Review: Hero Forge Minis for 3D Printing

With COVID-19 cases spiking, colder winter months approaching for the Northern Hemisphere, and a lot of people only interacting with their close contacts in families, “pods”, etc. I’ve noticed an uptick in gamers rediscovering roleplaying games, introducing their families to the hobby they’ve always had, etc. And with another generation of relatively affordable resin 3D printers making them more accessible, there’s a ton of ways to print one-off character minis for characters, NPCs etc. These range from Patreons and Kickstarters to the “big” player in this space: Hero Forge.

Hero Forge is mostly known for letting you order your own custom minis, which they print for you (now in color), but more recently they’ve also let you start downloading the files to print yourself. And given they have a sale right now that makes one of those files $3.99…I thought I’d give it a whirl.

So how well does it work, what’s the quality like, etc? Read on.

Design Software

I suspect the Hero Forge site might be familiar to many of the readers of this blog, but in case it’s not…the software is pretty solid. An intuitive UI lets you walk through the steps of their pre-generated minis, choosing species, head, body, clothing, gear, pose, etc. And importantly, letting you hop between them as you iterate on a design. Making this Inquisitorial-agent character was…extremely straightforward.

But importantly, because of the intensely modular build system, along with an ever-growing library of items, species, etc. it’s easy to make both that very science fiction-y figure aligned with the sort of 40K aesthetic to…

A Weird West Catgirl Gunslinger.

It’s a marvelous age we live in.

What I eventually settled for for this review in terms of the model I wanted to print was something very…#2020. And with Cyberpunk 2077 coming out someday relatively soon, I decided to go with this:

A somewhat punk-looking girl with a gas mask, goggles, a cocky pose and a machine pistol.

If you’re starting to get an idea of the Hero Forge aesthetic, you’re right. The details are fairly chunky, but decent quality. This picture also gives us some details to make sure to look at – her right shoulder, where her shoulder, the fabric of her shirt and the strap of her bra/undershirt meet, the asymmetrical gasp-mask, the lenses of the goggles, the finger on the trigger, and some of the clothing details – the belt clasp, etc.

Design Caveats

So the tricky part about Hero Forge is there’s no promise what you make will be 3D printable. Or…well…there is, but only on their 3D printers. And their 3D printers cost as much as a decent new car. More importantly, because it’s likely it can be 3D printed doesn’t mean it will be easily so.

Let’s look at our figure above – there’s a couple problems. Things that overhang and drop down from where they “start” are a problem for resin printers, because that isolated part will print first, before the parts it connects to do. There are a lot of those on this figure – the arms, the machine pistol, her right pigtail, the mask cartridge. These aren’t inherently a problem, they just need to be supported to help them print (a picture to follow), although annoyingly several of them (the pigtail and the mask) are above her shoulder and chest, which are smooth, organic shapes where the little scar that can be produced by removing support material may be obvious.

The other problem is the base. Now miniatures on bases are always a problem for resin printers – it makes it hard to angle the figure to put support material on the back of the model, etc. Annoyingly, these ones also aren’t solid – they have a hollow, like Citadel bases, for a logo or the like. The problem with that is it somewhat interferes with the ability to print the model directly onto the build plate – since resin figures are printed upside down, printing the rim for awhile and then the surface of the base will, at best, leave a lake of uncured resin in that recess. This will come up later.

Hero Forge doesn’t offer a solid base option, but they do offer a simple slot for slotted bases, and if I were 3D printing something, I’d do that, cut the tab off, and put the mini on an existing base, or one printed separately.

The Purchasing Experience and Pricing

Once you’re done making your figure, you follow the normal rules for checking out, and instead of an option for having it printed, you select “STL Download”.

15 minutes or so later, in the “Digital Downloads” tab of your account page, there’s a zipped file waiting for download. It’s as easy as that. And this brings up the primary appeal of the digital option – Hero Forge minis, while cool, are a little…dear…at either $20 or $30 (effectively) for an equivalent miniature that will need painting.

