Tobold's Blog
Sunday, April 30, 2017
Clear PLA

I have been happily printing miniatures for my Dungeons & Dragons games since I got my 3D printer. The typical result with regular PLA looks like this:

The resolution and details are less good than what you would get if you bought a miniature in a store. And you can't print very thin parts without the result being extremely fragile. That is why for the skeletons in the above picture I chose a model with a solid ribcage. I can make simple structures myself with TinkerCAD: For example the ox in front of the cart have been created by somebody else, but I added the yoke. I also created the cart, while taking the wheels from Thingiverse.

I bought several different spools of PLA filament from XYZPrinting, because the printer doesn't accept anything else. Apparently a hack that allowed the chip in the XYZ spools to be manipulated was invalidated by a recent firmware update, so there is no currently working hack for the Junior range of printers. I can live with having to pay twice the price for the PLA in return for having gotten the printer for cheap. However this also means that I have to live with the color range available for the XYZ Junior printers. Now the range looks good on their website, but once you order them you find out that most of the colors only come in a "clear PLA" version. The result looks like this:

Basically the surface becomes rougher than with the opaque PLA, and gets an aspect as if you had coated it with crystal sugar. That *can* look quite good, I quite like my green dragon. However the material is even more fragile and brittle. Assembling the dragon was very difficult, because the surfaces that needed to come together weren't smooth, and needed a lot of work with a knife and sandpaper. And I'm not sure I'll be able to bring the result elsewhere without shattering it during transport. Miniatures with some surface structure (like the bones on the skeletons) become less visible with the clear PLA than with the regular one. Unfortunately certain colors like red and green *only* come in clear PLA for this model of printer.

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Hi Tobold thanks for the photos, I was very curious. What can I say: I wasn't expecting something spectacular but in all honesty I didn't even understand those were skeletons :-(. The dragon model is decent from distance (thumbnail) but as soon as I clicked the image... Oh boy it looks so bad, unfinished and -as you said- sugar-coated.

Maybe those models are too small for 3D printing? I don't know, the skeletons and the ogre look like you made them with snow :-( and the overall "finish" quality is extremely poor in my opinion. I understand you can print large quantities for a low price per piece but... Is it really worth it?
Sorry to disappoint you, but the larger things you print don't get much better either. Thus all my previous posts on the subject of 3D printing saying that it isn't all that useful. But my specific niche application is using these figurines as tokens in a game. If there is a fight against a dragon and his kobold minions, the players just need to be able to recognize which of the tokens is the dragon and which are the kobolds. That is a very low bar to reach. The printed miniatures, ugly as they are, are fit for purpose and somewhat better than the flat tokens I used before.

If I wouldn't have that specific niche application, I wouldn't really know what to use that printer for.

I agree that neither the white nor the clear green PLA are really good. I'm still hoping to get slightly better effects with colored opaque PLA.
I would say that 2D paper miniatures would be a lot more detailed and visually appealing, while keeping the overall cost extremely low, maybe? Example:
The 2D stand-up ones you need to cut out in shape are actually a lot of work, and are hard to see from the side. I used flat 2D ones before, but the 3D miniatures are easier to see across the table.
Next step: paint them.

Full green on the dragon, then black or brown on the feet and wing bone structure, should look magnitudes better. Sceletons grey and darker for bone structure. I'm sure your extended family has a kid or two running around, let them paint you 5 to get 1 to play with :-)

I guess sceletons don't have it any better than us human Sararimen, taking public transportation to work.
Those prints look typical of a printer that just needs setting up correctly or a of a printer requiring some modification. Look at the following youtube, his printer is showing in the beginning is showing results similar to your own, after a few changes his prints are completely different.

and here's another one showing prints I would not thought possible of a printer in this price range,
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