What are the best 3D printer for Miniatures in 2021?
This question will be on the minds of a lot of people because 3D printing is getting more and more mainstream. Getting the right printer for what you need is essential, as there are quite a number of factors you do not know to look for before you have printed quite a few miniatures.
In this article, I am going to tell you what 3D printer I think is the best purchase if you want to print miniatures, and what factors and things you should consider when buying a 3D printer.
Right now I think your best 3D printer for miniatures is the Elegoo Mars 2 Pro Mono if you want to print high detail miniatures for painting and playing. It prints fast, is durable, easy to use and just all-around a good buy. The quality of miniatures you can print on a thing like this will blow your mind the first time you try it!
I think the biggest takeaway from this article, is that a resin printer is the way to go if you want to print good quality miniatures that will be a pleasure to paint. Also, most resin printers can actually print in the exact same quality, so what you are looking for is some good ease of use features, durability and printing speed (so that means a mono screen).
What to look for in a 3D printer for Miniatures
There are a lot of 3D printers on the market. Too many really. They vary a lot in weird specs and different versions – that essentially do not really matter to how they print thing. Oh yeah, and the naming conventions and schemes are off course convoluted and not straightforward.
So cutting through all of the tech jargon and BS, we can dramatically cut down on the options you should consider when getting a printer for miniatures.
Plastic printers are not good enough for printing miniatures
There are basically two different ways of printing: Plastic or resin. Inside of each category there are a lot of different ways of printing plastic and printers, but that does not really matter. Right now printers that print in plastic use plastic rolls of filament (in tech jargon they are called “SLS” printers).
Most plastic printers heat up the plastic and drip it down into the shape it needs to be on a plate.
The plus side of printing with plastic is that printing terrain or massive things is easy because the area you can print on is bigger. And plastic is cheap, durable and not very toxic.
You can print a lot of things on a plastic printer, but what you will find is that the detail is not super good. The layers that the printer can print in are so big that you can see each layer with the naked eye.
So if you try to print a miniature, you will see small rings on the miniature, which is the layers. These are a pain to try and clean up and they are a super bad experience to try and paint on (at least if you are trying to paint something decent).
If you bought a miniature in a shop that had that kind of quality, you would certainly return it. It is fine for big stuff or small tokens, where the superfine detail is less important. But the cleaning time and end result are just way off the quality you need.
Also, while the plastic printers have become easier to use, you will need to spend a lot of time trying to calibrate the different settings to avoid having your print fail. What you will soon figure out in your 3D printing journey, is that failed print is no fun at all.
Unless you are just using your minis as markers in a board game, I would just not bother with plastic printing miniatures. Even if we forget about cleaning them, they will be a nightmare to paint to any good looking standard. I view a plastic printer more as a second 3D printer, when you have a resin printer and know that this is something you enjoy.
For terrain, this is another matter. Big towers are hard to print with resin, because you are limited in how big of a print you can do. So not only do you have to print your terrain in a few pieces, it will also be quite expensive in the long run (resin is not super cheap). So if you are after terrain or big printing, plastic might be the way for you.
But be warned: while resin printing can be frustrating, plastic printing is even more of a beast. You can end up spending a lot of time just getting the damn thing to produce some okayish results.
If you want to print Miniatures you want a resin 3D printer that can print in high detail. Lucky for you, in recent years they have come down dramatically in price and ease of use.
Resin printing: what it is and how it works
Resin printing has been around for a long time, but it is only in recent years that the price of the home printers have gone down AND the quality has gone up. This means that you can now buy a very cheap resin printer and print miniatures that are comparable (and sometimes better) in detail and quality than what you can buy in a store.
Couple that with the surge of pro, ready made, super sweet sculpted printing files that are flowing out of various Patreons each month and you can see why this 3D printing thing is becoming so damn popular.
In tech jargon resin 3D printing is called SLA or MSLA. But f the tech jargon, resin 3D printing is actually quite simple to understand:
Important elements of a resin 3D printer:
- You put liquid resin in a small tank (the vat). The bottom of the tank is clear plastic film (called a FEP).
- Underneath the tank you have a small screen (or a projector) that can project light up into the resin above. The light contains UV rays and resin will harden when UV light hits it.
- Above the tank you have a metal plate (build plate) that can move up and down (very carefully and very precise).
- You have some hardware and software inside the machine. You can input a figure (on a file on a USB stick) into the machine telling it the dimensions and shapes of the figure – as well as a lot of variables of speed, timings and so on.
What the important elements of a resin 3D printer does:
- You insert a usb stick with the file with the miniature on it you want to print (right now a lot of people use Chitubox to get the file ready to print, also called sliced)
- The metal plate moves down to the bottom of the tank
- The screen projects UV light in the shape required by the file
- The smaller layer of hardened resin is now stuck between the build plate and the clear plastic
- The build plate moves up and (hopefully) the small hard layer of resin sticks to the build plate.
