Creating miniature characters (modeling in Blender and 3D printing)

Hi all

this is a general question about modeling and posing miniature characters which I would like to then have 3D printed using a commercial service.

For example check out this slideshow on BBC website:

Anybody doing something like this? Is it like normal character modeling or is the process somehow different? e.g. is it low poly modeling or are extra steps required.

I am assuming that it can be quite basic because the models will be quite small so i won’t need to do intricate details. Is this right?

I am just getting started with Blender (did two basic courses on and character modeling is next.

Also, any tips on 3D printing Blender models? I know a bit about doing it from Photoshop CC but can I do this some other way.

I’m still a beginner so sorry if this is all sounding a bit vague.

Any help would be much appreciated


The obejcts can be just as high detail as large models, that is not the important thing (a cube can be made from 6 faces or 6000 faces but it will look and print the same). The important thing is the capability of the 3d printer. What is the minimum resolution, what is the minimum wall thickness.

There’s an addon that can help you with 3d printing,
If you search for 3d print in the addons list you can find it there. There’s also the Mesh Analysis tools in edit mode in the n-panel.

Here’s an indepth guide:

I’m a professional character artist/product designer in the hobby wargaming industry, so I’ll try to answer your questions and give you a few pointers. To do this on a production scale, I find ZBrush to be essential for my work, and use Blender as my main supplementary poly modeling tool. As a beginner, though, I think Blender could definitely be used to create a 3d-print ready miniature from start-to-finish, but you might have to translate some of my ZBrush steps into Blender.

A primary reason I do not bother creating fully-detailed print models in Blender is that VBOs are not yet implented in Edit Mode, so Blender is too slow to properly edit/boolean very heavy (multi-million poly) models. It can manage a couple million polys at a time in Sculpt mode, but that doesn’t always cover my needs. You may find that you do not need to create insanely detailed models, though, in which case Blender may be enough. One very important difference between video game/film character modeling and 3d-print character modeling is that a 3d-print character model cannot benefit from visual tricks like smooth shading, baking normal maps to a low-poly retopologised model, subdividing only during renders, etc. All the detail that you wish to be present in your printed 3d model, MUST be present in the geometry itself, and that means a very detailed, organic 3d-print model is likely to be far, far heavier, geometrically, than other kinds of model. A high-resolution character in a video game might be 10-15k polys after retopology. A very detailed 3d print character might be 20-30million polys prior to decimation, and 500k-1M polys when sent to the printer.

To answer your question about process, there are a lot of parallels between character modelling for video games and 3d print in the early stages, but they diverge later in the process in ways that I find can give video game character artists a lot of grief in their first attempts at modeling for 3d print. My pipeline generally goes a little something like this: 1.) Rough concept sketch and collection of image reference 2.) Low-Resolution geometry/placeholders/roughing in 3d volumes in ZBrush 3.) High-Resolution solid modeling assets in Blender, then bring them into ZBrush to replace placeholder geometry 4.) High-Resolution sculpting of organic objects/characters/creatures in Zbrush 5.) Hi-resolution surface/panel detail pass in ZBrush 6.) 3d print preparation consisting of boolean merging/subtracting the various model components into single-shelled (no intersecting geometry) solid components based on how they will be cast (or just merge them into one solid body if you are only printing, and not casting duplicates) 6.) Decimation and STL file export from ZBrush, then final STL cleanup/error repair in Netfabb (free basic version available) or Meshlab (fewer polys = fewer STL errors… for a fully detailed 32mm scale character, I target around 400-600k triangles. Rare is the model that I allow go over 1M triangles). 7.) Double check the physical size of your STL file in Netfabb/Meshlab… it’s surprisingly easy to type in an incorrect number during STL file export and find that your printed model is too big or small.

Hopefully that’s enough to give you an idea of a possible workflow. In truth, there are far more considerations that I won’t go into for now. You have a much easier job if you are just printing your model and not casting it, otherwise you have to deal with splitlines, pinch points, bubble catches, proper draft angles for release from moulds, part thickness, surface detail height, and on and on. For simply printing, you should just pay attention to making sure your parts aren’t too thin and spindly, or they will break. For self-supporting parts (arms, weapons, spears, you-name-it), I always try to give myself a 1mm minimum thickness as a general guideline, regardless of the intended model scale. There are times when you can break that rule, but it’ll take experience to know when.

Also, another poster Richard Marklew mentioned that the 3d printer capability is important. Here are the numbers I like to go by. For general purposes, I find 30 micron print layers to be sufficient for most cases. As you create smaller scale models with finer details, 20-25 micron is better at keeping tiny details very sharp. Obviously, if you can print at even higher resolutions, your results will be that much better, but these numbers will get you professional results. Higher than 30 micron does not cut the mustard in my estimation… you’ll start seeing a decrease in detail and maybe even ugly layer “stepping”. When modeling, making your surface details relatively bold will also help your end result. I try to always extrude small surface details (bolts, rivets, zippers, etc) by at least 0.2mm… smaller than this and they’ll disappear. Bear also in mind that your printed details will also need to survive a layer of primer if you intend to paint them, which will further soften the detail. These details may appear to be overbold on screen, but remind yourself how small they will be in the real world. When I’m sculpting, I’m always reminding myself to “go bold, or go home”, lol.

