Can you make custom 1:12 scale action figure weapons and accessories with a 3D Printer?
In a nutshell, the answer is an astounding YES! Since toy accessories are typically made from plastic, 3D printers can undoubtedly make custom 1:12 weapons and accessories.
Because they’re easy to use and very affordable, 3D Printers give us easy access to start making our own accessories and props. And with websites that offer FREE 3D Print designs like Thingiverse, GrabCAD, and MyMiniFactory, it’s no wonder why most are jumping on the bandwagon.
You get instant benefits when you 3D print your own custom 1/12 scale weapons and accessories. You save more money long term. You don’t have to wait days or weeks (sometimes months) for them to arrive in the mail. You don’t have to worry about issues with your order. And best of all, you’ll get the satisfaction of printing new accessories whenever you want!
Although there are advantages to 3D printing your own custom 1/12 accessories, there are also disadvantages. It will come with some challenges that are not so obvious initially. Often, frustrating ones too! This is especially true if you’re a beginner in 3D printing and have never dealt with it before.
I don’t want to discourage you from buying a 3D Printer, nor am I suggesting you shouldn’t own one. Heck, we own 3 printers in the Mini Arms Depot (MAD) shop. We use them daily to make accessories that are not suitable for our injection molding machine. For example, we 3D Print the GI JOE Modern Battle Helmet that you can see here. And also, the 1:12 scale Western Cowboy Hat and holsters for 6-inch action figures that you can see here.
Sometimes, buying your custom weapons and accessories directly from a supplier or private seller is more beneficial than printing your own. This article will share my top 3 reasons why buying a 3D Printer may not be ideal for making custom 1:12 weapons and accessories.
Just to make it clear, I DON’T dislike or hate 3D printers. I own 3 of them in my shop, remember? There is a time and place when a 3D printer makes sense, and it really depends on your ultimate goals and what you’re trying to accomplish with your customs.
So, to answer the question…
Can you REALLY make custom 1:12 scale action figure weapons and accessories with a 3D Printer?
The answer is YES! YOU ABSOLUTELY CAN!
You need to be aware of and consider the challenges of owning one.
Here are my top 3 reasons why a 3D printer to make your own custom accessories may not be ideal (No order of importance).
REASON #1 – It is time-consuming
If you’re planning on buying a 3D Printer and you’ve never owned one before, be prepared to spend some time with it. If you’re expecting to have the machine work right out of the box, you may be in for a big surprise.
When we purchased the Anycubic Photon 3D Printers for our shop, I spent 3.5 hours on each one to get it dialed in and working correctly. What I mean by “dialed in” is getting the machine settings and configurations just right so that the machine can print with good results.
You may think 3.5 hours isn’t a bad investment to get the machine printing properly. If you’re a beginner, it may take you much longer than that. It only took me that long because I’ve had experience with 3D printing before. I don’t consider myself an expert, but I can confidently say that I know my way around a 3D Printer.
Each 3D printer has its own recommended print settings, depending on different factors. These can include the type (brand) of resin you’re using, the object you’re trying to print, room temperature, object supports, etc. Some can negatively impact your prints if you don’t have them down right.
So, what exactly do I mean by print settings? What is that all about? Take a look at the image below.
The numbers you see in the image are the print settings I talked about. Having the correct values for each field (Bottom Layer, Exposure Time, Layer Height, etc.) is key to getting successful and highly-detailed prints. And trust me, if you want great-looking weapons and accessories with great details, you can’t afford to skip out on getting your machine “dialed in.”
Although manufacturers have their own recommended print settings, they often don’t work. Unfortunately, it would still be up to you to figure out which print settings work best. The suitable old “Trial and Error” method works best here. Of course, everything you do that requires “trial and error” will require some time.
Remember I said earlier that getting your print settings “dialed-in” depends on many different factors? And one of those factors is the type or brand of resin you are using? Well, if you look at the image (my print settings for one of our printers in the shop), you may notice that we have several “SAVED” print settings on the left-hand side (marked in the red box).
If you’re thinking you may need a separate print setting for each brand of resin you plan on using, you are CORRECT! As you may notice in the image above, one of the print settings is named “Any-Cubic-BROWN-RESIN.” As the name suggests, this is the print setting we use when we need to print something in BROWN color. An excellent example of this is our Custom 3D Printed Brown Western Cowboy Hat, which can be found here.
Since the brown resin is made by a different manufacturer and has other characteristics than our standard black or gray resin, we have a different print setting. The bottom layer count, exposure time, bottom exposure time, layer height, etc., have different values. And yes, we painstakingly performed the “trial and error” method, and it took us many tries to get the values right.
Next, let’s look at the second reason why a 3D Printer may not be ideal and how owning one can actually cost you more money.
REASON #2 – It can cost you more money
You will have to sacrifice time to learn your new 3D printer, but you’ll also have to sacrifice some money upfront to get started.
For example, you will need to buy materials to print with (resin), cleaning supplies, and other materials for maintaining the machine.
Surprised that there are extra peripherals needed?
You’re not alone. Many first-time users believe all they will ever need is a 3D printer and some resin. After all, those are all that are required to get started. That may be true, but you’ll also need to post-process the parts after printing. And sooner or later, the machine will need some upkeep and maintenance.
