Friday, February 20, 2015

Hero Forge Miniatures Review: Ready for Prime Time?

[Update 08/17/16: Hero Forge has added the new "Gray Plastic" plastic resin to their materials selection which solves the fragility and detail issues. An updated review of the new plastic and metal offerings is now posted. Read the updated review here! ]

Original article:

When I heard about Heroforge.com, I was excited to try their online character visualization. If you don't know, Heroforge.com lets you create a custom 3D model of RPG character in a variety of genres - Fantasy, Sci-Fi, Modern, Western or East Asian (Wuxia/Wushu). After you've created your custom model, you can then send it to their 3D printer to have your very own custom designed miniature!

Sounds awesome, right?

Well... it certainly is in theory, but in practice it leaves some things to be desired.

Rendered previews of the miniatures

Character Visualization


Caveat: I mostly played with the Fantasy genre, so I have to admit I did not spend as much time evaluating the modern or science fiction character selections.

If you haven't tried their 3D modeling software, you should check it out right now... Actually don't yet. You should read the rest of the article first because if you go over there now, you might not come back for several hours, if you remember to come back at all.

Their 3D software is awesome. Aside from a few minor foibles, and perhaps a couple user interface items they could tweak, I think their model creation software is amazing. The range of poses and equipment available makes for a near infinite number of humanoid creatures that can be built from the 3D visualizer. One can customize the pose, body type, muscle mass, clothing, facial expression and even "booty size" among many other attributes.

There are occasional bugs where you cannot make a change to a selection (it gets "stuck" on a given piece of clothing/equipment), but these are easily fixed with a page refresh. If you register for an account and save your progress from time to time as you work, this is only a minor annoyance. It would also be nice to have a few more options in some categories. The number of weapons available for shorter characters (gnomes, halflings, etc) is somewhat limited because most weapons are human sized and appear way too large for a small figure. It would be nice to have a wider array of short sword, axe or hammer styles for these smaller figures, but again, this is a somewhat minor consideration.

As you create your character, you can rotate and view the model from numerous angles. I do not doubt you will be extraordinarily impressed with the 3D capability of their web site. For my purchase, I created my Gnome Druid and my wife's Half-Orc Fighter.

From Visualization to Miniature


After you have tinkered for hours and have your character "just right" (hint: If you're an OCD tweaker like me, it never is quite perfect) you have the option of purchasing the model in 30mm miniature size, 3 inch statuette or 6 inch statuette. For the 30mm miniature, you can choose the "Strong Miniature" or "Ultra Detail Miniature". I chose to purchase 2 Ultra Detail minis, so I do not have experience with the "Strong" version (as I had read they are way too rough in texture for painting).



After my minis arrived, I was excited by the results. The clear plastic made it difficult to make out details, so I quickly set off to prime the miniature with grey Armory spray primer. In retrospect given the somewhat rough texture of the fig, a brushed on primer probably would have been a better choice. I still couldn't see the detail very well for painting, so I did a very light black wash just so I could plan my painting strategy. Coincidentally enough, the wash illustrated those places where the 3D printing has difficulty with detail.




If you look closely at the photos, you can see that fine detail in the model is hindered by the "frosted" bits the printing process leaves behind. This obscuring of detail looks worse in the macro photos of the primed miniatures than it actually appears to the naked eye, but it is still apparent. It is most obvious on very fine detail like the chainmail shirt, but also hinders parts of the model that are less detailed. I noticed areas where a border from one texture blends into the next. As an example, the gnome figure has a toga-like shirt piece, but you can't see the transition from his shirt to the skin on his chest and neck. I will need to define this transition using painting techniques.

I sized my gnome (next to a D&D Miniatures halfling) slightly larger than normal to try to maintain detail,
but as you can see the neck area suffers from excess graininess.

Handle Me with Care


I can't really put it better than this reddit comment:

"The ultra detail is brittle. SUPER brittle. Like, sneeze on your figure and break off your sword brittle. The texture is a little grainy, but holds more detail than flexible strong. Not bad for painting, but a metal mini, or even a Bones mini, is still going to look crisper in detail. Did I mention they're brittle? Any thin part is likely to snap. You can use these for play - if you handle them with surgeon-like delicacy and store them in angel down and kitten fluff for transport."

He seems almost as surprised as I was
at the sudden loss of his blade.
This is absolutely true. I was being extra careful when painting the mini, but when I accidentally placed a tiny amount of pressure on the sword... "PLINK!" My heart sank into my belly when I heard the slightly musical sound of the blade snapping from the hilt. A few hours after re-gluing the sword, the mini fell a meager 2 - 3 inches onto the table (covered by vinyl battle map). "SNAP!" The gnome's ankles fractured as if hit by Kathy Bates.

The best I can say about either of these incidents is that the breaks were "clean". It was possible to glue the parts back together, but that is not much solace. It is apparent that these $25 figurines will never be able to stand up to play. One collision with a stray die roll will almost certainly result in a snapped weapon or broken legs... and if your group is anything like mine you'll know that caroming dice is a common occurrence.

