Ever wondered exactly how much terrain you can print with a single roll of PLA filament? We often get asked by those new to 3D printing for tabletop gaming, how much PLA filament they will need to print their new set of 3D printable terrain. So, we grabbed a roll of 1KG PLA+ filament from our friends at 3D Meta and put it to the test!
It took almost 156 hours to use the entire roll but we got 23 different pieces of scenery printed – Enough to comfortably fill a 3×3 table or at a push, make for a less dense 4×4 game.
What terrain did we print?
For this test we used a selection of 3D printable Sci-Fi terrain from our Saucermen Studios range. It includes a selection of cargo pallets and modular, buildings with battle damage theme.
All of the models print without supports so will avoid unnecessary wastage of PLA Filament.
Sometimes you 3D prints need a bit of love when they come off the printer, this can often be due your print settings, hardware or environment. These tips will help you with cleaning up an preparing your 3D printed terrain, ready for painting and gaming.
When do you need to clean-up 3D prints?
Most prints coming off an FDM / PLA based 3D printer such as the Ender 3 won’t require any clean up, but occasionally you will need to tidy up some of the following issues.
Visible layer lines – Horizontal lines on the sides of your prints can be caused by a number of factors such as poor Filament quality, extrusion inconsistency, change jn temperature, or layer height settings, etc. This can often be resolved by light sanding or the application of filler/primer before painting.
Stringing – Looking like cobwebs as thin, fibrous Filament between vertical sections of the print. String is usually caused by incorrect retraction settings or excessive heat. Strings can be picked off by hand removed with a heat gun or cigarette lighter.
Sagging Filament om overhangs – Drooping Filament on overhangs can be caused by improper slicer settings and hardware calibration. These unwanted imperfections in the print can usually be removed with a sharp knife.
Bobbling -Bumps and zits on your 3D print can be caused by a number of reasons such as speed settings, temperature, retraction, etc but
Removing supports – A good 3D printed terrain piece (such as those from Saucermen Studios) will be designed to print without the need for supports, but occasionally you will need to use them in your print to avoid overhangs falling. 3D printed supports can usually be snipped off with clippers, cleaned up with a sharp knife and sanded with fine grain sandpaper.
3D print cleanup tools
There’s a few tools that can help clean up 3D printed terrain
Sharp knife – Used precisely to tidy up stray imperfections, drooping filament at overhangs and and other rogue issues.
Heat gun or lighter – Used sparingly to tighten up loose filament stands or disintegrate thin stringing. Don’t go overboard with your heating, it’s easy to warp models or burn areas if done too hot or close.
Fine grain sandpaper – Reducing layer lines with sandpaper is an option if they are bothering you but be careful not to remove other features as you sand. When sanding, always start with a courser grit and work your way to a very fine, clean finish.
Snippers & needle nose pliers – Precision clippers (like the blue ones that come with a Creality printer) are great for snipping off unwanted imperfections on a 3D print and needle nose pliers can be used to accurately pull away stray bits too.
Filler Primer & putty – Automotive filler primer or spot putty is a great option for reducing layer lines when sprayed on or patching any holes you discover. Spray thin, from a distance and wait for multiple coats! Sand if required.
You’re probably looking at getting a 3D printer but have come with the choice between resin and FDM printers. Both of these 3D printer types are great tools for any tabletop gamer or hobbyist but which 2D printer is best for tabletop gaming?
3D printer types for tabletop gaming
There are two different types of 3D printing technology used in tabletop gaming:
Resin 3D Printing – These printers use SLA resin that is built up in sequential layers and hardened by light, projected in a particular shape. Once printed, the model must be cleaned up with isopropyl alcohol and finally cured using UV light. The process can be messy and PPE such as gloves, eye protection and ventilation is required as the chemicals can be harmful.
FDM / Filament 3D Printing – These printers us PLA filament that is heated to around 210°C and squeezed out of a hot-end. the precision motors move the hot-end around and the layers of PLA are slowly built up over many hours. Once printed, you simply lift the bed off the printer bed and you’re done.
Resin for miniatures / FDM for terrain
The biggest consideration when choosing whether to buying a 3D printer for wargames, RPG, terrain making or general hobbying is to define what you’ll be using it for. Essentially, you’ll want to use a resin printer for 3D printing miniatures but FDM printers for cranking out terrain.
