Tabletop miniatures have drawn the interest of Makers everywhere but none more than the Dungeons & Dragons community. What if I told you, dear Dungeon Master, that it is possible to FDM print terrific D&D minis for your games without too much painstaking effort?
Like every aspect of the game itself, printed minis are just as widely debated. Many pros and cons lists exist between the use of FDM or Resin Printers for these small and highly detailed figurines. This blogpost is not one of those lists. I admit full knowledge of the amazing detail that photosensitive resin provides and that FDM cannot hope to match with recent technology. If you have the opportunity to invest in a glorious Resin printer, by all means, go for it. This is a guide for those wanting to get more out of their FDM printer and even Beginner Makers who may not be keen to start out with resin.
You might call my deep dive into FDM minis an experiment of curiosity. If I were to stuff my shelves with the biggest cost-effective collection of D&D minis and terrain pieces using only PLA filament, how good could that collection be? The answer is a very worthwhile collection that looks great! I can throw beautiful trees and ruined walls in front of my players and watch them squirm as I reach again towards my box of monsters. It may sound cheesy for me to say you can do it too, but you can! FDM printing at this small scale only requires a better understanding of what your 3D printer is truly capable of achieving.
Journey from Dungeon Master to Dungeon Maker
When a Dungeon Master gets a 3D Printer, you know what’s about to happen next. Everyone at the table wants a mini for their character, and eagerly awaits what miniature monstrosities could jump out onto the table at any moment. There is an amazing level of immersion that happens when you introduce miniatures into your games, but becoming a Maker is not for the faint hearted. Allow yourself time to learn and never fear. If there ever was a person most prepared for the challenges of 3D printing, it is the Dungeon Master. You’ve already had to research the different ways your players might defy the laws of nature, what’s one more field of expertise under your belt, right?
Those were my thoughts exactly as I began 3D printing for the first time. My journey from Dungeon Master to Dungeon Maker was paved by desolate miniatures with missing arms and snapped legs. This is a hobby of trial and error, but immense joy when you are victorious at last. Take my story to heart as you follow the settings below and fine tune your 3D Printer. It may take time for you to get it right, but once you have, you’re unstoppable.
Everything You Need to Print FDM Minis
Luckily, you don’t need any high-tech printers or special filaments to print amazing D&D miniatures. Here is a list of requirements I recommend and use all the time for printing FDM minis:
- Any FDM Printer – The Creality Ender 3 V2 or Biqu 1 are fantastic user-friendly printers for the job, but any modern 3D printer can be tuned for printing minis.
- Any PLA Filament – I have found that neutral colours like standard grey and white PLA are the best for finishing prints as the lighter base colour really shines through paint coatings. If you don’t plan to use model spray however, I suggest using Silky PLA which does wonders to bring out the shape and details of your miniatures.
- Model Spray – The coating primer I use is the Citadel Mechanic Grey which can be found in hobby stores with miniature paints.
- Free D&D Minis Library – Miguel Zavala is an incredible 3D modeler who has modelled every D&D creature in the Monster Manual and has made his files available for free on Thingiverse.
- Other handy tools – 3D Print Coating, tweezers and a flexible build plate are not necessary accessories but certainly don’t hurt to have.
FDM Minis Print Settings Breakdown
|Wall Line Count
|Top/Bottom Settings Trick
|Top Layers = 999999
|Note: This trick only works in Cura Slicer as it tells the printer to treat all layers as top layers, helping detail the model. If you are using a different slicer, please ignore these Top/Bottom settings.
|Bottom Layers = 0
|80% to 100%
|Structure = Tree
|Placement = Everywhere
|Pattern = Concentric
|Density = 20%
|Support Brim = on
|Build Plate Adhesion
|Brim or Raft (for baseless models)
But wait! I see you copying these settings and disappearing on me. There’s more to know than that. The biggest factor for success is how you slice your files. With the various sizes and twisting shapes of the D&D monsters you want to print, there is a lot to consider for every model and these settings may need tweaking for each one. It’s not enough to simply copy and paste certain settings into your slicer and hope for the best. That’s why I won’t just give you a list of settings to use and leave you paddling in the deep end. Here are practical steps for you to make second nature when gearing up to print your first or fiftieth FDM miniature:
Step One: Tune Your Printer
Your first and foremost step is to ensure you have a perfectly tuned printer. That means running many test prints to discover what temperature and retraction settings work for your equipment. Overhangs, bridges, bed leveling, and stringing are all basic learning curves that are 10 times more problematic as you print smaller things. It will take too long to properly explain how to calibrate your printer here, but this is the perfect time to turn to the DIY Community and join our Discord.
There are many online resources and fun test print files like the Benchy to use for this step. The good news is you will only need to do this step once at the start and only redo it whenever you upgrade something on your printer or notice your calibrations may be off. Once you sort these out, you can load in the above print settings and you’re ready to go!
