Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Star Marine Heavy Armor Assembly and Review Part 1...

Well as I said I was really waiting to do a blog about my Star Marines.  Now I'm going to do this as a review of sorts.  Yes I know it seems stupid to be reviewing my own work but it’s necessary.  I’ve had a lot of questions about print quality with shapeway’s miniatures so I thought this was a good time to address that issue.  Also I felt it was a good time to address some of the ways we have to handle Shapeways products that is different than traditional miniatures.  So hopefully you’ll be getting an honest critique along with some lessons learned to fulfill your plastic addiction.

OK so first off, packaging and shipping.  I ordered these miniatures on March 31st at around 8 pm and they arrived Tuesday April 9th at 2:02 pm according to the packaging slip.  That's a Sunday and there is a weekend in between so that's roughly 7 business days to print these models and ship them to me from Shapeway's New York facility.  Realistically they probably shipped out the Wednesday or Thursday after I placed the order.  I'd call that pretty good turn around considering GW ran out of Dark Vengeance boxes day one on release and it took almost 3 weeks to get more stock to my local game store.  Ironically Shapeways sent a little apology note to me because they think 7 business days is to slow.  I really applaud Shapeways for their standards of service here.

The box is a sturdy cardboard box and the product is completely wrapped in large bubble wrap.  No bubble mailers or flimsy card stock packaging.  Inside the bubble wrap everything is in its own thick zip-lock polybag.  Nice little resealable bits containers for those who want them.  I use them for partitioning out models my wife sells on ebay. 

I will say I'm not sure how larger items ship.  Plastic miniatures in a baggie seems fine to me but two pieces of metal jewelry sliding across each doesn't make me feel good about the finishing.  I'd hope they bag metal items individuality and wrap larger items directly in bubble wrap before bagging. No idea though because all these are small scale parts and I'd say good packaging for what I ordered.

Here we have the gravity hammers and torso's in bag.  Sorry for the glare, the polybag is about 4 or 5 mil thick and glossy so its hard to get a great picture.  Shapeways actually sorted all these bits themselves, my model simply put them in the smallest amount of space possible so clearly their people are good at their jobs.

They packed the legs, shields, and backpacks together.  Torsos, legs, and backpacks were all hollowed to lower the price a bit. Even though they are hollow they are still quite sturdy and all survived the printing process without problems.

Everyone's favorite, shoulder pads.  These are just generic shoulders, no iconography.  But they turned out well enough.

Here are the arms sprues. I chose to make sprues for the arms rather than loose bits because the hands are extremely small and I thought they might get lost.  this is also the only place we see any breakage.  A couple of hands and arms came off sprue.  Because the parts were in the bag i'm guessing this happened in shipping.  Specifically the break point was the sprue where it joins the base of the part.  This was a 1mm diameter wire that was supporting the weight of the pieces and no damage was done to the bits themselves.

Ok so here we are getting into the interesting shots.  I've removed the bits from their bags and washed them (not shown).  I've ordered these miniatures in Frosted Detail.  Frosted Detail and Frosted Ultra Detail are essentially the same material.  FUD has a lower possible thickness and a slightly lower minimum detail than FD but thicknesses below .8mm are extremely weak in both materials making them very brittle.  As a result the price for FUD can’t be offset any farther by thinning and still have a model that won’t break during game play.  Ultimately it comes down to the minimum detail, 0.2mm vs 0.1mm doesn't sound like a lot and I’ll argue isn't enough to justify the cost of FUD over FD.  I have more opinions on print materials I’ll cover later on but basically keep in mind the cost difference is more for the printing time that it takes to print in FUD than for the actual material costs.

Photographing Frosted Detail is like trying to photograph an ice sculpture.  It main body is transparent and it’s outer surface has a white “frost” to it making it hard to make out detail.  In these photograph’s I’ve increased the contrast so you can see a bit more detail than the original unedited photo.  

Here we see the Shield and Backpack design.  You’ll note the raised plates on the shield’s face have flattened out a bit during printing.  Each step of the plates is approximately .25mm because the minimum detail is .2mm for FD its hard to discern exactly where the levels change, they are still noticeably different levels just a little flatter than originally designed.  This detail loss is minor but worth noting, I’ll be pointing it out as I go along.