With the global 3D printer market generating around 11.1 USD Billion in 2021 and expected to grow to 35.36 USD Billion by 2028, it’s clear that 3D printing is here to stay and tabletop gaming has been a strong supporter of absorbing this technology into the hobby space.
With 3D printable terrain Kickstarters such as Flatline City frequently funding over $100,000 we have to admit that 3D printable terrain and miniatures are the future of tabletop gaming.
Let’s explore exactly why 3D printing your wargaming terrain is becoming a standard.
Terrain for Wargaming
Broadly speaking, tabletop gaming hobbyists don’t mind a bit of tinkering so moving sideways into the 3D printing hobby isn’t far off and the rewards are great:
3D printing miniatures & terrain is cheaper than buying store-bought alternatives
When you buy the STL files, you can print as much as you like
3D printing terrain supports independent designers and studios
New game systems by smaller designers will surface as a result of consumer lead manufacturing
Not sure how to get started 3D printing terrain? Click here!
Is 3D Printing Bad for the Environment?
While 3D printing on FDM printers such as the Ender 3 still uses PLA (plastic) as the material and electricity as the energy behind the process, 3D printing is much more environmentally friendly that other production methods:
The terrain is usually manufactured by the end-user so less logistics is involved
Solar power is becoming more widely adopted as a power source
“PLA is a bio-degradable plastic material that has gained traction with 3D printing for this very reason”
When 3D printing tabletop terrain, the goal is to get the best looking terrain in the fasted possible time, while using a minimum amount of PLA filament. Whether you’re using Cura, PrusaSLicer, Netfabb, Simplify3D or something else, this careful balance between speed, time and quality is controlled by the settings in your slicer.
Below are some suggestions and considerations to help yo get the best results from your FDM 3D printer.
Quick Start: The Cura ‘Standard’ settings work well for printing terrain if you lower the Infill to 5%.
Quick 3D Print Settings:
Perimeter / Wall
5-10% (Lines or cubic)
The above can be used on a printer such as the Ender 3 with a 0.4mm nozzle.
Level Your Bed: Most printing problems happen if your bed is not level. Take the time to level your bed (when it’s heated). This can be done quickly by placing a piece of paper between the nozzle and the print bed at the corners and center. You want the paper to have slight friction.
What Temperature Should I print at?
Most PLA filament will come with recommended printing temperatures from the manufacturer, this will usually be between 200-220°C. Note that transparent PLA may require a hotter temperature.
Your print bed should usually be around 60-65°C.
Is your bed clean? – If you have PLA residue, dust or grime on your printing bed, you may encounter adhesion problems where the print won’t stick. You can use isopropyl alcohol to clean the bed – A spray bottle and link free cloth makes applying this super easy.
What Slicer do you recommend?
Cura is a great, free slicer that works with most printers and can be used with network print options such as Octoprint.
How much infill for terrain?
Most terrain can be printed at 5% infill, however if you need something a bit sturdier or will be using OpenLock Clips, you may wish to increase this to 10%.
Good infill patterns are lines or cubic.
What nozzle Size for terrain printing?
Standard 0.4mm nozzles are great for 3D printing terrain. Changing the size here won’t be much benefit.
Do I need to print with supports?
Pretty much all of the 3D printable terrain designed by Saucermen Studios can be printed without supports, this means you can just open the model in your slicer, choose your settings and hit print. We design and test our models so that door ways, overhangs and arches print easily. Depending on your particular printer, you may need to remove the occasional stringing with a sharp knife or lighter/heat gun.
Getting started 3D printing terrain is easier and cheaper than ever, but choosing a 3D printer can seem overwhelming with all of the options available. You’ve probably heard about the Creality Ender 3 as it’s affordable, easy to set-up and delivers incredible results for the price! But is it any good for printing terrain?
The Ender 3 is GREAT for printing terrain!
Simply put, yes, the Ender 3 is a great 3D printer to get started 3D printing terrain. Here at Saucermen Studios, we have several of them in our workshop as they are cheap, reliable and can churn out 3D printed terrain for days without needing the occasional tweak. This means we can easily test our STL files for 3D printable terrain during production.
What results Will I Get from an Ender 3?
You can see a few examples below of terrain we printed on the Creality Ender 3. As you can see, the Ender 3 will print with some layer lines, but once primed these are barely visible. You can even use very fine grained sandpaper to smooth any imperfections out even more!
What Settings Should I print Terrain on?
