The Best 3D Printers for Tabletop Gaming Terrain

Curtis Satterfield, Ph.D.

Curtis Satterfield, Ph.D.

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If you enjoy tabletop gaming, you might be thinking about buying a 3D printer for terrain. With a multitude of terrain models available to download printing 3D terrain is a great addition to your hobby!

Currently, the best printer for gaming terrain under $300 is the Creality Ender 3. The best printer under $500 for terrain is the Artillery Sidewinder X1. The best printer for gaming terrain under $1000 is the Prusa i3 Mk3.

Why 3D Print Gaming Terrain

With the rise in popularity of tabletop role playing games players are looking for ways to enrich their pastime. The popularity of the hobby has caused a boom in online sales of 3D designed terrain models. Entire websites are dedicated to the design and sale of these 3D models. I see advertisements for new 3D printed terrain Kickstarters almost weekly. Access to this variety gives gamers the ability to download and print exactly what they want for their games.

3D Printed War Tower
Wartower from Printable Scenery that I printed and painted.

3D Printing the terrain also gives you the ability to paint in whatever style matches your game. Custom dungeon tiles allow you to print out and build maps that match your campaign. If you have 3D modeling skills, you can even design and print out your own terrain!

I’ve been using 3D printers to print gaming terrain for over 5 years now. I’ve printed terrain for both RPGs like Dungeons & Dragons and wargames such as Warhammer. Every time I’ve pulled out a piece of 3D printed terrain during a game my players have loved it! The problem I have with 3D printed terrain is that I am running out of space to store it!

Things to Know about 3D Printed Terrain

When printing terrain using an FDM printer makes the most financial sense. While you may not get details as crisp as a resin printer you will save money. Resin is more expensive to print with than filament. Most of the files you download, and print will be large and take many hours to print. Even hollowing out the models prints will still use a good deal of resin.

You are also limited to much smaller print volumes in an SLA printer than with FDM. For comparison the Ender 3 has a build volume of 220 x 220 x 250. The Elegoo Mars has a build volume of 120 x 68x 155mm. While you could print terrain on an SLA printer it will take longer and cost more in the long run.

With an FDM printer, you will not get the same level of detail and smoothness that you can with an SLA printer. All your terrain pieces will have print lines on the outside of the model. Some fine details will be lost even printing at 0.1mm layer heights. The good news is this is not a big issue. Once you prime and paint your pieces it’s harder to tell that they were 3D printed! If someone does complain that the game isn’t realistic enough because they can see print lines, kick them out of your group. No one needs that kind of negativity!

Sci-Fi 3D Printed Terrain

3D prints are not as durable as injection molded plastic. FDM prints dropped onto a hard surface will break.

Out of the box the Ender 3 and the Artillery Sidewinder will work well. If you want to get the best quality prints you will need to spend time fine tuning these printers. This is true of most budget 3D printers. They will take time to dial in for the best print quality. If you are looking for high quality prints out of the box with less tweaking and upgrading the Prusa i3 is your printer.

To compare build sizes, I will be using a standard 2×2 dungeon tile from Fat Dragon Gaming’s Dungeon set. The 2×2 tile measures 51x51mm and is 9mm tall.

With a better understanding of 3D printing terrain let’s look at the three best printers.

Best 3D Printer for Terrain Under $300

The Creality Ender 3 V2

Creality Ender3 3D Printer
Courtesy of creality3dofficial.com

The Ender 3 is an open frame FDM printer with a build volume of 220 x 220 x 250mm. The printer itself measured 440 x 410 x 465mm. For the price point of this printer, that is an excellent build size! With a build plate of that size you can print 16 dungeon tiles at one time! But maybe dungeon tiles aren’t your thing. Would you rather print large buildings? No problem! The Ender 3 has plenty of build volume for larger prints. Click here to check the price on Amazon.

The Creality has a heated bed which keeps prints from curling off the bed during printing. When printing large pieces, the edges can peel up from the build plate as it cools. Using a heated bed ensures the plastic stays adhered to the bed until the print is done.

The printer also can resume a print in the event of a power failure. This is helpful as most terrain pieces will take many hours to print. No more worries about losing hours or even days of printing if the power goes off. No problem, the Ender 3 can resume where the print left off!

Best Printer for Terrain Under $500

The Artillery Sidewinder X1

Artillery Sidewinder X1 3D Printer
Courtesy of Artillery3D.com

If you are looking for even more build volume the Artillery Sidewinder X1 has it! This printer has a massive 300x300x400mm build area. It comes loaded with features and is an excellent printer for the price. Click here to check the price on Amazon.

The 300 x 300mm heated bed will ensure that your prints stick to the bed and don’t lift or curl. This is critical when printing large terrain pieces. It comes with a filament run out sensor that will ensure you never ruin a print. The sensor detects if you run out of filament and pauses the print. No more ruined multi-day prints due to running out of filament! If you want to load the printer up with extra filament for those long runs it can support up to a 3kg roll! The printer also comes 90% pre-assembled making setup easier than a kit-built printer.

The printer can print from either a flash card or USB. Running from the SD card will allow you to resume prints after short power failures. The USB connection allows you to run your printer from an OctoPi setup. Using an OctoPi setup, you can network your printer and transfer files over a network without an SD card. If you are interested in using OctoPi check out my guide to installing OctoPrint here.

With the build volume of the Sidewinder I can fit 25 dungeon tiles on one print! That is a 36% increase over the Ender 3. The Sidewinder also boasts a 400mm printing height. Want to print large buildings in a single print? This printer can easily accommodate large models.

Best 3D Printer for Terrain Under $1000

The Prusa i3 MK3

Prusa i3 Mk3 3D Printer
Courtesy of Prusa.com

The assembled Prusa i3 comes fully built, tested, and calibrated from the factory. You can set up and start printing amazing prints right away. If you don’t mind a little DIY you can also save a couple hundred dollars ordering the kit and building it yourself. The i3 has a build volume of 250x210x210mm. This is the smallest build volume of the three printers, but you can’t beat the out of box quality or features from the i3.

With a heated bed and auto leveling feature, the mk3 guarantees great bed adhesion. It also has cold corner compensation to avoid warping regardless of the material.

Like the other printers, the i3 has a recovery from power failure option. It can also hook up to an OctoPi server or print from an SD card. The printer features a filament run-out sensor to avoid ruining multi-hour or multi-day prints.

A great feature is the automatic filament loading. Some printers can be a struggle to load or change filament. With the i3 simply insert the filament in the hot and allow it to auto load for you.

Sadly, due to the decreased print volume I can only fit 12 of the dungeon tiles on the print bed at once. If you are looking for the largest print volume this printer is not for you. If you are looking for a solid printer that just works out of the box, you can’t beat the i3.

Which Printer is Right for You?

It comes down to what you want to print and your budget. If you need to print large pieces or lots of smaller pieces like dungeon tiles, the Artillery X1 is your best bet. If you want a good printer that doesn’t break the bank, then the Ender 3 is for you. If you want the best quality 3D printer that works reliably with minimal tinkering, the Prusa i3 is your best choice.