|Two sample monsters at Shapeways stand for Dutch Design Week|
There's an interesting post by Andrew Rae of Khorosho Productions about digital design of miniatures. Andrew also uses digital printing for replacement parts. He explains why digital printing is still an art.
|Samples from two different printers, taken from Andrew's blog|
So what's the future for 3D printing and wargames? My guess:
In the coming few years we will go from the stage where it is only used by a few designers to one where we will see the first commercial releases, with a wide variety of quality. Some new entries (3D print only) will provide low quality miniatures and some established companies will use it for promotional purposes, riding the hype.
My reasoning behind this is that for new entries there is no cost of switching technique and process from sculpting, molding and casting to direct digital, which is holding back the many small manufacturers that have invested heavily in acquiring those skills. Also, the new entries will be amateurs not worrying too much about profitability. And I mean that as even less than many part time manufacturers presently.
|Another cool monster from Shapeways|
In a following phase, starting within the next decade, some of the low quality producers will improve their technique and find viable business models. I won't be surprised if this leads to one or two of them cornering a large part of the market and becoming major players later. Some established companies will switch (in stages or in one big step) to 3D print.
It will take two decades, I think, for 3D printing to overtake the present forms of production. This will have to do as much with current designers and companies dying out and wear on molds as with companies switching. It will not disappear completely. But once you need to replace a mold, it might be cheaper at some point to just scan the master miniatures.
|A wind driven contraption|
Of course there will also grow a community of people making copies of models by other companies. These will be lower quality but cheaper. Piracy will be an interesting development, especially if it is hard to monitor. In that case it might actually drive down prices. That development will be very much driven by the moment where 3D scanning/copying will become mainstream.
But in the meantime, will there be designers making money by giving workshops on 3D design and printing? Will there really be a move to companies just providing designs to be printed at home? That would expand the market even more than the internet has done, because shipping costs will disappear. On the other hand, how do you prevent piracy by individuals or local shops? It also depends on the time it will take 3D printing to really compete on cost with mass plastics production.
On the other hand, with the expansion of DTP and lowering of print costs you had a similar situation for boardgames in the 1990s. This has made it much easier to self publish. That is probably the reason that the boardgame industry has so many small, marginal self publishers hoping that one day they make it big. That may also happen in miniatures, although digital designing requires a level of practice and experience comparable to sculpting.