How to get started with 3D printing for cosplay

shmunatri-1Aside from Mass Effect, Aree, Nathan and I share a love for 3D printing!
Photographed by Theorem Productions

I’ve decided to write this short guide for my friends (and strangers) who are curious about 3D printing but have no idea where to start. I’m writing this to answer the most frequent question I get these days:

“How do I get a cosplay prop 3D printed?”

I will spare you the “when I started 3D printing, barely anyone was” story and we’ll get right to what you need to know and do.

First, you need a model. Not the Victoria Secret kind but the 3D kind. If you are able to model things yourself – amazing! I envy you… I will not go into the details of that because I only did a 3-hour course on Blender and lost patience… But yeah, you need something like this:

img_0042Tali’s helmet, modelled by Wilbert Pierce Design

If it is something common or popular, you might be able to find it on: Thingiverse, TF3DM, Pinshape, Yeggi, MyMiniFactory, Autodesk123D, Sketchfab… there are dozens more so here is a convenient list from ALL3DP!

Pay attention to the licence details – if you intend to use someone else’s model, to print it and to use it for cosplay, make sure you are crediting the original modeller. If you intend to use a 3D printed object for commercial use, such as guest appearances, print sales and more, make sure the licence allows for commercial use! If you are not sure, get in touch with the modeller – they are nice people.

Now, sometimes you can’t find the model that you need, with the licence that you would like. In that case, you need something custom! I’ve only ever dealt with Wilbert Pierce Design for my cosplay needs but there are thousands of modellers out there available for commission work. A lot of 3D printing hubs will also do modelling work. Make sure you supply your modeller with as many reference pictures as possible.

img_2097The second time Katniss’s breastplate was printed – Made in 3D

Once you’ve secured your model, preferably an STL file format, you want to print it! If you know someone with a 3D printer, ask them nicely. If not, this is what 3DHubs is for! It allows you to upload your model and find print bureaus near you. 3DHubs will show you quote for various bureaus as well as printing with different materials.

  • ABS: generally the cheapest, you can use acetone on it to get rid of the lines. It has a tendency to warp or curl.
  • PLA: generally a little pricier than ABS (but not a lot). You can’t use acetone to get rid of the lines. However, it is more accurate when printing things have a lot of details or sharp corners since it has no warping or curling issues.

There are a lot of fun materials in 3D printing but trust me, for cosplay, ABS and PLA are the ones you will most likely stick to.

img_0629Hold up – did you think there was no sanding with 3D printing?

Once you have your print (woohoo!), your work is not done yet. Unfortunately, there are still lot of people who believe 3D printed parts are perfect the moment they come out of the printer. For the most part, that is not accurate. Until recently, 3D printing was used as a prototyping technique. Applying it for cosplay requires a little bit of adjustments and love.

And by love I mean priming and sanding. You want to get rid of those layer lines as much as possible. If you printed with ABS, you can also use acetone to smooth everything out.

img_1208A print of a M-6 Carniflex after a bath of cold acetone vapour.

And voila! This is what you need to know when you start 3D printing. We could go on about filament choices, nozzles sizes and priming techniques… however when you are starting out – this is what you need to know.

Models pictured by Wilbert Pierce Design and Jessthemullet

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