Printing miniatures on a FDM printer can be difficult but it does not have to be a miserable process. One of the most difficult aspects of printing miniatures in either FDM or resin is of course supporting the model. However, presupported miniatures in FDM are not nearly as common as resin. So what do you do? Well you have come to the right place!
Here I will break down the my thought process when printing miniatures in FDM and support settings.
While FDM support settings are crucial to the success and finished quality of your prints do not forget that print orientation is crucial. I will also discuss proper orientation and bed adhesion which can be a vital aid in printing your model while also being less dependent on your need of supports.
Currently for printing my miniatures I print using Cura 4.8.0 but any newer version will work with my settings. I do not know if versions older than 4.7.0 will work due to Tree Supports being moved from the experimental category to normal support settings.
Print Profile: Download from Google Drive
Slicer: Cura 4.8.0
Printer: Currently Set to Prusa MK3s (Can be used on other types of printers)
Print Layer Height: 0.08 mm
Print Speed: 45 mm/s (Travel 60 mm/s)
Filament: ESun PLA+ Grey (Current Favorite)
Special Note: I highly suggest also selecting “Limit Support Retractions” under Travel as it will make it easier to remove supports if printing in larger groups.
Step By Step: Setup & Thought Process
If you are curious of my mental thought process for printing miniatures on FDM follow along below. Comment below if you have any of your own mental steps or questions.
For this example I am going to use a recently test printed model of the Bottle Brawler Kobold from the Lost Adventures Volume 3 Kickstarter which is running until August 31, 2021.
When printing miniatures in filament I always think to myself first. “Is this model designed with filament printing in mind?” This is important as sculpts will sometimes utilize the strengths of a printer type or sculpt with the mentality for easier printing. This is not always the case. If you do not know ask the community or place where you got the model. Commonly companies will advertise if a model can print supportless and if it was tested in FDM or resin or both.
Before I then go to print I run through a brief mental check list.
- Does this model even need supports?
To answer that question think to yourself is there any place on this model that has filament floating without anything beneath it holding it up?
Bottle Brawler: Yes, you need to add supports most notability supporting each arm, the tail, and front loin cloth.
- Is there anywhere on the model that just doesn’t make sense to print in filament or will make the print more difficult to accomplish?
The answer to this question takes time to practice but in the case of the Bottle Brawler yes there are a few areas that are difficult to print in filament. The largest issue of difficulty was its feet. The curvature of the Kobold ankle made it extremely difficult to print as you does not provide a clean area to lay down a solid first layer and build upon. Also although not obvious the talons were not flush with the build plate either and printing the tiny toe nails starting off are incredibly difficult.
For easier printing I rotated the kobold backwards 45 degrees AND lowered the model into the buildplate 0.2 mm to level out the heel of the model and give it some place for the model to grow on. Looking at the image above you can see the curve of the foot and even talons of the Kobold are not flush. I could have just lowered the model but found that the ankle was sometimes too skinny and would cause the model to fail. This way I build the figure up the leg while laying down filament and ensure a more sturdy and stable print.
Tips & Tricks
When printing these models there are also a few things I almost always do.
- If the model does not have a base I print using a Brim.
Since miniatures have such a tiny surface areas of which to build from. Using a brim helps me adhere the model to the build plate and ensure it does not shift and move in the printing process. This is especially true when printing in groups of models as traveling from model to model can cause things for me to wiggle and pop off. If you continue to have issues check your bed level and perhaps lower your travel speed.
- Always try build from the most solid foundation you can. Orientation is Key
This piece of advice sounds pretty obvious right? Well having the best first layer on your print will help you stick to the build plate and give you the best odds for success. But what if I wasn’t just talking about your first layer?
Lets take the tail of the Kobold as an example
Looking at the tail of the bottle brawler you can see that when you attempt to start the print of the tail the Loaded in STL (top left) has to start from an incredibly small point and has a pretty large series of overhangs when printing out. This makes the tail incredibly more reliant on having fine tuned support settings. This resulted in less success when printing the tail of the model since the printer was frequently having to add new material to build from.
When looking at the modified and rotated version of the tail (top right) you see that the layers of the tail will be printed using the tail itself as a support. This results in more overall strength in the tail and less overall demand and pressure on your support settings, therefore resulting in more successful prints.
3. Not all models should be rotated backwards
Taking tip #2 to heart looking at the Kobold Shaman you can see that its tail is already pointed in such a way that gives a great starting point for the entire print to build the tail from. Rotating the model would have actually made it more difficult to print and I don’t recommend doing it. Do not listen to the advice that “All models should be rotated 45 degrees”. Which this is good advice for the best detail on the face since you have improved resolution along your z-axis it does not always ensure a successful print.
When removing supports you should do so very carefully. Your friend when removing supports is to cut, do not pull the supports away. To cut the supports off the model I use a Flush Cut Micro cutter such as this one.
When you go to make cuts. You can snip material off and then rotate your cutter away from the model therefore pulling the material away and removing it.
As an example of the order of which I remove supports I will do so from a tested model of the Kobold Shaman. Please note this was the best model I had on hand to describe my method and do know that the spear of this print did not come out, I am only human. (Printing at a slower print speed 30 mm/s fixed this issue).
For the order of which I remove supports:
1. Remove from the least supported area first.
Removing from these small areas can reduce the amount of impact you have overall on that location for model. If you are supporting a small piece of the face, an arm, monster horns etc continual tugging or twisting of supports while removing them can cause damage to those locations. It is best keep them safe and to give yourself an area to work with by reducing the points of contact with the supports and those areas.
Warning: Be careful when removing supports from long thing objects such as staves, bows, spears etc. Removing the support can cause the print piece to flex and in some instances snap. Remove tiny pieces as a time and try not to move the printed part if possible.
2. Cut away the brim material from the final model.
Cutting the brim is a commonly overlooked step since I include a brim in my support material. When trying to remove supports and not cutting the brim from the model most commonly results in pressure on the ankles of the model and their amputation. If you cannot tell where to cut try shining a bright light on the underside of the model and use a sharp knife to cut around it. The cut out does not have to be perfect.
3. Remove the material, rotating around the figure.
Try to remove material in one area of the figure at a time and move around. In this method you are only removing material in one section at a time and the rest of the support material is still “supporting” and protecting your figure from the force of your excitement to extract it. In this case I do the spear last while still supporting it. These do not have to be completely perfect to the skin of the model and can be rough cuts. Feel free to remove small pieces at a time.
Special Note: I also tend to move from the top of the figure to the bottom since I care about the quality and finish of the top more than the bottom. Cutting top to bottom can also give you more control of the direction of any pull material and scarring you might have.
4. Clean up any supports that might be dangling from the rough cuts above and clean up any remaining brim material.
5. Enjoy your beautiful & freed model. Or note any print issues and go back to hobbying and modifying your settings.
Tips & Tricks:
Have a render or loaded version of your model open on your computer so you can see pieces that might be engulfed or hiding by your support material. There is absolutely nothing worse than accidently cutting a piece of the model that you think is a support.
Print Logs For Kobolds
Want to Know More?
Let me know in the comments below if you found this helpful. Think I left something out? Do you think a support setting is crucial that I don’t use? Have a challenge you think I should print? Post down below!
Also do not hesitate to ask any questions you might have. Have a question revolving 3D printing that isn’t about supports? Ask always as I aim to constantly grow the site with the goal of making 3D printing for tabletop gaming more approachable for all.