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Metal or Plastic miniatures

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Here's my thoughts on mini materials. I have many minis in pewter, pvc, polystyrene plastic and resin. I started with lead minis which got phased out to pewter then moved on to plastic, resin and finally Bones pvc.

 

Pewter - nice details and easy to paint but sometimes multipart minis can be a bit of a pain to assemble. Heavy (which some like and others don't). Easy to break and sometimes tough to fix. Harder to convert.

 

Polystyrene - Details are usually crisp and easy to paint. Can be much cheaper than pewter. Easy to assemble for multipart minis and easy to convert. Light weight. Don't take as much damage when dropped but still breakable. Easy to fix most of the time if broken.

 

Resin - There's a lot of different resins out there with some similarities and some differences. I've got minis from Forgeworld, Mantic, Fireforge and copy bits for myself with Smoothon resins. Generally detail is good but more expensive than pewter. Larger pieces are sturdy enough but small bits can be fragile. Not the easiest to fix when it breaks but not bad for converting. Prepping is usually not to hard but some resins don't seem to like paint that well.

 

Pvc - I've got Bones and Mantic minis in this. Details are poorer and they are trickier to prep for painting. Cheaper than most things except polystyrene but that might be because historical minis seem to be cheaper than fantasy and scifi. Relatively easy to convert and practically indestructible.

 

My choice in minis is like this polystyrene>pewter>pvc>resin. Now what I've been buying is mostly pvc and resin. Why? cheap and durable. I buy most of the pvc minis in Kickstarters and get a ton cheap. The polystyrene minis are usually historicals but I do have some for Frostgrave and GW. They get used and abused but not destroyed. Pewter is fine but it makes up a small percentage nowadays. Resin I try to avoid but buy if I really want the model. I don't buy and paint for display. I want to play with my toys even though sometimes that doesn't happen much. Using Reaper minis for an example the Bones are generally 50% of the cost of metal. Except for a few special choices I tend to go more to the quantity side of things than the quality.

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I think metal's overrated. Both metal and plastic have a wide range of sculpts, and a skilled painter can overcome shortcomings in a miniature, while a well-crafted miniature can't save a terrible one. I've seen terribly sculpted metal miniatures, and you can find, nowadays, very well-sculpted plastic ones, such as Kingdom Death. We've had a Bones thread comparing painted Reaper metal vs. Reaper Bones. CMON and FFG have dramatically improved the quality of boardgame plastic miniatures over the last so-many years.

 

Still, as said, metal *does* give a company a lower barrier to entry to produce a metal miniature, so companies can make miniatures for a small audience, express more creativity, not be limited by undercuts, etc. Also, given how much *time* display-level painters will spend on painting a single miniature, it certainly does make sense for them to spend money on a single quality miniature, which usually means metal or resin. 

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Question: what are the production differences for metal minis vs plastic, resin, and pvc? Metal ones are easier, yeah? I am loosely familiar with metal casting, but not the non-metals. 

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Well, unlike metal and resin, plastics are limited by undercuts: http://spyglassasylum.blogspot.com/2011/05/undercuts-and-what-hell-they-are.html

 

But, I think maybe that digital sculpting may have more of an impact on miniatures than the material the miniature is made of? Most digital sculpting I'm familiar with is on plastics, but it looks like digital sculpting has been used on resins and metal miniatures. Here's an article how digital sculpting resulted in Wyrd switching their miniatures to plastic from metal. Still would like to know how much difference miniatures can have between metal and plastic, or if or how much the difference is narrowing. : https://www.pddnet.com/news/2012/08/not-so-weird-power-digital-sculpting

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Wow, bunch of great info here. Thanks so much for all of the responses. I just received a couple of D&D Icewind Dale Collector's Series minis (yeti and icetroll) that I'm going to paint up to go along with my reaper ice troll for what soon will hopefully be an epic snowy adventure so I'll see how I like the resin. I also plan on picking up a few Halloween themed minis to prep and paint before the holiday hits so I might grab a couple in metal. The Halloween Knight comes to mind :) As well as maybe Gauntfield and RAFM's Headless Horseman (not sure what material it is, the website doesn't specify). Like I said I'm new to the hobby, so probably best to just try my hand at all different types. Thanks again for everyone's input!!!

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I'm pretty certain RAFM is metal.

The rule is pretty much that if it isn't listed, it's metal.

 

Those who make Resin minis will often write so because of the preceived detail quality of Resin.

 

There's one aspect of Resin-casting that isn't mentioned too often, and that is that it's just about the only way a lone hobbyist can produce minis himself, without the need to sell his soul to a casting company.  

Just get a box of insta-mold, throw it in the micro and heat until liquid. Spray your master with mould-release and insert it into the HOT liquid goop and leave it until the goop hardens. Cut through the hardened goop with a knife if necessary afterwards to free the master, place the blocks of goo together again, and yeah, fill with resin.

Or use latex for a large mould for terrain or whatnot.

Some companies add a 'KS exclusive' resin piece to their Kickstarter projects, and in certain cases have even shown the entire process from they start moulding the part until it has been removed from the casting mould.

 

So, Resin doesn't have to mean 'top quality'. It can also just mean 'homemade' or 'made with love at home'. 

 

Also, some types of Resin(such as early Trollcast by Impact!) can be very difficult to paint and normal primers won't stick properly. Then you need an 'etch primer'.

