No-Skill Speed Painting for Infinity

This is a tutorial for quickly painting miniatures with a very minimal amount of skill required. Many “speed painting” tutorials don’t actually differentiate between those two aspects. It’s one thing for somebody who likes painting to rapidly do a whole horde in a zenithal-wash approach or an airbrushed scheme. It’s another prospect entirely to get a squad painted for the people that really don’t like painting, don’t think they have any skills for it, don’t want to buy a lot of things for it, and just don’t do it. This guide is for the latter, so they can get an army painted up, stop getting hassled by their friends, and maybe even get some compliments.

It’s worth noting that you really should field painted miniatures. I don’t believe there’s anyone that doesn’t get some extra enjoyment from a game of painted models versus bare metal or plastic. However, even if you truly actually don’t care, consider:

  • By not painting your miniatures, you’re putting your opponents at a disadvantage by making it harder to distinguish models, particularly from across the table;
  • Your opponents will enjoy games more if your models are painted, and don’t you want them to have a better time if you can enable that with minor effort?

I’ll be talking about Infinity miniatures, though the same process could be well applied to a number of others. The #1 comment I have about Infinity models is that, yes, the details and small size can make painting them seem daunting. But they’re actually really helpful for lesser-skilled painters, because those small details provide texture and mean a ton of work can be done with a simple wash (brushing on a heavily diluted form of paint). Sure, picking out all those belt buckles and so on could be difficult. Just don’t worry about them! The model will look plenty good even if you ignore them.

Front and center in your mind should be that literally anything is a huge step up from bare models. Spray paint them all a color? They’ll look 100% better on the table. Spray them one color and then wash them? 1000% better. Here I describe just a few more steps to take that require almost no skill, are fast to do, and will produce fairly good looking models. To be clear, the goal isn’t to produce masterworks and you won’t win painting competitions. The objective is to rapidly paint a bunch of models, with little skill required, and ensure even more enjoyable games for you and your opponents.

Demo

As an example for this walkthrough I’ll be painting an older Montesa Knight model I had laying around unfinished (the base was previously greenstuffed to cover the slot, but that’s not critical to making the model look presentable for play).

As I said above, you could just spray paint the model, wash it, and call it done. What we’re trying to achieve with the process here is expending minimal effort and requiring little skill to gain some additional depth and visual interest that wouldn’t really be achievable with just a wash. Note how the blue spray painted major surfaces on the finished model have more pop to them than the green brushed surfaces. That effect’s been created by the three spray painting steps combined with the wash, and wouldn’t be the same with just the latter. Conversely, the green surfaces aren’t highlighted because that would require more brushwork and this is strictly a tutorial on creating respectable-looking models very quickly and easily.

Importantly, I only demo one model here, but this process is meant to be applied to batches of models at once, as discussed in more detail below. By leaning heavily on spray paints and a wash to do the work, you can power through a whole squad with only slightly more time and effort than it would take to do a single model. I generally recommend working in batches of five, which is enough to be efficient while not becoming overwhelming in the brush work phase.

Overview

There are four phases to this process, described in detail below:

  • Phase 1: Prep & Assemble—putting the model together;
  • Phase 2: Spray Paint—rapidly painting most of the model;
  • Phase 3: Brush Work—accentuating a few elements of the model;
  • Phase 4: Post-Work—final cleanup and preparation for play.

The usual supplies are needed: Hobby knife and glue, some hobby paints, a brush or two, a water cup for cleaning your brush(es), and a paper towel for wiping them off. On top of those you’ll need a black spray paint as well as lighter and darker shades of whatever color you want your models to primarily be. A disposable glove and a cardboard box or plastic sheeting for your spray paint work area are also useful.

All the tools and supplies used in the demo here.

Phase 1: Prep & Assemble

The first phase is of course to simply get the models assembled.

Casting metal miniatures almost inevitably leaves behind some artifacts that aren’t part of the model and need to be removed as the first step in preparing them for assembly. With the parts unbagged, cut and scrape away all the casting remnants with a hobby knife: Supply gates, sprue runners, flash, tip spikes, mold lines, and so on, plus of course the slot in the base. I’ve found Infinity casts from the past couple years to be very high quality and this to be a quick and easy process.