The backpacks are much more detailed because their surface changes are much larger than the subtle rounding of the shield.  The only real loss of detail is in the vents along the sides of the pack which have filled in during printing. this is because I didn't make the vent's surface deep enough to really pop out. If you are using FD for making masters for casting your surface detail will be very important to you and sadly this lose, while minor to me, might be deal breaker.

Here we see two parts, the Torsos and the Hammer. The torso’s are hollowed out so they have a more transparent quality than the other bits.  The inside of the torso is a hollow bubble that I’ve put holes in the bottom and sides (shoulder mounts) on headed torso’s I also do a neck hole.  You’d think this would make the model fragile but it’s actually quite sturdy.  Think of it like an egg, structurally the force applied when squeezing the torso is spread across the entire surface making its crush strength much higher.

The detail on the torso turned out quite well.  You can clearly see the joins along the ab armor as well as the ribbing on the power cables.  Some detail is lost along the top of the capsule.  It's hard to make out in the photo but the square visor plate that is in the center of the capsule's face is almost totally gone.  this is caused by two things. First if I go back to my 3d model I can see the square's raised rim is extremely shallow, I can't get a clear measurement but it is probably below that 0.2 mm detail level.  Secondly you can just make out slight lines going left to right along the surface, this is the print grain of the model.  The printer head orientation gives all 3d printed models a grain and sadly that grain has caused some loss of detail.  It happens and can mostly be avoided if I had made the detail deeper to begin with.

Frosted Detail’s plasticity is lower than the ABS plastics used by most miniatures companies that do plastics but it’s still higher than most resin products.   That means it will flex rather than break most of the time but it’s still brittle enough that if you step on it, it doesn't so much smoosh down as it does shatter like glass.  I was particularly worried about this issue with the Hammer’s handle.  The thinnest part of the handle is 1mm exactly so it’s right on the line of minimum wire detail.  However the hammer, both head and handle, turned out quite well.  The lines on the head are pretty crisp, the detail on the hand grip of the handle filled in slightly but over all this is a symptom of me again designing to close to the 0.2mm minimum detail thickness.

Ah the legs.  I won’t deny I’m a bit of a leg man and I’m quite proud of the quality of the legs on this design.  Here we see the photo’s of the design’s legs so you can get an idea of their quality.  The hollow in the legs here is not uniform and has trapped raw material inside the leg design. The result is these bits look a lot whiter than the other bits.  The surface texture of 3d printed materials isn’t smooth.  In the case of FD and FUD it leaves a white frosted glass sort of texture but this is slight enough that very little detail is lost in printing (provided we mind the minimum detail levels).  The legs surface have nice subtle curves as I intended.  You can clearly make out details like the thick cabling and the hydraulics on the caves.  I’ll count these as the best printed bits so far.

The arms, these are the only parts I put on sprue and the only parts that “broke” during printing.  As you can see several hands fell off the sprue, I have them I just didn’t bother photographing them here.  One piece of advice, don’t sneeze around these bits.  FD and FUD are much lighter plastics than traditional ABS and ABS is already pretty light.  A slight breeze sent the hands flying and a strong blow made the legs hit the wall of my living room.  Luckily I lost nothing but bare that in mind when working on these.

Anyway, all the sprues are 1 mm and they warped a lot.  The hands are the smallest pieces of the actual figure, each knuckle is 0.7 mm, they are quite well defined and you can see the definition in the fingers. Sadly the photos of the hands are blurry because my camera hated photographing tiny white objects.  I believe because of the backdrop it was confused.  You can roughly see the shape of the fingers in the photos thanks to some contrast manipulation but they are there.

The whole lot of figures and weapons waiting to be assembled.  No real detail in the pictures but it gives you an idea of how big this lot of plastic is.

Once I had cleaned and photographed everything I went to work assembling.  I've modeled my designs so they assemble in much the same way as GW’s miniatures do.  Waist ball joint, neck ball joint (if a neck is present this doesn't have one), and a flat arm joint on the torso. My arms have a round joint so you can sand them flat at various levels to make different arm positions.  I've assembled my first Star Marine in a fairly generic pose and mounted him/her on a 40mm base.