We recommend using the Software Cura to ‘slice’ (print) your 3D terrain files (STL files) from. You can use ‘standard’ print settings but we suggest printing terrain with 5% infill to save time, but you can also raise this to 10%… Anything higher than this isn’t necessary when printing 3D printed terrain.
Is the Ender 3 Good?
As mentioned above, the Ender 3 is GREAT for the reasons previously mentioned but do consider the following:
The Ender 3 bed size has a max print area of 220x200mm
You have to manually level the bed
You may need to unclog nozzles and tinker / carry out maintenance
This is a budget printer compared to it’s pricier alternatives
Don’t forget that the Ender 3 has evolved over time, so different versions are available. EG The Ender 3 V2 includes more upgrades and features.
Is the Ender 3 Worth it?
If you want to print terrain on demand, scale buildings, mirror scenery or even get into custom terrain design then YES, this printer is a great purchase. It will require some tinkering but 3D printers are here to stay so it’s well worth adding one to your hobby space or workshop.
Will Ender 3 Print STL?
STL files are the standard file format for 3D printable models. The Creality Ender 3 will print these. You need to send files to your printer via a ‘Slicer’ such as Cura.
3D printing tabletop terrain has become an incredibly affordable way of getting more scenery on your table. Online printing communities are accessible on many platforms, with many people offering assistance to help get users started and overcome any issues they encounter. With all these opportunities, now is the time to get 3D printing for tabletop gaming!
To get started printing terrain quickly and cheaply, we recommend FDM printers, specifically the Creality Ender 3V2 with PLA filament. If you can afford newer or pro versions, they usually include all of the essential upgrades to avoid common issues.
Why 3D print Terrain?
Once you’ve made the initial investment of buying a 3D printer which is often less than $300, you only need to purchase filament, download STL files and other have a small stash of consumable supplies.
Printing terrain and scenery is CHEAP compared to buying plastic sets and has a huge amount more detail than MDF scenery. Once you have the file, you can print as many copies as you like so you can grow a large collection of tabletop terrain with a number of different themes really easily.
With each generation of 3D printer, the quality and speed improves. We’re now at a point where even cheap 3D printers can deliver incredible results. While the STL files are published with incredible detail, you can choose how quickly or detailed these are printed out. When primed and painted, you can often not tell the different between 3D printed terrain and other scenery.
Considerations when choosing a 3D printer for terrain
Do you need help with bed leveling?
What size print area do you need?
Do you want a pre-built or kit printer?
So, which 3D printer should you choose for tabletop terrain?
Best Budget 3D Printer: Ender 3
Hands down, the most popular 3D printer for beginners is the Creality Ender 3. The Creality Ender 3 has a max print volume of 220 x 220 x 250 mm. Check out the Ender 3 V2 for a few more features too!
Ender 3 Pros:
Very cheap 3D printer
HUGE amount of online support communities
Ender 3 Cons:
Comes as a kit (but is easily built)
No automatic bed leveling (BL Touch) as standard
Be prepared to tweak and tinker occasionally
Mid-Range 3D printer: Creality CR-10S Pro V2
With a few upgrades and bigger printable area, the Creality CR-10S Pro V2 has a max print volume of 300x300x400mm.
CR-10S Pro V2 Pros:
Better build quality than cheaper printers
Large print area
Dual Z motors for extra stability
Less assembly than cheaper printers
Filament run-out sensor
CR-10S Pro V2 Cons:
It’s a BIG printer (very tall)
Auto bed leveling can sometime miss the mark
Top-end 3D printer: Prusa i3 MK3
With a hefty price tag, this is the upper tier of 3D filament printing as it delivers more consistently higher quality and superior build quality. It has a max print volume of
Prusa i3 Mk3 Pros:
Faster, quieter, more reliable printing
Excellent build quality
Auto bed levelling and calibration
Prusa i3 Mk3 Cons:
Expensive compared to other brands
Availability in some countries
Where to buy 3D printed terrain?
Saucermen Studios have a range of excellent 3D printable scenery available through the online store. Some of the popular terrain sets are available below.
Currently, resin printers are great value for miniature printing but FDM printers such as the Ender 3 are still the clear favorite for printable scenery. Resin vs Filament cost is the main factor here but also the size of the printer plate or bed are really important to think about too as FDM printers can usually print larger items and for a lower cost.
Keep resin printers for miniatures, bases, scatter terrain and small, highly detailed scenery.
