Legends, Lore, and Insights About Creating Pre-Painted Miniatures for a Crowdfunded Game

22 January 2015 | 65 Comments

As you can probably tell by yesterday’s post about our 3 new treasure chests and our recent announcements about Scythe, exploring the world of miniatures is on my mind. Many of the most successful Kickstarter projects ever have had a strong focus on miniatures, as they’re seen as premium items that allow gamers to both visualize and touch the worlds they’re interacting with.

I asked Cody Miller, creator of the huge Kickstarter hit Xia: Legends of a Drift System, to write a guest post on the blog to share his insights about the process of creating miniatures, especially in relation to crowdfunding. Thanks for taking the time to write this, Cody!


First – I’ve personally found this blog extremely helpful – and I’m glad to be able to finally give back a little! Thanks for the opportunity to share what I’ve learned!

Pre-Painted Miniatures

From the very beginning I wanted to have pre-painted miniatures included in my board game. This is not something that’s easily obtainable, and is quite expensive. It took more time, energy, and resources to create pre-painted miniatures, than all the rest of the components in Xia combined – and even then they have a higher defect rate than all the other components – so I can’t say I’d recommend pre-painted miniatures as a great business proposition. However, despite all that, I’m deeply satisfied every time I think of these little ships! The following is how I went from inception, to the final miniatures included in the retail game:

Inception – Just for fun

I actually created painted miniatures for my first prototype of Xia.

FIMO Clay Prototypes

I used FIMO clay – and plastic bits to make the original prototypes. I made these miniatures more for my own enjoyment than any

thing – I didn’t start out trying to make a comercial product, just a fun game for me and my friends. I used these clay ones with the prototype versions of Xia for years.

Wood Prototypes
Wood Prototypes

I then moved on to making another set of miniatures out of bass wood and plastic bits. Again – these were just for my own enjoyment – I don’t think it’s anywhere near a necessary step – however it did help me in the final versions, as I had a very good idea of the scale and color-schemes I’d later use.

Commercial Mini’s – Getting serious

When I finally decided I’d try to make Xia a commercial product, I started by trying to figure out how to get miniatures made for a small print run (my goal was 1000 copies).

I discovered there are a multitude of ways to get miniatures made! I narrowed it down to 3 that I was considering:

Pewter: Pewter miniatures are probably the cheapest for high quality – short runs (less than 500 copies). The molds are cheap ($50) and it’s easy enough to find someone to cast them for you at a fairly cheap price (about $0.25 per miniature I think). The downside is that they are very heavy, and if your miniatures have thin parts, they can break fairly easily. Also – I didn’t find the pricing to reduce if you order a larger quantity – so you can’t get much of a break.

Resin: Resin miniatures I considered briefly – you can get very nice quality, for a fairly cheap price. But the models are more brittle than injected plastic.

Injected Plastic: I ended up going with Injected Plastic miniatures. These have a very high up-front cost in the molds, but once the molds are made the miniatures themselves are only cents to produce (unpainted that is). If you end up going over 1000 copies, this is the most economical.


Though there are several ways you can make a miniature, they all involve having a master model from which to work from. Getting that master model is they key. I decided to get my master models by using 3D printing. I didn’t do this because it provided any benefit I was aware of, I simply couldn’t figure out any other way (at the time). I’ve since learned that often times manufacturers have artists on call that they can contact and have them create models for you. So you can keep that in mind for your own projects.

I looked online and hired a freelance 3D modeler to help me make my master models. I actually had a great stroke of luck because the 3D modeler I hired had experience with miniatures and the miniature manufacturing process. It’s important to note that because models have to be created in a mold – there are certain things you cannot do, or are difficult to do without splitting a model into separate pieces, then having them assembled during production. This can add extra costs in assembly – so it’s a good idea to check with your manufacturer about what their limitations are – and if they’ll have any trouble with your models.

3D Computer models
3D Computer models

A great resource for me in this creation process was Shapeways. They are a company that provides high quality miniature 3D printing for very cheap. I was able to print out and test each miniature for very cheap (about $3-$12 depending on the size). These are decent quality for testing, but at the time, Shapeways didn’t provide high enough resolution for master models.

