in terms of reliability or quality. Its ability to print successfully in so many material types means you’re unlikely to find it limiting your creativity.
If you’re on a tight budget then you should seriously consider the Creality Ender 3. It’s a very capable printer, it won’t replicate the finest details on small minis but you’ll be pleased with just how much it can achieve.
If you know you don’t mind putting some effort and hours into achieving the finest detailed minis then you have no better option than the Anycubic Photon.
Happy 3D Printing!