This terrain painting tutorial explains our process for painting 3D printed spaceships and starship wreckage terrain. We will use the Lost Colony: Spaceship Graveyard Set to demonstrate.
We used an airbrush and airbrush stencils but similar effects could be achieved with brushes or rattlecans.
Which paint to use?
Painting 3D printed terrain? Which paint should you use? After going through buckets of Citadel Paints, Vallejo and Army Painter on previous terrain projects, we came to the conclusion that cheap craft paints are defiantly the way to go! Just follow these steps to mix your own airbrush paint:
Grab a few empty paint bottles – Remember that terrain uses a LOT of paint
Squeeze some craft paint into the bottle
Add some de-ionised / distilled water – This helps it going stinky in a few weeks
Add some airbrush thinner (aim for the consistency of melted ice-cream)
Throw in a glass bead and shake (don’t use metal… it may rust)
1 – Good quality 3D prints
Terrain is best printed on FDM printers such as the Ender 3 or Prusa i3 due to the size and amount of materials used – Resin prints would look great but it’d use a lot of resin and require larger resin printers. If using Cura, we recommend printing on standard settings with 5% infill. None of the Saucermen Studios terrain in this set requires supports.
2 – Priming
We’ve tried a few primers for 3D printed terrain and found that Primer / Filler for cars works great for filling in any print lines. it’s important to take your time, spray multiple thin coats and keep a good distance between the spray and model – This will avoid pooling or thick areas of paint. Drying time is under 10 minutes too!
3 – Panel Lines & Dark Areas
Using A dark grey / black paint, spray across the panel lines and dark areas of the terrain such as metal areas or deep recesses.
4 – Add Highlights to Panels
Using a white or light colour to paint highlights onto the main areas of the panels, this cleans up any messy panel lines and adds contrast to the model.
5 – Stipple Rust & Dirt
Using an old, thick bristled brush with brown / umber paint to jab or stipple grunge onto dark areas of the terrain. Don’t worry about being too messy here as it will be dry brushed later.
6 – Drybrush Metal & Silver Areas
Using a large dry and silver paint, drybrush areas of metal. On these example, we used two different brushes for smaller and larger areas. A cheap house painting brush works great!
7 – Adding More Colours
Repeating the steps above or applying base colours, then highlighting each panel with a lighter colour, you can add variety to the panels. Using masking tape or a carefully held masking board here is essential to isolate individual parts of the model.
8 – Applying Airbrush Stencils
We used adhesive vinyl airbrush stencils here to add decals and detail to the models. Stencils are a great, clean and effective way to easily boost the aesthetic of a model.
9 – Edge Highlights (with a pencil)
Using a white artist pencil you can quickly and cleanly apply edge highlights to terrain. Just use the side of the pencil and rub it on the edges!
10 – Sponge on Some Damage!
Using a contrasting colour paint, use a torn sponge to add damage, dirt and grime to the edges. Aim for areas that see some usage or would get scratched up easily. Think about doorway edges and corners, etc.
All done – Add Some Brush Detail!
Grab a small, good quality miniature brush and paint on some of the fine detail for panels, wires and lights, etc.
Looking to get started with 3D printing? This guide will discuss the most cost effective way of getting started with 3D printing for tabletop terrain and scenery for 15mm, 28mm, 32 scale wargames and tabletop rpgs.
Why start 3D printing for tabletop?
The future of tabletop gaming is changing! Widespread use and affordability of 3D printers has allowed hobbyists to create, modify and print their own scenery and terrain. It is a great alternative to MDF terrain.
3D printers come in two types, those good for large terrain (FDM printers such as the Ender 3 or Prusa i3 mk3) and those good for small, highly detailed miniatures (UV resin printers such as Anycubic Photon, Elegoo Mars or Creality LD-002R).
We’ll focus mainly on FDM printers, specifically the Ender 3 due to it’s incredible results and attractive price point. We highly recommend this as an entry level and workhorse printer.
Get Some FREE 3D printable Terrain Files!
We’ve got a few free pieces of terrain to help you get started 3D printing your own wargaming terrain. Get your free SLTs here.
What are FDM printers?
FDM (Fused Deposition Modeling) technology uses spools of plastic filament that are heated up and pushed through an extruder. This is then layered onto a heated bed and slowly built up over the course of hours (sometimes days) into a physical 3d model. The printer is controlled by g-code that is created by software called a slicer such as Cura.
