3D printed game characters

Video gaming isn’t all fun and games: it’s a massive and fast-growing global industry. Around two billion gamers around the world are driving the $120 billion-plus market — estimated to approach $200 billion in the next couple of years.

Both game and gamer are only going to continue to grow more complex. Graphics never dreamed of in my childhood with pixelated Kool-Aid Man on Atari are showing detailed worlds with individually configurable characters. And with so many hours spent building, developing, and leveling up those characters, of course players are becoming attached to them.

So attached that it’s becoming only natural to want to bring those 2D characters into the third dimension.

3D Printing From A Game

To date, most 3D printing of video game characters has been up to individual efforts and pretty labor-intensive. Shapeways has developed tutorials on how to export game files into 3D software to clean up, make watertight, and 3D print. Here’s a look at how ZBrush can help there:

More and more, we’re seeing tutorials arising among the community as well to provide detailed instructions on how to make a game character 3D printable. Conversations about the merits of 3D printed game characters abound, as for the last several years video games and 3D printing have both been growing, with significant overlap between these digitally-minded communities.

The messaging in all this is clear: having your specific avatar 3D printed to match your carefully crafted adventurer is something you as a gamer are interested in making work.

What’s also clear? Making 3D characters 3D printable is pretty painstaking work, especially for those better versed in gaming than in modeling.

From rendering a watertight 3D model from a generally-not-watertight 3D game design to physically 3D printing the character to the post-processing and painting needed to finalize the character’s full look in three dimensions, the detail work is pretty intense for a casual DIYer. That’s definitely not to say it’s not possible — all the TLC going into each character is also a physical manifestation of the digital work already done to craft the original look in-game. There’s also a sense of zen that comes with painting a gaming mini, familiar to many a tabletop gamer.

3D printed game characters

If you’re driven in the desire to have a figure of your character but don’t know where to start, Shapeways offers design services through a partnership with ZVerse. If you really want to do it yourself, design tips on ensuring printability of a file are also available.

These options are pretty tough to scale, though, for more than the occasional one-off character print — and that’s where game designers’ conversations are getting really interesting.

Online design repositories already offer many printable models of popular video game characters, but obviously they don’t have your specific character creation. So what if the games themselves offered the option to directly export your character and, without having to go through the hullabaloo of cleanup, checking meshes, scaling, and perfecting, just gain access to a 3D printable model?

Game Designers Look Ahead With 3D Printing

Increasingly, game designers are exploring the use of 3D printing to allow gamers to design and 3D print their virtual characters directly from video games.

It’s been a hot topic for game studios big and small as they see the fervor with which players customize their characters. Dozens or hundreds of hours of game play can create a real bond between player and avatar, and it’s not gone without notice that those players would love a way to make their characters even more real — by bringing them into the real world.

Of course, the technological differences between software design, where even the most three-dimensional characters still live in a very 2D screen, and 3D printing are many. Collaborations are key to bringing these renderings into the physical world, and that’s where the conversation lies today.

Are you a game designers looking to start 3D printing? Offering end-to-end 3D printing manufacturing and fulfillment services to 130 countries, Shapeways offers a base to start your gaming 3D printing journey.