Video games may be the dominant role-playing platform, but a significant number of people still like to play games face to face. Unfortunately, miniature models for gaming can be very expensive. For enthusiasts, 3D printing their characters is a viable, and potentially money-saving alternative.
The key question, particularly for those new to 3D printers, is how to find the right model. Finding a good balance between price and performance is always a challenge. This article looks at the important features to consider when making your decision, and rounds up our picks for the best 3D printer for miniatures in five key categories.
— Best Overall: Anycubic Photon Mono 4K Resin 3D Printer
— Best Budget: Elegoo Mars 2 Pro Mono MSLA 3D Printer
— Best for Beginners: Creality Ender 3 V2 3D Printer
— Best Resolution: Anycubic Photon Mono X 6K Resin 3D Printer
— Best Printing Speed: Phrozen Sonic Mini 4K LCD Resin 3D Printer
How We Picked the Best 3D Printers for Miniatures
A wide variety of machines can be used for creating 3D printed figures, but there’s little point in buying a larger machine than necessary. As a result the machines we chose are relatively compact, and none are particularly expensive. Here are the other factors we considered when making our selections:
Precision: Generally speaking, the ability to create fine detail is more important than build volume (model size). However, versatility means other types of models can be constructed too, thus allowing for maximum value from your purchase. While we concentrated on the machine’s ability to print 3D miniatures, our picks can create other models as well.
Ease of Use: Like all 3D printers, those for miniatures fall into two basic categories: resin and filament. Resin allows more detail but isn’t very pleasant stuff, and can be tricky to work with. Filament is ideal for beginners, but doesn’t produce the same level of detail. While resin printers take most places on our list, we have included a filament model to illustrate the benefits.
Brand and Price: It’s not difficult to find very cheap machines capable of producing 3D printed miniatures. However, results can be disappointing. While we have tried to minimize costs where possible, we have restricted our picks to brands that are known for quality and reliability.
Best 3D Printer for Miniatures: Reviews and Recommendations
Best Overall: Anycubic Photon Mono 4K Resin 3D Printer
Why It Made The Cut: The Anycubic Photon Mono 4K 3D printer offers everything that most miniature model enthusiasts need with terrific detail at a very competitive price.
— XY precision: 35 microns
— Layer Height: 10 microns
— Build Volume: 6.49 inches L x 5.19 inches W x 3.14 inches H
— Highly detailed miniature
— Minimal setup
— Relatively easy to use
— Not the best for beginners
— Poor customer support
The original Anycubic Photon Mono caused quite a stir when it was introduced, with new levels of performance from an affordable 3D resin printer. Now the higher resolution 4K version delivers even more detail, and for 3D miniatures, there is no better printer for the money.
The 6.23-inch monochrome screen has a resolution of 3840 x 2400 pixels, or 727 PPI. Horizontal precision is 35 microns. Combine that with a layer height of just 10 microns and the result is class-leading detail. The high contrast ratio (the difference between exposed and unexposed pixels) makes for particularly crisp edges and corners. This device is quite fast too, with a maximum speed of up to 50mm (2 inches) per hour. The machine comes ready to use, just requiring leveling. The touch screen panel is easy to use, and the free Photon Workshop software provides all the necessary control.
There is little to fault about the Anycubic Photon Mono 4K. It isn’t the easiest introduction to printing 3D miniatures for beginners, but that’s true of any resin printer. This one is more straightforward than many. Problems with the machine are rare but unfortunately a number of buyers found the company very slow to respond when issues have occurred.
Best Budget: Elegoo Mars 2 Pro Mono MSLA 3D Printer
Why It Made The Cut: The Elegoo Mars 2 Pro is the latest development of a model that has seen numerous improvements in terms of print quality and speed, yet remains very affordable.
— XY precision: 50 microns
— Layer Height: 10 microns
— Build Volume: 5.1 inches L x 3.25 inches W x 6.3 inches H
— Good detail for the price
— Built-in carbon filter
— Industry-standard software
— Larger pixels
— Noisy fans
Those people looking at budget-friendly 3D printers for creating miniatures will certainly want to consider the Elegoo Mars 2 Pro. Experts often compare it with our top pick, the Anycubic Photon Mono 4K, and the two are separated by relatively small differences.
The print screen on the Elegoo is 6.08 inches with 2K resolution, giving 2560 x 1620 pixels, though PPI (pixels per inch) is not quoted. Vertical pixels are 10 microns (which is typical of many resin 3D printers), and horizontal pixels are 50 microns. While the statistics aren’t as impressive as 4K machines, in real-world use the differences in detail are actually quite small. The definition on finished models is not as high as some other 4K printers can provide, but you have to look closely to see the difference. The printer’s speed is a competitive maximum of 50mm (2 inches) per hour.