There are numerous options for your first printer but we recommend you look into the following:
Ender 3 – This is by far the most popular and widely used 3D printer for affordable 3d printing. It is cheap, open source, widely available, well supported and produces surprisingly good results. This printer does require assembly and can require manual intervention / tweaking but if you are willing to endure some tinkering, it’s a great choice.
Ender 3 pro and Ender 3 mk2 – very similar to the original Ender 3 but with improved construction and features.
Prusa i3 mk3 – This is a higher priced printer that can offer assembly, less tinkering, some automation and more consistent, better quality results than it’s cheaper alternatives.
Choosing your printer should match your needs, so it’s worth considering the following:
Bed size & max print height
community support (facebook groups, subreddits, forums, etc)
Automation (eg, bed levelling)
Print quality / resolution
Required building / delivery of a printer kit
Availability of spare parts
The 3D printing Process
There are several steps involved in producing a successful 3D print. They can be broken down as follows:
Obtain a 3D model (.stl) – Download or export a 3D model that has been optimised for FDM printing. This will be in STL format. It’s important to consider licensing and copyright at this point.
Open your model in a slicer – Using slicing software such as Cura, you need to import your .stl file and choose your print settings. Quality preferences and machine profiles are set here.
Prep your printer – Ensure your printer is ready to print. It should be calibrated, have a clean level bed and pre-heated for your material.
Send sliced model to printer – The slicer will generate gcode based on your settings, you then need to send this to your printer, either on SD card or over your network.
Wait for the print – You should pay close attention to the first layer of your print to correct any issues before continuing.
What results can you get?
FDM printing offers surprisingly good results for very little investment. Below are some examples we printed in our studios on an Ender 3 which costs less than $300AUD
You can achieve much better results if you are willing to invest time. By making each layer thinner (higher resolution), you can get better detail, however it can take much longer to print. In addition to this you can look at changing some of the printer’s hardware – For example, replacing the stock nozzle to one with a smaller hole can allow for even thinner to be extruded.
Most printers will deliver excellent prints out of the box once calibrated. We recommend that you establish an understanding of the basic machine before you start tinkering however it is inevitable that you will want to start adding upgrades eventually to optimise your set-up.
Budget 3D printers are built cheap to get you printing cheaply, so this means there are some areas for improvement. We recommend looking into the following 3D printer upgrades:
Bed springs – Improved quality springs maintain stability and mean less frequent bed leveling. For an Ender 3, look at the yellow replacement springs available. Ebay is a great source for these.
Glass bed – A glass bed will improve adhesion for the model during printing.
3D printed upgrades – There are numerous 3D printable upgrades available such as spacers, fan covers, brackets, etc. Depending on your printer, it’s worth heading over to www.thingiverse.com and searching for your printer to see what upgrades are available.
You will need a few items other than the printer and the tools it comes with to make life easier. Below are some extras that you should take into account:
Filament – Most tabletop scenery will be printed using PLA filament. The most common size is 1.75mm and comes in spools of 1kg. A single spool can produc ea lot of scenery but it’s definitely worth grabbing a few different colours of a quality filament.
Isopropyl alcohol & microfibre cloth – This is used for occasionally cleaning the build plate / bed so that you can get better adhesion while printing. We use a spray bottle and wipe the surface before every print.
Tools – Printers usually come with very basic tools (spanner, scraper, allen keys, etc) but recommend having some extra tools on hand such as tweezers (to remove unwanted filament), 6mm socket head (to remove hot nozzles), torch / LED lights.
Safety precautions – Don’t forget that 3D printers heat up and melt plastic over a long period. We don’t recommend leaving a 3D printer unattended at any time in case of fire. While 3D printer fires do seem rare, they can happen so it’s worth investing in a smoke alarm, fire extinguisher and first aid kit.
Software (Slicers) – . Slicing software allows you to convert a 3D model (.stl) into something printable. Cura is one of the most popular, free slicing software tools used and allows a huge variety of options and customisation.
Your 3D printing and monitoring process can be greatly streamlined by using a Raspberry pi and free software called Octoprint. This allows you to add a webcam for streaming and timelapses, access your printer with a web interface (octoprint) but we also recommend the free app Octoremote.
If you eventually add more printers to your collection, Octoprint can be adapted for multi-printer use (follow this guide).
Support & troubleshooting
There are incredible support tools and communities available online for those getting started with 3D printing, we recommend the following: