Quicklinks: Overview, Distribution Methods, Community Collections, Customizing your Own Models

Overview

Just get a 3d printer? Thinking about getting a 3d printer but don’t know what is out there to print? Did you know that you do not have to make your own models and that there are millions to choose from online? Don’t know where to start?

These questions can be completely overwhelming for those who are new to the hobby. So i’ve curated a guide that will get you started on where to find models for your tabletop game. 

Overall finding models to print are most commonly found as Stereolithographic Files or “STL“. This file type describes the geometry of a 3D object and will allow for you to open in a slicer to be able to print. If you are completely lost on where to go for models you can always start by typing what you are looking for followed by “STL” which will start giving you an idea of some of the things out there to print.

Folder Containing STL files for printing

However for more specific searches, I have broken down four primary categories of which models are distributed to the consumer (you). I am going to break down these categories, their pros and cons, and give examples for each. These four categories are: Free, Storefront, Crowdfunded, and Subscription.


Special Note: Some games of Tabletop such as Warhammer models or models similar are harder to find as companies like Games Workshop will shut down copyrighted material. It is not impossible but will require guidance from Wargaming communities through discord, Facebook, etc. and are beyond the scope of this specific post.

Distribution Methods

Each method of getting models comes with their own unique behavior, pros and cons, and could merit their own write ups. However I am going to attempt to break this down into the most consumable way I can. Do not hesitate to comment below to ask questions!

Free

The 1st category is Free, free models can be found almost everywhere on the internet. But the most common source for Free models is Thingiverse. Thingiverse contains a vast collection of items beyond just that for your tabletop. All models found on the site are completely free to download. Free models from Thingiverse can range from functional prints, freebies from big companies, community driven projects and more! The only negative is that all modelers and files are not made professionally and not all files will be error free. Make sure to read the comments on each design or remixes to see if the models have been improved by others.

Note some storefronts (mentioned below) will also contain some free models but those sites are not exclusively free.

Image of interface of Thingiverse

Special Tip: For Dungeons and Dragon models the most famous of free models is created by mz4250 who has modeled every monster in the Monster Manual and beyond. Many of his models can be found on Thingiverse as well as Shapeways. Simple google the monster name followed by mz4250 for easy searching.

Storefront

The second distribution method are 3d model storefronts. These storefronts allow sculptors to host their online catalog of models and sculpts and sell either in a collection or individually to the consumer/hobbyist. This is the closest thing to going to your friendly local game store (FLGS) and buying a model off the shelf. Instead of requiring the sculptor to host their own website there are several large sites that will do this. In some cases these larger sites will host files gained from Crowdfunding and Subscription distribution methods discussed below.

The primary downside to this method is that due to overhead costs to sell at these storefronts prices for models and files can be higher than other distribution methods. However you do get the instantaneously and is typically accompanied by online hosting of the files for perpetual download.

STL Model Storefronts:

While there are large storefronts there are also sites that sell files on their own branded and hosted sites as well. These range from small indie companies to larger more established ones. Some of my personal favorites are but are not limited to.


Save some money! Quick Tip: Looking to buy a lot from a specific vendor? Check to see if they have a patreon because most sculptors provide monthly coupons/discount codes for subscribing to their current models.These discounts can range from 30-60% off. 

Crowdfunding

The third method of accessing models for the hobby is through crowdfunding. This method is typically a predecessor to storefronts as it assists sculptors and modelers to fund the development of a concept, theme or project. Crowdfunding for this hobby is most commonly done on Kickstarter. 

Kickstarter is most likely the largest bang for your buck in terms of quantity of files to print per dollar. However in many cases files are not gained until after the campaign is completed, money gathered, and in some cases development is ongoing and can take months based on added stretch goals.


To keep up to date of what Kickstarter campaigns are being run check out these two community curated lists:

MakerFun3D – Website with guides, lists and reviews
Tabletop Karnage – up and coming YouTube channel to keep you up to date on all things Kickstarter and Patreon!

Subscription


The last way of accessing and getting 3D printable files is via Subscription. This is probably the most prolific and popular method of distribution. The most common platform for this would be Patreon. Sculptors will ask for monthly support to help pay for the month to month overhead and cost of staying in business. In return consumers most commonly gain access to new files each month and in some cases provide access to a community devoted to their products. These communities are found via facebook, discord, or both. This community can even provide print assistance as well as inspiration for paint jobs or in a few cases paint competitions and prizes.

Some Patreon groups even will listen to their subscribers and have votes on what files should be in development next or in the future! Just don’t forget to download your files every month as links for download change per payment period change which is the 1st of each month.

If you wish to unsubscribe to the service you may do so at anytime. Also note that some sculptors have a patreon Tier Charge Per Release so you could be charged multiple times depending on how they set it up. Make sure you read closely to the fine print of each tier of patreon.


To keep up to date of what Patreon subscriptions are being run check out these two community curated lists:

MakerFun3D – Website with guides, lists and reviews
Tabletop Karnage – up and coming YouTube channel to keep you up to date on all things Kickstarter and Patreon!
STLtop – a new site that is exclusively created to keep up to date on creating an index of Patreon for the hobby (Kickstarter coming soon)

Community Collections

Beyond these distribution methods there are also several community or individual curated lists and websites that have attempted to make it easier for you to find what you are looking for. What is special about community driven indices is that people have spent countless hours to try and keep all the methods listed above in one easy searchable place.

My favorites:
The Mini Index
Monster Manuel’s Bestiery

Customizing Your Own Models

Still Not find what you are looking for? Have a specific miniature in mind? There are a few sites out there where you can design your own characters.

HeroForge
anvl
Eldrich Foundry

Conclusion

There is a massive world out there for files you can print. Your choices are endless. Before you know it you will have more files than you can every print in your lifetime or as some call it the Digital Pile of Shame.

Feel like I’ve missed something? Have any additional questions? Don’t hesitate to comment below. Thank you for reading.

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