Step Two: Know When and What Settings to Tweak
After you pull your model into your slicer, it’s important to keep in mind how your printer will interpret your settings. A mini’s design will determine how you tweak things to get the best result. Is the model a dense sturdy rock monster that needs little to no supports at all or is it a slim elf with a bow and arrow who needs all the supports she can get?
Slice your file using the above settings and evaluate your preview to decide what needs changing. Your eye will get sharp in practice, but here are the essentials to keep in mind:
- Is your miniature big enough not to need this special treatment? These mini settings are meant for tiny things to carefully print with reduced speed. Ask yourself if you could print a big terrain piece or tree monster with normal settings and save yourself time. Sometimes dropping to 0.1mm layer height is all you need.
- High infill (80% to 100%) will strengthen your model when it has many thin parts like arms sticking out in dynamic poses. Low infill (min 30%) is preferable for bulky models that don’t need supports as it minimizes the chance for over-filling your model and causing oozing.
- It is possible to go too small. A thin enough spear or tail might not get picked up by your slicer’s preview at all. If this happens, increase the size of your model until it is actually printable.
Step Three: Orientate the Model
Rotating a model onto it’s back or side is a common trick to printing minis. The core principle behind this practice is to either prioritize the strength of smaller areas of your model or to prioritize the detail of others. Moving your model around in your slicer will result in supports generating at different places. It is a balancing act of orientation for quality and easier support removal.
Give the smallest areas of your model the easier positioning to print in by angling them to print on their flattest edge and minimalise the amount of supports attached to that area. For example, a crossbow is easier to print when standing upright on one side than if it were held flat in a mini goblin’s hands. It may cost a few extra supports, but you will thank yourself later when the thin weapon doesn’t snap from the pressure of removing few supports attached to it. Similarly, you will want to avoid supports in hard-to-reach places like between a model’s legs, if you can, in the interest of easier removal.
The details of a miniature’s clothing or face come out better when printed as close to upright as possible and not plastered in supports. While you shouldn’t expect absolute perfect detail from FDM minis, there is still a level of detail you can achieve through clever orientation. Details are mainly lost when a support pulls off a coat pin or the nose is elongated by stringing. You can turn your mini’s so that the areas you want detailed are support free within reason.
Step Four: Check and Add Custom Supports
Supports are your greatest frenemy. While the auto-generator on Cura is usually good, you will do well to check your model is well supported before pressing print. In the slicer’s preview, slide the right bar down to view each layer as it would print on the build plate. If at any point you see an area “printing” in thin air, you know your mini will fail unless you do something. Thus begins your additions of custom supports.
Two great plugins exist in the Cura Plugins menu called “Custom Supports,” and “Custom Supports Cylinder.” Using your preferred one, you can add supports where the auto generated tree supports have missed. Just remember while these custom supports follow the same settings as your tree supports, their structures are completely different and may be more difficult to remove. So try to avoid attaching them to thin easily snappable areas. That said, they are still a wonderful solution. I’ve found custom supports most useful to place on either side of a round base that I’ve tilted backwards during the orientation step. Without custom supports there, the base tends to sag as it prints without supports on its curved side.
Post Processing Tips and Tricks
- Don’t rush it. A lot of minis will come off the bed encased in a cocoon of supports. It’s a sad thing to accidently break your miniature in half because you’re rushing to remove them.
- Leave your print to cool for 5-10min to allow the plastic to strengthen before you start removing supports.
- Free the fragile places first. Thinner parts of your model like swords, tails or tendrils are the easiest to snap under pressure. Snip these free first and work around them, careful not to give too much force as you pull the supports free.
- A quick coating of model spray does wonders to hide the flecks and marks left by poking clippers and tweezers into your model as you remove supports. Prestik your mini onto a board and give it a single coat of spray outdoors. The models will look whole with constant colouring and be ready for painting if you so choose.
Look at that, you’ve just learned yet another Dungeon Master skill to bring fun new minis to your gaming table. Reflecting on my journey, I can tell you I’ve failed many prints learning every lesson I’ve just laid before you in this blogpost. They certainly won’t be the last and I’ve enjoyed printing every piece in my growing collection. I hope you found this information useful and start 3D printing your own D&D models and even some DM tools too! A few stand-in tokens of various sized bases can represent any monster you haven’t had time to print yet, or handy initiative trackers can clip straight onto your DM screen. There is no limit to the awesome games you can create with a 3D printer by your side.
If you enjoyed this DM’s guide to FDM printing terrific D&D minis, consider sharing it on social media and catch me, your friendly Dungeon Maker in our DIY Community Discord. Check out the rest of our blog for other interesting topics and posts. Keep up to date with all things DIYElectronics by checking out our social media, Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, Twitter, and join our community. If you want to check out our store, click this link.
Copywriter | Digital Artist | Dungeon Master
My greatest passion lies in storytelling, be it through writing, art or playing Dungeons and Dragons with friends and family. I dove into 3D printing a few years ago and earned a lifetime obsession of experimenting, learning, and making new things!