As with many competitors, the Elegoo Mars 2 Pro comes ready to run except for leveling. The 3.5-inch touch screen is easy to use, and the supplied software comes from leading independent developer, Chitubox. This printer also comes with active carbon filters that do much to absorb the unpleasant smells that resin 3D printing produces (for safety you should still allow plenty of ventilation).
The filters do seem a little fiddly to replace, and the fans are a bit loud, but these are minor complaints. The Elegoo Mars 2 Pro produces very good 3D miniatures, and for gamers looking to save money, it is a viable alternative.
Best for Beginners: Creality Ender 3 V2 3D Printer
Why It Made The Cut: The Creality Ender 3 V2 consistently tops independent reviews of 3D printers for beginners. It combines modest cost with high-quality construction and great versatility.
— XY precision: N/A
— Layer Height: 120 microns
— Build Volume: 8.66 inches L x 8.66 inches W x 9.84 inches H
— Easier to use than resin printers
— Impressive build volume
— Non-toxic filaments
— Modest definition
— Assembly required
Let’s get the negatives out of the way first. When compared to even the lowest resolution 2K resin printers, a filament printer like the Creality Ender 3 V2 provides noticeably lower definition. Layers are thicker, and although nozzles as fine as 20 microns are available, they can never capture the same detail. Additionally, like most filament 3D printers, the Creality Ender 3 V2 requires extensive assembly that will take at least a couple of hours.
You might wonder why we would recommend this machine as among the best 3D printers for the beginners to start miniature modeling. There are several reasons. Filament 3D printing is much more forgiving than resin. While proper ventilation is still important, the filament itself is non-toxic and it’s also cheaper than resin. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Creality has renowned customer support to help people overcome any problems, and there is also a huge online community for learners to take advantage of.
The Creality Ender 3 V2 has a considerably larger build volume than its resin-based rivals, thus providing greater versatility when it comes to the type and size of model that can be created. It is not the best 3D printer for miniatures if you’re an experienced, full-on gaming enthusiast, but for beginners and those playing with family and friends, it could be the ideal choice.
Best Resolution: Anycubic Photon Mono X 6K Resin 3D Printer
Why It Made The Cut: The Anycubic Photon Mono X 6K is the latest generation of this impressive family of 3D printers, giving the enthusiast greater precision, faster production, and larger volume.
— XY precision: 34 microns
— Layer Height: 10 microns
— Build Volume: 9.6 inches L x 7.8 inches W x 4.8 inches H
— Reproduces very fine detail
— Fast printing
— Good build volume
— Comparatively expensive
— Poor customer support
For the keen 3D miniature maker, everything about the Anycubic Photon Mono X 6K is impressive. It’s in effect a major upgrade to our top pick, the 4K model. The screen is larger at 9.25 inches and the resolution is 5,750 x 3,600 pixels. Horizontal pixels are just 34 microns, the smallest in its class. It’s fast too, printing at up to 80mm (3.15 inches) per hour.
The result when printing 3D miniatures is an outstanding amount of fine detail, particularly for faces, hair, fur, dragon scales, etc. What’s more, the extra build volume allows for larger figures, modest-sized pieces of terrain, or for several small models to be printed at the same time. all with the same high definition.
The price will take this printer out of the reach of some 3D miniature modelers, but for others, the quality of the finished pieces will be worth the investment. It does take patience to set up properly, and while faults are few, buyers have the same complaints about poor customer support from the company as they do with the 4K model.
Best Printing Speed: Phrozen Sonic Mini 4K LCD Resin 3D Printer
Why It Made The Cut: The Phrozen Sonic Mini consistently ranks among the top 3D printers for miniatures, and in addition to high precision offers very fast output.
— XY precision: 35 microns
— Layer Height: 10 microns
— Build Volume: 5.2 inches L x 2.9 inches W x 5.1 inches H
— Highly detailed miniatures
— Very fast printing
— Competitive pricing
— Modest build volume
— Not particularly quiet
The Phrozen Sonic Mini 4K is a direct competitor for the Anycubic Photon 4K, and makes a strong argument as the best 3D printer for miniatures. They are frequently the top two in independent reviews. While the Anycubic model takes our top spot for its combination of quality and value, the Phrozen Sonic Mini 4K has a definite advantage when it comes to speed.
