How to Up Your Game With Shapeways

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How often does it happen to you that you’re playing a tabletop game and somewhere along the way think to yourself “This would be a lot cooler if it had dinosaur meeples.” or “What this game’s missing are dice shaped like squids”. I know, all the time!  Well, good news!  There are some great companies out there that make components to help enhance you gaming experience like Meeple Source, The Broken Token, and Cool Mini or Not – be they unique bits, organizers, or miniatures.

But what do you do if the haunting image of nightmare squid dice exists only in your fitful dreams?  How do you bring your visions to life, ideally without blood sacrifice?

One answer that’s taking the internet by storm is…

Shapeways is a digital manufacturing company that uses the quasi sci-fi power of 3D printing to deliver your unique designs from the depths of your imagination into the palm of your hand, making them available for both personal purchase or for sale on Shapeways’ digital marketplace. Shapeways has worked with companies like Heroforge, South Park, and Activision, and is also the manufacturer behind Melissa Ng’s Dreamer Regalia Armor, which Felicia Day modeled.

Shapeways hosts a ton of talented creators, both professional and amateur, adding to their constantly expanding library of amazing items for purchase, featuring customized bits for board games, toys, jewelry, you name it! Creators upload over 150,000 unique designs every month, so you can always count on something new and exciting to check out.

I was recently invited to take a tour of the Shapeways factory in Queens, NY. For a marketplace that hosts and creates such a tremendous diversity of items, it was smaller than I expected. Tucked away in an unassuming building, through several halls that are under construction, you might get a little lost searching for the factory (as I did), but when I found the main office, it was obvious I was in the right place. A variety of 3D-printed objects stood in a large case overlooking the factory floor, a testament to the variety and capacity of the machines beyond.

I met with Andrew Thomas, the Shapeways Community Manager, and he showed me around while educating me on how a product goes from your head to a 3D-printed reality. All you have to do is upload a design to the site and select which material you’d like to print in. There are an awesome variety of options, from ceramic, plastics, and metals such as 14 carat gold, sterling silver, steel and bronze. Some materials, like the High Definition Acrylate, can show extremely fine details and are great for minis.

Once Shapeways receives a design, a team of engineers checks it out to make sure it will print properly. If it meets their standard, the design is added to a group of other customers’ prints. The 3D printers at Shapeways can output many different objects simultaneously, so orders are arranged together in a Tetris-like fashion to maximize efficiency and keep printing times short. A bin of products can take 24 hours to print and then 24 hours to cool. Once cooled, the products are separated by hand, cleaned up, and shipped off.

Here’s Andrew showing off one of the giant 3D printers.

You can spend hours exploring the Shapeways site, checking out all of the user-created content (I know I have), but if you want to create your own board game pieces, dice, and minis, you will need to spend a little bit of time learning how to design a 3D product. Andrew recommends software like Blender and Sculptris, both of which are free and offer really great tutorials. If you get stuck, Shapeways has a very active  community of designers, where you can connect with other creators and ask any questions you may have along the way. If you want to dive right in and create something in only a few minutes, there are also creator apps on the site which can help you build pendants, ornaments, toys, and mins with no previous experience. My favorites are HeroForge, which lets you build custom minis (perhaps for your roleplaying games), and Mineways, which exports 3D models of your Minecraft designs.

It’s easy to see how video games have benefited over the years from the evolution of technology, but roleplaying and board games haven’t been left behind. Shapeways and companies like it are giving us the opportunity to make our ideas a reality, enriching our tabletop experience or simply letting us make really cool stuff. Whether it be dice shaped like thorns for your Druid, folding dice towers, armor mods for your Imperial Knight Titan, or just a fun round counter, the only limit is your imagination. I, for one, will be making minis for my roleplaying group. Here’s one I designed with HeroForge, and I can’t wait to give them out to my fellow players.

So if you’ve got an idea burning a hole in your brain, check out for some really amazing 3D-printed creative outlets!

Oh, and don’t think I forgot about the squid dice.  They certainly haven’t forgotten about you

What sort of projects would you love to make with 3D printing? Let us know in the comments below!

Image Credits: Image Credit: J Fisher, Shapeways, Heroforge
Featured Image Credit:  Gadgets +/Shapeways

Jessica Fisher is a geek of many passions. She co-founded a  gaming network and now co-hosts her own  Let’s Play channel on youtube. You can follow her on social media.

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