Shapeways 3D prints
Shapeways 3D prints

I had Moddler.com create the master resin copies of each miniature, printed in unltra-high resolution. These came out extremely beautiful, with a couple exceptions – some suffered a little chipping on the underside which I fixed using car bondo – while one was so bad they re-printed it and shipped it to me. These were pretty expensive to have created, I think about $80 per miniature.

Moddler.com’s Resin Masters
Moddler.com’s Resin Masters

I sent these master-models to my manufacturer, PandaGM, who used them to create the metal molds for the injected plastic final versions of the miniatures.


I used the 3D printed miniatures from Shapeways to test out my paint schemes. When getting pre-painted miniatures I was charged by the number of colors per ship, as well as the difficulty of the details included. So I tried to get the most out of each paint color, while making them easy to replicate for manufacturing.

Creating Paint Masters
Creating Paint Masters

Once I had the color schemes I painted a set of “paint masters” – so the exact paint jobs that I wanted for the final ships – and I sent them down to my manufacturer so they could replicate them.

Proof Versions

After a few months – my manufacturer sent proof versions of the final ships. The ships looked great for the most part!

First Proofs
First Proofs

There were lots of errors – paint on the wrong places, dark colors, some melted-looking miniatures. So I asked for a revision. It took the manufacturer about 2 months to send me a revised set.

There were still issues – some errors in paint, and plastics were fixed, while others persisted.


After two more rounds (over 3 more months) we fixed all of the painting issues. Some of the plastics issues were apparently insurmountable – and they persisted on through to the final product.

One perplexing thing to me was – the plastics issues didn’t seem to have much rhyme or reason as to what worked, and what didn’t. However – I did learn the thicker the miniature, the more likely it is to have a “melted” look on one side, as the hot plastic being injected can slightly cool before entirely filling the mold – causing some of the melting issues seen above.

Retail Product

The production miniatures came out very nice at a glance – they are definitely a show piece, and I’m very glad that we put all the work into them that we did!

Final - Retail Miniatures
Final – Retail Miniatures

However – the final paint jobs and miniature quality has a large variance – most are pleasing, but many things we worked so hard to fix in the revisions have re-surfaced in the final product. I’ve received complaints of very dark miniatures, or misshapen miniatures, missing paint, or globs of paint in the wrong place, dirty and “gunky” miniatures. These are not fun emails to receive.

Another perplexing thing happened as well – the miniatures in the proofs were a hard plastic – while the final production miniatures were a much softer plastic. Speaking with my manufacturer they didn’t have any answer as to why this was – or what happened. But the final versions are much more bendy than the proofs I was given. Take away point: Talk it over with your manufacturer before production!

Top 4

I know this might be a bit overwhelming – so here are some simple points that I’d consider my top 4 things to think about when considering miniatures in a project:

  1.  Count the cost

Miniatures are expensive to produce, and (at least for me) have a fairly high defect rate compared to other components – which means you’ll have to ship out replacements (or give refunds) so you’ll want to ensure you budget extra for the postage.

  1. Talk with your Manufacturer

Some frustrating issues occurred simply because I didn’t ask my manufacturer specific questions – and simply assumed the proof miniatures would be exactly like the production miniatures. Many issues came about simply because we didn’t talk about them. Be aware of the specifics, talk with your manufacturer and nail down the details before you hit production.

  1. Schedule Extra Time

In my experience – Miniatures added about 6 months to my project. This was for 22 unique molds with 22 unique paint jobs – so keep that in mind. Depending on the number of unique molds, and if whether you’re painted or unpainted – that time could shrink drastically – however, especially given Kickstarter’s new policies, I’d say give yourself some extra time to get those mini’s exactly how you want them.

  1. Communicate!

If you’re running a Kickstarter campaign, and including miniatures – backers love to hear the details! Keep them informed why things aren’t going how you planned, or exactly what the issues are with the plastics. I was surprised how forgiving of the delays my backers were, simply by sharing those details. No one wants a poorly produced product, and the waiting is much easier if you know why you’re waiting!