I hope this answers more questions than it creates, but you can ask followup questions if you like. Good luck!


thanks so much for all the info!!
I have so much to learn!!

I’m a total amateur with Blender and I’m working on a tabletop miniature for a DnD character. This is my very first character model. I’ve modeled the various elements of the mini as separate objects and I’m at the point where I now need to combine them into a single mesh. The boolean operations available in blender are not giving me the results I want and I’m wondering if there is any way to salvage the work I’ve done and ultimately print this character. Do I need another program to run these booleans or do I need to start over completely? Any advice would be much appreciated. I can’t upload the file because I’m a new user but I would love it if you could take a look at it.

have you found a workflow that you like for creating minis in blender?

Hi Austin. If you want to upload your model to Dropbox (etc), you can pm a link and I’ll have a look if you like. So far, your workflow of modelling individual objects for your miniature separately is definitely what I would recommend, however, as you’ve seen, Blender isn’t necessarily going to be happy when you go to boolean hundreds of thousands of polys. There are various 3rd party addons for Blender now that have different boolean code to what is available in stock Blender, but to be honest, I’ve never attempted to use any these different solutions for boolean operations with such dense meshes. In short, I’m not aware of a “Blender Only” solution to this issue at the present time. If you’ve got access to ZBrush, that is the very best solution as versions 2.8 and 2018 introduced proper booleans to Blender that are absolutely the most capable boolean features I’ve ever encountered… it can boolean meshes with tens-of-millions of polygons without batting an eyelid, and do it in seconds. This was a total game-changer for my industry. But there are other solutions. STL editing software such as Autodesk Netfabb (requires subscription) allows you to perform boolean operations on multi-“shell” objects (“shell” is just the STL term for isolated geometric body), which will make everything nice and 3d-print-ready. But, if you’re not looking to create a miniature of a professional-grade standard, and are just looking to 3d Print the object for your own use, this entire process may be unneccessary. Many/most 3d printers today can print multi-shelled objects, as can most slicing software (the tools the 3d printers use to “slice” STL objects into printable layers to send to the printer)… for your purposes, this may be “good enough”.

To quickly answer your other question - I do not have a workflow for creating miniatures that relies solely on Blender. However, I do use it for almost every miniature I make in concert with ZBrush. ZBrush is my main tool, and I use the “GoB” plugin to bounce meshes back and forth from Blender. Anything that requires traditional box modeling, subD modeling, mesh repairs, or retopology, I usually do in Blender. Anything that requires CAD precision, I do in a CAD software like Fusion 360. For STL work, I use Netfabb. Everything else (about 60-70% of any given model) I do in ZBrush. I could probably accomplish most of these things in Blender if put to the test, but I do this for a living and time is money, so I use the most efficient tools available to me for various tasks.

Best, Jonny

Thanks so much for your quick reply! I’m trying to figure out how to private message you a link to my dropbox file. I wonder if new members are not allowed to PM other users.

Hello 3Deploy,
Can you please share how much time do you need for one full character, lets say in 4 poses, to be done ? I have offer to make some minis but I have experience just as character artist in games . I am not pretty sure what rate should I ask, what are the standards in this field.

It would really help me, Thank you

I do this on daily basis. My work flow is that I create the model by poly modeling, adding details in sculpt mode or with displacement modifier. I print figurines about 45mm height and all the small details are well visible. Before exporting to stl I join all the object together then use remesh modifier to make the object solid and then using decimate modifier to make the model more lowpoly.

Hi FluffySpider1,

So, the amount of time it requires is heavily dependant on the complexity of the briefed character, and also if the output is intended for: 1.) direct 3D print usage or 2.) 3D print for the purpose of commercial casting/manufacture. These are very different beasts… I’d say that roughly 95% of figurines I’ve seen sold directly as STL files for the customer to 3D print are completely unsuitable to the rigorous requirements of commercial manufacturing - so factor that into your quotes, because some additional time and substantial additional expertise will be required to produce figures that are truly fit-for-purpose as manufacturable items. Some of your clients may not be aware of the differences - so it will be up to you to figure that out and communicate it. That being said, here are some example loose estimates for an “average-complexity” humanoid 28-to-45mm scale figure: 3 days for neutral pose figure (add additional time if character is particularly complex - ie. full suits of armour, etc), 0.5 to 1 day(s) for weaponry/held accessories depending on complexity, 1 day per individual pose and cleanup, 0.5 to 1 day for custom scenic basing if required, and 0.5 day(s) per pose for STL file preparation / cleanup / splitting & joint work. You may also want to pad the time a little if the client will want multiple Work-in-Progress renders, final beauty renders, and/or expect multiple revisions along the way. Total that up, multiply by your daily/hourly rate, and you’re set.

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