Article #6-How to get minis made

I have been entirely unable to find anything written on this topic anywhere, yet everyone seems to have minis.  Even some of the industry's mini producers had no idea of the answers to some of my questions!   So I'm certain this will prove useful to have all in one place in terminology that normal people can comprehend.

Here's how you get mini's made.

  1. Decide if you want to make Plastic or Pewter miniatures. (see below)
  2. Decide if you want your miniature's "Sculpts" done by hand or with 3d CAD files. (see below)
    · Physical-The old norm, a true art.-I stayed away because I would only be able to see images (not actual clay sculpt), and the detail would be less "perfect".
    · 3d Sculpts (CAD)-The new norm, but doesn't strike me to be quite as classy.  But the minis turn out smooth and just right.  You have to add on the step of "Rapid Prototyping" to make them into Physical if you want metal minis (Pewter, etc.)
    · Both-Cost a fortune ($200 to $350 per sculpt for a worthy one) and take a while to get right.
  3. Find a physical Sculptor OR a 3d modeler (harder than finding 2d artists, but the processes listed in Article #5 should work well enough, or you can see my "Recommendations" at the bottom of this Article.)
  4. Find a 2d artist to draw out sketches of your model, front and back.
    · A good modeler of either type can improvise the rear of the Sculpt from a good frontal image if you already have the game art for them ready.
    · We used our 2d Hero art for this, and our 3d Modeler invented the back wonderfully.
  5. If it's a 3d CAD file and you want to make...
    · Plastic Minis-Send it off to your manufacturer, they do the rest.
    · Pewter Minis-Send it off to your Rapid Prototyper to make it physical.  Then send the physical off to your mould maker.
  6. If it's a physical sculpt, you are making Pewter, period.  So send it to your mould maker.
  7. The mould maker (or moulder) makes a Master Mold.
  8. From the Master Mold the moulder will make a few "Masters".
  9. From the Masters he will make the Production Mold.
  10. From the Production Mold he will "cast" the minis.
  11. The end result is a bunch of "Casts", also known as "Minis".

Flow Chart:

Mini flow chart

Pros and cons of each mini type...

Plastic

Pros:
Easier production cycle.
Far less expensive cost per mini in mass production.
Your game manufacturer can produce these and put them right in the box more easily than pewter.

Cons:
HUGE minimum buy in/start up costs due to set up fees and huge minimums.
· ($20,000-$28,000 for 10 minis at 3000 copies each)
Minimum Order Quantity (MOQ) of around 3000 copies (half of which you may never need).
Feels lower quality / less satisfying in your hands than metal.
Made in China.*
Harder/more expensive to order replacement stock (due to MOQs and that the molds are in China).

Pewter

Pros:
Far lower buy in/start up costs.
· ($4,000-$5,000 for 10 minis, at 10 copies each.)
Minimum production run of 1 Mini.
Easily order replacement stock, in any quantity (Low MOQ & molds in your home country).
Feels heartier more satisfying to the hand.
Made in the USA.*

Cons:
More expensive cost per mini in the long run, forever cost of about $1.00 to $1.55 for 28-30mm scale minis.
Therefore more expensive sale point that may turn off buyers in a plastics-heavy market.
If used as part of a core game, they need to be shipped to your manufacturer as an "outsourced component" for inclusion in the game box - Labor charges to inclusion now apply also.

Areas of neutrality/equality:
Both will take a lot of work to get right.
Both are equally paintable.
Both are equally fragile in their own right.
Both have people that love them.
Both have people that hate them.

Misc notes:
If using pewter, be sure to make sure your manufacturer uses 100% lead free Pewter.  The 80s are over.
If using plastic, be sure to budget the cost for as many as 3000+, and though you may THINK the cost per mini is only $0.20 each, bear in mind: when you have to incinerate the 2000 that you didn't sell, your effective cost per SOLD mini just jumped to $0.60 each.
Not everyone charges the same prices for the same services.  Call around find what works for you and your needs.
Suggestion: If creating a "Miniatures Game", use plastic.  If creating miniatures as an Add On option OR for your own small line of mini's, use pewter.

Much needed "Mini" Glossary-As best as I have gathered from extensive discussion, in chronological order of the process.

(Note: Different people at different times have used these terms interchangeably.  These seem to be the closest to the core of what's what though.)

3D Modeler - The guy that makes cool images like this one, that can be printed on a 3d printer (or by Shapeways.com).Art Shadowed

CAD File - Computer Aided Design file; a general term for files of this type.

Sculptor - Usually refers to physical sculptors of clay, etc; but can be used to refer to 3d Modelers.

