In this (lengthy) article I compiled the main lessons I learned 3D printing miniatures in resin and give you some useful tips to improve your printing.
I started my miniature printing adventure back in 2020 during Nurgle’s reign. I bought an Anycubic Photon Zero and a bottle of cheap resin. The beginning was quite a difficult process. Even though I followed the instructions I found on my resin bottle and online, I had trouble getting correct prints in the end. I had some serious issues with adhesion to the print plate. It turned out in the end that my screen got slightly pushed in on one side. This was probably due to me pushing down too much the print plate during leveling while fastening the screws. More on that later.
I kept a spreadsheet where I would track every setting for each print. That helped me understand and adjust the settings of my printer. Not only the exposure and bottom layers were important settings, but also room and resin temperature mattered. Even the resin itself was a critical element in getting correct prints. It turned out that after I switched to another resin, my printing success rate increased dramatically.
Thus, it seems that a lot of factors play equally important roles in your printer’s settings.
Why I print miniatures
I remember that after ordering miniatures from a renowned British manufacturer in 2020, I went to my local postal office to pick up my parcel and had to pay extra taxes, which equaled the amount of my order. That was the last time I ordered physical minis online. From that moment on, I decided I would only 3D print my miniatures. And now, in 2023 that still holds true. I mainly print my models. Occasionally I draw from my seemingly endless (plastic and metal) pile of shame or buy the odd physical miniature(s) at brick’n’mortar shops or conventions.
Having access to a 3D printer, you have access to a fantastic choice of miniatures to print. Loads of them can even be downloaded for free (on thingiverse.com example). Others can be purchased for little money. These miniatures IMO. are way better looking than any physical miniature you can buy. Furthermore, you can print as many copies as you want using the same STL file. Some manufacturers even offer different poses for each miniature or even multipart kits. I printed a whole 20 orc unit using only this great download by Monstrous Encounters.
Choice and selection
The selection of miniatures and terrain pieces covers every genre and every scale imaginable. In my previous article I talked about 5 of my favorite STL miniature manufacturers. Scale is quite a flexible part in 3D printing since you can adjust it to anything in your printer software (also known as slicer).
Instant access to miniatures
Using a 3D printer, you’ll have instant access to everything imaginable that you want to add to your miniature battlefields. No more ordering and waiting needed. Not that this is a bad thing as such. But sometimes you’ll want something right away. I imagine this very handy for your RPG sessions, for which you might need some minis for an upcoming game and can’t afford to wait until your very exotic monster miniature arrives by mail.
Apart from printing your own miniatures at heart’s content, you can even enhance your physical models and terrain with unique and bespoke “bits” to make them more unique and adapted to your own taste. We’re talking kit bashing with 3D printed parts, basically.
Last but not least, I find it a very satisfying production process, especially that moment you’re holding your printed object in your hand. Personally, it reminds me a lot of developing your own film and photos in the darkroom.
3D printing miniatures isn’t complicated and following are some useful tips to maximize your success and enjoyment.
I keep my 3D printer and wash and cure station next to each other. They’re standing next to my hobby desk, where I can work on preparing the files. Below the printer, I added a small shelf to house all the bits and tools necessary to run my printing process. There, you’ll find things such as resins, my washing tub containing the bio ethanol I use to wash my prints, and many more things 3D printing related.
To work on my prints after having removed them from the washing machine, I lay out a small silicone mat.
It’s all about a comfortable work environment and having everything ready when needed. Always adapt your work to you, not the other way round.
Test your exposure
When acquiring a new printer or even new resin, I recommend testing your exposure settings. Now, there are plenty of exposure models you can print, and most of them work. However, I prefer The Cones of Calibration by TableFlip Foundry. This is, for me, the easiest and most precise way of testing and calibrating your exposure settings.
Using the right tool for the right job is another on the tips I can share for 3D printing miniatures.
Flexible build plate
Since my first printer I always used one of those flexible magnetized build plates. This is really a game changer for 3d printing with resin. You don’t need to use your scraper anymore and avoid damaging the prints or even your build plate. You’ll find these for cheap online. just check the size of your build plate. For my Anycubic printers, I compensated the added height of your printing setup (magnet foil and flexible build plate) by adding a washer or two on the top screw of the print head holder (see image below). I don’t know whether this works for other brands or if it is even necessary or not.
I opted for an upgrade to my resin vat. I bought a heavier metal vat for cheap online. Although I think this is purely an esthetic choice, but I prefer the heavier feel to it. Strangely, the cheap Photon Zero came with a metal vat and an overall better built quality than my Photon Mono, which came with a cheap plastic vat.
After each print, I check the resin bath for residue and stuck bits on the FEP foil using a flat and soft plastic spatula (I actually use an old credit card).
Also, when I’m printing lots of different batches of stuff, I generally leave the resin in my vat between prints. I do, however, always make sure there’s no hardened resin in my vat since this could destroy your printer. So be careful with that. When I’m done printing for a while, and there are months I don’t print a single miniature, I pour the resin back into its bottle and thoroughly clean the vat.
Only use plastic scrapers for 3D printing with resin. If you use a flexible build plate, you’ll hardly use it, except for stirring your resin for debris. But there are times when bending the flexible build plate doesn’t make your prints pop off. That’s when a plastic scraper comes in handy.
