3D printing is something I have come to very recently and I must say it has been one of the best things to have gotten myself involved in, both from a games prototyping perspective and from a general knick-knacks perspective. Whilst I don’t yet own a printer, I am lucky enough to have regular access to one and have been able to navigate my way through learning how to create simple prints and execute them accordingly. Of course it has helped that I have had a bit of experience with CAD design, a crucial element if you want to print your own custom game pieces.
In this post I’ll take you through the process I used to recreate a meeple, a piece that obviously gets general usage in the world of tabletop gaming. Although there are a few meeples available on sites such as Thingiverse, I wanted to create my own due to not being entirely happy with the ones I found and also because I wanted a slightly freehand style, just as you would find in a wooden meeple.
This is how I did it, not necessarily the most efficient way but this IS me we’re talking about…
Step 1). Get meeple from Carcassonne box, trace outline onto plain paper and scan to PDF.
Step 2). Import PDF into a CAD program, I use DesignSpark Mechanical 2.0, there is a free version that has everything needed for basic operations. There are other free CAD software packages available such as Sketchup and Fusion360. As with anything, there are loads of great video tutorials online that you can search in order to pick up the basics, here is one helpful example.
Step 3). Zoom in and use line tool and arc tools to replicate the tracing. Don’t worry if the lines you are creating don’t fit exactly over your tracing, it’s all good! Do ensure though, that all lines meet in order to create a fully enclosed area. This area will then become a ‘surface’.
Step 4). Now use the Fill Tool to add a solid block of colour, this means the program now recognises the item as a ‘surface’ and something we like to do with surfaces is to extrude them!
At this point it may be desirable to grab the surface and change the viewing angle as the extrusion process will be easier to observe and control with a slightly more isometric view. Now extrude the surface with the Pull Tool by 10mm to give the meeple its 3D aspect.
This is how your meeple should be looking, tidy up by removing the original PDF scan layer. Confirm correct dimensions using enquire tools and then you are ready to…
Step 5). Use the Pull Tool to extrude the shape by 10mm (or desired thickness)
Step 6). Export the file as an STL file. This is the file a ‘Slicer’ program needs in order to generate the Gcode that will drive the printer. I use Cura as a slicer and it works well, once again it is available as a free download.
Once you have dragged the STL into the slicer environment you will be able to determine wall thickness, infill and other parameters that effect the performance of the printer and hence the quality of the print. You can resize, add copies to the bed and more. This really is the meat and potatoes of 3D printing, it is essential to spend time with the machine, get to know it and understand both how it operates and how it can go wrong. If you buy a 3D printer, experimenting with settings is a crucial step in dialling in the printer for optimum performance.
Once happy with the slicer parameters you will then generate the Gcode that is fed to the printer by saving the Gcode to a folder or a removable drive. It’s time to hit print on your nicely calibrated printer (don’t underestimate the importance of bed levelling!) and your piece will be ready to pluck off the print bed in no time, or alternatively, however long the print takes. Here is the printer in action!
You’ll also notice when exporting that you can export to a PDF which looks like this and is a good basis for creating renders and other nice images of your models. Print your meeple army today! Or simply go to my Thingiverse page and print MY meeple army.
According to some lore, if you wish to use Carcassonne style meeples for commercial purposes it is considered polite to inform Hans im Glück and seek permission before doing so. I emailed a request several months before writing this blog post but did not hear anything back. I’m not actually sure how true this is, can one copyright a shape?