If we ignore the time value of money (all 3D printing as a hobby sort of necessitates doing this), the appeal is obvious. The print will use 3.1g of resin. In this case, we’re using Elegoo’s ABS-like grey resin, which is available on Amazon when I write this for $38.40 for 1000g, which makes the resin cost of this figure…$0.12. There are certainly more expensive, higher detail resins, but I picked ABS-like because it’s common, fairly easy to use, readily available on Amazon, decent for detail, and has a good bit of flex to it that RPG players, who seem to be rougher on their miniatures than most wargamers (not Ork players…), might appreciate.

It’s also the bottle I had open.

The Printing Process

Setting up this figure took a bit of wrestling, because I’ve done something to my Chitubox support settings, and I wanted things done in a sort of way that’s careful, but not too careful. The printing experience for someone who doesn’t want to spend the time to come up with the perfect support layout for this figure. Which means bringing it into Prusa Slicer, telling it to use its auto-support function, exporting that into Chitubox and slicing it.

That sounds harder than it is.

What I ended up with was this.

That’s not bad as far as supports go. Not thrilled with the ones that terminate on her shoulder, but it was the best option I got after a couple experiments. I saved the file, chucked it on my Epax X1-DJ, and let it go for the next 8 hours (I was printing with a very high 0.02mm resolution because player characters deserve quality).

The Results

After washing the figure in isopropyl alcohol to get the uncured resin off it, letting her have a dip in pure IPA as a 2nd rinse, and then into a small thing of warm water to soften the supports to remove them, the results were solid, but not perfect. But the core is there – the feel of the model, the contouring of the cloth vs. skin, the overall aesthetic, etc.

Light grey resin is hard to photograph. There’s a slight bend in the magazine of the machine pistol, from I suspect where a support flexed while printing, but that’s solvable by trimming. There’s some solid details – the hair is defined, the lenses of the classes clearly visible, as is the belt buckle and the fittings on her pants. As predicted, there’s a small divot on the shoulder where the support came off, which could be fixed or will honestly disappear in all likelihood once primed and painted.

The glove is obvious on her left hand, and somewhat lost on her right, but in fairness, it’s a very subtle detail, even on the original model.

The biggest problem was, as predicted, the base. First, there was the predicted sort of little bits of uncured resin left over that had sort of partially cured, but needed to be scraped away. And the base itself has that little line in the middle, which is about where the solid part of the base starts, where the force of the mini pulling off the build plate at each level got quite a bit stronger and sort of created a small separation.

Fixable by not printing her on a base, or being more careful with how she was supported. And if you paint her base black, again, probably not going to notice it.

But overall? I’m pleased. She’s currently hanging out on my desk, and I’m thrilled every time I look at it. There’s something just cool about designing a miniature, putting it on a printer, and it’s…there. And the nice part is, I own the model. If I want to take another go at the base? I can reprint her. If I want to resize the model so I have a 54mm scale Escher ganger? Done. It’s not a Golden Demon quality print, and the Perry Brothers don’t have to worry that I’m coming for them. It’s a “basecoat and wash” type of model, but I’d argue that’s most models. It’s as good as some I’ve bought in stores, and for player characters, important NPCs, a couple different sculpts for mooks, etc.? I think it’s perfect.

Final Thoughts

I’d give Hero Forge a solid B+ here. This was easy, and fun, and most of the “flaws” in the final model could be solved by me spending more time in my slicer software setting up supports correctly. I’d like to see either an option for no base, or an option for a solid base that’s easier to print directly on the build plate, but the slot option is a workable kludge for the moment.

My main issue is pricing. At $3.99, it’s obviously awesome. At the regular price of $7.99, you’re getting into a space where, for twice the money, you could not have to deal with this yourself – the gloves, the isopropyl alcohol, running the risk of a failed print, etc. It shifts the value proposition a little from a model you’re going to print once to a model you’re intending to print more than once, etc.

I don’t think that price is unreasonable, but I think it would be easier to swallow at $4.99 or the like. For me, that’s still below that threshold of doing something because it’s amusing. Much above that, and whimsy gets checked by “Yeah, but do you need this?”

But overall? This was a solid couple hours of entertainment designing a model and printing it, it worked seamlessly on their end, and quietly printing models at home is about as low risk gaming as you can get in the COVID-19 era.

 

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