Update 2: In light of my criticism of Maxmini's quality control, I thought it appropriate to show the initial castings I received from them. When I have the chance, I will add photos of all the replacement castings.
Update 3 12/09/2013: Perhaps not surprisingly, Maxmini do not feel inclined to issue a partial refund, finally replying after 3 weeks and 3 emails. Their reasoning for this is the damage done by this blog post to their 'brand image' . They state 'after you decided to write such a post you already have your payment for "loss". It is satisfaction'. They assert I should have waited for the matter to be resolved before writing such a blog post, ignoring the fact that the main subject of the post is the defective replacements sent out following the first batch of defective parts - they had their chance. I cannot be held responsible for any negative effect on Maxmini's brand: they are responsible for that, firstly when they sent such obviously faulty and incorrect parts, but more damningly when they repeated the quality control failure with the replacements.
Update 4: Okay, okay. Final update. I added a comparison of some of the first castings next to the replacements, just to highlight the level of quality control and why I didn't feel obliged to wait for the third attempt...
Update 5 13/09/2013: Now it's the final update! Maxmini have now issued a refund for the fault parts. Apparently steps have also been taken to avoid a similar situation in future.
It's over a year now since I had my first digitally sculpted figures printed, moulded, cast and put on sale. Obviously, I was a traditional sculptor prior to going digital, so I think I hit the ground running in regards to knowing what exaggerations and level of detail I had to sculpt to in order for the detail to be viable for the final casting. Still, I've learned a lot in the past year and keep striving to make each figure better than the last.
Until recently, I had used a single 3D print bureau, Timolaumann.de, who have provided excellent service and great prints. The specific printer used is a Envisiontec Perfactory machine, printing a temperature resistant resin. One of the quirks of this method and material is the support structure attached to the figure during the printing process. This has to be removed and leaves little pegs that need cleaning off with a sharp scalpel, perhaps some areas need to be fixed with putty. It is probably a wee bit more involved than cleaning mould lines on a metal or resin figure, which makes me glad I used to sculpt figures by hand - I can easily do what is required. No 3D printing process is entirely free of hand finishing if best results are required.
For a recent batch of files, I tried out an alternative print bureau, Maxmini3D.eu. In contrast to the company I used previously, whom I believe mostly work in the jewelry industry, Maxmini3D is specifically targeted at miniatures manufacture.
Firstly, I should say the quote from Maxmini3D was significantly lower than what I had been used to with my usual bureau. I will admit this worried me, though I did not voice my concerns.
3D prints are created by building up layers. The taller the part is in it's z axis, the longer it will take to print and therefore the greater the price. However, the z-axis layer depth is usually greater than x/y resolution. This means if you were to print a sphere, there would be some slight 'contour lines' on the top and bottom of the sphere, but not on the sides. These contours tend to show on shallow curved surfaces nearing the horizontal. It's part of the 3D printing deal and something I fix by hand on the physical print - it can be scrapped off as you would remove a mould line.
Because the contours appear on the top and bottom surfaces, I've found it best for figures to be printed in a 'standing' position, as the final casting would be assembled. That way, any contours only appear on the top and bottom of a figure, a smaller area than the sides of the figure. It also allows greater depth and definition in a face and figure details - if you were to slice your nose into horizontal slices, there would be more slices than if you sliced your nose into vertical slices... Therefore there is more defined detail if the head is printed where the z-axis is the height of the head.
So getting back to the quote, that is why the Maxmini3D quote was cheaper than I was used to - they printed the figures lying flat on their backs and the heads likewise. It saved time and saved me money, but at the expense of quality. I had supplied the figure orientated in an upright position as I hoped they would be printed. It was the printer's decision to save some time and money. However, I'm actually glad I didn't insist on the parts being printed vertically, which I'll get to later.
Now, whereas my previous prints have been resin, Maxmini3D prints in wax. This has the advantage that the support material is not physically attached to the print; it can be removed without leaving the tabs and imperfections you would get with a Perfactory resin print. This is the reason I was interested in trying new processes. However, wax prints do not suit my moulding methods, nor those of the rest of the miniatures industry, so Maxmini3D provide resin casts of the prints. This is included in the price. Sounds like a good deal, no?
Well, it would be if the resin casts were accurate, well-made representations of the files I provided to the printers. I would not expect any distortion or squashed detail and I would expect minimal mould lines and complete parts. My expectations were not met.
Below is a photograph of two of the replacement parts sent by the Maxmini, alongside a print supplied by Timo Laumann. These were made from the same file. I left the support tabs on the Perfactory (orange) print so it is a fair comparison. Admittedly, I was sent several cast of each part, but as they are all poor quality, that doesn't help much.
|L-R: Maxmini resin cast of wax print, Timo Laumann Perfactory Resin Print, Maxmini resin cast of wax print.|
The photograph doesn't quite show the startling difference in definition and detail depth. It really is striking in the hand. But as I explained, some of that is probably to be expected due to the orientation of the prints when they were being made. You get what you pay for in this case. What I really do object to it the level of distortion in the face. I don't know at what stage this occurred - perhaps the wax print was squashed - but it is totally unacceptable. Just look at her face on the left and right casts! That is not even close to what I sculpted.
It seems the pegs attaching the parts to the sprue have also been thickened by Maxmini3D. This has resulted in the gun barrels ends no longer being straight. I assume this was done due to avoid breakage during the printing and moulding for the resin casts. However, I specifically asked if the files as they were supplied were suitable for the company's needs. I was told they were. If they had asked me, I could have thickened the pegs myself and would have done it properly. As supplied, the casts are not suitable for my needs.
There are other bizarre examples of distortion, too. Several of the 'helmets' are no longer symmetrical, with visor slits at different heights on either side. I cannot fathom how this happened. Certainly not due to a misaligned mould - the mould line does not bisect the visor slits!
|Left: Some of the first batch of castings. Note the distorted faces and broken parts.|
Right: Some of the replacement castings. Note the distorted faces and crudely 'fixed' parts.
The quality of the resin castings also leaves something to be desired. I struggled to find any casts that did not feature heavy, ragged mould lines. In addition, all the initial castings I received did not even feature complete base tabs. They just hadn't been filled with resin. Finally, one of the head sprues had been broken at the print stage and instead of reprinting the part, they had crudely attached the heads to another sprue and moulded that. To their credit, Maxmini3D sent replacement casts and a reprinted, remoulded head sprue [edit: my mistake, the sprue was not reprinted, the broken heads were simply stuck back on with superglue...]. Well done on that, but the replacements are still obviously useless.
|The initial castings supplied by Maxmini. Note that none of the base tabs are filled completely and how the detached heads have been attached to a second sprue. I supply files as I expect them to be printed - this is not optional!|
Sadly, all this has taken nearly four weeks, delaying the next set of releases and ultimately costing me more in terms of cash flow than just the cost of some bad prints. I have requested a part refund on the distorted, useless parts. Note I've not asked for a full refund as I accept you get what you pay for - cheap prints will always be poor quality, but I cannot accept distorted parts. We shall see how far that gets. This is why I say I'm glad I didn't insist on the parts being printed vertically. If I had they would have cost me far more and while the detail may have been slightly better (I'm not convinced it would have ever matched the Perfactory print), the distortion and bad resin casts would still have meant the parts were useless.
But I have had the parts reprinted by my original printer and now they shall go off for master moulding on Monday. In future, I think I shall stick to what I know. I have a very good, reliable print bureau and likewise a very good, reliable moulding and casting company.
Statuesque Miniatures shall continue to sell the high quality figures my customers have come to expect. Of the companies using substandard print bureaus, I cannot say likewise.