Final Thoughts

Despite all of the difficulties, the expense, and some of the final miniatures being sub-par, I’m happy to have them in Xia. I think they add life and vibrancy to the game (I’m a very visual person) that I find very appealing. When I see pictures of people playing Xia – the miniatures stand out – and I’ve received many emails of praise for them.

I’d be interested to see how things would go with another project with my manufacturer (PandaGM), as this was the first time they’d done pre-painted miniatures, whether they have streamlined the process, or if it would be a similar uphill challenge.

It’s difficult to try and distill two years worth of experience into a single blog-post, so I apologize if anything is unclear! Please let me know if you have any questions, and I’ll try to answer them in the comments below!

See also: This great article about miniatures from Massive Awesome.

Leave a Comment

65 Comments on “Legends, Lore, and Insights About Creating Pre-Painted Miniatures for a Crowdfunded Game

  1. Just to say, I keep hearing people complaining that KS tabletop games are far too dominated by miniatures heavy games, here again you say that many of the most successful games are miniatures heavy. At the time of writing of the 12 games on KS’s most backed search only four even have minis and only 3 are really mini heavy. Far more of the most funded have minis but Exploding Kittens has over ten times the backers of Kingdom Death.
    Jamey, you’ve never really done a minis heavy game, is there a specific reason?

    1. Scythe has 25 minis–that’s a fairly high number. I choose components that I think fit the game best, so it’s just that I haven’t had a game (other than Scythe) that would seem to benefit from minis yet.

  2. At what print level do mini’s become justifiable? I was looking into prices for a few different producers and it increased the cost of the game by an extra ~50%. I’ve pretty much given up and decided to use tokens. I also feel minis I’d ship would be replaced by other Minis, so that doesn’t make the extra cost feel worthwhile.

      1. I don’t know much about minis. It asked for Length width and height. After asking around I found 25mm to be fairly standard (looking for D&D equivalent). I put that in and the quote returned $1.88 at 500 copies and goes to $1.72 at 1000+. I needed 6 minis for the base game, so $10.32. The game without minis is sitting at $28 now. Not quite 50%.

        I feel that I’m doing something wrong.

          1. Yeah, there have been a few things telling me to look at other companies. Does Panda handle smaller runs (500-1000). Hopefully I’m underestimating the draw, but plan for the worst, right?

  3. Hi Jamey,

    Your articles have been really helpful in developing as a game designer. Thank you.

    I’m creating a medieval fantasy board game that will involve a good amount of pieces. I plan to launch with Kickstarter. Can you comment on consumer preferences regarding custom meeples vs. minis? Apologies if you’ve written about this somewhere I haven’t found, yet.

  4. Hi, Jamey,

    Can you recommend me a sculptor for a miniature about 30 mm high for my new board game Krill, please? It’s going to be a family friendly game, so the sculpt won’t be very serious, more cartoonish. I didn’t get concept art ready to show yet but here is a link to Wikipedia so you can have a look how krill looks like (in case you don’t know).

    Thank you for help!

  5. Thank you very much, Cody! Your effort to share your experience is much appreciated! I will be looking into miniatures in my future games as well, and this article is extremely helpful! Keep good work and good luck!

    Jamey: what company did you use for Scythe minis?

        1. I’d recommend WinGo Games as a second place to get a quote. In 2014-15 Panda wanted a minimum print run of 2500 units for custom plastic. WinGo would do just 1000. It may not matter to the Big Guys like Jamey here, but it made the difference for me. :) I found the quality to be indistinguishable.

          WinGo also did machine painting (spray masks and stamps) at a reasonable price where Panda would only do hand-painting and at an exorbitant rate. Regarding painting techniques, there is definitely a noticeable difference there but it still looks pretty snazzy compared to solid colored miniatures.

  6. I don’t think that there is a limit to the number of colors. I was given a price “per screen” so each color adds a little to the cost and it is definitely done by machine rather than hand. I was also told that large areas of color were not a good idea as there could be unevenness in coverage. So if you wanted a green ship they would rather use green plastic (and paint the smaller bits) than cover most of a grey ship with green paint.