A silicone matte laid out on your work surface does not only protect your hobby area but also protects your fragile prints from taking damage. It’s very handy and super cheap.
Ethanol vs. Isopropanol
After I used up all my IPA, I decided to try out Bio Ethanol, which is way cheaper and more available for me. It works just as good and smells less strong. I know there’s also water washable resin, but I haven’t tried it, and I prefer the wider selection of alcohol washable resins.
The choice of the right software for the right job is crucial for successfully 3D printing miniatures and the following tips should help you building the right digital toolbox.
To slice my 3D files, I use Lychee Slicer. The free edition meets my basic needs. I particularly like how you can store all of your resin profiles and your printer settings in one place. It even lets you import community profiles. But where Lychee really shines, in my opinion, is the auto support function. It’s hassle-free, works out of the box, and generates mostly perfect prints. For standard miniature size, I use thin supports with the occasionally added medium support for perfect prints. The dreaded island detection works quite well, too. In the past, I used Anycubic’s software and Chitubox. At the moment, however, Lychee is my go-to Slicer.
Microsoft 3D builder
Sometimes, after you load an STL file into Lychee slicer, the model sometimes turns red, meaning there’s some error in the overall geometry. Now, Lychee lets you fix these errors, but only the paid version. My workaround is Microsoft 3D builder, which comes pre-installed with Windows 10 and 11. This works each time with a simple mouse click. After saving, I simply load it into Lychee again. And behold, it works!
Photon file validator
If I really want to push for perfect prints, I use Photon file validator for island detection. After adding auto supports, I run the sliced file through Photon file validator to add further supports in Lychee. The software tells you exactly on what layer an island is detected. Just note that you’ll need Chitubox to export a sliced file in its proprietary format in order for Photon file validator to work. This might, however, have changed by now.
To track your printing experiences and to find your perfect settings, I highly recommend using the spreadsheet of your choice. I use Google drive.
Bottom layers and exposure
I always print 6 layers at 25 seconds each in the beginning to ensure a strong enough bond even for larger models.
I set lift speed at 1 mm/s and retract speed at 3mm/s. This is to make sure the print peels off very slowly from the FEP. A lift distance of 6mm makes sure that all the prints peel off entirely, especially prints in the center region of your print space. Though it reduces printing time, it minimizes failed prints to nearly 0.
Check your exposure settings using the aforementioned Cones of Calibration (or another file that you prefer). I use 2,6 seconds at 0,025mm layer thickness.
Before 3D printing your actual miniatures, I suggest you follow my next tips.
Enhance your resin
I always add about 10% of Siraya Tech Tenacious into my resin bottles. This gives your prints a little bit more elasticity.
One crucial factor I learned about with my first resin printer is temperature. Be it room temperature or resin temperature. Both had influenced the success rate of my prints. Now, I always put my resin bottle on the radiator several minutes (+-15) before pouring it into the vat. Warmed up resin tends to stick better to the built plate than cold one. At least that’s what I empirically concluded in my almighty spreadsheet.
I also try to keep room temperature at minimum 21-22 ° Celsius. Higher is better. Since I’m printing in my basement, I haven’t experienced temperatures above 25°C. But up to 25 degrees everything prints well.
Wait for 10 min before printing
Resin needs to be shaken well. I do it several times during my resin heating phase. When you pour it into the vat, it leaves bubbles/foam on the surface. What happens when you print right away is that your first layers might trap theses bubbles, thus reducing the overall surface stuck to the build plate. In the beginning I had some prints not sticking correctly on the plate or even detaching during the print process. The trick here is to simply wait approximately 10 minute for the bubbles/foam to dissolve before hitting “Print”.
I generally wash all my prints for 4 minutes in my wash and cure machine using bio ethanol.
After that thorough wash I let my prints soak in warm water for about 5 minutes. Adding a drop or two of dishwasher is not obligatory, but I feel it helps a bit of giving the prints a cleaner look afterwards. I’m not sure whether it’s “scientifically” proven … . This soaking process makes removing supports a breeze. Plus they leave less “scars” on the prints. I highly recommend this step.
Curing times depend on the model size. I apply about 1,5 to 2 minutes of curing time to a standard 28mm miniature. Smaller or larger models get more or less minutes. My time bracket is generally between 0,5 to 4 minutes.
Plan your printing sessions
In order to optimize your printing sessions, I suggest scheduling your prints, so that your prints are ready when you need them. That’s why I always let my printer run during nights and work hours, when I’m not home anyway. This way my print is ready in the morning or in the evening, depending when I need the print.
Have fun experimenting
Last, but not least, have fun printing. It’s got a learning curve for sure, but it’s so rewarding once you get your production setup right. I had more than 60% of failure with my 1st printer. But I continued testing and experimenting. Of course I had to deal with the occasional moment of frustration. A healthy dose of frustration helps you keeps you going though. Eventually I reduced my failure rate to under 3%. The best thing was, that I had fun on my 3D printing journey.
I hope you find these tips and tricks useful and enjoy 3D printing miniatures as much as I am.
Keep your (cured*) supports to build something interesting.
* I cure them for 30 seconds.