Paint your 3D prints

There are many uses of a 3d printer, from jewellers to dentists, plenty of industry professionals and various hobbyists are taking advantage of that technology. This includes many modelling enthusiasts whom are using a printer, for extra parts or entire models.

My scratch build “Hypercube”

The two biggest problems with domestic printers are the print quality – commercial model kits normally are incredibly detailed – and printing speed – especially bigger pieces will take a lot of time to print in a reasonable detail.

You have to experiment a lot in order to learn what is working for you and what quality of detail you can achieve with your machine.

Although I am building and painting models/ miniatures for a long time, in the last 2-3 years, I have somewhat shelved this hobby. However, with my 3D printing interest, I still quite enjoy making props. They are usually ideal for (better) domestic printers as the scale is bigger than most model kits/ figures and with some post processing (sanding, filling, painting, etc), I have achieved nice results.

If you want to get into this hobby and have access to a reasonable 3d printer, potentially you have endless options. For smaller pieces and finer detail a resin printer would be more suited as these printers can print seamless models in high details. The drawback of them is that they are slow and they are not exactly suited in a home environment because of the liquid resin is fairly toxic (unless you are lucky enough to have a dedicated work room/ shop). Resin printers are also much slower than FDM ones and fairly limited in the size they can print. FDM printers are using plastic filament so you could use the colour of the filament as well with your projects. Personally I paint my models so the colour of the filament does not matter much as it will get sanded, primed and painted.

Part of a prop is being printed

On most models, detail is everything. Commercially produced models are usually cast, plastic injected or printed with a good resin printer and good kits have an incredible amount of detail on them. That is why good model kits are fairly expensive and of course the selection is limited to what the manufacturers bring to the market. While with a 3d printer, it is modellers heaven, potentially you could make almost anything.

As for printable models, places like Thingyverse and similar websites are 3d model depositaries. There are plenty of models made by enthusiasts which you can work with as they are or you can improve them however you would like. Some models cost money. You would expect they are professional models, but do really have a proper look, because that is not always the case.

Of course if you are good with digital design software, you could make your own models. Blender and Fusion360 are two of the most popular one with digital designers.

Various tools to clean the print up.

One of the major part of that hobby is to paint the object (or at least aim for it) to a standard, which makes the model believable. Painting is all about skill and talent. I would say that the perfect hobbyist is consisting of about 50% learnable skill and 50% talent. You do not need to be a talented painter in order to achieve good result, but you definitely have to practice a lot and watch/ read about the subject as much as you can.

I would say I am at about at 10% of learned skill and 5% of talent, there are many people producing much better results than I am, but I tend to be quite critical to my own work. Despite that, usually I can produce things which are liked and complemented by the unanointed… I will show a couple of projects I have done recently in my next post.

Here are a couple basic paint options to get you started, easy to obtain them from modelling shops (I would stay clear from artist’s paints unless you really know what you are doing. Paint produced for modelling is meant to be user-friendly and produced for that specific task. In case you are just starting up, investing into good quality paint set of about 8 different colour, would give you a sufficient selection to play and learn with.

The two major type of paints are:

  • Acrylic model paint, which is water-soluble, odourless and easy to handle. However, you definitely need to varnish your model if you want to give some protection to it.
A selection of acrylic paints and washes (inks)
  • Enamel model paint, which would give you a durable finish, but because it is solvent based, using it home is a bit of a hassle due to the fumes emitted by the paint. It is also more work to clean your tools as you need to use white spirit or something similar.

I would stay clear from artist’s paints unless you really know what you are doing. Paint produced for modelling is meant to be user-friendly, so if you are just starting up, investing into good quality paint would be a good way to start.

Aplication of paint:

Essentially you can just use a brush. A good quality brush, especially for beginners, I think it makes life easier. Depending on the level of details, you might want to have a selection of different sizes. The size range should really depend on the size of the models you are planning to paint and the level of detail you want to achieve. Depending on your needs sizes can range from “000” upwards.

Some brushes

You also could invest in an airbrush set, it is very useful for painting larger pieces and for base coating anything. Some people achieve amazing results in finer details too. There are a plethora of websites providing info on airbrushing, personally I love it, so I would encourage you to try.


This post is just an introduction of that vast subject. If you have read this post that far and you are interested more in painting techniques, I would start with YouTube videos telling about fantasy miniature and/ or scale model painting.

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