This photo has no contrast manipulation or anything like that going on, it’s simply under the work lamp on my bench.  Thanks to the lighting you can make out some of the detail on the miniature but just barely.  You can see the gritting on the hammer head, the segmented plates of ab armor, the raised rim on the shoulder pads, etc.  Everything goes together smoothly and apart from pinning the hammer and sanding the shoulder joint on the arm to make a flat surface I’ve not manipulated the figure.  

A side by side picture.  Though really dark, the figure on the left is a plastic space marine terminator from games workshop, shown for scale only (painted as an art lesson by a friend).  The Star Marine in contrast is much taller than its counterpart.  About 8mm at the top of head, 3 at the top of the back icon.  That’s a pretty big difference and one that is a systemic design flaw on my part.  I know from my measurements that the torso’s and arms are completely correct scale wise with other figures.  The Star Marine is just to leggy.

I had this trouble with my original Female Marines as well. Basically I’m human accurate on my anatomy which means the legs aren’t foreshortened like most 28mm figures. The result is they are just to tall compared to the rest of the body on the table top.  I need to revise the legs to make them shorter.  That alone should bring the model into line with other 28mm figures, though an entire rescaling might be in order.  Not sure, tweaking is always a battle.

One thing, the figures aren’t bad for 28mm but they would be closer to being a “true scale” soldier than I intended.  I’m not sure but I might make two separate lines, one “true scale” one “heroic scale” depends on demand and how much work it is to maintain both.

Side by side the GW Termi is much chunkier than my Heavy Star Marine.  The position of my figure's head would be above the Termi's which makes it a bit awkward like standing next to a pro basketball player and trying to reach the top shelf.

I also had another concern with the figure which will likely prompt a design change.  The Hammer's main handle survived printing without issue but then was to small for me to drill and pin. Maybe i'm not coordinated enough but it proved to be a bad idea to drill a 0.75mm hole in a 1mm plastic rod.  I opted instead to remove the 1mm handle body and instead drill into the 1.5mm grip and pin directly to the hand.  I'm considering the idea of redesigning the hand and hammer, and probably a lot of weapons, to eliminate this wasted handle all together.  Possibly going to hollowing the handles entirely so they fit over 1mm or 0.75mm brass rod.  This would make the weapons a bit cheaper and make the models easier to assemble. Its also something that casters can't do easily that makes sense for 3d printing.

I've done a light drybrushing of flat white paint onto the figure.  It allows you to see some of the detail that was obscured by the frosted surface.  A trick of the light means that the white turns gray here so the gray spots are the highest spots, raised edges and such. Most of the figure has nice clean edges but you can see that the face has a sort of horizontal grain that just shows up in the wrong spot this time.  There is also a light pebbling everywhere that's about as noticeable as the soft pebbling found on metal models. After painting it generally disappears.

Wide shot of the figure under better lighting.  You can see the white on the surface of the translucent white figure.  A bit more detail is visible here but more detail will be visible once the figure is fully painted.  I really can't stress enough how hard it is to photograph translucent white models with a 10 year old digital camera.

My Thoughts
Well quite obviously I must admit that I have some kinks to work out with my modeling.  Its must easier to scale a weapon than a human figure.  The inconsistencies of the figure jump out a lot more on printing than a slightly over sized sword does.  Weapons and other bits like that are much more subjective and can be less accurately scaled than a body part.  I also need to make detail elements larger to insure they show up correctly. This is an extension of the same problem I had with WSF but its much more manageable at this detail level.

I also have to say that FD and FUD aren't perfect materials.  I'd like to see materials with a lower minimum detail and a more crisp surface texture than the fuzzy frosting on these materials. I've also seen a lot of home projects that appear to turn out better detail on materials and some projects like wax and photo resins can print at much smaller details.  FD is the best price point though which makes it at least passingly acceptable.  If shapeways is listening do a kickstarter for a higher resolution 3d print material for a lower cost. In fact, start several kickstarters one for high res material, another for 3d wax printing for molding capabilities, and another for actual 3d printing of RTV mold products, and maybe one for adding automated spruing for models uploaded.  Anyway point is FD is the best we can get right now balancing price and material availability so I will have to live with it.

Ok so that's it for now, don't worry I'm not done yet. I'm going to assemble these guys and paint them up so you can see the quality. As I paint the models I hope the detail will pop out better. Till next time, enjoy...

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