Let’s go over some of these extra peripherals I mentioned.
A.) Clear plastic film
The transparent plastic film is the barrier between the 3D printer’s light source and the print bed. It is also what keeps the resin from leaking at the bottom of the tank.
Over time, the plastic film becomes “cloudy.” This cloudiness can make your prints fail. Since the light source projected to the resin tank is obstructed by the film’s “cloudiness,” the resin won’t cure and harden appropriately between the layers. And when this happens, the printed object becomes prone to weak spots.
When you 3D Print custom accessories (especially weapons that get fitted into the action figure’s hands), it is crucial to avoid weak spots as much as possible. We used to 3D print all of our custom weapons and accessories for sale in the past. I can recall many frustrating moments in the shop where the part “snapped” while trying to fit it inside a GI JOE figure’s hand.
Depending on how much you’ll be printing, you will need to change the transparent plastic film accordingly. Unfortunately, the more often you change, the more you’ll have to spend. These are the plastic sheets we use in the shop for our printers.
B.) Isopropyl Alcohol or IPA
IPA is used as a cleaning solution for your custom accessories after they have finished printing. The idea is to dunk your finished print in an IPA bath and swirl it around for a complete wash to hopefully get the uncured resin off the part. It may not sound like much, but IPA can add to your costs quickly.
There are articles floating around suggesting that you can simply use warm water and mild soap to get the same effect. To be honest, I’ve tried the same solution, and didn’t work quite as well for me. The soap and water didn’t fully clean some of the uncured resin off my printed part. The “uncured” resin leftovers will become gleaming spots on your custom weapon (or accessory) after they cure. They stick out like a sore thumb!
Regarding curing the prints, let’s look at another potential added cost… UV light source.
C.) Curing UV light source
Your custom weapon or accessory will need to get cured via UV light after it finishes printing and cleaned with an IPA bath. There are many vendors available from whom you can buy your curing light source. Just make sure that its size is big enough to fit the custom accessories you’ll be making. Also, make sure that the power (wavelength) is within the same range as your printer’s. Most will be in the 405nm range.
You can leave the printed part outside under the sun for a few hours and let it cure that way. I’ve actually tried this method before. Although it worked OK on “smaller” and “thinner” parts, they didn’t work all that well with our custom assault rifles and SMGs. Plus, they took way too long! A few hours for curing a part turned out to be a few days!
#3 – Steep learning curve
This is probably the most frustrating part of being a new 3D Printer owner. There is a learning curve for the machine itself (hardware), but there is also a learning curve on the software side of things. And depending on how fancy and complex you want to be, it can be a steep one too!
I’ll be brutally honest with you. If you are going to print custom weapons and accessories with your 3D printer, you will need to take the time and climb the steep curve! There are no shortcuts around it. This is especially true when printing custom weapons, accessories, and diorama props. Since most of them have complex shapes and geometry by nature, it would be ideal to have a good handle on the software to ensure a smooth printing process. This will reduce the chances of having a failed print.
For example, while using the software, it may be necessary to rotate the object to be oriented for the best printing results. Or, it may be ideal for adding or removing supports in certain areas to get maximum efficiency and avoid overhangs. In either case, the only natural way to get successful prints most of the time is to have the willingness to learn regardless of how steep it may be. Then, implement what you’ve learned when the time comes to start printing.
So, again, can you really make custom 1/12 weapons and accessories with a 3D Printer? The answer is YES! ABSOLUTELY!
However, it may not be ideal in most cases.
If you are impatient, don’t like wasting time and money, and are scared of machines, computers, or software, a 3D printer may not be a good fit for you. Please do yourself a favor and save the headaches and frustrations for something else more important in life.
There are plenty of private sellers and suppliers out there (YES! We are one of them!) that offer a wide range of products, and you may just find some of them suitable for your needs. If you are interested in what we offer, you can view our products in our eBay store here.
Some of these private sellers even offer printing services. This means they can make and print your custom accessories exclusively for you. So, if you want a custom weapon made that no one else offers, these folks can usually print them for you for a reasonable price.
So when does it make sense to buy a 3D Printer to make your own custom weapons and accessories for your action figures? It may come to you as a shocker, but it is basically the opposite of what I just mentioned above. If you have plenty of time on your hands, you don’t mind wasting a little bit of money on research and development (trial & error), and you like learning new things, you may find 3D Printers pleasant and challenging in a good way.
Also, another time it makes sense is when you’re in the “game” of making customs. It doesn’t necessarily mean a business where you’re selling custom weapons and accessories for profit.
Perhaps you’re a collector and want to sell some of your figures. But before selling, you prefer to have them come bundled with “your” custom-made weapons and accessories.
Or perhaps you’re a die-hard figure customizer. You require all your unique figures to be equipped with custom weapons and accessories before your photoshoot? Your figures are so unique that it’s nearly impossible to find a supplier that can offer accessories that suit your needs.
Or maybe you just love your craft of making dioramas and customs, and you ‘ALWAYS” require custom accessories and props. It’s also difficult for you to find suppliers, and when you do find one, you get a heart attack because of how much they charge. So, you decide that printing your own will be the way to go!
There are many other reasons why having a 3d printer is ideal. But regardless of what else it may be, just consider what we discussed here. Hopefully, that will be enough for you to make a decision.