    I expect the painting to be crisper and more precise and consistent than hand painting, but there won’t be any shading or dry brushing techniques. There will be fewer colors and less coverage overall. I think that I, personally, would prefer hand painted (if done well) but that just isn’t an option for this game. I am, however, offering a high pledge level for professionally painted resin versions of the ships. Between the hand-cast resin and the hand painting it costs about $15 a figure (so of interest only to the collector or those with a lot of disposable income). That option isn’t being done through WinGo though.

    1. Wow! I’m really interested to see how this goes for you Ryan! Really happy to hear you’re making progress towards the re-launch! :)

  7. I wanted to post a followup to my own comments since I’ve found some new information. I’ve been talking with WinGo Games and they say they can do painted plastic bits, for every copy of the game, and it’s not all that expensive. Apparently they use some kind of screen painting rather than doing it by hand, so no doubt the specs (and quality?) may be different. I haven’t seen any examples that use this procedure, but when I relaunch my game, painted miniatures will be the first stretch goal. If it funds I’ll be sure to share what I find out about this option.

    Also, the molds are about two and a half times as expensive as PandaGM, but WinGo says they can fit 3 or 4 ships in each one so (if this turns out to be true) it will cost less in the end.

    I think that the moral is to shop around. I assumed that if the “biggest” manufacturer couldn’t do something, then no one could. I think, now, that it’s more a questions of whether they find it worth their time or not. Maybe the smaller, hungrier, companies are willing to go the extra mile – and maybe with more than just painting. Teaming up with such a company may be riskier, but for me it made the difference between being able to relaunch (with more features and half the funding goal) or not.

    1. I’m very keen to see how the screen painting goes. My guess is that it is done with a machine rather than by hand? Is there a limit of four colours? I’m sure most backers would prefer that to unpainted minis. And those who don’t like painted minis can always paint over. Hope to see your project on KS again soon!

      Lots of interesting info. I want to keep prices down for backers of my future project too, so it is good to follow projects such as yours which are trying new things and different companies!

  8. Me and my friends are currently working on producing a miniature base game and this has to be the most useful article that I’ve read so far! I have worked in a plastic factory before and can tell you injection molding can be very unpredictable with flow lines (that melting look) flash and everything else that plastics can do. Im very glad you mentioned your manufacturer and everything, no other resources I found openly mentioned theirs. Very, very useful. Thank you so much.

    The Eschaton Team.

    1. Hey Eschaton Team!
      Glad to have been of service! If you have any other questions, please feel free! :)

  9. I’ll be very interested to see how the self printing goes as well. I hand-cast a couple hundred starship miniatures for each of my mini+poster Kickstarters and printing would certainly be easier. The tests of home printing I did a couple years ago didn’t have sufficient resolution for my models, which is why I’m still using Shapeways for the masters.

    And you guys are killing me with the painted mini comments! I REALLY wanted Panda to paint the minis in my game, but it seems Xia was an experiment for them and they are extremely reluctant to do something similar again. “Maybe 300-500 sets at most” I was told. Well with a minimum print run of 2500 for custom plastic, that’s not really going to work (especially given that adding a 500 unit deluxe version would “drastically” affect the overall cost).

    I love Legends of a Drift System. It inspired my own project, but I don’t think it could be made again today – at least not as a first game by a single-guy publisher like us. I don’ t say that out of bitterness, but to warn others who may look at it, see how awesome it is, and think they can have a game with the same quality of components (and two versions!) for a similar funding goal.

    1. Hey Ryan,

      Thanks for the word of caution! I in no way want to say that this is possible for everyone – just trying to share my experience. I know I had to fight to get Xia made – no one wanted to do pre-painted miniatures, and I know I was lucky that Panda agreed to it!

      Thanks Ryan! :)

  10. Hello Cody,

    I’m a great fan of your game and have written to you before.

    I have a question for you concerning the manufacture of minis. I am designing a board game myself (space-themed) and was wondering, how naive does this idea sound to you? I am thinking of buying my own 3D printer, designing my own models (in Autodesk Maya) and printing off my own minis. The game will have around 30 minis and I intend to do a small run of 1,000 to 1,500 copies of the game (hopefully more if it is popular!)

