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Article #6 – How to get minis made

I have been entirely unable to find anything written on this topic anywhere, yet everyone seems to have minis.  Even some of the industry’s mini producers had no idea of the answers to some of my questions!   So I’m certain this will prove useful to have all in one place in terminology that normal people can comprehend.

Here’s how you get mini’s made.

  1. Decide if you want to make Plastic or Pewter miniatures. (see below)
  2. Decide if you want your miniature’s “Sculpts” done by hand or with 3d CAD files. (see below)
    • Physical – The old norm, a true art. – I stayed away because I would only be able to see images (not actual clay sculpt), and the detail would be less “perfect”.
    • 3d Sculpts (CAD) – The new norm, but doesn’t strike me to be quite as classy.  But the minis turn out smooth and just right.  You have to add on the step of “Rapid Prototyping” to make them into Physical if you want metal minis (Pewter, etc.)
    • Both – Cost a fortune ($200 to $350 per sculpt for a worthy one) and take a while to get right.
  3. Find a physical Sculptor OR a 3d modeler (harder than finding 2d artists, but the processes listed in Article #5 should work well enough, or you can see my “Recommendations” at the bottom of this Article.)
  4. Find a 2d artist to draw out sketches of your model, front and back.
    • A good modeler of either type can improvise the rear of the Sculpt from a good frontal image if you already have the game art for them ready.
    • We used our 2d Hero art for this, and our 3d Modeler invented the back wonderfully.
  5. If it’s a 3d CAD file and you want to make…
    • Plastic Minis – Send it off to your manufacturer, they do the rest.
    • Pewter Minis – Send it off to your Rapid Prototyper to make it physical.  Then send the physical off to your mould maker.
  6. If it’s a physical sculpt, you are making Pewter, period.  So send it to your mould maker.
  7. The mould maker (or moulder) makes a Master Mold.
  8. From the Master Mold the moulder will make a few “Masters”.
  9. From the Masters he will make the Production Mold.
  10. From the Production Mold he will “cast” the minis.
  11. The end result is a bunch of “Casts”, also known as “Minis”.

Flow Chart:

Mini flow chart

Pros and cons of each mini type…


Easier production cycle.
Far less expensive cost per mini in mass production.
Your game manufacturer can produce these and put them right in the box more easily than pewter.

HUGE minimum buy in/start up costs due to set up fees and huge minimums.
• ($20,000 – $28,000 for 10 minis at 3000 copies each)
Minimum Order Quantity (MOQ) of around 3000 copies (half of which you may never need).
Feels lower quality / less satisfying in your hands than metal.
Made in China.*
Harder/more expensive to order replacement stock (due to MOQs and that the molds are in China).


Far lower buy in/start up costs.
• ($4,000-$5,000 for 10 minis, at 10 copies each.)
Minimum production run of 1 Mini.
Easily order replacement stock, in any quantity (Low MOQ & molds in your home country).
Feels heartier more satisfying to the hand.
Made in the USA.*

More expensive cost per mini in the long run, forever cost of about $1.00 to $1.55 for 28-30mm scale minis.
Therefore more expensive sale point that may turn off buyers in a plastics-heavy market.
If used as part of a core game, they need to be shipped to your manufacturer as an “outsourced component” for inclusion in the game box – Labor charges to inclusion now apply also.

Areas of neutrality/equality:
Both will take a lot of work to get right.
Both are equally paintable.
Both are equally fragile in their own right.
Both have people that love them.
Both have people that hate them.

Misc notes:
If using pewter, be sure to make sure your manufacturer uses 100% lead free Pewter.  The 80s are over.
If using plastic, be sure to budget the cost for as many as 3000+, and though you may THINK the cost per mini is only $0.20 each, bear in mind: when you have to incinerate the 2000 that you didn’t sell, your effective cost per SOLD mini just jumped to $0.60 each.
Not everyone charges the same prices for the same services.  Call around find what works for you and your needs.
Suggestion: If creating a “Miniatures Game”, use plastic.  If creating miniatures as an Add On option OR for your own small line of mini’s, use pewter.

Much needed “Mini” Glossary – As best as I have gathered from extensive discussion, in chronological order of the process.

(Note: Different people at different times have used these terms interchangeably.  These seem to be the closest to the core of what’s what though.)

3D Modeler – The guy that makes cool images like this one, that can be printed on a 3d printer (or by Art Shadowed

CAD FileComputer Aided Design file; a general term for files of this type.

Sculptor – Usually refers to physical sculptors of clay, etc; but can be used to refer to 3d Modelers.

Sculpt – The initial prototype, either physical or 3d.  Physical sculpts are also your Prototype.

Rapid Prototype – (Verb) A fancy term for turning CAD files into physical prototypes.
(Noun) the new physical prototype made from the 3d sculpt.  See image and note at bottom of page.

Prototype – the result of the above processes; also “proto”.

Molder/Moulder/Mold Maker – The guy that makes your mold/moulds.

Mold/Moulds – A generic term for any type of Mold/Mould listed below.  Use of this term “mold” is very confusing in conversation, as it can refer to almMaster Moldost any step of the process.

