3D Printing, the future of scale models?

As with everything, things change and evolve, and with new technologies come new possibilities. One of the most famous upcoming technologies right now are 3D printers.

Although they are not cheap to get right now ($1000 to ten times that number), prices are dropping each month. Thereby, unlike the ink cartridges for your regular printer, the material to keep them running is quite cheap.


But, what good are 3D-printers for our hobby? Will they ever replace our beloved plastic frames or resin parts? What detail is achievable and what are its advantages and disadvantages compared to the other classic mediums we know and love so much?

My experience
I recently had the possibility to create something myself on a 3D printer. Since it was really sudden, I did not have much time to come up with something. Having no real experience in creating digital 3D models was not helping either. I soon had the idea to create something really simple, something I routinely replace on my 1/35 builds…

Rubber tires.

Anyone who knows me a little knows I have a genuine hate for rubber tires. Sure they look nice and realistic, but sooner or later most crack or ‘melt’ and eat away your plastic. And there is no telling if they will or not up front. Plus, tires are pretty much made from circles with engravings from a buildup point of view. Pretty simple right?

So I dove in, head first. References weren’t needed as I remember what the tires on my Land Rover Defender kinda build looked like. Thirty minutes later I had this, a crude but effective looking tire. Not bad for a first right?


So sure, thirty minutes? Damn I might as well save myself the trouble and design a rim for it too! A few references and some sketches later I had this.


Let’s add a name to the tire to make it look more genuine. The Ural-X off-road tire is born!


Now, why are you telling me all this you ask? Because with little training I was able to get a tire from scratch (which is easier than recreating something 100% accurately). What possibilities might lay beyond the horizon with a little dedication and training? Anyway, as proud owner of my new design I visited my 3D printing guru to get the machine up and running. Easy stuff right? Sure, add the plastic feeding and fire up the program to get it running.

Now here I was, A few minutes after lunch the machine started printing a single inch wide tire, which took it a few hours… Yes that’s right, my tiny, 2 inch-wide tire took a good amount of HOURS to print. I wanted six before I started, but being more realistically, I would be glad to just have two to take home!


So sure, the machine is printing, and printing, and printiiiinnnnngggggg…. zzzzzz….

By the time the first tire was done it was 17h30, time to fire it quickly back up again to get the next one done! It was 22h15 by the time I was able to go home… I should probably mention though, this wasn’t the fastest of printers out there, but it also isn’t one of the slowest either and, more importantly, one of the more affordable out there.


While the machine is at it, let us take a look at what this tire looks like! Detail wise it is okay. I mean the details like the tire name and the engraving looks really nice, but there is this wireframe at the bottom and top part of the rim seems to have bled out way bigger than it was supposed to be.

Now, it does not take a genius to realise it doesn’t take that long to create our plastic frames that are a good multiple times larger. More so, creating a single styrene sprue takes a matter of seconds!


Molding test run of the recent 1/48 SPITFIRE MK XVI from EDUARD.


What about resin? Sure, maybe? To my understanding most resin cures for about 24 hours, but often a little quicker, and as a company you would use multiple molds at the same time, unlike one 3D printer printing one thing at a time. And the curing time is mostly dependent on size, just like production time with its 3D printing counterpart.

Yet, resin is still by far extremely more detailed compared to 3D printing right now, which is build up from small individual layers, which you can see when looking really close. Do I have to remind you that our builds are judged to the millimeter?.

That plus, mostly due to my own inexperience with the printer and software, I had this annoying wireframe inside my design. Which is quite hard to completely remove at some places, thank god post-apocalyptic trucks get really muddy, am I right?



So, is 3D printing any good?

Well, actually, yeah! I mean from an aftermarket company’s point of view, it probably hasn’t reached optimal production standards yet to send out the actual 3D prints. But having one of these at home personally, combined with designer skill? That is the stuff dreams are made of in our hobby! You can create whatever you want!

Don’t like that ridiculously inaccurate cockpit of your HobbyCraft Do-17Z, but no company stocks some aftermarket for it? Create your own! You want to create the Do-17Z-7 night fighter prototype? Create the gun nose by yourself!

It doesn’t even stop there. Annoyed as hell that your plane, tank or truck wasn’t released in the right scale? You just want a 1/48 GaZ-66 to go with your MiG or need that one obscure version of the Panzer IV for your collection? Or maybe you just want some simple stowage on your Sherman? Just design and print your own!

Even for car modellers this creates the possibility of recreating their first ‘custom alien green Golf mk II’ that had this massive aftermarket spoiler and 14inch rims no company will ever recreate, or maybe your future dream car!

My secret agent dream car, complete with a spoiler, titanium rims and rocket launchers. Don't forget the cool flame stickers = +25kw

Errrm, actually,  forget what I said about dream car…

Then you have websites packed with free designs like NASA’s 3D resources beta or YouMagine and many others. You don’t even need to have the ability to create digital 3D models anymore, as long as you don’t have anything specific in mind! For the truly rich, there is also the option of getting really expensive laserscanners to digitalise whatever you want!

And if you’re already an avid scratch builder yourself, 3D printing makes it possible to create prototypes of things that were previously impossible to produce, and recreate in bulk later, as is already being done by some companies like Scalewarship.


Will 3D printing ever replace styrene frames and resin?

No, or at least not in our lifetime. It’s just that the speed of creating a styrene sprue is unmatchable with a 3D printer. Plus the details on those frames, and especially that of resin, are way better than most 3D printers can handle nowadays and probably the near future (especially the affordable ones).

However, once it will enter into our home, and it almost undoubtably will during the next decade, it might revolutionise the way we use aftermarket and detail up our models. Imagine, instead of paying the aftermarket company to send you a resin copy of tire, you might pay aftermarket companies for an off the shelf file to print once, or an individual designer to create a one of a kind file for you, which you can print over and over again.

That is, if you haven’t picked up the abilities to design it yourself by that time. As great and inspirational friend Marcel Du Long does so himself, shown with his custom made 1/32 Savoia-Marchetti SM.79 Sparviero tail structure.


Having experience in animation design and programs like Autodesks’3D Studio max sure did help him, and it gives us quite a realistic and impressive view of what is truly possible with this new technology already!


The combination of his great building and painting skills (and having the ability to enjoy other people their work), well, it just makes you blow your freaking mind and makes me stoked for what the future might hold and what is already possible!


6 thoughts on “3D Printing, the future of scale models?

  1. Borg R3mc0 says:

    I really think this is “the next big thing” some AM companies design in CAD and then print the master. Because of the cost they then use that as a master for resin copies.
    As price will come down it will be competitive as a replacement of resin kits and AM.

    I know the Revell is actively following this development and how it could effect their business model.

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