I do though find it helpful to then clean Infinity models before assembling. Many seem to have mold release or some other residue from the manufacturing process that can make glue not cure quickly or well. Scrub the parts briefly with an old toothbrush in warm, soapy water; dish detergent is fine. Rinse with water and let them sit to dry. When preparing models in batches, keep the parts for each model separate so that you don’t have to figure out later what parts belong to which model. I cut up the packaging from the retail blisters and use those as small containers throughout this process to do so, then carefully lay out related parts together on paper towels to dry.

Once the parts are dry, test fit them together and then glue. I prefer to use cyanoacrylate (superglue) in gel form, which doesn’t spread and get all over as the traditional liquid form can easily do. Gel superglue can often also be used to fill in small gaps in the base slot unfilled by the tab or covered by the miniature.

Phase 2: Spray Paint

The bulk of the work in this process is done with spray paints. One way to think about this is via the hobby adage to “Always use the biggest brush you can”: No brush is bigger than a cloud of pressurized paint. This phase has three steps:

  • Primer: Coating the whole model in black;
  • Base: Painting the model your baseline color but leaving black shadows;
  • Highlight: Accentuating the top surfaces with a lighter shade of the base color.

Spray painting needs to be done in a very well ventilated area, which typically means outdoors. However, you don’t want to spray paint in extremes of heat, cold, or humidity, as they can cause cracking, fuzzing, and other unwanted effects.

Most spray paints will work. I generally use ~$5 cans from the local hardware store around the corner. Most hardware stores have a large selection of colors and shades. Many arts & crafts stores have even more colors, but note that many of the spray paints commonly found in these (at least around here; specifically I’m thinking of Montana Gold paints) seal harder. They work, but typical acrylic miniatures paints don’t adhere quite as easily (which does have both ups and downs).

The name of the game here is doing everything in batches. It takes no more effort or time to spray paint ten models than it does one. So prep a bunch of models, say 5–10, and work on that whole group all at once.

Just as with brushing, you want to apply several light, thin coats, rather than globbing on paint. You don’t need to worry about this too much, just don’t spray the models thickly all over all at once. Line them up in an old cardboard box or whatever you’re using to catch the overspray. Begin spraying just to the side of one end of the line, so the models aren’t hit by the initial spray, which can be a bit thicker or contain flecks of dried paint from the nozzle. Then sweep the head across the line at a steady pace, neither rushed nor slow, until it’s past the last model, and stop there. Don’t let the nozzle linger in any one spot or that area will get too much paint. The can should usually be held about 8–12 inches from the models.

Sweeping a can of spray paint across a line of miniatures, beginning just before and ending just after the line.

Primer

The first step is to spray paint the models all in black. Many Infinity painters and tutorials recommend priming in white. That makes sense to help bring out the vibrant colors often used. The downside is you need to be sure you’re actually going to paint all the nooks and crevices, because any area left white will stand out. That can take time and a little bit of skill. Black is much more forgiving—those hard-to-reach areas are generally shadowed anyway and it won’t stand out. In fact, in this process we’re going to leverage that to do some very basic, coarse shading. Base coating with spray paints as we will is also less affected by the vibrancy issue.

For this primer step you need to make sure you get total coverage, including under any overhangs and on all sides of each wall or other micro-feature. No bare metal! I usually do this in four passes:

  • Line up all the miniatures and sweep across.
  • Wait until they’re dry, rotate each model roughly 120 degrees (1/3 of the way around), and sweep again.
  • Do the previous step again.
  • Spray the underside of each model and spot hits anywhere needed, one-by-one.

To do the last step, wear cheap disposable gloves on one hand. Latex, nitrile, or vinyl disposable gloves all work equally well for this use and should be available at any store with a reasonable pharmacy section, as well as hardware stores. Move the line of dried models out of the way. Pick up each miniature in turn and hold it in your gloved hand by the base over your work area. Hold the model at an angle and quickly spray any undersides not hit by the previous passes, as well as spot hits anywhere else needed to ensure total coverage. Remember to ideally not start spraying directly on the model but instead to sweep the paint onto and over it. The gloves may wreck the paint where you’re holding it on the rim of the base, but that doesn’t matter, it’ll get fixed later.

Getting total coverage of the model with the black spray.

Holding the model to spray at the undersides.

Primed black.

Base Coat

Once the models have fully dried, spray them in the darker base color you’ve chosen. I usually do this in three passes, similar to the primer step:

  • Line up all the miniatures and sweep across.
  • Wait until they’re dry, rotate each model roughly 120 degrees (1/3 of the way around), and sweep again.
  • Do the previous step again.