Master Mold – The rubber formed around the proto, used to make the original and highest detail “Masters” possible.  This mold produces only 1 mini at a time (usually).  Cost per Master Mold: $75 to $125.  There are some that refer to the main Production Mold as the Master Mold, while others refer to the Master Mold simply as the “Master”.  (yeah, confusing, right?).

Master(s) – The first minis made, 1 at a time from the Master Mold (above).  These will be used to make the…Production Spin Mold

Production Mold – The circular wheel of Silicone that will be used to “Spin Cast” your minis.  A production mold can be made to suit 4 to 10 minis depending on size and shape.  Can host all of the same mini, over and over again, or all different ones.  Costs: $50 to $150 (depending on costs from same company for the individual Master Molds).

Spin Cast or Cast (v) – Molten metal is poured into the center of the Production Mold, the Production Mold is then spun very fast, forcing the liquid metal into the mini-shaped-cavities.  After it sits for a few minutes to cool, the Production Mold can be opened, and the Casts can be pulled out.

Wanna see one get spun?  Watch this ReaperMini Factory Tour video.  Super interesting!

Cast(s) (n) – The final mini(s).  This is the final product, what you will sell/include in your game.

Clamshell – The rectangular plastic bubble, oft attached to cardboard backing, that a mini is commonly sold in.

I hope this helps.  It took me weeks worth of discussing with 4 or 5 different companies to get all that straightened out.  I really hope you found this before you attempted the same.


Recommendations for contacts to get Physical Sculptors: Contact Oliver Piotrowski at he has a team he can refer you to.  –  Yahoo has a Sculpting Yahoo Group.  –  A quick Google search can pull up some names and companies to drop emails to as well.  –   Whoever you hire, be sure to give clear art direction; it’s easy to end up with excessively angry looking males, and excessively chesty/bootyful females, even when your concept art doesn’t show such.

Recommendations for 3d Modelers: Clint MacLean did all of our work and is a complete blast to work with, and creates a level of detail that is mind blowing.  Jason Harlow is also excellent but we didn’t end up working with him for perfectly mutually neutral reasons.

Recommendation for Rapid Prototyping: all the wayReally?  Really!  100%
We ordered a high end Rapid Prototype of the $298 value; AND a Shapeways “Frosted Ultra High Detail” miniature (a $15 dollar value).  The Frosted Ultra High Detail one from Shapeways is:
A) Higher Detail, and VERY noticeably so.
B) 1/20th of the price.  At $15.72 cents for a big thick mini, you can’t really complain.

Collage o Valcor 3

We ordered one of every type from Shapeways (SW)
that might possibly be detailed enough to create Masters from.
Four were denied production and refunded because our details were too …detailed.
(I thought that was cool!) Four others survived the pre-production scrutiny,
were made, and shipped to us.

Plus we got one mega-expensive type from a separate high-end professional
Rapid Prototype company, to compare every possible option
to make the best possible minis for our game, for our backers, for you.

Good News!…

The “Frosted Ultra High Detail” from Shapeways won by far!
It is the type you’ll want to order.

Recommendations for getting Master Molds and Masters done: This can be hard to find quality and price at the same time.  Sling some emails around the internet and get some pricing quotes.  Speak with them on the phone as there are many layers to the cost, and you should understand them.

Recommendations for final production/spin casting: We’re sending our Production Molds to Michael Noe of Iron Wind Metals.  He produces bulk minis more often, more easily, and more cheaply than other companies we’ve spoken with.  I chose to trust the final production to his capable and experienced hands (…and less expensive Pewter).

If you do contact any of the people or companies I’ve mentioned, please tell them that I sent you.  I would appreciate it, and so would they.

* Supporting your own countries’ economy is always a good idea.  China is notorious for terrible labor laws and even worse working conditions – it is what it is.  Nobody should pretend that’s not the case.  Therefore, these were worth stating as pros and cons for us.

Click here to be brought to one of our most highly lauded articles: Article #7 “How to make a Budget”.



  1. Alex
    September 1, 2015 @ 5:46 pm

    Just wanted to make a few comments on this.

    Sculpting prices for real miniatures, aka miniature boxed games, is generally much higher. I don’t know any quality sculptors that charge less than $450 and that’s for simpler characters(chibis) done in 3d, and they live in lower cost countries like Spain. We charge $750 for traditional, and 3d is generally between $600-1000. This is for 28-32mm characters. Creatures and larger stuff is more expensive, certain designs will be more expensive due to time etc.

    The type of miniatures in your example would be considered much lower quality. This is not a bad thing, its simply important to note the difference. Every game has its requirements and business model. Its understandable that some games have less focus on the miniatures than others and thus lower quality is still acceptable and practical.

    Quality 3d printing is also much more expensive than the Shapeways or rapid prototyping method you used. It also yields a far better final product, without major stepping, pitting or other such imperfections. I can not remember the names right now to advise further. But you definitely want to get quality printing done!

