3D Printing for Games – Part 2

Resin versus FDM

Back when I bought my FlashForge Dreamer, which was sometime between 2400 baud modems and COVID, FDM printers were pretty much the only game in town for home hobbyists. SLA and DLP printers (which are often simply referred to as “resin” printers) were available, but were prohibitively pricey in comparison.

What’s an FDM printer?

FDM is “Fused Deposition Modeling,” which does exactly what you think from reading “Fused Deposition Modeling.”

Just kidding.

The print medium in an FDM printer, such as my FlashForge, is a spool of filament. The filament is typically 1.75mm diameter. (Though some printers are designed for 3mm filament.) In the accompanying picture you can see two strands of filament, one black and one white, feeding in through the top of the printer. I have the spools mounted on a pipe above, so they can turn freely as the printer pulls in more filament.

The operation is pretty simple. The extruder pulls in filament, heats it to about 180F to 220F, then spits it out through the nozzles. The FlashForge Dreamer has a bed that moves up and down; it starts out about .2mm below the nozzles.

The extruders move around on the X and Y axes, laying down lines or beads of liquid plastic. The plastic cools again very quickly after leaving the nozzle and hardens back into a solid.

The extruders move around on the X and Y axes, laying down lines or beads of liquid plastic. The plastic cools again very quickly after leaving the nozzle and hardens back into a solid.

Once the first layer is done, the bed moves down a fraction of a millimeter and the next layer begins. FlashForge’s Creator and Finder series are FDM printers, as are the LulzBot series, the Ultimaker, and the Dremel Idea Builder.

What’s a resin printer?

A couple of different technologies are commonly referred to as “resin” printers. Whether you’re talking SLA or DLP, they work the same way: the medium starts out in liquid form, a thin layer is poured, and the points in the layer that will form the model are hardened, using an ultraviolet laser or other light source.

The key difference (from what I understand) is that SLA still builds via a single layer at a time, while DLP can harden multiple layers at once. However, don’t take my word on this — I refer you back to Part 1, where I mentioned the assumption that we’re going to spend our time designing games, not becoming electrical engineers or starship maintenance personnel.

It’s important to understand the contrast between FDM and resin printers because resin printers are competitive in the home market now. You can find resin printers such as the Creality LD, the Photon, and the Monoprice Mini quite inexpensively.

Which is better, FDM or resin?

Remember when I mentioned that 3D printing is slow? One of the key differences between FDM and resin printing is that FDM is typically faster. (At least, that’s the common consensus among 3D printing communities, and I believe that as of the end of 2020 it’s still true.) If you want to print as quickly as possible, FDM will crawl faster than resin.

Likewise, a dual-extruder enthusiast like myself will point out that everything you print in a consumer-grade resin printer will be monochromatic. However, this is a minor point. Two colors versus one is rather splitting hairs; let’s just assume one color is enough for you, and you’ll paint if necessary. (Also, pay attention later in this series for me to talk about modular model making and getting the most of out your filament colors.)

Two areas where the resin printers seem to be notably stronger: finish, and structural strength. Quite often you can see the visible layers in a model produced by an FDM printer. Remember, each layer adheres to the next layer, and they cooled at different times, which can lead to structural weakness. Resin printers are often simply stronger.

Related to the layering is the subject of support. (We’re talking physical support of oddly-shaped models on the printer, not customer support.) I plan to write an entire post on support later, but for now, let’s just say that my resin-printing friends seem to have an easier time of it when extensive support is needed.

So which one do I actually pick?

To a great extent it’s a toss-up. The strengths and weaknesses of each style make them quite comparable, so I’ll give you the criteria that I believe gives each one an edge:

  • If you plan on primarily printing miniatures, such as for an RPG, go with resin.
  • If you’re more likely to print dice, simple pawns, boxes, etc, go with FDM.
  • If you want to print bigger items, such as dice towers or a Maltese Falcon, go with FDM. Even if you’re printing in pieces and assembling, FDM will probably be better here.

One other thing — if you’ve got a friend who’s really happy with his or her 3D printer and enjoys working with noobs, you might consider getting the same printer or a similar one. You’ll find that people in the 3D printing community are quite open about supporting each other, but it’s often easier to provide more support to someone using a similar setup.

Coming soon…

In my next posts we’ll get more into the nuts and bolts of producing prints. First we’ll explore the software and general process of going from digital model to physical print. Then we’ll have a look at where to get models, how to build your own, and more.

Obligatory Advertising

If you’re finding this useful, please feel free to share it. And of course, I’ll be quite happy if you sign up for notification about the Four Day Weekend Kickstarter launch. I’m hoping to launch my first card game campaign early in 2021, and every time you share my page with a friend it helps me build that critical pre-launch audience.

Until next time…


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