3-D Printing, 3rd Party, and Me

I’ve seen the question asked on many of the Warhammer 40,000 forums / pages / outlets I frequent: “How do you feel about 3-D printed models?”  And an enormous outcry invariably floods the comment section in defense of these 3-D printed models.  The claims range from simple enthusiasm of the medium to outright rage; most often it is a disdain for Games Workshop’s pricing model and how it’s their Robin Hood-esque duty to print the models at home, for pennies.  Hadn’t Games Workshop gotten enough of our money, anyway?  On the numerous occasions this topic surfaces on social media, the comments explode in a back-and-forth torrent of arguments.  So here I am to settle the matter (but probably just start more arguments!).  I’ll try to cover the myriad facets of the discussion, but will most likely (unintentionally) leave some areas out.  Feel free to comment and ask questions because, as I said, this is a discussion and mostly just my opinion on the matter.  So let’s jump right in!

Printing Games Workshop related intellectual property (IP) to sell is literally stealing and, as a result, illegal.

There — that’s it, it’s settled forever!  Commence ticker-tape parade!

No sane person would ever try to refute that claim, it is unequivocally illegal to sell protected IP commodities.  “But Andrew,” I hear the masses cry,  “All you need to do is, like, get the data files, print them, and you can get these models at home for the cost of some filament and a decent printer.  It’s practically free!  It’s.. it’s not illegal, it’s sticking it to The Man.  No, hear me out!  They charge $35 for a Primaris Lieutenant, they had it coming!  Isn’t that how BattleScribe works?  They should lower their prices!  Finecast is garbage!

3d printed warhammer 40kspacemarines
Reddit u/creiht famously printed this force in 2014.

A real dilemma is whether or not the person making the CAD files is to be held liable for disseminating the protected content.  But let’s just remove that whole legality part of the equation from the discussion.  We’ll even stop talking about justifying the cost.  Because at this point you’re either so entrenched in the notion that the theft is justifiable, or you’re correct, one or the other.  But let’s not get hung up on semantics and instead move on to other facets of the debate that I find particularly interesting.  Here’s an actual question posed by someone on Facebook a few days ago which can steer us into more navigable waters:

“How would you guys feel about playing against a fully 3-D printed 40k army?”

Do you want to see how quickly a comment section of 30,000 adults in a Facebook group can explode?  Just ask the above question and kick your feet up and watch the carnage unfold before your very eyes.  The dead rise from their graves, human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together, mass hysteria!  What is your reaction to the above question?  Surely you have strong convictions one way or the other.  But do you want to know my own feelings on the matter?  I abhor the notion of a fully 3-D printed army, but maybe not for the reasons you might think.  To really get into my head, I’ll need to explain myself a little better than I usually do.

Let me paint a picture for you which will illustrate my own sentiments.  Imagine you’ve just walked into your friendly local gaming store (FLGS) after trying to find time and arrange a schedule, and brought your army looking for a pickup game.  This is a rare chance you have to get out of the house and have a few hours to yourself, hopefully it is time well spent.  Upon entering, you are then immediately approached by a decent looking guy who asks if you’d like a game.  Awesome, you think, no waiting around and you can immediately play!  Added bonus that the guy isn’t that sweaty neckbearded gatekeeper that lurks in the corner on Wednesdays.  Shaping up to be a worthwhile trip!  As he unpacks his army, however, they’re all just bizarre approximations of the model in question built with Lego.  Not a single actual model among them.  Even his tape measure is metric, and he insists on doing the conversions with each measurement.  His rule-books are poorly printed PDF scans.

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Necrons, amirite!?

How would you feel about the game?  We’re not talking about whether this guy can afford the minis, or whether or not he was doing anything wrong, that’s a later discussion.  How would you feel about the game?  Personally, I would feel disappointed that I wasted my time playing him.  And I would venture to say an enormously overwhelming majority of others would, too.  This is coming from a guy that is ultra-inclusive and willing to go the extra mile to help others of all backgrounds break into the hobby — I’m a Warhammer Hero, dammit!   It’s not a question of the opponents means of playing the game, but my own selfish needs being met — was it a satisfying game of Warhammer?  Was it Warhammer?  If I use the main Warhammer 40,000 rulebook with a bunch of colored tokens on a table, the game is still fundamentally the same.  We are playing the game.  But is it satisfying our expectations of the game?

When I go to play a game of Warhammer 40,000, I want a certain level of cinema, of narrative.  Even the most self-proclaimed net-listing, min-maxing, tournament-try-hard win-at-all-cost (WAAC) players want this visual quality, or they’d be playing a game that was more readily balanced and fair, without all the unnecessary frills: checkers.  We buy into Warhammer because of the models, the story, the imagery.  So, back to Lego guy.  Would I hunt this guy down, along with all his other Lego cronies, and make it my endless mission to bring them to miniature justice?  Of course not.  I don’t believe it is fair that I force my views of how the game should be played onto others, I’m very laissez faire in my attitudes on other people’s methods of enjoying the hobby (as we all should be, honestly).  There is actually a fairly sized community of “poorhammer” and “toyhammer” players out there, to which I have zero qualms.  But the issue I take is that the game is a social contract, this oft-repeated term, where two players must make concessions between the two of them for the enjoyment of both parties.  I would never play with Lego guy again, because the game with him wasn’t satisfying to me.