    Next, its important to note that every miniature should actually be inspected, since sculptors make mistakes too, especially the ones in lower price ranges. You want to make sure everything is captured well at the size its printed at. Some sculptors are not sculptors but 3d modelers, and thus have no experience with actual sculpture and proper volumes, shapes and sizes. If they are good sculptors but have no experience with miniatures, you may end up with details or shapes that do not translate well to the scale being used.

    Lastly its completely false that a traditional sculpture can not be used for manufacturing in plastic. See: Zombicide, B-Sieged, Sedition Wars and many other games by Coolminiornot.

    Digital sculpture is great as it simplifies a part of the process, but generally the experience for quality sculptures is not as high. 3D generally feel less real and more plastic, have poorer fabrics, and poorer textures such as furs or skin wrinkles on creatures. They are more easily smoothed so renders always look cleaner than raw sculpts, but the difference for production is not always significant depending on the topic. It is harder to get the same sharpness on edges in 3D as it is with traditional sculptures. 3D offers the benefit of simpler adjustments if any need to be done, especially reposing.


  2. John Wrot!
    September 9, 2015 @ 6:06 pm

    Thanks for all your awesome thoughts here. It’s great to hear from folks who have such experience in each field.
    Especially the note about traditional sculpture being used for plastic, that is great news!
    On your note of “less quality”, I’ll admit the pics are poor, but the minis themselves are super-high detail in person. Our 3d sculptor Clint MacLean is one of the best in the business and doesn’t skimp on details.

    Where does your experience come from? Are you a sculptor yourself? eh eh??



  3. Kelly F.
    October 15, 2015 @ 4:49 pm

    Hi John,

    Wow … I definitely found your article at just the right time. I’m taking my first dip into mini making for a new kid’s table top I’m working on and have been searching for days (literally) on whether or not I should give the Shapeways Ultra Frost a try. They also very recently started offering Frosted Extreme Detail, which looks pretty awesome, so I’m likely to go that route. Just thought I’d mention it since your pieces have such great detail and you already like the Ultra.


    • John Wrot!
      October 15, 2015 @ 9:15 pm


      Thank you so much for visiting and sharing your thoughts. Yeah, we’ve heard of the new Extreme Detail but haven’t had a need to order any yet; but I’m sure you won’t be disappointed. The level of detail is top notch. The only issue the frosted present is the slight frosting on certain areas of the miniatures. I think its provides amazing levels of depth, and it still paints really well (no noticable issues from myself or my pro-painter) but I’ve heard some say they don’t like painting on it. Its all still too new to know what a net verdict is. But for my camp, and we’ve looked, for detail of faces and chainmail and things of that sort, you can’t beat the Frosted Detail line. If you’ve got thick lower detail mechs, you’d probably be best with the Wax, as it’s smooth.

      Thanks again for visiting and for sharing your story with us!



  4. Mateusz Rakowski
    June 25, 2016 @ 2:11 pm

    Good article! I would add one thing to the article: When sculpt is done a traditional way you should receive from your sculptor (or do it your self) like 5-10 high quality resin castings. This castings can be used then to produce molds for plastic miniatures. I agree with Alex that resin casting will be way better quality but more expensive per unit :/

    Molds for resin casts cost nothing but very detailed high quality miniature can cost about $2-3 for 28-32mm (and sometimes more). It’s worth pointing out that some companies will do much better casts than others.

    Thanks John!


    • John Wrot!
      June 30, 2016 @ 4:09 pm


      Thanks for that great information. Such a great tip to get resin masters made in that way. It seems it would also prevent any risk to the original piece during shipping.



  5. Franz
    June 29, 2018 @ 11:03 am

    Do you have a short list of the best USA Pewter manufacturers?


    • John Wrot!
      June 30, 2018 @ 5:40 pm

      Iron Wind Metals all the way.

      Contact Michael Noe, and tell him I sent you. I don’t get anything out of it, but he’s great to work with and superb in experience.


  6. Andy
    April 28, 2019 @ 4:07 pm

    This is a great breakdown on figure pricing, John. I’ve been looking for weeks for some detail like this,….and here it is!

    I’m planning on putting my kids tabletop game on KS later this year, the goal is to sell 3k units. This matches up great w/ the 3k minimum plastic figure order.

    One question: any idea how adding paint/color to the figures would impact cost? I’ve noticed some games (like Betrayal at House on the Hill) come with small figs that have several paint colors on them (clothes, hair, skin, etc.)


    • John Wrot!
      September 23, 2019 @ 4:59 pm

      That’s a great question! I haven’t ever got a quote on pre-paints. This would be a great question for Jamey Stegmaier as he has done this multiple times now.


  7. Brendan
    May 1, 2019 @ 2:20 pm

    Hi John, great article! This really helped us get started, especially with getting prototypes from shapeways.

    One question I have, you mentioned metal minis in the core game as “outsourced component”, have you done this? What was your solution for shipping metal minis to the manufacturer?


    • John Wrot!
      September 23, 2019 @ 4:58 pm

      Metal minis in the core game are at great risk of damaging the other components are being broken during shipping. Good assembly can solve this, but you still deal with the drastic weight and price increase of your game. I think for core-inclusion, you should definitely go with plastics.


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