Importantly, in doing so, hold the can at a slight to moderate angle vertically relative to the models, say ~45 degrees. The goal is to not fully coat the underhangs and a small area just below them, creating a shadow or recess effect from the black remaining visible. Some overspray and variance is unavoidable and fine, you want a gradient transition between the colors.

Spraying the base color, at an angle such that a small area under overhangs is not coated.

Base coated in a moderate blue.

Highlight

Now coarsely highlight the models with the last spray paint step. Sweep along the front and back at a very steep angle vertically relative to the models, say 60–75 degrees, or even just a single sweep directly above, in a lighter shade of the base color. The goal here is to only coat the top facing surfaces. Again, some overspray and variance is unavoidable and fine, you want a gradient transition between the colors.

Spraying a highlight color at a steep angle to only hit the top facing surfaces.

Coarsely highlighted with a light blue.

Brush Work

The next phase is some very simple brush painting. I think of this as three steps:

  • Details: Picking out guns, helmets, faces, and other basic features;
  • Base: Painting the base so it’s not the same color as the model;
  • Wash: Shading the whole model and visually tying all the elements together.

As said above, always use the biggest brush as is reasonable to make the work go as fast as possible. This means you might want to use a smaller brush on the details (say, a size 0), and then switch to something bigger for the base and wash.

Painting should always be done in multiple thin coats. If you have fairly recent miniatures-specific paints then you don’t need to worry about thinning them for this level of work. Most colors & paints will require two coats to look solid and clean. Remember to periodically wet the brush in water and then wipe it off; this helps protect the bristles and their attachment to the handle, as well as preventing stray marks and globbing from having too much paint on the brush.

As with the spray painting, an important time saving measure is to work in batches instead of completing each model one-by-one. Pick a feature and color, then go down the line and paint that type of feature on all the models. Do the same for another feature, and another, and so on, and then repeat the sequence for the second coats. This saves time cleaning the paint brush and swapping colors, and, more importantly, gets you into a rhythm of how to quickly locate and paint each type of feature.

Details

The first step of the brush work phase is to paint some features, just a nice and simple covering in whatever color you want. Try to keep it clean, remembering that “Smooth is fast”: Better to work a bit slower than to have to go back and clean it up later. However, don’t worry too much about small stray marks. The wash step will obscure many of them, and usually they really don’t matter anyway if the miniature isn’t going to be subject to up-close inspection. Can’t quite color-between-the-lines and have some stray paint here and there? It’s absolutely irrelevant, stop worrying about it.

For purposes of this process, you should generally NOT use black for the details. Pick a dark grey or blue instead. Black by itself doesn’t work as well being shaded by a simple wash as we will do in a later step, the color is already bottomed out.

How many items to paint or the number of colors to use depends entirely on how much effort you want to spend per model, with an obvious tradeoff between time and how good the model looks. I suggest the following as a minimum set that are generally easy and fast to do and will either look weird if not painted a different color from the underlying base or will add a lot of visual interest for not much work or difficulty:

  • Faces: Some kind of flesh tone. Don’t even worry about the eyes, they don’t matter except for up-close inspection.
  • Hair: Blonde, brown, gray, whatever you want, just NOT black.
  • Helmet, Shoulder Pads, and Robes/Capes: Some nice contrast or complement to the sprayed base color. You can probably get away with using black for helmets and shoulder pads, but definitely not robes and capes.
  • Guns: Usually a dark color, but NOT black.
  • Swords: Steel.

If your goal is truly just to get models colored and looking fine on the table, simply don’t worry about all the pouches and belts and so on. The models will look good with just a couple big items like that list picked out.

Helmet, shoulder pads, robes, gun, and sword picked out.

Base

Next is an easy step, painting the top of the base. Don’t worry about the rim yet.

I separate this from the details step and do it after the latter is done for two reasons:

  • To do it quickly and easily you need to hold the model by the model itself rather than the base, so all the other paint needs to be dry and your hands clean.
  • I often use “technical” paints for the base, which can take longer to dry so the pace and flow of the work is different.

Usually you want to pick a muted color for the base, so that the model remains the point of interest. A trivial way to add visual interest to the base and distinguish it from the model is to use “technical” or “texture” paints, e.g. Games Workshop’s Texture paints. These are formulated to include hard grains, crack once dry, or create other effects, and are a super easy way to paint something that with the look and feel of ground. Most of these are thicker, and you can glob them around the slot & tab to further obscure those. Allow ample time to dry if you apply it thickly like that.