Final Thoughts


As much as I love the model creator, I cannot recommend Hero Forge miniatures. [UPDATE 05/2016: Check out the new review of the Gray Plastic option.] The visualizer is truly amazing software, but the fragility of the Ultra Detail models makes them unusable for play and the coarseness of the "Strong" miniatures makes them "unsuitable for painting" (exact quote from Hero Forge site). For $25, I hoped for more, but am disappointed in the result. The detail, while a bit coarse, is not a deal breaker for me given the customization, but the brittleness of the plastic is unacceptable.

Hopefully 3D printing will improve in the future [update: it has]  such that even detailed figures can be made from a tougher plastic, but for now it's just not ready for prime time.

Note: the Ultra Detail plastic is being phased out and replaced with a better option. Read the updated review.

4 comments:

  1. Google+ comments:
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    Feb 23, 2015
    Daniel (ShadowDrakken)

    From what I've seen, the print quality vs the cost just isn't there yet.

    But worse than that, their part selection is abysmal. It wouldn't be an issue if they were continuing to add new parts, but I haven't seen a single new part in the months since they exploded on G+. Even one part a month would be something (although one a week would show more dedication to the project)

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    Feb 23, 2015
    Marty Walser (Raging Owlbear)

    I agree that they need to add more equipment, but their launch is so recent, I don't fault them much for that. It takes a fair bit of testing to make sure anything they add is positioned appropriately for the model. Knowing a bit about software development, I'm certain that's not an easy task from a software QA perspective.

    Print quality and durability is a much larger issue than part selection.

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    Feb 23, 2015
    Denis Loubet

    Awww. It's still a good idea, but the reality needs to catch up with it. I suspect you could have strength, and detail, but the price would be prohibitive. You can order metal objects from Shapeways that are printed in wax and cast in metal.

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    Feb 24, 2015
    Marty Walser (Raging Owlbear)

    +Denis Loubet Interesting. I wonder what the price point would be for a metal mini... Probably huge, but I wonder if Hero Forge should explore that avenue.

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    Feb 24, 2015
    Daniel (ShadowDrakken)

    I think they should just use a resin laser printer rather than a powder/binder deposition printer. That would give smooth, high detail models at a similar (maybe even lower) cost.

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    Feb 24, 2015
    Denis Loubet

    I think you're right Daniel, that would be the easiest solution for them. I wonder why they didn't go that way?

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    Feb 24, 2015
    Marty Walser (Raging Owlbear)

    +Denis Loubet They would need to find a fulfillment vendor that uses the technology. I don't think that's available through Shapeways. It could be that there are no vendors offering fulfillment using those.

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    Feb 25, 2015
    Denis Loubet

    Have you looked at the material lists at Shapeways and Kraftwurx? They definitely have high resolution resins and plastics available, they're just hideously expensive. :-)
    http://www.kraftwurx.com/3d-printing-materials

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    Feb 25, 2015
    Marty Walser (Raging Owlbear)

    Do you think they'd do Electrum? ;)

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    Feb 23, 2015
    Mungo Scott Park Rundle
    its a really nice service but way too expensive. i like tehir character creator a lot.

    ReplyDelete
  2. ----------
    Feb 20, 2015
    Robert Anstett

    I cannot visit the site this morning but I am guessing there is not an export function at all?
    You could print at your local library for free.

    Perhaps they should add a fee for just using their software to create the .stl file.

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    Feb 23, 2015
    Marty Walser (Raging Owlbear)

    Correct. As far as I know, you cannot export the 3D model. You can only take screen captures. An export of the stl would be a really good idea for their business model, one would think (although they may have to clarify that it only allow you to create models for personal use so people wouldn't try to sell armies of figs based on their software). Come of think of it, perhps giving out the stl file may not work to their benefit.
    [EDIT: You can now purchase just the STL file.]

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    Feb 23, 2015
    Ed Veal

    +Marty Walser But could they sell the stl file. Say a fee per download. That would help it would not solve the "try to sell armies of figs based on their software" issue. But it is a thought.

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    Feb 24, 2015
    Marty Walser (Raging Owlbear)

    I meant "sell" when I said "give away" the STL file. What I meant is that their software createsvery advanced models, which then the user could use to print mini after mini and Hero Forge would see none of that revenue because once they have sold the file STL file, it is no longer under their control. (i.e. - someone could take the file and use it for commercial purposes, rather than personal printing).

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    Feb 25, 2015
    Mungo Scott Park Rundle

    they should sell more products then, not just minis. how about books. i'll buy a book off whoeverer built this character creator

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    Feb 25, 2015
    Robert Anstett

    I think one to solve is to sell high quality prints from their store. Then also sell an .stl file that is of a dimished quality for local printing.

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    Feb 25, 2015

    I don't understand why, using a third party 3d printing service with loads of materials options (shapeways), they don't go for metal minis too. You're not bujying regiments at 25$/piece, so paying 35$ for a metal mini instead af 25$ for a brittle plastic one would be better.

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    Feb 25, 2015
    Marty Walser (Raging Owlbear)

    Shapeways doesn't currently offer pewter. I don't know how fine detail they can get with their steel figurines. The example on their site looks a little rough, so it may not be any better than the "Strong" material from a detail standpoint.
    Paintability may be a question with steel as well.

