3D Printing For Wargaming Part Four: Smart Design…

April 13, 2015 by crew

My previous article showed that printing anything is actually pretty easy. It’s printing something pretty and/or useful that takes some effort. Here’s where I would love to give you some advice...

Post Boxes & Cart

Think Modularly

One of the key considerations in making 3D models is how to save yourself time. Yes, you can make a whole table of unique objects, each of which you printed in one go, but consider this: each of those models will require design time, modelling time, troubleshooting, and revisions. The payoff is not that good.


So, for example, you may decide to create a model of a medieval well. And it would look nice and you can have it be something that your armies could fight around. But you really only need one on your table. In this case I would choose to make it “The Colossal Well of Angelic Tears” and craft it to be so impressive that it would be used as a centrepiece. Even then you have to consider how much time you’d put into it and how much you’d use it.

It is much better, in my opinion, to find a design that you can replicate multiple times on one tabletop without it seeming odd. If that model is large enough, you could even have that model be made up of components that you can switch out to make each object feel unique. If you make any mistakes along the way, you only have to replace the single part that was the problem.

Some examples of better choices with repeating shapes...

  • Barrels and crates
  • Stables
  • Fences and Walls
  • Row Houses
  • Telegraph poles & traffic lights
  • Wood piles

Even if you decide you want to make lovely unique objects, consider how you might be able to make the object out of pieces. In the case of “The Colossal Well of Angelic Tears” perhaps there are pillar details on each of four corners that are exactly the same. You make one model and print it out four times; a four-to-one payoff is still good in anybody’s books.

Working With Strengths & Avoiding Weaknesses

In a previous article, I outlined some of the problems you might encounter on a 3D print. Here are the ways that I avoided some of those issues by designing my models cleverly...

House (Scale)

Warping is something that I still regularly have problems with and I often consider sending away for the heated bed option on my printer. If I keep my prints with a smaller footprint (around 8cm in either direction) then the warping is small enough that the prints are still usable.

Finding a balance between having a stable footprint (with enough contact to keep adhesion) while minimizing the amount of plastic that touches the cold build plate is hard but worthwhile.

Vertical detail is a tough issue to deal with. My solutions are to...

1) Print architecture more often than not; it means more rectilinear shapes.

2) Contrary to the wall I made in my last article, I find it better to print walls and detail in the x and y directions (flat to the print bed) rather than vertically. This means you have to be clever about being able to attach prints together. It is for this reason that I used the dovetail system on my Victorian Row Houses...

Victorian Row House

3) If not straight and crisp, consider objects that are naturally messy or old looking. Ruined or weathered objects account for the fact that you will not always get sharp, accurate detail.

Wooden Cart

Overhangs can be dealt with a number of ways...

  • Let the slicer build support structure for you.
  • Build your own support structure into the model that you create.
  • Change the orientation of the model to one that suits the print better, usually requiring you to...
    • Separate your model into multiple pieces that you can assemble back again once they have been printed.
    • Add slopes where there are otherwise right angles.

Finish, and the lines left behind from the printing process is a big topic that people deal with in many ways. It’s one of the first things people comment on when they see a print. Here are some solutions...

1) An acetone vapour bath. I do not advise this solution nor have I tried it, but if you expose the print to acetone then it “melts” the plastic enough to blend the surface detail together. You can check YouTube for how others have done it. I think this is only a good solution if you have printed something large enough that losing detail won’t affect your piece.

2) A product is available that uses a resin to fill the spaces between print lines. The one I have found is called by XTC-3D Coating by Smooth-On Inc., but there may be others.

3) Using enough primer to cover over the unwanted detail.

My solution to the issue of finish, however, is to design prints where the amount of exposed vertical detail is limited (the biggest detractor) and to allow the paint job to distract you from any problems. Beyond that, I just prefer to accept the striations as part of the medium of 3D printing.

Market Stall

In some cases I’ve even had people comment about how the print lines suit the model, and that it makes the model look better (as in the case of this market stall awning, and how it looks like stitching on cloth). In any case, people comment on the lines initially, but soon accept it.

Reference Makes it Better

It sounds like an obvious piece of advice, but take a look at architecture before you start designing. Think about the time period you’re trying to replicate. Look for artwork that you would like to bring to life. Use it for inspiration. You don’t have to copy it entirely, in fact I would suggest not doing that, but find elements that you like.

Interesting Building Design

I bring this up because I know I am the kind of person who just stubbornly thinks I know how things look. However it’s just so simple to open Google Images and take a look around.

Consider how the structure was actually made. A door frame, for example, will have a lintel that supports all the weight above it, i.e. it’s a beam that goes across the gap and extends over the walls to support the weight from above. If the building is made of stone then that lintel has to be thicker. This helps the believability of your creation.

Think Iteratively

Don’t try to solve all your issues in one go. You will not be able to do that. Print things. Try a small scale print to see how things will turn out before committing to the full size. Experiment with connections like dovetails and peg-in-hole tolerances on a test piece before putting it on your main print. Again, you are trying to save time, so why print a huge piece only to find out something is wrong?

If things do go wrong, you’re still in a great position. The plastic is cheap and fixes are easy.


As previously stated, this is a hobby in-and-of-itself that beautifully complements what we all love. It will take some time to get used to and it will require you to think differently about what is a good and bad print. You may want to tackle your own designs or you may want to just print what you find available. You’ll print a lot of errors, but you’ll be able to print as much of the good objects as you would like.

Large Apartment

It’s definitely a hands-on tool; not as simple nor as plug-and-play as a paper printer. The results are not as elegant as something you could buy from a store either. The results however are fruitful; of respectable quality and rewarding. The fact that 3D printing has a future in wargaming is undeniable.

Are you game?

3D Printing For Wargaming Series

Part One: Where To Begin?

Part Two: Pitfalls of 3D Printing

Part Three: Making & Printing Step By Step

Tobyn Manthorpe

If you would like to write articles for Beasts of War then please contact us at [email protected] for more information!

"It is much better, in my opinion, to find a design that you can replicate multiple times on one tabletop..."

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"Don’t try to solve all your issues in one go. You will not be able to do that..."

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