How Miniature Models Are Made For Tabletop Gaming

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Nov. 162023

Creating miniature models is a delicate process. There are many steps from conception to creation that most people never get a chance to see. Whether made by hand or by machine, making miniatures is a unique art form that brings beloved characters to life.

In today’s article, we’ll go behind the scenes to see how miniature models are made, uncovering the secrets of their creation, and exploring how they’ve become an essential part of the gaming world.

A Mini History

Miniature models have been around for centuries. The first mass-produced miniature model can be traced back to 2D tin toy soldiers made in Germany during the late 1700s. It wasn’t until the mid-1800s that countries began to produce 3D miniatures. 

Until the 20th century, miniatures were mostly manufactured from tin and lead alloys known as white metals. In 1993, the New York legislature proposed a bill that would outlaw the use of lead in miniature models due to health concerns. Anticipating a widespread ban on lead, manufacturers started making miniatures with lead-free alloys. Today, gaming miniatures are commonly manufactured out of metal, plastic, resin, or 3D-printed polymers. 

Types of Miniature Models in Gaming

Not all miniatures are created equal. All of them may be small, but they also come in different shapes and sizes. Here are a few categories of gaming miniatures worth knowing about: 

  • Role-Playing Game (RPG) Miniatures: These miniatures can represent anything from sci-fi characters to monsters and are used in popular tabletop role-playing games like Dungeons & Dragons, Pathfinder, and GURPS. 
  • Wargaming Miniatures: These are made up of war-related themes like armies, soldiers, and vehicles and are used in popular wargames such as Warhammer 40,000, Flames of War, and Bolt Action.
  • Collectible Miniatures: These types of miniatures are sought after by collectors and hobbyists. Some notable examples include Battletech and Star Wars. 
  • Board Game Miniatures: Most board games come with miniatures representing characters, creatures, or objects in the game. 

Sculpting: 3D Modeling vs. Hand-Made

The first step in the process of creating a miniature model is sculpting. Miniatures can either be sculpted by hand or digitally using 3D printing technology. 

Traditionally, miniatures are commonly sculpted by hand using a two-part epoxy modeling putty. Both parts of the putty are mixed together into a compound that hardens within 48 hours. Popular brands include Kneadatite (known as “green stuff”), Magic Sculp, and Milliput. While sculpting miniatures by hand is slower than 3D modeling, it offers an opportunity for more artistic expression that appeals to collectors and hobbyists. 

Digital modeling and 3D printing have revolutionized the creation of gaming miniatures. Using 3D modeling software, sculptors are able to craft virtual models which are later printed out using an industrial-grade printer. There are a number of benefits to 3D modeling, including the ability to easily edit, rearrange, and copy models, drastically reducing production time. The main drawback to 3D modeling is cost. Depending on the project, printing expenses can run in the thousands. 

Making the Mold

After the sculpting process has been completed, molds (spelled “mould” in the U.K.) are made of the final model to create a “master” for mass production. A silicone rubber compound is used to make the mold because of its flexibility and ability to capture high-quality details. The silicone rubber is then poured over the master model, forming a flexible mold that can be removed without damaging the original model. 

Afterward, the mold is carefully cut open, and molten resin, plastic, or metal is poured into the mold. The mold is rotated or vibrated so that the material fills every crevice. After allowing a few hours to cool off, the newly cast miniature can be removed from the mold. The master mold can then be used over and over again for commercial manufacturing. 

Overall

We’ve had the chance to peek behind closed doors and see how miniature models are crafted from beginning to end. Miniatures have been around for a long time, and there are many methods to bring them to life. Emerging technology is offering new ways to build better gaming miniatures, enhancing the tabletop gaming experience. 

So, the next time you look at the miniatures on the shelf at your local gaming store, remember what it took to get them there!

Interested in miniature models? Pay us a visit at The Battle Standard, your go-to miniature games store, for all your tabletop gaming needs! 

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