Grainy mud painted on the top of the base.

Wash

The final step of this phase is to wash the whole model. You can mix your own wash by diluting paint, but I generally just use commercial washes like GW’s Shades. For this process we’re just going to wash the whole model, including the base, in one color. That keeps the effort super minimal and will unify the look of the whole model.

Commonly recommended for beginners is to use a black wash like GW’s Nuln Oil. That will definitely vastly improve your models. However, I recommend defaulting to a brown like GW’s Agrax Earthshade. The harder black shading can make the model look more plastic-y, and black will overwhelm the colors more. A brown shade will be more subtle and looks great with a wide range of colors.

For this step you should use a big brush and liberally apply the wash; it’s not called that for nothing. However, you should watch the models for a few minutes. If you notice the wash overly pooling in areas as it runs down, e.g., at the model’s feet, you should clean that up a bit: Wipe off the bristles of the brush and use it to absorb and remove the pooling. Pay particular attention to make sure pooling doesn’t occlude open areas, e.g., within trigger guards or under slightly raised feet.

The wash will take some time to dry, so plan accordingly.

Once the wash has dried.

Post-Work

The last phase is to cleanup the base and prepare the model for play. The wash may have run over the rim of the base or the latter been marred in handling during painting and washing, which is why we didn’t paint it earlier. Make sure again that your hands are clean and the model dry so you can pick it up by the figure to access the base. Give the rim two coats of black paint for a nice, trim appearance that works well with any color scheme. Now mark the half-arcs of the base delineating the model’s facing by brushing on thin lines in whatever color you want, but I recommend whatever color you used for your main base or details. There is a paper template here and 3D printable templates here that you can print and use to do this rapidly and accurately.

At this point, the model’s all done! You could seal it with matte or gloss spray varnish, but it’s not necessary. Spray paint won’t generally rub off with simple handling like delicate brush work can, so the underlying foundation is pretty robust.

All done!

Conclusion

Hopefully this process helps you quickly & easily get your bare models painted & in play! Note that it should work equally well, if not better, for larger models like TAGs.

A pair of TAGs begun with the same process.

From here you could extend the process just by spending more time and not necessarily needing additional skills. Pick out more details, maybe match washes to colors, and spend some time on the base and you’ll quickly have above average models. For example, the only additional, simple, skills applied to my Bagh Maris that I had to do in an evening were texturing the bases with greenstuff, very basic drybrushing on the guns & base, and gluing vegetation on the base. They’re otherwise the process above, just with more details picked out and colors used. And while they’re not going to win any awards, they look great on the table and in photographs.

Good luck!

Bagh Maris control the midfield.

First Impressions: WanHao Duplicator i3 Plus 3D Printer

Late last week I picked up a WanHao Duplicator i3 Plus 3D printer. The cost is low enough that I could justify it as a backup and secondary printer, as well as just to have first hand experience with this popular model. These are some thoughts after a few days’ use and a number of prints, with a mind specifically toward miniatures terrain and similar hobby work. The upshot is that I think this is a great printer for the price, well suited for terrain production, and very accessible to newcomers to 3D printing provided they’re willing to look for and utilize other documentation.

I also have a walkthrough here for newcomers of some basic 3D printing concepts in the context of miniatures wargaming. A detailed tutorial on 3D modeling and printing using a miniatures wargaming example is here.

Wanhao Duplicator i3 Plus all set up and ready to go.

Cost & Availability

It’s stereotyping a bit to say, but in many respects the WanHao i3+ is typical of low cost but solid quality Chinese electronics. WanHao itself doesn’t produce retail products, at least for the US market, so there’s a confusing medley of rebranders under which the printer is actually sold. Monoprice is probably the most common; they sell their version as the Maker Select Plus on Amazon and elsewhere for $400. I bought a PowerSpec branded model from Micro Center for $350; it’s apparently sometimes offered on sale there for $250, a steal. I refuse to let it not be amazing that I can pop out to the store for under an hour, spend just a modest amount of cash, and come back with a robot that can make “anything.”

It’s worth taking some note of that availability. A big part of why I got this specific printer was because I could pick one up right away that evening when my main printer went down for non-trivial maintenance. Contrast that with Prusa Research, whose manufacturing is continually overwhelmed by their popularity and notoriously have backlogs of weeks or more. I produce a lot of prints for events and other deadlines, so it’s useful to know what I can likely grab with essentially no delay if/when necessary.