    This sounds like an inexpensive way to create minis. Are there potential difficulties or issues I may run into which you would know of?

    Another reason I wish to go this way is, I will be in full control. If anything goes wrong, it won’t cost too much and I can only blame myself. Also, I can fix issues with models and prints there and then without shipping pieces to China and back.

    What are your ideas on this?

    Thanking you very much for your valuable time!


    1. Lenny! I had this exact same idea when looking at the manufacturing of Xia! :)

      I think it would be a ton of fun to do everything in-house – and I’m not at all opposed to it!

      The reasons I didn’t end up doing this myself were primarily time, quality and money.

      Time: Creating 30 miniatures for 1000 games is 30,000 miniatures, depending on how long your printer takes to print out the mini’s – it could be quite a significant time investment. For example – if each mini took 1 minute to produce, that would be 30,000 minutes, or 500 hours, or 62.5 full workdays of making miniatures. Definitely not the end of the world – but it’s a good amount of time to invest.

      Quality: When I was looking, home 3D printers were not capable of very high resolutions, which meant the miniatures would have a very “layered” look to them.

      Money: Making your own miniatures has costs: Raw materials of course will be the easiest cost to figure. Setting up the 3D printer, calibrating it, ensuring it runs through the process well and troubleshooting printing issues are all costs. Also the cost of the time to create the miniatures I mentioned earlier, and the quality control.

      For me, when I did my research, it was actually cheaper, quicker, and higher quality to have a manufacturer make the miniatures, than for me to make them myself.

      All that being said, – I think it would be great fun to make the miniatures yourself! It would be a ton of fun, and people on Kickstarter might really be into it being made locally, it could be a selling point! I also think there are ways around the time issue (such as buying multiple printers, or setting up automation) and I know 3D printers have come along way in the 3 years since when I researched it myself. So I don’t think you have to go with a manufacturer by any means.

      Would love to hear how your project turns out Lenny!

      Cheers, -Cody

      1. Thank you Cody. Yes, the time is probably the biggest factor. Printers can be bought for really cheap now (around $1,000) but they’re not necessarily industry-standard ones, so I doubt they’d be able to handle printing out 30,000 to 45,000 models with one machine.

        I will keep thinking about your advice. Seeing as I won’t go with painted minis, I don’t think I should run into as many problems as you have. But I am really glad you stuck with it to the end. Everybody loves your painted minis. Like Jason above, I think the minis were a big reason your game stood out (stands out) to me.

        I was also planning to package all my games myself so that I don’t have fans emailing me about faulty parts, missing parts, damage, etc. (to save them that disappointing moment). But that would be an insane amount of work too… Well, I’ll see how things go. Still working on the rules and story.

        Thank you again for your invaluable advice and time!


  11. The molds on mine averaged out just over a $1000 each (on the quote), but the miniatures are in the 50-60mm range so that’s probably why. On the bright side, each ship made only cost 17 cents after that (if my math is right).

    1. That’s not bad, and sounds about right. I think mine are going to be somewhere around 10 cents/piece at the 2,500 unit level. Certainly not a major expense as I’m only going to have around 6 per game.

  12. Thanks for that info Ryan, and I look forward to Shadowstar Corsairs as well, I just checked it out on BGG and looks really cool! You really did a great job with the starships, very nice detail :)

    I received some info regarding Panda’s cost per mold about a year ago, which was roughly $600 for a 28mm miniature with an average to high level of detail. Certainly very reasonable compared to a lot of other companies I’ve seen that even specialize in molding. Trollforged’s resin casting prices are quite reasonable too.

    I see that you sent Panda 3D .STL files? I didn’t realize they could accept that format, but it would certainly help if could. My designs were done in .STL, and converting them to another format may have altered their size slightly, so I’d prefer to send in .STL if possible. I’m hoping to get a quote for my minis based on the 3D files, and then send a physical master at a later point as to save time. All in all though, as you said, sending them the physical model is their preferred method.