Its screen size is 6.1 inches, and in this case 4K resolution is 3840 x 2160 pixels with 722 PPI. Horizontal pixels are 35 microns, and layer height is 10 microns. Technically the Phrozen and the Anycubic have almost identical print specification, and the detail for 3D miniature printing is excellent. However, the Phrozen can run at an impressive 80mm (3.15 inches) per hour, which is around a 30 percent improvement over its closest rival.
As is typical, the Phrozen Sonic Mini 4K only needs leveling before printing can start. It has a clear LCD for many functions, and comes with industry-standard Chitubox software. The Phrozen does have a slightly smaller build volume than the 4K Anycubic, but we doubt buyers of either 3D printer would be disappointed.
Things To Consider Before Buying a 3D Printer for Miniatures
When we looked at these 3D printers for general-purpose use, build volume (model size) was one of the key factors, as was cost. While machine quality, reliability, and speed are also considerations, when choosing a 3D printer for miniatures it is usually the amount of detail that is the priority. The trick is understanding how to assess definition (or resolution) properly. It’s an area that is understandably confusing, so let’s clarify.
The X and Y axis are effectively the width and depth of the print screen that the model will be built on. The Z axis is the height. With resin printers, the print screen has a major impact.
A higher ‘K’ number (2K, 4K, etc.) means higher resolution, but doesn’t necessarily translate to better detail. While a 4K screen has many more pixels than a 2K screen, the actual size of the pixels can vary, so the true measure of definition is either pixel size (smaller pixels are better) or the number of pixels per inch (PPI). The more PPI, the better the definition. Pixel size is usually provided but PPI is often not.
The other vital statistic is the layer height. Each 3D miniature is built of hundreds, or possibly thousands of layers. Thinner layers mean fewer noticeable steps, and thus a smoother finish. So the absolute best detail comes from a resin 3D printer that has the smallest pixels, and the thinnest layers.
Filament 3D printers aren’t quite so complicated. They don’t have high resolution screens, so the deciding factors are nozzle size and layer thickness. In truth, filament printers can’t come close to resin models in terms of detail. However, they are easier to use, don’t produce toxic vapor, and many produce a level of detail that is perfectly adequate for their needs.
Q: How long does it take to print miniature models?
The size and complexity of the 3D model, and the settings of the 3D printer all have an impact so it is almost impossible to say how long it takes to print miniature models. Even small ones are likely to take at least an hour, but complex models could be ten hours or more.
Q: Is it legal to 3D print Warhammer figures?
It is legal to 3D print “Warhammer” figures, or any other figure that is copyrighted, as long as they are for personal use playing with friends or family, for example. It is illegal to sell them, and they are not allowed in tournament play.
Q: Can I 3D print and sell miniatures?
You can 3D print and sell miniatures of your own unique designs. You cannot copy figures that are copyrighted (like “Warhammer” figures, “Dungeons & Dragons”, etc.). You can’t normally print and sell files you download from the internet either. Generally they are marked for non-commercial use. Many of these files are free, but even if you pay for them, that doesn’t grant you the right to profit from making them. It is important to check the license agreement or you could be liable to prosecution.
Q: Do I need a resin printer for miniatures?
It is largely a question of priorities. Filament (FDM) 3D printers can create good quality models and are easier to use, however, resin 3D printers produce higher detail, and smoother results. If the latter is important, then a resin printer will definitely be the better choice. Our top picks have excellent examples to help you decide.
Q: What is the best material to 3D print miniatures?
If using a resin printer, we would generally recommend starting with the material recommended by the printer manufacturer. For example, Anycubic and Elegoo both produce their own brand resins. Many other resins are available, and you can experiment once you have become accustomed to your 3D printer.
For filament printers, PLA is usually recommended for miniatures. It is inexpensive, easy to work with, available in a vast range of colors, and very durable.
Q: Are 3D printers for miniatures worth buying?
Absolutely. Each of our top picks is a quality machine, and while you might start out looking for the best 3D printer for miniatures, don’t forget that any of these devices can produce a whole range of other 3D models and components too.
Final Thoughts on 3D Printers for Miniatures
It isn’t easy picking a single best 3D printer for miniatures, and in truth, each of our picks has its advantages. The Anycubic Photon Mono 4K takes the top award because it offers a combination of performance and value that are hard to beat. There are faster machines and there are machines that can produce more detail, but each is more expensive, and for many miniaturists the gains may not be worth the extra cost.
The Elegoo Mars 2 Pro also has a lot to recommend it, and we particularly like the carbon air filter which makes it a lot easier to live with. It can’t match the Anycubic for detail, but considering the lower price, the quality is very good.
This post was created by a non-news editorial team at Recurrent Media, Futurism’s owner. Futurism may receive a portion of sales on products linked within this post.