Tools

The PowerSpec edition, and I assume most rebrandings of the WanHao i3+, come with everything needed to get started. Included are the few tools necessary to assemble the printer and some extras for later maintenance; enough PLA filament for a a couple small prints; a spackle knife for removing pieces from the print plate; and an SD card with a few ready-to-print test designs preloaded. Including an SD card is a nice small touch, removing the need to hunt down or buy one to get started.

The spackle knife is a somewhat negative note among the included accessories. It’s useful, and more so than some other removal tools. But it has sharp corners that can easily gouge the print surface. I quickly switched back to the print removal tools I’ve been happily using for some time (especially the small tool).

A sidenote on the topic of tools to get started, I also use a simple pair of curved tweezers all the time. They’re handy for plucking at loose bits and threads of filament, or holding a cloth or paper towel to clean off a heated hotend.

Left to right: Spackle knife packaged with the i3+; knife that comes with Lulzbot printers; the Foreasy print removal tool I actually use; and curved tweezers for plucking filament threads.

Setup

Shipped in just a few major sub-assemblies, physically putting together the WanHao i3+ is intuitive and takes only a few minutes. Again typical of rebranded electronics though, PowerSpec’s documentation doesn’t quite track with the final product or packaging. The first indicator is that a description of the locations for the handful of bolts to be put in isn’t quite right. More problematic, the booklet doesn’t mention a cable you have to plug in (don’t miss cable E!). But it all makes simple sense: Bolt the gantry onto the platform; attach the filament holder on top; and plug in cables A through E. The cables & plugs in particular are very neatly and clearly labeled. The whole process is quick, the necessary hex wrench is included, and many good videos and writeups are available online to correct for the somewhat unclear documentation.

Plugging in well-labeled components.

Usage

Using the WanHao i3+ is also more or less straightforward, with the caveat again that the documentation is not great. Unfortunately this includes the touchscreen prompts. Sometimes these are just funny quirks and bugs, like the bed leveling procedure listing “x/4” steps when there are really 5.

Sometimes they’re less funny. Most notable are the instructions in both the documentation and the onscreen prompts for bed leveling to adjust the print plate to be “a millimeter away” from the hotend. That’s excessive, and even contradicted by more detailed notes in the booklet. Getting this distance right is where 3D printing starts to blend art and science, and there are tradeoffs: Too far and the first layer won’t adhere well and the print may fail; too close and the print’s first layer may blob up too much, or the hotend even potentially gouge the print plate. I’m still learning the best distance for the BuildTak print plate surfacing supplied with PowerSpec’s version of WanHao’s i3+ as I’ve found it to grip extremely well. That’s good in that prints adhere very well, achieving which is more commonly the challenge in 3D printing, but can make prints difficult to remove. I’m adapting by permitting a bit more gap in the bed leveling adjustments to compensate. A distance more like 1/3 of a millimeter seems appropriate, such that you can just barely push in a standard business card. For those just coming to 3D printing that might not seem like much of a difference from “a millimeter,” but it’s actually huge—under common settings each print layer is only 0.1–0.2 millimeters, and that first layer is the most critical in the whole print.

Misleading prompt for the bed leveling procedure.

Adjusting the bed leveling with a business card.

With the print plate pushing down just slightly to accommodate this business card under the hotend, for about 1/3 of a millimeter gap, prints seem to adhere very well and remove reasonably.

In general the touchscreen interface is workable but not great. I wish more or all screens had the hotend and print plate temperatures on them, e.g., to avoid having to go into subscreens to monitor cool down once a print completes. Some of the screen flow is not obvious or ideal, and there are some minor oddities or shortcomings like the limited number of visible characters in the file listing. But the control screen works and is ultimately straightforward once you learn the quirks. With the printer assembled and leveled, getting going just involves slapping in an SD card, hitting “Print,” and selecting a file. I’ll almost certainly set up an OctoPrint server on a Raspberry Pi to drive the printer, to have a better interface and remotely monitor progress, but it is nice to have a built-in SD card reader so the printer is ready to go on its own out of the box.

Fortunately, these issues with the documentation and limitations of the controls are mitigated by readily available resources. Since so many people have this printer, there are many guides online from which to learn the basic routines, and multiple active forums on which to ask questions. For those new to 3D printing, I strongly encourage watching a few videos or reading a few writeups about assembling and adjusting the printer before diving in. The aforementioned OctoPrint and similar open source projects can also supplant and improve the control interface if desired.