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Drama, action, suspense!

In the same vein, I wouldn’t play with a fully 3-D printed army for that exact reason.  It wouldn’t be satisfying.  Whether it was me knowing that they were just mass-produced in his basement, or the nagging guilt that I’m playing with a felon*, it would be no different than if my opponent were using his Lego figurines.  The game is certainly Warhammer for all intents and purposes, we are playing the game, as far as the rules go, but it’s a cheap facsimile.  It’s not what I signed on for.  It’s not what I wanted to be doing with my time.

But it’s much more complex than this.

Entire websites exist where you can buy 3-D printed weapons, shoulder pads, and other accessories for “28mm sci-fi space warriors.”  Perhaps my favorite thing about the 3-D printing market is the clever names they have to come up with to avoid IP infringement.  But these websites provide a valuable service.  They’re not breaking that sacred IP mandate laid out by Games Workshop’s ravenous legal team, they live dangerously on the edge, and I’m quite comfortable with that.  If you want some of those “Shadow Angel” shoulder pads to make your sons of Caliban that much more epic, you can order them and I wouldn’t bat an eye at the notion.  I find it particularly interesting that in my own formed opinions I have zero issue with adding these third party parts to augment official Games Workshop models.  Where is the line drawn?  How much of these augmentations can you add before it crosses that line?  Games Workshop events have typically allowed a small percentage of a miniature to consist of these third party components, be it shoulder pads, bases, etc.  I’ve won Armies on Parade twice, and Inner Circle (arguably more strict that Armies on Parade) with such components on my miniatures, and I know others have too.  This jives with my belief that after you buy the full kit, say, Space Marine Intercessors, you can do with them what you like, as long as a majority of the original mode is intact.  The fault in the full-army 3-D printing argument is that you are stealing directly from the company.  Here, you’re adding to it — everyone profits.

Custodian Guard - Eagle Head 3d printed
@comradequiche makes some absolutely incredible components for knights.

Additionally, I know of folks that have entirely unique 3-D sculpts of miniatures that represent something in the Warhammer game.  An Instagram acquaintance of mine that I respect highly has sculpted and printed, 100% on his own, an entirely new daemon prince model to use.  This I also have no issue with.  It’s no different than hand sculpting a greenstuff model to supplement your army — the issue was never 3-D printing as a stigma on its own, rather it’s the idea of stealing, cheapening the game through the typical methods it is employed as a tool of theft.  The aforementioned daemon prince adds to the game.  It has been expanded upon, and no violation of copyright or theft of IP has occurred.  Many cases of this exist.

Which brings me to another long-winded topic I won’t go into excessive detail on at this time (perhaps another blog post?); how can I say Lego guy was cheapening my experience by using dinky toy miniatures, but I’m okay with someone else using (arguably) the same thing via a printed daemon prince of their own design?  Who sets the standard upon which we determine the quality of a stand-in?  The difference is in a combination of intention and execution, I think.  Look at the examples below:

Image result for best scratch build warhammer ork
Fully scratchbuilt Ork vehicle by Ian Wyatt (source: Youtube).
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It was either this, or the infamous croissant Night Scythe proxy.  

I would never expect anyone to magically pull off Adam Savage level kitbashes or scratch-builds, but a certain level of investment in even a build of amateur talent should be evident.  Show that you care enough about the thing you are building to convey to your opponent that you aren’t wasting his or her time.  Be passionate about the thing.  Dropping a few Lego figures on the table took zero effort.  But if you really want to get into some gray area discussions and slippery slopes, you could argue that complex Lego builds take a lot of effort and thought and passion in recreating Warhammer models.

The bottom line?  I have no issue with 3-D printed anything, if that’s your jam.  You do you!  But if you come to play with an army of color tokens (or equivalent) armies, I sure as shit won’t be having a good enough time to play with you again.  Remember that while your mission to save a few bucks is a valid one, make sure it isn’t to the detriment of the community you frequently play with.  One of my good friends and co-workers keeps asking to use some Predator figurines as Officio Assassinorum agents.  I’m absolutely against this idea, I personally find it on the same level as “Lego guy,” but I’m not going to let it cause any sort of strife in our group.  Just because I disagree with something doesn’t mean I’m correct, or even that I need to throw a tantrum over it. But seeing this guy fighting Darnath Lysander takes me out of my immersion — why would I want to play Warhammer without using Warhammer characters? 

What do y’all think?  Surely my opinion isn’t gospel, so let’s hear what you’ve gotta say!



*It’s hyperbole, but just assuming the stolen value of goods exceeds the state minimum which often ranges between $500-1000 to constitute felony theft.


  1. I’m on the complete opposite side when it comes to “LEGO guy”. I don’t care what the person I play with as long as bases and sizes are correct. I can have a enjoyable game as along as the person is a pleasant person to be around. You can have the most beautiful painted army with the correct minis on the table but if you’re off putting I’m not going to enjoy the game.

