A DM’s Guide to FDM Printing Terrific D&D Minis

The below is an excerpt from our recent post on the DIYElectronics Blog with handy instructions to printing your own resin-like quality miniatures using FDM Printers!

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?

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.

FDM Mini Print Settings Breakdown

  • Layer Height = 0.08mm
  • Wall Line Count = 2
  • Top/Bottom Settings Trick
    • Note : This trick only works in Cura 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.
    • Top Layers = 999999
    • Bottom Layers = 0
  • Infill = 80% to 100%
  • Print Speed = 25.0mm/s
  • Retraction Enabled = Yes
  • Supports = On
    • 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. 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.

To read the whole blogpost, click here!


Awesome! :mag: Never knew you could get such detail when printing minis in anything besides resin :sweat_smile: