3D printing is more advanced and accessible than ever thanks to progressing technology and access to affordable materials. It’s a great option for any model project – both large and small – that would otherwise be too cumbersome, heavy, expensive, or generally unpractical to build any other way.
So if you’re a video game developer looking for custom figurines, toys, and models of your title…3D printing may be just what you need to bring your characters to IRL status!
It’s easier than ever to have customized models of figurines, replicas, and memorabilia 3D printed for personal and even professional use. And if that’s something you’re interested in investing in – especially for marketing, you should have a general understanding of the entire 3D printing process to help you make the most informed decisions about your project and understand its timeline.
We’ll break down the basics of everything you need to know about 3D model printing and what you should expect to go through when having your custom video game characters and swag 3D printed into figures, toys, (and whatever else you can imagine!)
Why the Type of 3D Printing You Choose Matters
All 3D printing isn’t created equally. Just like the different types of 2d printing (inkjet, laser, LED, etc.), there are varying types of 3D printing, too. When you know what each is and how they compare to each other, you can determine which type of 3D printing will best suit your video games characters, aesthetics, and overall project needs.
Stereolithography (SLA) 3D Printing
SLA 3D printing is known for its extremely detailed accuracy, making it ideal for small or intricate projects. Plus, it has a fast turnaround time – usually just a few hours! You can expect a high quality, smooth finish for items with a range of functional applications. So for your video game SLA 3D printing is a good choice for mass production of detailed objects like jewelry, emblems, badges, etc.
Selective Laser Melting (SLM) 3D Printing
SLM 3D printing technology is ideal for creating strong, dense parts made of metal. It’s typically used to produce functional prototypes, end-user parts, tools, and more. Even with over 70 types of compatible metal, the cost is relatively low despite how complex the results can be.
Digital Light Processing (DLP) 3D Printing
A DLP 3D printer technically falls under the umbrella of an SLA printing because it’s based off the same technology. That also means it’s good for the same types of small and intricate models and jewelry.
Electronic Beam Melting (EBM) 3D Printing
EBM 3D printing technology, like SLA, is used for small, typically metal prototypes (roughly one foot max). Due to the extremely high-cost, although they quickly produce strong prototypes, they’re not ideal for manufacturing and scaling for commercial purposes. A 3D printed lie-sized bust of your video game character for experiential marketing would be a good choice for EBM 3D printing – but nothing that you’d need a lot of.
Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) 3D Printing
FDM 3D printing is cost-effective, but what you save in money you make up for quality – or lack thereof – when compared to other types of 3D printing technology. If your project doesn’t require extreme detail, FDM 3D printing is a good option for concept models and affordable rapid production. Think small models for tabletop gaming or mini replicas of favorite characters.
Laminated Object Manufacturing (LOM) 3D Printing
LOM 3D printing technology isn’t as accurate as many of the other 3D printing technologies on this list, but it’s a good choice if your model needs to have a wooden or paper-like texture. It’s best used for larger prototypes you’d want with a fast production time. A good option for a 3D model of a game map or something similar.
Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) 3D Printing
SLS 3D printing is best for printing functional parts like custom manufacturing pieces. Prototypes tend to have a rougher finish, and limited material options from which they can be made. But it’s great for something with geometric shapes, models with moving parts, and metal. Think SLS 3D printing for models of your video game character’s armor or chainmail; or something that needs to be durable like a weapon or moving mechanism.
Binder Jetting (BJ) 3D Printing
What’s cool about BJ 3D printing technology is that it can use different types of materials together. The four most popular are plastic, sand, metal, and ceramic, and the parts can be printed in full color – unlike many other printers which require the prototype to be painted afterward. Don’t expect a super high resolution from BJ 3D printing, though. But do expect some cool printing options.
Material Jetting (MJ) 3D Printing
MJ 3D printing technology is based on a technique jewelers have been using for centuries – wax casting. These types of printers are also good for experimenting with jewelry designs with intricate details and geometry.
What Materials Can Be Used For 3D Printing?
As you probably noticed above, 3D printers are able to use a variety of materials to produce detailed and customized models for a variety of uses and functions. Although the type of material and functionality of the resulting prototype does depends on the type of printer you use. Generally though, these are the available materials you can use to 3D print your custom video game model or project.
- Premium metals like polyurethane and stainless steel
- Replica materials like polyjet, sandstone, and fine detail plastic perfect for scale models
- Industrial strength aluminum and plastic
- Jewelry-finish metals like copper, gold, silver, and even platinum!
- Versatile plastic and steel for every day applications like mobile phone cases and mechanical parts
The 3D Printing Process from Start to Finish
Although technology is rapidly advancing, 3D printing isn’t at a point where we can just place an image on a screen and let the printer run on autopilot the way a 2D printer works. Here are the steps from start to finish for a 3D printed project.
Step 1: Produce an initial 3D model from a CAD (computer-aided design) software designed to be a basic prototype image for what your end result 3D printed model or toy will be.
Step 2: Convert the CAD image to an STL (standard tessellation language) the 3D printer can read. Waypoint is able to do this from your existing 3D models. (Meaning we can turn your custom video game character into a 3D printed keychain -or anything else- right from your in-game assets!)
Step 3: Next, a user copies the STL file the computer operating the 3D printer. There they’ll set up the size and orientation of how model will be printed – similar to the way you would set up either landscape or portrait orientation on a 2D printer.
Step 4: Each project will require a unique setup. This includes loading the material and adding any necessary components.
Step 5: At this point, the 3D printer will pretty much build your model on auto-pilot. The process will take a few hours, to even days though, so someone will have to check on it throughout the process.
Step 6: Remove the piece (or pieces, depending on the scope and size of the project) safely.
Step 7: Professional looking 3D printed models are rarely ready for use directly after printed. They usually need some post-treatment and priming (which involves washing, thorough sanding and buffing, and the primer coat itself) before they can even be painted.
Step 8: Finally your custom 3D printed video game model can be painted – but it takes some finesse to get your model looking perfect. It’ll need multiple layers with different application techniques – and even intermittent buffing and section masking – to get the custom color and finish you need.
Step 9: When your paint job is done, it’s finished with a top coat to protect the color and give it a professional quality.
Step 10: Finally, the 3D printed model is ready for use! Either as a standalone or as part of a bigger project.
How Detailed is 3D Printing?
3D printing projects can be as micro as a dainty filigree detailed ring, to as macro as a scale topographical map – and pretty much anywhere in-between. Which makes the process a great option for crafting replica toys, figurines, and collectibles from your video game titles.
With the variety of printer and material types, your options are really open wide for making your custom 3D printed video game model as detailed as you want to go. Though there are some exceptions we’ll talk about below – generally you can get your replicas accurate enough that both you and fans will feel like the piece was transported from the game itself!
3D Printing Pitfalls to Watch Out For
Although it’s current technology at its finest, 3D printing can’t do everything (yet!). So it’s only fair we give you a couple pitfalls to avoid before you go spending your hard-earned money on something that’s just not the right solution for your project.
Pay to Play
3D printing technology is so readily available you can find plenty of affordable “at home” printers to buy today and start using immediately. While these printers are fun for quick fixes and around-the-house use – you just won’t get the quality from them you need to produce your officially licensed products. So it’s best to invest with a company who specializes in working with industrial 3D printing (and priming), or skipping it all together.
Sometimes we focus on size constraints on large items so much that we forget really small items can be difficult, too. While 3D printing can be a good item for small items like jewelry, for really tiny and really detailed items – it just might not be the best option. That’s Items like small but detailed figures. Because they can be hard to get crisp and nail the painting details right.
WAYPOINT and 3D Printing Video Game Models
At Waypoint, no stone goes unturned when it comes to creating the custom detailed 3D printed video game models our clients use for their marketing activations, events, and swag.
That’s why we take our time with each step, from modeling to posing, before even getting to the first prototype stage! Then we move on to a painted prototype, pre-production sample, and finally, end result and post-production. And we offer revisions at every step in the process to promote transparency and ensure our customers are happy with the project from start to finish.
Plus, we’ll guide you, too! Some materials can’t be painted, so your custom model may require a specific filament type. And models with intricate details have printing best practices to get the best and cleanest results. So we’ll partner with you through each step. To make sure your 3D printed custom video game model is as polished and enigmatic as your custom game it’s based on!
Of course sometimes you only need a prototype of your 3D printed figurine or model before making any final decisions. We can do that, too. The price ranges from $3,500 to $15,000 depending on the model and level of detail.
(But sometimes if you have a simple design and you catch us at the right time – we’ll do your 3D print for fun if you send us a tight mesh 3D model that’s ready for printing. If we’re in a really good mood – we may even paint it for you!) So reach out to see what waypoint can do for you!