    ReplyDelete
  3. ----------
    Jun 3, 2015
    Jayce Barras

    June 3rd, 2015: Just got my first two minis in Ultra fine detail. They did not seem particularly brittle. The sword is big, and a little flexible. The same goes for the longbow -- it is thick, but that's fine. At the same time I primed some old (yes, I'm that old) 100% lead figures and these plastic ones are more durable (dreaded soft bendable staves, swords, etc) so that's something. But I was rather disappointed at the flocked texture -- which strangely happened on some parts of the figures (mostly toward the center, not as much on the extremities) but not others. The face was obscured some by the funky texture which is exactly what I didn't want. Pauldrons were nice and smooth.
    I prepaid in the Kickstarter for 10 minis, so I imagine I'll be waiting a while before I cash in any more figs. Hopefully they will continue to improve the process.

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    Jun 3, 2015
    Marty Walser (Raging Owlbear)
    Keep us updated if you have any issue with the figures. I've been too afraid to even use them in play because of how easily the gnome broke the first time. I've been beyond careful with the half-orc, but I also haven't gotten her painted yet.

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    Jun 3, 2015
    Jayce Barras

    +Marty Walser One thing -- you made the same 'mistake' I did -- because there was NO information included with the figures as they are shipped directly from Shapeways with the barest of invoices... I spray primed them as soon as I got them because, like you, I could not tell what they looked like in their semi-transparent form. The Hero Forge site tells you that FIRST thing you should do is very gently wash your figure with soap and water and a toothbrush to clean off some of the 'frost.' I find this out now after I've wasted $50 worth of figures I waited a month to get. Check out their FAQ -- this information should be included in the box, but it isn't -- not even a note to refer to their site for handling instructions. Huge 'Fail' on their part. I will keep you informed how they hold up. I'm going to mess with the girl elf as opposed to the massive knight tomorrow. He's got "thicker ankles" than she does, as it were. Let you know how it goes.

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    Jun 3, 2015
    Marty Walser (Raging Owlbear)

    +Jayce Barras Yeah, I did rinse the figures quickly, but didn't use a brush. The "frost" on mine wasn't too bad, but like yours the detail on the gnome torso had the same kind of undesirable flocked texture which ruins the lines of his tunic.. That was a disappointment. Almost all the detail on the front of the half-orc's armor is also lost to the additional texture.

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    Dec 11, 2015
    Lisa Marie

    I had to complain and wait for a replacement to come in. When it did, it felt just as fragile as the original. I don't ever plan on ordering from here again. Ultra Detail CAN look great, if you get a good one, but they snap so damn easy. I picked mine up carefully and it snapped off at the ankles as well. Too bad. I was so excited too. Wondering if I can lacquer it up to make it a bit more durable. Never planned on painting him.

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    Dec 11, 2015
    Marty Walser (Raging Owlbear)

    Good point. I probably should have made more noise to get a replacement for my gnome. Two breaks in the course of two days is two too many.
    They have added metal to the list of figure materials, but they are super expensive and still suffer from some of the "banding" texture issues that can occur in the 3D printing process.
    I'd prefer if they would sell the .sln file so people could either print their own or seek out a different provider than Shapeways.

    ReplyDelete
  4. ----------
    Feb 2, 2017
    Ricky Bruckman

    Marty... I purchased the strong minis and I have painted them. The paint does hold but it does lack in detail. Either or, it is playable and if painted right, doesn't look half bad...

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    Feb 2, 2017
    Deborah Teramis Christian

    It's really a shame that the material is so fragile. I'd love to use this to create custom minis. Guess this a company to bookmark and revisit in a year.

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    Feb 2, 2017
    Mark Lawford

    I bought a stack of these and while I've not got round to painting them (or anything else to be honest) I'm impressed with how they look.
    However... One of them did arrive broken; the handle on the long axe snapped off at the point the character was holding it.
    I'd certainly buy again but I'd be concerned about characters with spears, long axes, etc.

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    Feb 2, 2017
    electryc03

    Wish I would have previously read this article. I bought one of these figures for my son for Christmas. The bow easily broke within the second time of use. 35 dollars for one figure made in brittle plastic.

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    Feb 2, 2017
    Marty Walser (Raging Owlbear)

    +electryc03 Did you buy the new material (dark grey plastic) or was it the older translucent plastic?

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    Feb 3, 2017
    electryc03

    +Marty Walser The new dark grey plastic. It cost 29.99 plus 5 dollars to ship. That price I was expecting something nicer and more durable. I can purchase 9-10 reaper bones figures for that. My bad.

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    Feb 3, 2017
    Marty Walser (Raging Owlbear)

    +electryc03 The Gorilla Glue Gel (superglue) works well to repair a weapon. You only need a small dab. You have to hold it lightly to set it, but the gel works better because it sets a bit slower than the liquid super glues and it doesn't run.
    How did it break? I found the grey plastic much more durable that the plastic seen in this post. See video at bottom of other post: http://ragingowlbear.blogspot.com/2016/05/hero-forge-miniatures-massive-improvement.html

    ReplyDelete

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