- The build plate moves down to the bottom again and the screen projects light onto the resin
- A new layer of hardened resin is now formed beneath the old layer
- Over very many, many layers (1-2 k is not uncommon) your miniature will slowly form – hanging upside down from the build plate
Specs of a Resin 3D printer you should worry about
Now that you (roughly) understand how resin 3D printing works, you are also better qualified to know what elements are important in a 3D printer.
Things that are important:
1. The height of the layers:
Bigger layers will mean less precise details, so you want a printer that can print small layers. I print with a layer height between 0.03-0.004 mm (so it is not uncommon to have 1000-2000 layers on a single miniature).
Most (if not all) mainstream, home resin printers will easily give you the option of running layers that small and down to 0.01mm. So while layer height is super important, new printers will be the same in this regard.
2. The precision of the screen
A lot of resin printers have used normal phone screens. These are great because they are cheap and the pixel density is quite good. The resolution and pixel density of the screen will help with making a more fine detail miniature, so more is better here (think 4k screen is super good, 2k screen is good).
While bigger is better here, I still think the printers with 4k screens are quite expensive, compared to the better details you get (which can be hard to spot).
3. The quickness and durability of the screen
When I bought my first resin printer I was amassed at how many parts of the printer I should expect to replace after not very long usage time. The screen is one of those things that will break down after using it, and the lifespan you can expect from it is not that long.
Not very long after I bought into 3D printing, mono screens became a thing. I will not go into the technical details (nor pretend that I understand them), but the gist is this: a mono screen will print the layers faster and it will last a lot more hours.
Manufacturers say things like: 3 times faster layer curing time and 4 times longer durability than earlier screens.
As an example: what my old printer would take at least 12-13 hours to print my friend can print in 3-4 hours.
So any “best 3D printer for miniatures” must have a mono screen – and you should NOT buy one without it (I certainly super regret my first purchase now that this mono upgrade is here).
4. Size of build plate (and screen) + height of machine
Super cheap printers will most of the time have a small screen and build plate. When printing resin miniatures, it does not matter how many miniatures you print at the same time – the height will determine how long it takes. So printing 10x32mm miniatures or 1x32mm miniature will take the same time.
So if you want to print a lot of miniatures, or some big ones, it is best to get a printer with a good-sized build plate and screen, as this determines how much you can print simultaneously.
Also, how high can the printer go up? You can only print as high as the build plate can move up, so if you want to printer super big things (without breaking them up into smaller parts), you will need to make sure the machine is high enough for it.
5. Build quality
After getting really into 3D printing, I have realised that a lot of printers are very much the same. What they will skimp on to make their printer price competitively is sometimes the build quality (and most of the time size). Precisions is super key with high detail printing, as we are talking about 0.01mm making a difference here. You do not want cheap plastic that breaks down quickly or bends. So I suggest getting a popular printer from a well-known brand. That way you make sure that the motor and parts will not break down on you instantly (and that when something breaks you know you can get a replacement part).
6. Other features
Various extra features will come in handy as well. A good usb stick (most are super crap), a carbon filter, a good fan that does not spin constantly and make super annoying noise, having the UI and user screen be good, a rubber seal that will keep the toxic air inside and so on are all great things to have.
All that said, be careful with paying for extra features. As an example: the difference in price between the Elegoo Mars 2 Mono and 2 Mono Pro is right now 70 USD. The difference between the two are basicly super minor details, that you might not notice unless you had them both. Wether or not those extra features are worth that much is hard to know before you have printed for a while.
7. Good printing files
Now, this is not really anything about the printer, but remember this: the print will only be as good quality as the file you are inputting. So if you want good quality printed miniatures, you will need good quality files. I will have some links to good places to buy files later on.
What printers do I consider in my “Best 3D printer for miniatures”?
So what I am looking for is a printer that will combine price, ease of use, print speed, print quality and extra features into one great package. You know that sweet spot where the value is just right on.
My biggest takeaway from buying a printer myself and looking at all of the options is that the more expensive options of 3D printers do not really give you better quality prints – but they might give you the ability to print faster, print more miniatures at a time or ease of use features.
As an example, no matter what version of the Elegoo Mars printer you buy, they can all print miniatures of the almost the exact same detail and quality. They will not differ super much in build quality and features, but the screen can make a huge difference.
So a lot of the printers are basically the same specs, with slight differences that won’t really matter unless you really print a lot of minis (like non-stop all day and night) or you a want a huge build plate +screen and loads of space to print on (for big miniatures).
So I am cutting through the crap here and just giving you options I actually think you should consider if you want the best 3D printer for miniatures.