Sculpt - The initial prototype, either physical or 3d.  Physical sculpts are also your Prototype.

Rapid Prototype - (Verb) A fancy term for turning CAD files into physical prototypes.
(Noun) the new physical prototype made from the 3d sculpt.  See image and note at bottom of page.

Prototype - the result of the above processes; also "proto".

Molder/Moulder/Mold Maker - The guy that makes your mold/moulds.

Mold/Moulds - A generic term for any type of Mold/Mould listed below.  Use of this term "mold" is very confusing in conversation, as it can refer to almMaster Moldost any step of the process.

Master Mold - The rubber formed around the proto, used to make the original and highest detail "Masters" possible.  This mold produces only 1 mini at a time (usually).  Cost per Master Mold: $75 to $125.  There are some that refer to the main Production Mold as the Master Mold, while others refer to the Master Mold simply as the "Master".  (yeah, confusing, right?).

Master(s) - The first minis made, 1 at a time from the Master Mold (above).  These will be used to make the...Production Spin Mold

Production Mold - The circular wheel of Silicone that will be used to "Spin Cast" your minis.  A production mold can be made to suit 4 to 10 minis depending on size and shape.  Can host all of the same mini, over and over again, or all different ones.  Costs: $50 to $150 (depending on costs from same company for the individual Master Molds).

Spin Cast or Cast (v)-Molten metal is poured into the center of the Production Mold, the Production Mold is then spun very fast, forcing the liquid metal into the mini-shaped-cavities.  After it sits for a few minutes to cool, the Production Mold can be opened, and the Casts can be pulled out.

Wanna see one get spun?  Watch this ReaperMini Factory Tour video.  Super interesting!

Cast(s) (n) - The final mini(s).  This is the final product, what you will sellinclude in your game.

Clamshell - The rectangular plastic bubble, oft attached to cardboard backing, that a mini is commonly sold in.

I hope this helps.  It took me weeks worth of discussing with 4 or 5 different companies to get all that straightened out.  I really hope you found this before you attempted the same.

Recommendations:

Recommendations for contacts to get Physical Sculptors: Contact Oliver Piotrowski at www.tablewarfare.com he has a team he can refer you to.  -  Yahoo has a Sculpting Yahoo Group.  -  A quick Google search can pull up some names and companies to drop emails to as well.  -   Whoever you hire, be sure to give clear art direction; it's easy to end up with excessively angry looking males, and excessively chesty/bootyful females, even when your concept art doesn't show such.

Recommendations for 3d Modelers: Clint MacLean did all of our work and is a complete blast to work with, and creates a level of detail that is mind blowing.  Jason Harlow is also excellent but we didn't end up working with him for perfectly mutually neutral reasons.

Recommendation for Rapid Prototyping: Shapeways.com all the way Really?  Really!  100%
We ordered a high end Rapid Prototype of the $298 value; AND a Shapeways "Frosted Ultra High Detail" miniature (a $15 dollar value).  The Frosted Ultra High Detail one from Shapeways is:
A) Higher Detail, and VERY noticeably so.
B) 1/20th of the price.  At $15.72 cents for a big thick mini, you can't really complain.

Collage o Valcor 3

We ordered one of every type from Shapeways (SW)
that might possibly be detailed enough to create Masters from.
Four were denied production and refunded because our details were too ...detailed.
(I thought that was cool!) Four others survived the pre-production scrutiny,
were made, and shipped to us.

Plus we got one mega-expensive type from a separate high-end professional
Rapid Prototype company, to compare every possible option
to make the best possible minis for our game, for our backers, for you.

Good News!...

The "Frosted Ultra High Detail" from Shapeways won by far!
It is the type you'll want to order.

Recommendations for getting Master Molds and Masters done: This can be hard to find quality and price at the same time.  Sling some emails around the internet and get some pricing quotes.  Speak with them on the phone as there are many layers to the cost, and you should understand them.

Recommendations for final production/spin casting: We're sending our Production Molds to Michael Noe of Iron Wind Metals.  He produces bulk minis more often, more easily, and more cheaply than other companies we've spoken with.  I chose to trust the final production to his capable and experienced hands (...and less expensive Pewter).

If you do contact any of the people or companies I've mentioned, please tell them that I sent you.  I would appreciate it, and so would they.

-

* Supporting your own countries' economy is always a good idea.  China is notorious for terrible labor laws and even worse working conditions - it is what it is.  Nobody should pretend that's not the case.  Therefore, these were worth stating as pros and cons for us.

Click here to be brought to one of our most highly lauded articles: Article #7 "How to make a Budget".