The Nerd-Adjacent Nirvana of Custom Printed Figures

These Custom Printed Unique Miniatures Are a Great Addition

We’ve all been there. You roll a new character for a lively Dungeons and Dragons campaign, some sort of hybrid lizard-human bard with a wolf’s head for a hat and holding a pet raven and strumming a lute. You comb through your collection of miniatures to find something that you can put on the tabletop to represent this unique and memorable moment in gaming history, and the best you can find is some sort of Frodo knockoff who’s missing a leg and looks like he was painted in the dark.

Thanks to the ever-expanding world of custom 3D printed miniatures, there’s a relatively affordable way to populate your pen and paper fantasy games, wargames or just your imagination and collector’s shelf with unique, personalized figures, both painted and ready-to-paint. Some of these services have been around for a while and others keep appearing, including Hero Forge, Eldritch Foundry, Furry and the Beast, and Anvl.

My character as represented by Hero Forge’s creation tool.

With the exception of Furry and the Beast, which allows you to submit original artwork and designs. then does the digital sculpting for you, all of these services provide an online 3D sculpting tool, allowing you to mix and match traditional, pre-made fantasy game races and classes, customized with a variety of heads, hair, faces, body parts, clothing, weapons, armor, bases, decorations, and accessories.

After designing your character you then select the material from which it will be printed, ranging from resin to various grades and colors of plastic or even pewter. Most of the services allow you to also purchase an STL file of your creation for printing at home if you already own a 3D printer. From there, it’s just a matter of time until the miniature arrives at your door, usually around three weeks. Most of the companies listed have similar pricing structures, with standard 28mm figures costing around $29 US, with larger characters, better plastic, or optional painting adding to the price.

I Finally Forge a Hero

Because I participate in gaming as well as the nerd holy trinity of collecting, sculpting, and painting miniatures, I finally gave Hero Forge an audition. All of the companies offer excellent and full-featured design tools so my choice was a little bit arbitrary, but I spent literally hours tinkering with the character creation tool, designing both outlandish and more traditional figures.

In particular, Hero Forge offers a great selection of pre-made and very effective poses and you can further add particular life to the figure by adjusting the nuances of expression. There is also a wide selection of props and base decoration to add to the model and suggest whatever backstory you can imagine, though after adding and subtracting everything from stacks of ancient books to clusters of rats, I opted for a plain, cobblestone base.

Just to see what a larger-scale figure would be like and because I enjoy a break from the eyestrain of painting 28mm figures, I supersized my unpainted miniature to an extra large 50mm and selected the least expensive, basic grey plastic option. I was able to export images of my character and add him to what will no doubt become a stable of minis living in my Hero Forge account.

Fantasy vs Reality–the actual figure on the right, pre-cleanup and priming

3D printing remains a fairly tricky and opaque process, even though the cost has continued to fall and capable home units are affordable. Hero Forge has continued to refine and improve the quality of its printing, and I have to say I was very impressed with the figure I received. Details were sharp and clean and the miniature was meticulously absent of any remains of print support sprues, and all but the most minor of mold lines or other artifacts of the printing process. Even the best Games Workshop miniatures require some clean up prior to priming but the Hero Forge figure was nearly ready to prime and paint right out of the box. I can’t speak for their higher quality plastic or metal prints, but I think the basic plastic was more than adequate and feels solid and certainly up to handling in a heated match of D&D.

No matter the source, high-quality resin, metal, or plastic miniatures are not inexpensive. Whether from Hero Forge, Eldritch Foundry, or one of the other companies, these custom printed and therefore unique miniatures are a great addition to a regular fantasy gamer’s collection and can really bring one’s character to life in a memorable and exciting way.

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