Sunday 4 November 2012

Shapeways Models


I've watched the development of 3d printing techniques with considerable interest over the past few years.  This is the technology where a 3d software design is downloaded from a computer into a machine which then carves or fuses those instructions into a real, solid item.
At the moment the equipment to accomplish this is beyond all bar the most serious private individual, but there are companies who will take your design and print it on their machines.  The best known of these is Shapeways.  Many people upload model starship designs to the Shapeways web site; most of these can then be bought by a 3rd party (such as me).  Recently I ordered a few such models...

White Detail

The first choice one has to make when ordering 3d prints is the material from which they should be constructed.  Shapeways offer 8 or 9 different choices for these items, but actually I believe that many of these are just differently-coloured versions of the same basic stuff.  There is, however, a strong price gradient between the cheapest, lower detail matrix and the most expensive, best detail material.

For these Tiberian Pugius destroyers, I chose the "White Detail" material; this is a compromise between definition and price (mind you, they still cost quite a bit!)  I'll use them as smaller, old-style Romulan ships for Full Thrust.  It's hard to see in these pictures, but the smooth surfaces really are quite smooth, though there's some roughness around the edges.


Here's another shot of a Pugius destroyer, along with a S'ten Vastam light cruiser.  This time, the models have been undercoated; the Pugius is looking quite clean.  However, the S'ten Vastam is distinctly rough; it looks as if it has a hairy fringe all round the model.  Note that this is definitely how it was manufactured; it's not a result of me undercoating the model in a dusty room or anything like that!


Finally, this is a photo of a completed, painted Bellerophon class light cruiser; I've named her "Endeavour".  Not the Star Trek "Voyager" at all, no sirree!  Any resemblance is purely accidental, I'm sure...

Again, this model has some definite rough edges, although I suspect and hope that they won't be noticeable at normal viewing distances.  Still, they really annoy me!  Bear in mind, though, that all of these models are between 1.5" and 2" (4-5cm) in size, so they're really quite small.


I'm impressed at the variety of offerings that are available at Shapeways.  For starship models, there is a useful discussion here, though I'm aware that there are also many naval models and World War I aircraft for sale.  The detail is not as good on the finished item as I'd like, though they are getting better all the time.  The cost is still relatively high as well, so this isn't the way to construct your horde armies.  Metal, resin or injection moulded plastic are all better quality and cheaper - for now.  But watch this space: I'm reasonably confident that this technology is going to become very significant within the next 5 years or less!


  1. Cool stuff, this makes me wanna dig out the old micro machine star trek set and run some games!

    1. Well, if you've got the models then you're most of the way there already. There are free rules on the internet (such as the excellent Full Thrust) and plenty of fan resources for them. You don't need a whole lot of scenery either. Go for it!

  2. This technology is how a lot of the more mechanical models looking models coming out are having their masters made. The designer then pulls a mold and runs it in some other material.

    It's really a fascinating process that gives a lot of choices.

    1. That's true, though I believe that such printed masters are then usually touched up quite a bit by the traditional methods before being used to create a production mould. For now, anyway...

  3. Replies
    1. Well, they look OK, but the flaws aren't too hard to find. Still, they'll fill a gap in some of my fleets.

  4. Tip for models in the cheap(ish) "white, strong and flexible" material. - Give the model a brush with an old toothbrush and then dip it a couple of times in future/vinyl floor polish brand of your choice prior to painting.