For slicing 3D models into G-code to drive the printer, I have been using the open source Cura and as expected had no problems. Several commercial and open source options exist. All of the settings needed to configure slicers for the WanHao i3+ are listed in the documentation, and many notes on the topic may be found online.

Although probably not the quietest available, I find WanHao’s i3+ to be very quiet. Certainly not a problem to run in a den or home office and not be noticeable elsewhere.

Print Quality

Straight out of the box, with no adjustment or tuning beyond basic bed leveling, I think WanHao’s i3+ produces very good prints given its price. Certainly they meet my expectations for tabletop ready miniatures terrain with which I’m happy to play games.

Some first prints on the WanHao i3+, from my Kolony designs.

Closeup on a building.

Fine details on small scatter terrain pieces.

With some tuning of settings I’m sure the quality can get even better, and no doubt some will be required for more challenging designs featuring tough retractions and bridging. Physical modifications of varying expense and difficulty to improve the printer can also be made and are extensively discussed online. An easy one for which I’ve already ordered parts is adding a brace to the gantry to further reduce unwanted motions. Thicker print plate chassis are also available and seem simple to install, reducing bed warping and making leveling easier and less frequently required. However, I think this printer is more than suitable for miniatures terrain out of the box.

Filament

WanHao’s i3+ uses 1.75mm filament, probably the most common size these days. Unlike some other popular entry level printers it isn’t restricted to proprietary spools, a huge boon for better availability and lower costs. Just as with the printer itself, it’s nice to know that in a pinch I can run to any of several nearby stores and grab more filament. A kilogram of PLA, almost certainly the most commonly used filament type for miniatures terrain, runs about $15 to $23 for typical quality without any shopping around for a better price and is enough to print quite a pile of models.

Cost and Longevity

From a filament price we can do some rough calculations on the cost efficiency and longevity of the printer. Obviously the value of a 3D printer can be hard to quantify. If you do custom design work it could be invaluable in expanding your capabilities. Just being able to acquire and build niche models is similarly hard to put numbers on. But we can do some basic calculations as a value floor. In particular, presumably one of the tradeoffs of a low cost printer is some reduction in expected lifetime. As a baseline, how long does this low cost printer have to last to make sense under the minimal use case of just printing existing designs? In considering miniatures terrain of the styles in which I am most interested (i.e., buildings, not interior tiles), we can put some numbers to that through comparison to buying MDF terrain.

Kolony 4×5 Habitats

A Kolony 4×5 Habitat, rendered above, is arguably a bit more detailed but fairly directly comparable to a simple MDF building commonly used for Infinity and other ~28mm games. It consumes ~120–150 grams of filament depending on whether or not it’s printed with a floor (the roof is also designed to be optional and easily made with foamcore or styrene instead to save print time, and burns about 1/3 of the filament, but is included here to fairly compare to similar MDF buildings). So a standard 1kg spool for $15 will produce 6–10 of these buildings for $1.50 to $2.25 each in direct filament costs. Electricity consumption is negligible for home use (i.e., not mass production).

Compare that to about $8–$9 for a comparably sized simple MDF small building (e.g., from Shark Mounted Lasers or Black Sheep Industries, both of which I play on often and like a lot). With the printer factored in at retail pricing, the 3D printed buildings using $15 spools become cheaper at about 50–60 small buildings [e.g.: 54*$1.5+$350=431 while 54*$8=$432]. Using $23 spools the crossover is higher, but not considerably.

So, as a very raw measure of pure economic sense, will this low cost printer produce at least 50 small buildings before additional costs are incurred, such as its semi-consumables needing replacement (like the print plate surface), or more serious repairs becoming necessary? I don’t myself know yet for sure. But I’m fairly confident it will.

Total costs for collections of small buildings for MDF versus 3D printing.

From that simple evaluation the capabilities scale very differently. 3D printing simply takes a long time and as such isn’t well suited to producing large terrain. It’s much better applied to producing small pieces to augment and detail larger constructions. On the other hand, 3D printing scales well with increasing model complexity. Even simple structures like the Kolony Outpost and Storage Shelters, the prints pictured earlier in this post, would be somewhat more complex and costly MDF models, but still only use about 100–150g/$1.50–$2.50 of filament with typical settings and take similar or less time to print. The Kolony BioDome, pictured below, also only consumes about 108g/$1.62 in filament and similar print time. But an MDF version would be very complex with numerous parts and almost certainly sold at a good bit more than $9.