  13. Thank you for posting this as I’m another small-time game designer working on a space game with miniatures (and with Panda, and launching soon :). Jamie and Cody, along with James Mathe, have provided both the information and the inspiration I needed to try and make my own dreams a reality.

    For my own game (“Shadowstar Corsairs”), I started with the miniatures (and a lot of art) and built the game from there. Because I’ve been Kickstarting starship deckplan posters + miniatures for a few years now, I had a stable of ships to draw from. My miniature creation process is similar, but done at home: I create a 3D model, have it printed by Shapeways (frosted Ultra Detail material), and then use that as a master. I create a silicone mold and then hand-cast resin copies in a pressure tank to get rid of bubbles. It’s time consuming, but about 15 times cheaper per copy than the Frosted masters.

    For the board game, the miniatures will be injection molded plastic; possibly the same as used for Xia (depending on the specific factory/formula used). I’ve sent both 3D files (.STL) and physical masters to Panda for reference. I did get some pricing information with the (unpainted) miniatures separate and (including the set up cost for the molds) it approximately doubled the cost per unit on a run of 2500 games (the minimum for a game that includes custom plastic). If my miniatures had been smaller, it may have been possible to combine them into fewer molds and cut costs*.

    *WIth injection molding, the molds are the big cost and then the per-miniature production is fairly cheap. For resin casting (as done by artisans like Trollforged), the molds are much cheaper (like $200 instead of $4000) but the per-miniature production cost is higher. If you are making 1000+ copies of a game, injection molded plastic usually makes more sense.

    I was also told that Panda has updated their policies for 2015 and is now very hesitant to do custom plastic for a first-time small publisher. Apparently they’ve had problems with designers and models that could not be easily cast (undercuts, multiple parts, thin walls, etc.). I myself have been bitten by Kickstarter campaigns that thought “if it can be 3D printed, it can be cast”, so I welcome the changes. I believe all of mine are OK since I have molds of them already – though flexible silicone is probably more forgiving than the steel. Also I think, in general, star ships are just easier shapes to cast than things like people, monsters, and crazy fantasy air ships.

    Painting miniatures is still new territory for Panda (Xia, I expect, was a flagship experiment?) and so probably isn’t going to be a common option any time soon. I love the looks of the painted miniatures myself, but I can certainly understand the issues and hesitation. At least they are making efforts to expand their offerings as the industry grows.

    Thanks again for the posts. Xia has seen a lot of table time here, and I will absolutely check out Tau Ceti when it hits Kickstarter. If it has starships, I’m there!

    ~Ryan Wolfe

    1. Hey Ryan! Really great post! I actually have looked at quite a few of your starship posters and wished you had a full game to pledge for – so I’m excited to hear about Shadowstar Corsairs!! Exciting times! :)

      Thanks again Ryan! -Cody

  14. Cody, I backed Xia for the game play, not the minis. So, I was pleasantly surprised when I saw how cool they looked when I got them. It was wonderful playing with them, and I really appreciate them being pre-painted as I can’t paint at all. You and Jamie really set the bar for how a kickstarter project should be run. Thanks for a great campaign and I look forward to your next one.

    1. Kosongz! Thank you for your kind words! I’m very appreciative for your support in the Kickstarter campaign!

      Cheers, -Cody

  15. Sorry to keep flooding this post with additional info, but I think this might help others in some way decide on how to go about this process. The artist working with me just mentioned another company called i.materialise.com, which to me, seems much better than Shapeways at first glanse. The prices are more reasonable, they offer a greater variety of materials, clearly explain things and the site is much more user friendly overall. You can also quickly upload your 3D files to their website and get an instant quote based on your materials selection. Between Moddler.com and i.materialise.com, I think these are probably the best options in getting a high detailed model created that can be used to create a mold.

    Cody, I know I mentioned possibly sending my 3D files directly to Panda for them to print and make a mold out of (and letting you know how that process goes). However, after corresponding with my artist/3D modeler the past few days about this, and seeing the quality and level of detail from Moddler.com and i.materialise.com, I think perhaps it would be better to take the route you took with sending Panda a physical model instead. I’d still be curious as to what kind of quality Panda can create via 3D printed models, but perhaps it might not be worth the time and risk, as I don’t think 3D printing is necessarily their expertise (they might even outsource 3D printing perhaps?).

