What to do if you don’t have a 3D Printer
The primary audience of my site is gamers with 3D Printers. That doesn’t mean I should not try to be inclusive to others. The reality of this industry is that 3D Printing is a tiny niche inside of the gaming market, and most gamers don’t own a 3D Printer. This article is meant to help you get all of this awesome terrain for yourself, even if you don’t own your own printer. I’m hoping this article will bring about some other ideas that I can add to the list as time goes on, so check back regularly. As always, I think 3D Printing is a great hobby. If you are a wargamer, a $200 3D Printer (Ender 3) can produce amazing results. Here is my quick guide on buying a 3D Printer.
Low-Cost 3D Printing
These tend to be the DIY ways of getting 3D Prints done. It is different ways to gain access to a 3D Printer to print terrain and miniatures for yourself.
Some people may have more access to 3D Printers than others. Ask around. You may have a friend that has one. This is probably going to be your cheapest method. More people are buying 3D Printers all the time. I know I see new people popping up in The Tabletop 3D Printing Guild and other 3D Printing Facebook groups ALL the time.
In my area, most of the local Libraries, both city and county, have 3D Printers. You have to reserve time on them, and they tend to be shorter blocks, but it is something that can be worked around. This is a really good way to get your prints for next to nothing. My local libraries don’t charge for 3D Printing, though, I have heard some charge a nominal fee for the filament used.
The local college I teach at has an open Makerspace that includes Lulzbot and Form 2 3D Printers. I didn’t know about this for a long time. You need to go through some training so they can trust you on the machines, and the Form 2s require even more training and special permission to use. This is another option if you, or a family member go to a local college. I know that there are other 3D Printers around campus that belong to specific programs like Engineering as well.
That was College. Many other schools have them too. I know that several local High Schools have 3D Printers, as well as grade and middle schools. This one is more hit or miss, though. You have to have a teacher that is interested enough in 3D Printing to get a grant to bring one in and then support it.
A makerspace is a bit more money. You tend to purchase a membership and then pay to use the equipment (usually wear and tear plus materials). If you print a lot, this can be a pretty economical method of 3D Printing a lot of terrain. If you make it down for one or two pieces, it is probably better to follow one of the other ideas below. Makerspaces can be pretty cool and give you access to even more goodies. I know my local makerspace also has a laser cutter so I could get into MDF terrain and other things like that. Each Makerspace is unique in what they offer, so check any in your area out and see what they offer. (We have a library in nearby city that has set up a dedicated makerspace that proved popular, which was kind of cool).
Mid-Cost 3D Printing
Mid-cost printing is more about getting the finished parts.
Buy from the Modeler
Some modelers not only make and sell the files, but they also sell the files. For those of you looking for Sci-Fi and Star Wars Rebellion, Imperial Terrain has been selling STL files as well as finished pieces since very early on. I also know that Corvus Games Terrain does this. Hayland Terrain takes it a step further and even makes casts for mass producing his terrain. Heroforge is an interesting one. You can have them print your mini, or download it, and send it to a print shop (see below) to print it for you. Terrain Foundry confirmed this from them. This is not an exhaustive list by any means. Just ones I could think of off the top of my head.
Because of requests of modelers, I am expanding this section. It started out with the modelers above, but more do it, so I think a list is warranted:
Buy from a 3D Terrain Printing Shop
There are a number of companies that have sprung up supporting the 3D Printing Gaming Terrain market. Since so few people actually own printers and there are so many awesome models out there, there is a growing number of printers that specialize in 3D Printing terrain and miniatures for the gaming market. They are licensed by the 3D Modelers to sell physical copies of the models to others. Another great aspect of most of these printers is they are active in the community as well. They don’t just do this as a job, but because they are gamers, too. The following printers come recommended to me, or I know personally. Honestly, I know all of them, and also had some recommendations when I asked some of my modeler friends who they recommended.
- Panhandle 3D Printing gets first mention because of his excellent YouTube channel. He prints out a lot of stuff and shows it off in video. Greg’s a strong piece of the community.
- Terrain Foundry is another 3D Printer that is an offshoot of the Oregon Trail Games store. Stop in, he has a ton of 3D Printed terrain around the store and an awesome 3D Printed castle.
- Contact Front Games – James is an active part of the community and he even has a few models as well on his page, not just 3d prints.
- PrinTerrain.com – Licensed with several of the major 3D modelers in the community.
- Archania’s Workshop, LLC has a number of licenses to print terrain. This is the one I know the least about, but I was told about him from a modeler.
I hope to expand this with printers from other countries as well.
High-Cost 3D Printing
Other, national printers
There are other national printers, like Shapeways. They are a large website, where you upload your models after you purchase them. They tend to be pretty expensive, and I would recommend one of the terrain print shops above.
Local, Specialist 3D Printers
I know in my area, we have a “3d Printing” company, but their prices are kind of crazy what is needed for terrain. If their printer farm is made up by super expensive 3D Printers, it is probably way too expensive for your needs.
Should you buy a print, or buy a printer?
This can actually be broken down pretty easily. As a rule of thumb, I think a 3D Printer breaks even with a board of terrain. If you are not going to do anything more than 1 board, you are probably better off buying the printed terrain. If you are going to do more than 1 board, you are probably better off with the printer.
Figure out the cost of a printer, for example the one I recommend the Ender 3 going for $210 right now on Amazon. Add in the models you need to buy, and the filament (figure $20 or less a roll, and you can get quite a few buildings from one roll). I was able to print a full Kill Team table and had extra pieces, and it took less than 1 roll of filament. My filament cost me $12. So, all the white stuff on that table was from 1 roll. The Kickstarter was $50, and the crates are an additional $2 from Warlayer. So, my full table cost me around $64, and I can continue to make the same pieces and the MANY more available from that Kickstarter bundle.