Kolony BioDome (printed in HIPS on a Lulzbot Mini).

What these very rough calculations indicate is that if you’re producing a non-trivial but modest amount of terrain (a couple tables’ worth, figuring a typical generic layout is equivalent to ~15 small buildings in the analysis here), then there’s some reason to believe that this low cost printer will last long enough to make basic economic sense: Provided it does last that long, it’ll be similar or better in terms of pure dollar outlay relative to prices for reasonably comparable market offerings.

This isn’t to say 3D printing terrain like this makes sense for everybody. Maybe the finish quality isn’t acceptable, you feel it simply takes too long to print, or printers are just too much hassle to work with and maintain—these are all reasonable viewpoints to hold! Further, maybe you simply don’t envision printing enough to make it worthwhile. Alternatively, maybe printing is extremely valuable to you because you love a niche game for which models are really only available through 3D printing, or you have grand plans for crafting many boards full of bespoke, personalized terrain. I’m just arguing that under some plausible assumptions, parameters, and requirements (such as acceptable quality level), the per-piece cost using this printer is reasonable.

Newcomers

For people coming to 3D printing new, the WanHao i3+ seems a very reasonable option for those willing to put just a little effort into researching, thinking about, and using the printer. It’s affordable, prints well, and is ultimately pretty straightforward. My only hesitations for true beginners stem from issues like the touchscreen prompts and documentation. You have to know just enough to realize those are a bit off and then either figure out or track down better information. Light searching will also yield a number of improvements that are easily made but come built into some other, more costly, products, such as better G-code boilerplate to plug into your slicer to make printing more convenient by moving the hotend entirely out of the way when done.

A more subtle example is that the printer’s design essentially has three points of contact along the Y axis: Front, back, and the gantry. If they or the underlying surface (i.e., the table or shelf) are not level, it can rock a bit. So, for example, I assembled mine on one table and then moved it to another as its current home. A very slight difference in these surfaces led to the printer rocking just a bit front-to-back on the latter. So I loosened the gantry bolts, re-settled it in place, tightened the bolts back up, and the problem was solved. Anybody could do this very easily. But you’d have to be paying just a bit of attention to notice the rocking is possible, realize it could be a problem, and be just the tiniest bit mechanically minded to resolve it. This particular issue doesn’t come up with some other common printer configurations, so it’s an example of a small potential issue that could trip up an unwary user.

All of this is to say that, despite Micro Center’s questionable shelving decisions, 3D printing and especially this printer are not as thought-free as a typical 2D inkjet printer or similar appliance. If you’re happy going into it with just a hint of a hobbying and tinkering mindset, then WanHao’s Duplicator i3 Plus is probably a great option. Otherwise it might be worth looking elsewhere.

Summary

Long story short, my early impressions of WanHao’s Duplicator i3 Plus, and specifically the PowerSpec version from Micro Center, are very good. It and its filament are affordable and easy to find. Installation and usage is fairly straightforward. The output is good enough for ~28mm miniatures terrain, my main interest, even before any significant tuning. A tremendous number of people have one of these or a closely related model, so there are many tutorials and notes online. Numerous modifications are also possible and available to improve it even further. As a low cost printer I think this is a good option, and newcomers willing to put just a bit of thought toward the process will get a lot out of it for the money. Good luck!

WanHao Duplicator i3 Plus, hard at work!

Magnetizing Inceptors

I’m not actually sure whether I really like the new Space Marine Primaris Inceptor jump pack models or if they leave me kind of “Meh.” Some details I love, some I don’t. But I do know that I don’t like the flight stands at all. Unlike some of GW’s peg-and-socket designs in the past, these have to be affixed to the model. They don’t just slot in firmly or anything like that. Affixing them though means they take up a lot of transport space. The connection between stand and model also seems very very prone to breaking in transport or play. As a final insult, it’s also kind of finicky to glue.

I dealt with all this by magnetizing mine. Many people have of course suggested this but I don’t see any detailed notes around so this is a quick tutorial.

Assembled models.

Ball & Socket

You could magnetize these guys in a couple ways. I’ve done it the way most people do X-Wing ships: A ball bearing on the end of the stand and a ring magnet somewhat hidden in the the underside of the jump pack.

Side view in which you can see the ball & ring magnet connection.

There are several reasons for this approach.