Overall Best 3D printer for Miniatures: Elegoo Mars 2 Pro Mono
The Elegoo Mars 2 Pro Mono is the most expensive options of the Mars printers.
The Mars 2 Pro comes with a 2k mono LCD, giving you a fast screen that will last you a long time. Compared to the standard Elegoo Mars model, it will print 3 times as fast and last you 4 times longer – features that are definitely worth to pay more for. The build plate is larger than other Mars versions and it is overall just a great price for a premium resin 3D printer
There is no assembly required and is easy to get started with.
The mono screen means it prints faster and the screen lasts longer than the “RGB” normal versions. What many people don’t realize is that the screen on the printer (the thing that blasts lights and cures the resin) does not have a very long lifespan. So once it breaks down you need to buy another screen and this is not covered by the warranty.
The expected lifespin of a normal screen is hundred of hours and the lifespan of mono screen is thousands of hours. A print can easily take 12 hours on my normal elegoo, hundreds of hours is suddenly not a lot.
So getting a screen that is faster AND will last longer is very much a big plus. I did not realize this, so it means what I saved getting a cheaper version I just have to pay later for getting new screens when they break down. In the long run, I am not saving anything and my screen prints slower…
And oh my lord is a mono screen faster. If we look at the specs Elegoo gives us it looks like this:
- Elegoo layer cure time: 8 seconds
- Elegoo Pro layer cure time: 6 seconds
- Elegoo Pro 2 Mono layer cure time: 1-2 seconds (!)
These are some impressive numbers when you consider the staggering amount of layers you need to print on a mini (2k layers is normal).
Right now you got 5 different Elegoo machines:
- Elegoo Mars (1): the first version. Non-mono, slow but super cheap. Before mono screen, this was the best budget and entry model you could get and the one I started with. It has some weird design issues (USB stick on the back, the worst manual I have read in a long time etc.). In my opinion, outdated and you should not consider to buy it from new.
- Elegoo Mars Pro: The same as the Elegoo Mars, but upgraded with a logical place for the USB stick, rubber seal, carbon filter and a few other bits and bobs. A bit faster than version 1, but no mono screen. In my opinion, outdated and you should not consider to buy it from new.
- Elegoo Mars 2 Pro Mono: Just like the Mars Pro, but with the much desired mono screen in 2k!
- Elegoo Mars 2 Mono: This is a weird one. It looks like an upgraded Elegoo Mars, but with a mono screen and a few features from the pro. It is cheaper than the 2 Pro, but released after the 2 pro. It has the same screen. It looks like the differences are: different vat, no filter, no seal, different cover and no sanded built plate. All in all this could totally be worth to get, since it is somewhat cheaper than the 2 Pro – but got the same screen. But I have not seen it in real life and the information out there on this model is next to non-existent (in fact even Elegoo have hard time explaining the difference between the Pro and the non-pro version).
- Elegoo Mars Saturn: This is the super version of the Elegoo line. This is right now the only Saturn there is. It comes with a bigger screen and a 4k mono version at that. If you are super serious about printing or about printing a ton of big things, this is an option for you. But hot damn it is expensive.
What you get with the Elegoo Mars 2 pro Mono compared to earlier versions:
- Great mono screen (speed and durability)
- Larger build plate and better bolts on it
- Improved stability on the axis
- Carbon filter (even though I will not really do that much)
- Ruber seal that can keep a bit of air in
- Bigger vat
- USB on the front (and not on the back like the stupid original Elegoo Mars)
The orignal Elegoo Mars and Elegoo Mars Pro are out of the question here. They are just not that much cheaper and you want that mono screen baby.
Get the Mars 2 Mono if you feel confident that it is good enough. Get the 2 Pro mono if you want a bit of extra. And if you are all in on Elegoo and printing stuff get the expensive Elegoo Saturn (or maybe wait, as new version of the saturn is probably out soon).
Other great 3D printer options
So I bought into the Elegoo printers from the get-go. It is what I bought myself after extensive reading of reviews and watching videos, so those are the models I know and can recommend.
What is striking to me is that to get a vastly different printing experience, you need to move waaay up in price range. As in there is not much of a difference in printing quality in the 300-800 USD range. So unless you are going super big, I do not really think the small spec differences will matter in the long run.
But if you want to look at some other options than Elegoo, these are ones that I would consider myself:
- Anycubic Photon Mono: Anycubic is the other big brand besides Elegoo and this is their take in a small, cheap mono printer. As with everything, there is a big debate on “is Anycubic or Elegoo best”. What I can say is that the print quality is the same and the rest is preference. A great, cheap little machine.
- Phrozen Sonic Mini: the first little machine to do the mono trick. I am somewhat bummed that I did not get this instead of my original Elegoo Mars (since it was out), but people had just not realized how much of a difference the mono screen did back then. If you are just going to print small miniatures and not a lot, this a perfectly good machine (albeit somewhat outdated on features now).
