I love miniatures, and I was interested in whether it’s cheaper to buy minis or to print your own. I looked at the cost of minis that you can buy in-store and online, and compared that to the cost to 3D print minis, and here’s what I found.
Overall, it is cheaper to 3D print minis than to buy them. An average mini costs $5 to $10 for a single mini. For bulk minis of around 20 or more, they cost about $1 each. To 3D print the same sized minis it can cost between $0.20 and $0.50 depending on how much you pay for the filament.
There are many factors that go into the cost of 3D printing minis, and there are various types of resin or filament you can use that can change the price quite a bit. So, below I will cover a breakdown of the costs involved in 3D printing minis, as well as, how long they take to print.
To get a good idea of how much it costs to 3D print a miniature I’ll use an example of a miniature that is the size of a regular chess piece such as a rook, a knight, or a queen. Here’s a table that shows the costs involved:
|Price For a Chess Piece Sized Mini
|$0.06 (2.5g of filament)
|Margin for error for failed prints, and wasted filament
|Time to print
A typical D&D or Warhammer 30k mini needs about 6 to 8 grams of filament. Which is 3 times more than a chess piece sized mini used in the example in the table above. And therefore the cost to print a D&D or Warhammer sized mini costs about $0.24 or 24 cents.
To calculate how much filament will be used to print a particular model you go into your slicing software such as Cura – which is one of the most popular and is also free. When you slice the file it will give you some statistics about how much filament the print will use in grams (g).
Then you can use some simple math to calculate the price. Filament can range in price, on the low-end spool of 1kg of filament can cost around $15, and can cost as high as $30 and even more. If you average it out to say $25 for a 1kg spool, the equation will look like this:
(Amount of material required to print the mini / 1000 g ) multiplied by the price of the roll. It’s the same calculation you’d use to calculate a percentage. In another way of saying you’re calculating the percentage of a 1kg spool of filament, a 3D print will use, and then multiplying the percentage by the cost.
For example, if a print uses 10% of a 1kg spool of filament, the cost for the filament is 10% of the price of the 1kg spool of filament. Using some round numbers to make it easier.
If a 1kg costs $20, and the mini needs 200g of filament or 20% of a 1kg roll. The cost for the filament is 20% of $20. Which is equal to $4. This is an easy to see example. Now, let’s look at how much filament is needed for different sized minis so you can get an idea of the price.
A good rule of thumb is that a chess sized piece mini will take about 30 minutes to print. A 3D printer costs about 2 cents per hour to run. Since it takes 30 minutes, you can divide the cost per hour by 2, and you can see that it costs about $0.01 to print a chess sized mini.
I recently explained the maths behind how much electricity a 3D printer uses in this article about whether 3D printers use a lot of power.
To calculate the cost of 3D printing minis, it’s also important to factor in the price of buying the 3D printer itself. So, below is how much a 3D printer costs that can 3D print minis.
A 3D printer that can print minis is about $300. The Creality Ender 3 is a very popular hobbyist 3D printer, and they cost around $300 brand new. They are also a good size where you can easily find a place to keep one in your home.
A hobbyist 3D printer such as the Ender 3 is ideal for 3D printing minis. There are also resin 3D printers that offer much higher ‘resolution’ 3D prints. The minis it can print have a smoother finish, that looks much more attractive. A resin 3D printer is about the same price as a filament/PLA 3D printer.
But, the cost of materials tends to be a lot higher than a PLA (source: 3D solved).
So, summing everything up is it a good idea to get a 3D printer for printing minis, or should you buy minis.
Overall, it is worth it to get a 3D printer for printing miniatures. Printing your own miniatures using a 3D printer costs about 10% of the cost of buying them. Each chess sized miniature you print saves you about $1. Therefore, over the long run, a 3D printer will pay for itself.
To print your own D&D and Warhammer sized miniatures costs around 25 cents. Whereas, if you were to buy them they can cost $1 if you buy them in bulk or $5 to $10 if you buy them individually.
Therefore, it’s far more economical to get a 3D printer and print your own minis. However, it does take a considerable amount of time to print them and requires you to learn a fair bit before you’re up and running.
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