    I’m thinking about using the high detail stainless steal from i.materialise.com, although they also have high detail resin, which I see is what you used. I’d be curious if there is any major difference in detail level between these two materials, and if Panda is able to utilize stainless steel to create a mold.

    1. Hey Mike,

      I completely understand not wanting to be the first to try Panda’s 3D printing capabilities – I’m still interested in how your process goes though! :)

      For materials, I used Resin, because that was Moddler.com’s highest resolution prints. I have no idea about i.materialise – as I’ve only seen their website from your post just now. The only experience I have is with Shapeways steel printing – and theirs is much lower resolution.

      Let me know how things go Mike! :)

      Cheers, -Cody

      1. From what I’ve seen, Moddler.com does have a much higher accuracy rate of detail than Shapeways. Shapeways accuracy for steel printing is .1mm, whereas Moddler.com has an accuracy of .016mm for steel. i.materialise.com has an accuracy of about .7mm for steel for a 28mm miniature (I’m basing this on the 2.5% accuracy they give for this material). So it seems Moddler.com would be the best way to go with stainless steel, or even high detail resin for that matter. They’re more expensive, but I think it’s worth it.

  16. Cody, I have a question regarding 3D file types that might help others here, as there is an issue I just encountered. Currently, Panda only accepts 3D files in STP, IGS, or X-T format. Unfortunately, my 3D modeler designed my minis in the .STL file type, and now they must be converted to one of the three types Panda uses. My designer cannot convert them in her program, so I sent them to one of my artists (also a 3D modeler) in Spain. He found all sorts of issues with them, and converting them is really difficult without compromising their design.

    I wanted to mention this as hopefully it will help others avoid this problem, by first checking with the manufacturer BEFORE having a miniature designed, as to know ahead of time which file types they accept.

    Okay, on to the question I promised.. did your designer create your minis in a .STL file type? If so, this would make me feel much better because the quality Moddler.com was able to create is excellent. If I can’t get my files converted properly, I’m going to definitely go the Moddler.com route, as I see they work with .STL files, which might be the most viable solution to my problem.

    1. Hey Mike! Sorry for the late reply!

      That is such a good point! It would definitely be super important to check with your manufacturer about which file types they are able to receive!

      I did have my designer create .STL files – these were accepted by Moddler.com – so that is a route you could possibly look into! :)


      1. Thanks Cody, I actually just got a reply from Brent letting me know they can open .STL files at Panda :) I sent them over for a quick analysis so I can at least get a ballpark quote started, but I’m definitely going to send physical models as well in the next few weeks. Moddler.com seems like a great option. i.materialise.com also does a really nice job at a very reasonable price, so I’m debating between the two right now.

  17. Cody, thank you very much for this article!
    I got a small question: what percentage of miniatures printed were (or should be) the replacement ones?

    1. Hey Denis! Great question – the manufacturer I used – PandaGM – provided me with 1% of replacement parts. so far these have been enough to cover the defects.

      The primary “defect” is that out of 21 miniatures, often times a game will be missing one of the miniatures, usually containing a duplicate of 1 miniature instead.

      I’ve also replaced peoples miniatures that were very ugly (poor painting, or melted plastic looking) – these have been less than the missing miniatures.

      Thanks for the question Denis! -Cody

  18. Is there a reason you went with Panda? If they hadn’t done pre-painted miniatures before, I would have looked for a company that had, since I’m not much of a fan of being a guinea pig.

    1. Hey Chris,

      Yes – the reason was they were the only company who would offer pre-painted miniatures for a price that was reasonable. There was only one other company who would attempt it at such a small print run (the size of your print run can often determine what a manufacturer will or wont do) and that company’s prices were astronomical.

      Thanks! -Cody

  19. Thank you Cody! I will send Panda the 3D files then, and have them create it. I’ll let you know how that process works out, and if the level of detail is to my liking. I’m very particular when it comes to quality and detail too, so if they don’t come out right I’ll definitely contact Moddler.com.