    With 3D printed armies, again I don’t really have a issue with it. I personally won’t do it, and it’s not like they can take that to official competitions so it’s something they’re using to enjoy their hobby and I’m in no place to dictate how others should enjoy their free time.

    So how do you feel about 3rd party models used in Warhammer? I just ordered some samurai looking models to make into Slaanesh Chaos Warriors since I feel like the current ones don’t really fit with the quick and elegant fighters a Slaanesh Chaos Warrior should be.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. The last few paragraphs dealt with my views on 3rd party, but I may need to expand it further – I was falling asleep by the end of it haha. I like third party models when they’re incorporated thoughtfully into a force. It’s a rare moment, though, when I support dropping in an otherwise untouched toy or miniature into the 40k universe. A huge Godzilla-like toy can be repurposed with effort into an Ork squiggoth, but the key there is “repurposed.” It would take some tweaking. If a company purpose-built, say, samurai like warriors to appear Slaaneshi and stuff with the intention of being a replacement, that’s cool too! But if they’re just samurai dudes, I’d personally add a few bits and bobs to “40k” them up a bit. But as you said, everyone’s got their style and no one is more correct than the other!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. This is really interesting. Personally to me… I’m not that bothered what someone plays with in terms of 3rd party minis, but I would be disappointed if the quality of those minis was rubbish. The same as playing against and army which is unpainted or even not fully built. The more immersive it is, the better.

    I also wouldn’t mind someone 3D printing their own models I don’t think, depending on their attitude. After all… Who listenes to music without paying for it? Almost everyone. Stealing is bad, and yet in many cases it is socially acceptable to do so, even if it’s not legally acceptable. The fun thing to think about is with any of these debates, do those people think that everyone should think like them… Because hypothetically, if everyone did… Then GW would sell no minis… Would they continue to sell rules for their games and not minis? (Which would also ultimately get pirated). Would they collapse as a result?

    Yeah stick it to the Man… That “man” is producing all the IP and Designs you enjoy you moron. They are producing content you… But because it’s good enough to make money from it, you don’t want to support them. Amazing.

    People are stupd., Selfish and/or ignorant if they think that’s a rational response. I have downloaded my fair share of rules PDFs… But I haven’t stopped buying their stuff. I have also bought 3rs party minis to use, as long as they look close enough or I can modify them to fit the IP. GW is doing such a great mini devolvement in like the last few years that there’s barely a reason to go 3rd party anymore.

    I think the attitude of the player is so much more importent to me than the minis that it would generally overrule any feeling about the army… How big a pool of players do any of us have access to? If you know a great player with a super cool army, fully integrated into the IP with pro painted original models… Perfect. But if I to a gaming club and play a cool player with Lego, and an asshole with Best Army award… I know which one I would play again.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Agreed.

    But 10 years from now when GW will sell the STL files it’ll be a different matter.

    With the future of 3D printing looking amazing, I really do hope GW get on board with the idea of print at home – they sell PDFs already, so why not a “pdf” of a marine. Sell the STL file for an army for £75. Even create GW software that limits the number of print runs, locks it down somehow to a person/machine so it’s non transferrable… And allow the software to allow the owner to customise each miniature befor print. Even have something that could charge you £10 a print run so if you print 20 marines it’ll only cost you £10…in-store same day customised printing? Yes please!

    But that’s all away off…


    1. Yeah, it’s such a tricky discussion how companies will implement 3D printing. I feel like it’s a loooong way off, it’s such a monumental beast to tackle. Making it work *right* would be such an impressive undertaking. Thanks for the reply!


  4. I should probably preface this with I buy GW models to paint, not to play with, tho I love the lore and stories… but when I buy a model, even if it *is* expensive, I’m buying all the time, effort, talent and design that went into it. (Plus my Friendly Local Gaming Store IS a Warhammer store.) If I download a knockoff, then the people who designed it, figured out the rules, even the casting company it and the super-cheery guys and girls who sold it to me, they’d be all eventually out of a job.

    Even if people think “I’m just one person and GW is massive,” piracy is a big issue. Enough people decide ‘they’re just one person’ and stores close and companies fold.

    One of my other hobbies is ball-jointed dolls (I consider ’em like GW models but much, much bigger… half the b*stards still need painting) and there’s a big issue there with ‘recasts’ — some crappy overseas company who’s got an original model, made a crappy knockoff cast of it, and are reselling it at a fraction of the cost because they haven’t had to go through the painful trial and error of making the thing in the first place. It’s driven entire companies out of business, but the people who buy the knockoffs think they’re doing nothing wrong because “these models are expensive and they want one NOW and CHEAP, not on the original company’s time scale and price.” Sound familiar?

    That’s what pisses me off about this stuff. People who just think they ‘deserve’ it for… what reason, exactly? These ain’t necessities, they don’t *need* them, they can save up for them like the rest of us have to. If they can afford a 3D printer they can damn well afford a model pack, along with the expertise that comes with it.

    Liked by 1 person

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