- Creality LD-002H: I would be hard-pressed to spot the differences between this and the Elegoo Mars 2 pro in terms of things that actually matter.
Things you should consider before buying a 3D printer for miniatures
When I bought my first 3D printer I went with a very standard, super cheap solution in the Elegoo Mars (no pro or 2 or anything).
My thinking was this:
“It seems all printer are capable of comporable detail quality. I have no idea what makes the expensive printers better and I am nervous I will wreck something. Let me just jump in at the shallow water and go for them there.”
Now getting in cheap was super, but if I could make another decision today I absolutely would. While I still think most printers are capable of mostly the same detail, the things you get with a more expensive machine is:
Speed of printing and ease of use stuff.
So my Elegoo Mars is sloooow. Not so long after I made my purchase the mono versions of printers came out. It is just a fancy way of saying that they cure the resin faster, so they can make the same number and detail of layers much quicker. So I really wish I would have waited for that.
The other thing I am bummed about is the areas where they have cheaped out on building the thing. My build plate wobbles every time I take a print of, so it means I need to relevel the printer after each print. That is time-consuming and very annoying. Also, why is the USB on the back so I have to move my printer around?!
But there were a few other things I had wanted to know before getting into 3D printing:
- Printing highly detailed miniatures is super duper fun. Now, I sorta figured it would be cool, but I had no idea how much freedom it can give you. Need some extra Blitzerz for you Blood Bowl team? Print them. Need some heads for a kitbash? Print them. Need a whole new warband for a skirmish game? Just print them!
- Resin is super toxic. While I knew that going in, I sort of had the idea that I could put in room where no one where to go in, print things and all would be great. While the smell is not bad, the air is still toxic and it would seep into the wood and other things in the room. Not great. So be ready to have a dedicated, super well-ventilated area to print in
- You need a stable and warm area to print in: Most resin will work best in an environment that is about 25 degrees and on a plane surface that does not move. Combine that with the toxicity issue, and it can suddenly be hard to figure out where you should install your printer.
- Things on your printer will break and fall apart. The warranty on the screen and FEP on the printer is super short (think 3 months, depending on the printer). This is because these things will degrade and fast. So you should add that into your calculations on how much this printing experience will cost you.
- Your prints will fail. It is quite normal to get bursts of failed prints, where the miniatures will not come out looking as intended. You need to troubleshoot your process and figure out what is going wrong. For some, this is a complete headache and not something they want to spend their time on. This can suddenly turn into a new hobby.
- The post-printing process is time-consuming. After the print is done, you need to clean it in alcohol and water and dry the resin further in UV-light. Once you get the process down it is easy, but it also takes some time.
- There are a load of extra things you need to buy. While getting my actual printer was super cheap all of the extra stuff for cleaning, the resin, files and so on quickly added up and it become a bigger investment that I had initially though it would be.
- You can suddenly end up with A LOT of miniature files and also a lot of unpainted printed miniatures. While that is cool and sort of the paint, think about a way to store all of those files (and a system to keep them organized) as well as a way to get those minis painted!
Other things you need to buy besides the 3D resin printer
I will not go into super much detail about it here, but instead cover that in my beginners guide to 3D printing. So I will just make a list of all of the equipment you will actually need for the printing proces:
- Resin: I have mostly used the Elegoo Gray resin with great success. You can also get coloured stuff, but I find it is annoying to work with (priming it can be a bit of a pain). The resin can also be more rubbery, but not really my style.
- A plastic thing to remove cured resin from the tank and build plate (most printers will come with it)
- Isopropyl Alcohol (or something close to that, as it can be hard to get)
- Strainer Jars (useful so you do not have to fiddle around in the jars)
- A mask (I got a big bulky version to be safe)
- Gloves (Nitril gloves and no less than that)
- Wipes (paper towel can scratch the FEP)
- A way to filter the resin after use
- Extra FEP for your machine (I would just get this straight away as you will break it)
- Mat (super useful to get everything with resin on it out of the way and cured before you despise of it)
- Old toothbrush (useful for scrubbing the minis)
- UV light thing (I just use the sun instead, but whatever suits you)
You could also get a wash and cure machine if this process is really something you hate. But they are expensive and a bit of a waste of money in my opinion.
Where to get miniature files for 3D printing
Now this is super important and something I used quite a lot of time on. You got 3 main places to get good quality miniature 3D printing files:
What you want to look for is cool looking minis that are pre-supported. If they are not, you will have to spend time making small supports in a computer program. While that is cool and all it is also super time consuming (and hard in the beginning). So starting out, get something that is just ready to print. Some good kickstarters are:
- Titan Forge
- Artisan Guild
- Arhvilian Games
- Duncan Shadow