Hi Tech Battletech

3D printed custom gaming figurines

After a Ponoko maker told Jim Fanjoy about the online service, the Oregon-based 3D artist decided that Ponoko would be yet another awesome tool to add to his bag of techniques, such as casting, forging and machining.  Jim’s career in architecture with all the associated CAD modelling experience made the transition from hands on metalsmithing to digital fabrication completely natural.

Jim admits that his first 3D printing experience has him hooked.  He gives thumbs up for affordability, ease of use and the end product.  Jim’s first  and certainly not last Ponoko product is miniatures for the Battletech tabletop game. They were initially modelled in SketchUp for a different project before being slightly modified for a finished product.  Of course, the ability to repurpose files is one of the wonders of digital fabrication.

The figurines are made of high-res plastic for maximum detail (the 0.2mm surface tolerance is pretty impressive).  The early experimental models were slightly fragile, so they got a finishing augmentation using some epoxy resin and brass tubing.  The brass tubing does convey Jim’s fondness of metal, although he is maintains that he’s open minded to using all sorts of materials, depending on the physical and aesthetic demands of a project.

More from Jim under the cut:

How would you describe your creative process? I am solution-oriented. If I see a need for something, I figure out how to make it. Maybe that limits me? Makes me more engineer than artist? I dunno. Sometimes the “need” is just me feeling like Item X needs to exist in the world because it would be cool, though, so I guess you could call that art.

Have you been surprised by anything in the Ponoko process: positives/negatives? A BIG surprise with Ponoko was the amount of interaction I got with a real, live technical advisor. Rich checked my computer model for errors, and made recommendations about the suitability of materials and tolerances. Which i ignored, i some cases! That let me test the limits of what the output could handle. He was very accommodating and friendly.

Do you have any tips for other users? MAKE STUFF. Be fearless.


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I’ve been considering what to do as my first Ponoko project. Modelling something like this was on my wishlist, only I didn’t think this level of detail was achievable. Is this “high-res plastic” (0.2mm tolerance) available?


…following up on my previous comment, I see something called “Superfine plastic”. I guess this is it 🙂

The technical details for the strength of this material don’t mean much to me, I’m afraid. The article says that Jim Fanjoy had to strengthen his creations with metal tubing. This suggests the plastic is quite delicate. Is there more you can add to clarify this?

The smallest size of figures I’m considering would be approx 30mm tall (Warhammer size). Also, larger items such as military vehicles.


Rich Borrett

Hi Thomas,

Good question. 30mm high Warhammer style figurines are doable, but they would be right on the edge of the machines capabilities in terms of detail. Worth checking out is the material page and the sample photos here: http://www.ponoko.com/make-and-sell/show-material/238-3d-printed-superfine-plastic

For reference, the minimum wall thickness requirement is 1mm – I believe the parts of Jim’s model which were less than that did break.

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