If so, look for a two-part type as the pre-mixed stuff and rattle cans have a limited shelf life.

(This is also good for dificult to paint metals, often used in model trains. So a store catering to model train builders is more likely to have this stuff)

 

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7 hours ago, Cyradis said:

Question: what are the production differences for metal minis vs plastic, resin, and pvc? Metal ones are easier, yeah? I am loosely familiar with metal casting, but not the non-metals. 

 

The primary difference is in the type of mold that is used for each material.

 

Metal molds are made from two pieces of vulcanized rubber. Once the impression is made the gates and channels for liquid metal are cut out and the mold is ready for production (this is a very simplified explanation, there are multiple steps involved in getting the green cast into a master, preparing the masters and then creating a production mold from the masters. Reaper stores their masters in an actual vault on site). The mold is placed into a centrifuge and the liquid pewter is poured into the mold.

 

Plastic (for polystyrene plastic) molds are similar but the mold is steel or aluminium and in this day and age carved out. Unlike metal molds that will wear out and need to be replaced a metal mold for plastic can last for years (they are still producing plastic model kits from molds cut in the 60s). The liquid plastic is injected into the mold to fill the cavities inside, hence the term injection molding.

 

Resin molds are created from RTV (room temperature vulcanized rubber). The master is created and in most pieces a two part mold is created, although there are a number of ways to go about making the mold itself. I build a box, suspend the object I'm casting in the box, fill half the box with RTV, insert some "keys" to make sure the mold lines up and let it harden. After than mold release is sprayed in the box and the other half of the mold is filled with RTV. After that I'm ready to cast pieces from that mold. RTV molds are somewhat fragile and wear out very quickly. You can also create one piece molds which are very easy to do.

 

PVC uses the same process as the polystyrene plastic molds.

 

The easiest to make are molds for Resin miniatures.

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What you described for metal matches what I did in silversmithing class almost a decade ago now. 

 

And to my knowledge, digital sculpting is starting to come up a lot for jewelers. It is more forgiving than handcarving wax. 

 

Nifty to know on the other types for sure! I guess that the metal for the Bones models makes it pricier than the rubber for the pewter, hence Kickstartering it for the initial cost? After that, material cost of plastics/PVC is cheaper than pewter. 

 

Thanks everyone for the input! 

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21 hours ago, buglips*the*goblin said:

--snip-- Reaper doesn't cast translucent metal. --snip--

Give them time. I'm sure they'll figure it out eventually.

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1 minute ago, Cyradis said:

What you described for metal matches what I did in silversmithing class almost a decade ago now. 

 

And to my knowledge, digital sculpting is starting to come up a lot for jewelers. It is more forgiving than handcarving wax. 

 

Nifty to know on the other types for sure! I guess that the metal for the Bones models makes it pricier than the rubber for the pewter, hence Kickstartering it for the initial cost? After that, material cost of plastics/PVC is cheaper than pewter. 

 

Thanks everyone for the input! 

 

The metal molds for BONES and plastics in general are fairly expensive although costs seem to have come down somewhat. I believe that they are starting to use aluminum as well as steel. But, yes the upfront costs on the molds is huge, hence the kickstarters to create the BONES line. The mold for a pewter miniature runs about $100 so pretty inexpensive and allows the small miniature companies out there to be profitable.

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5 minutes ago, Heisler said:

 

The metal molds for BONES and plastics in general are fairly expensive although costs seem to have come down somewhat. I believe that they are starting to use aluminum as well as steel. But, yes the upfront costs on the molds is huge, hence the kickstarters to create the BONES line. The mold for a pewter miniature runs about $100 so pretty inexpensive and allows the small miniature companies out there to be profitable.

From a manufacturer's point of view, all materials have their pros and cons.

 

Metal: molds are low cost, but the casting material isn't. Still a relatively slow and manual intensive task.

Plastic/PVC: Very high mold costs, and requires a big plastic injection press (compared to metal casting). Material costs are very low, process can be automated so great more mass production. Details are "good enough".

Resin: mold costs comparable to metal. Very slow production, so reserved for limited editions.

 

As a consumer, I see metal as being the best choice for players who want a good looking representation of their character, and Bones/PVS as a great choice for GMs who need a lot of variety on the cheap and don't mind if the figure doesn't look its very best as it will be dead by the end of an encounter.

 

Metal is great for the collector, avid gamer, and display purposes. PVC is good if you have kids around, the durability is hard to beat, they'll be everyone's little playthings (including some pets from stories we've seen around).

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I have no preference.

These days, with advancing technologies, I find very little difference in levels of detail and crispness. At least not so much that it changes anything about the way I paint.

I'm beginning to prefer plastic due to its durability and weight. While metal is nice, if it hits the floor, it's done.

I've painted many PVC models now to display standard, and there is almost no difference, except for the heft and fragility.

 

Honestly though? It's all a matter of opinion. Paint what you want, and what you like, regardless of what it's made of.

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metal, always metal whenever possible!

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IMO: Metal, better for organic shapes. Plastic(polystyrene), better for synthetic shapes.

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I only buy metal for man sized or smaller mini's. I only buy plastic (bones) for the larger and LARGE monsters (which I basically only buy during Reaper kickstarters for the added savings).

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