Perhaps most important, in general you don’t want to use two magnets if you can avoid it. A pair of magnets makes a stronger connection but incurs a bunch of extra work. Obviously in that case you need to orient each pair of magnets properly, which can be difficult to get right for small magnets while affixing them in place. But then ideally they should be aligned the same way across all of the models so that you don’t have to worry about which stand goes with which model. That’s a hassle, especially when you add more models later. In contrast, the ball bearing is just a metal surface. There’s no polarity to get right and any model can use any stand without worrying at all about orientation for either any single pair or the squad/army.

Somewhat similarly in reducing fiddliness, using a ball bearing rather than a steel disk means the magnet doesn’t have to be set perfectly on the model. Even if it’s placed a bit crooked you’ll be able to rotate the ball bearing connection to orient the model however you want. Taking that further, if the connection is strong enough, you can rotate the model around into funky angles either for fun or to move it out of the way in tight spaces (a big help in X-Wing, less of an issue here).

A ball bearing and a plain disk magnet would probably also work if the latter was strong enough. However, by using an appropriately sized ring magnet, the ball bearing fits inside and it works like a socket. This lets more of the magnetic field pull on the bearing while at the same time making a bit of a pressure fit. It’s much much stronger than a bearing just sitting against a flat surface and only minimally reduces the angles at which you can position the model.

Finally, ball bearings and ring magnets are cheap and easy to come by, in contrast to cylinders or something like that. I order from K&J Magnetics in sufficient quantities to make shipping worthwhile, but they can be found other places as well.

Model

The ring magnets I used are 1/16″ thick, with 1/4″ outer diameter and 1/8″ inner diameter, specifically the R421 from K&J. Inner diameter needs to match the ball bearing. Outer diameter needs to fit the model, and these just happen to fit nicely on the underside of the jump pack between the secondary thrusters. A nice bonus of the ring magnet is that from a distance it arguably looks vaguely like just another thruster.

Attaching the magnet is straightforward. You could use either CA (superglue) or green stuff, putting a small amount in the cavity on the model and dropping the magnet on. Since polarity doesn’t matter, you can actually literally just drop it on with the model facedown on the table and let it sit there to cure. I used gel CA so I could easily form a small blob to sink the magnet into and fill up the tiny gaps between it and the model. Whatever you use though, be sure to not fill up the hole on the magnet.

Note in these pictures how the glue vapors frosted up the surrounding area a bit, which is a good reminder to never use superglue on painted models if at all avoidable.

This size magnet fits perfectly in a slight cavity on the jump pack underside.

And it hardly stands out at all on the model amid the thrusters.

Attaching the ring magnet is a simple matter of putting the model face down and dropping it on.

Stand

Putting the ball bearing on the stand is just slightly more involved. The bearing I used is 1/8″, matching the inner diameter of the magnet, specifically the NSB2 from K&J but you can find similar tons of places.

The bearing fits well in the little hook on the flight stand. I attached it in three steps:

  1. Using gel CA so it doesn’t flow all over, put a dab in the hook and then drop in the ball bearing and let it cure.
  2. Pack a very small quantity of green stuff around the stand and bearing, being sure to leave most of the magnet exposed, essentially creating a tube around both to be a very strong connection.
  3. Once cured, file down any excess green stuff.

More talented greenstuffers could no doubt just pack it on in one step, but I found it helpful to glue on the bearing first to help keep it in place and wound up with just enough bulge to be worth filing down.

Some people have reported trouble gluing the stand to the base. I didn’t have any such problem using my usual plastic cement but it’s probably avoidable or fixable by roughing up the bottom surface of the stand and then rinsing both, creating more surface area and removing any release agent on the pieces.

However, the foundation of my bases is vaguely swampy greenstuffing. So with the stand glued on I also built up some greenstuff over the edges of it. This both obscures the bottom flare out of the stand and makes its connection to the base stronger.

Stand with ball bearing affixed to the top.

Fly!

This process took literally a couple minutes, and now the transport and fragility hassles of these flight stands are almost entirely mitigated. With the bearing in the ring the connection is very strong, the models can be picked up and moved around with no fear at all of the base falling off. As a bonus, the Inceptors can fly around at kooky angles!

All that said, if I pick up another squad of these there’s a good chance I’ll simply mount them on the base. Done well I think they might actually look even better on the ground, it gives them extra visual bulk and intimidation.

But, if you want the flying look, a ball bearing & ring magnet is a good way to do it.

Inceptors flying around.