    Yes, the models can get very expensive. Fortunately I will only have 5 to 7 unique models in my game, but still the molds Panda will create are also costly, but certainly worth it as having custom miniatures are considered a premium item and make the game more special.

    1. Hey Mike! I look forward to hearing from you about your progress! I’m very interested personally how the miniatures come out, because it would help me out in future projects!

      Thanks! -Cody

  20. Jamey, I’m glad you covered this topic and thank you Cody for the insightful info. I am close to finishing a board game that will also include custom star ship miniatures, and will be on KS sometime before the summer. We have been working on it for 18 months now, and I initiated contact with Panda about a year ago regarding the miniatures. At first, we were considering having them all prepainted. However, Panda informed us that they weren’t doing any more prepainted minis at the time (I’m guessing they had their work cut out for them with Xia at this time, and could have been overwhelmed).

    Nevertheless, we decided it might be much less of a headache to not have them prepainted. I had been reading your updates on Xia, and saw how much back and forth you had to go through with the paint defects. I certainly commend you for all the hard work and diligence in making sure the quality of your painted miniatures came out so well. I can’t image how much of an undertaking it must have been.

    But I wanted to say I appreciate you sharing with us the process you went through. I am very close to getting a quote from Panda (although this will probably be delayed until the end of Feb since they’re about to go on Chinese holiday), and have been corresponding on getting the 3D files uploaded to their server, etc. I too used Shapeways, although I hadn’t considered getting a highly detailed resin copy sent to them. I asked Panda if they prefer to print the 3D file themselves to make the mold, or have a physical copy sent to them, and they said it can be done either way. Although if you think that sending a highly detailed physical copy could allow for a better mold, then I’d certainly want to check into that. This is all new to me, so I want to make sure I get the best quality possible. Thanks again for sharing your experience, this really helps!

    1. Hey Mike!

      I’m excited to find out about your upcoming project! I love starships!

      I am not aware if Panda is currently offering to manufacture Pre-Painted miniatures. It’s possible they take them on a case-by-case basis?

      I do think you will save quite a bit of a headache not painting your minis!

      For your question about a Resin copy or a 3D file – If it was me, I would choose to simply send the 3D file to Panda and have them create it. One less thing to worry about, and I had a couple small issues with the models I had printed, so I ended up with some back and forth with the 3D printing company – and the models were not cheap (I think around $80 each for resin masters).
      I was unaware that Panda had the capability, so it seems like the obvious way to go!

      Good luck with your project Mike!! -Cody

    2. Mike, speaking of Panda, talk with the Green Eye Games folks about their problems with how Panda packaged Cthulhu Wars. To reduce breakage, I *highly* recommend the Zombicide tray inserts, rather than the conventional “throw all the miniatures into one bag and toss it into the box”.

      1. Thanks for the heads up C, that’s definitely a smart idea. I see the Zombicide tray inserts look like some sort of foam, which would definitely minimize any breakage. I’m going to talk to Panda about foam inserts and see what they can do.

  21. Cody, I got a chance to play Xia a few weeks ago and I agree, the miniatures really add to the experience!

    How much would you say the set of minis added to the production costs? Or, what percentage of the manufacturing costs went to the minis? Were there any unexpected fees later or was the original quote accurate?


    1. Hey Steve,

      The way that my manufacture quoted me was in lump-sums, so I cannot be sure exactly what percentage the ships cost for the PPU – my guess would be they ended up being 25% of the Price Per Unit, but they were also about 95% of the manufacturing setup fees (the cost of the molds).

      Panda stuck to their pricing for the miniatures – I wasn’t forced to pay anything over what I was quoted in that department, despite the delays and revisions.

      Thanks for the questions Steve!! -Cody

  22. When I’m getting my friends excited to play the game I say it’s like Merchants and Marauders, in Space, which makes it Sid Meier’s Pirates, the Boardgame, in Space. The minis are what seals the deal. Whatever the flaws, having that representaion of character helps a lot.

    1. Thanks for the complements K. Chen! I agree that miniatures can be a visually stimulating part of board gaming – and unique to this media. In my experience, it has been much to get “non-gamers” involved if a game is visually appealing.

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