dungeons of olde tileset

Cardstock Miniatures are Great

Miniatures have been a central element in tabletop gaming for hundreds of years. But when I came back to tabletop gaming a few years ago, the $1 metal men I loved in the 70s and 80s were gone. They’d been replaced by little plastic dudes costing $5, $10, or sometimes much more. If I was going to get back into roleplaying games, I needed an alternative, and the alternative I found was printable cardstock miniatures. Let me tell you why I think cardstock miniatures are great!

Costexpensive

The most obvious advantage of cardstock miniatures over plastic figures is cost. The cheapest plastic minis cost about $3, and are made of plastic so bendy that it’s hard to keep paint from flaking off them. Higher quality figures start at about $6 for a player-character model, and go up from there. To build an army for wargames, or a collection to populate a typical D&D campaign, you’ll spend hundreds of dollars on figures. Paint, glue, brushes, clippers, and files can easily run you another $100. The up-front cost for miniatures gaming can easily run over $500.

Cardstock miniatures cost pennies apiece. If you’re buying commercial sets—most likely through RPGNow or DriveThruRPG—you’ll pay $2 or $3 for a set of 6 to 12 unique top-quality miniatures. Most publishers include several color variants of each miniature, so you can print 30 or 40 different miniatures from a single $3 set. And you can print however many you need. If you need 12 orcs, print one sheet. If you need 24 orcs, print two sheets. If you’re fielding an army for Kings of War, print a half dozen sheets, and make some hordes! You’re only out $3, no matter how many times you print the set.

freeAnd if $3 is too rich for your blood, there are hundreds of cardstock miniatures available for free. I’ll show you where to find hundreds of free cardstock miniatures, but two good places to start are RPGNow/DTRPG and OneMonk.com. At DTRPG, several prolific cardstock miniature artists offer sample sets for free or for “Pay What You Want.” To find the free stuff at OneMonk.com, just click “Downloads” on the top menu bar.

Convenience

If you’re using 3D miniatures, you’ve got to anticipate which miniatures you need days or even weeks ahead. If you have a good local game shop, and you’re looking for common models for a popular game, you might find what you need nearby. But if you need an obscure monster or PC, you’ll have to order it online and wait for days. And once it gets there, you have to file, assemble, prime and paint it. That’s another another three evenings of work, with a day of drying time between steps. If you’re not planning at least two weeks ahead, you’re probably not going to have the 3D minis you need for game night.

With cardstock minis, 24 hours is more than enough. Need a band of trolls for tomorrow night’s adventure? Ten minutes of browsing on DTRPG will turn up several good choices. Pick one and download it. You can print and assemble a page of minis in 20 minutes. Give the glue twenty minutes to set. Then you can finish out each figure in five or ten minutes, depending on how tightly you like to trim. If you’re in a hurry, you can get a cardstock miniature off the internet and onto your game table in about an hour.

Storage and Portabilitystacks of cases

3D miniatures take a lot of room to store. If you want to protect the paint job, you’ll need to find a way to store and carry them so they don’t bounce around and rub against one another. If you’re fancy, that means hard-sided cases with compartmented foam inserts—which only adds to the expense of owning miniatures. If you’re less fancy, you could individually wrap your minis in bubble wrap and pack them into shoeboxes, but to play with them, you’d have to unwrap them and find a place for your boxes and bubble wrap while you play. And then you’ve got to wrap each one up again when the game’s over. And as your collection grows, you have to keep expanding the shelf-space you’re dedicating to storing your minis between games.

Cardstock minis are (usually) flat, and aren’t likely to damage one another in storage or transit. They can be packed in envelopes, baggies, or small tuck boxes. A binder with fifty sheets of card sleeves will neatly hold and organize thousands of cardstock miniatures. You’d need an entire shelving unit to hold a few hundred painted plastic figures, and a suitcase to carry a handful of them to a game session.

Table Appeal

bad cleric miniature

cleric by printable heroes

On the game table, your minis look exactly as good as the paint you put on them. If you’re a pro-quality painter with lots of free time, you can make a great-looking 3D army. But if you’re an ordinary gamer, with limited time, tools, talent and patience for painting, your minis aren’t likely to look like the photos on the Games Workshop website.

With cardstock miniatures, every figure on your table looks like the original artist painted it…because he did!

Moddability

okumarts spiders modded by jeff george

Using free, open-source software, it’s easy to modify your cardstock miniatures in ways you never could with 3D minis. Without any artistic talent at all, you can scale them to be larger or smaller, and flip them left-to-right. I’ve taken a single giant spider figure from OkumArts’ Dark Elves set, and made spider figures for my table as small as a beagle and as large as a school bus. With a little more effort and image-manipulation skill, you can easily change the color scheme of any miniature as well. Working from a single wolf figure from the Lycanthrope Theme Pack from Trash Mob Minis, I made eight different color patterns in each of three different sizes, including dire wolves as big as horses, ordinary gray wolves about the size of a man, and coyotes no bigger than a medium-sized dog, which can also serve as cubs for the larger wolves.

Variety

There are more different 3D miniatures on the market than cardstock miniatures, but you can’t own them all. No matter how rich you are, you can’t afford them all. And no matter how retired you are, you don’t have time to paint them all, even if you had space to store them. But thousands of table-ready cardstock figures fit in one binder that you can carry wherever you game. And even though I have thousands of unique cardstock minis myself, I doubt I’ve spent over $100 to collect them. With cardstock minis, it’s not only possible to own every miniature you’ll ever need, you can take them anywhere!

bear minis from paleopedia
Bears from Paleopedia.tumblr.com, adapted as minis by Jeff George

With some basic Photoshop or GIMP work, you can turn any image you find online into a cardstock miniature. There are several demonstrations of this process on YouTube, and I’ll add my own tutorials as well.

Not yet convinced that cardstock miniatures are great?

Over the next few weeks and months, I’ll share my opinions and experiences collecting and playing with cardstock miniatures. I’ll show you how to print them out with the brightest colors and sharpest detail possible, and how assemble them to look professional while standing up to heavy use. I’ll share the tools and techniques I use to recoloring and mod cardstock minis, and how I store and organize them efficiently. I’ll help you find the best free figures available online, and I’ll point you toward the best paid sets by the finest artists working in the field. And I’ll try to answer your questions about cardstock figures, or find someone smarter than me who can.

Give me a few posts, and I’ll convince you cardstock minis are a great alternative to pewter and plastic models for tabletop gaming!

6 thoughts on “Cardstock Miniatures are Great”

  1. My husband and I are considering starting a miniatures tabletop gaming group in our neighborhood and while he’s more of a traditionalist, I’ve been considering using card-stock miniatures to make starting more affordable. I like how you mention that every figure will look like the original artist painted it, and I’ll be sure to mention that to my husband. I think your article may convince him, particularly with the options it would give him as Dungeon Master by making different size and color monsters as you discussed.

    1. Glad to hear from you, Rhianna! I think you and your husband are in for some great evenings of adventure! It sounds like you’re already hip to how the economy, variety and quality of printable minis allows a gamemaster to field accurate figures for just about any monster, without investing hundreds or thousands of dollars and hours in a vast collection of 3D minis. But if it helps you convince your husband to try printable minis, I’ll mention that most games I’ve played in recently have featured a mix of cardstock miniatures (mine, and perhaps one or two other people’s) and traditional, 3D minis (mostly D&D-licensed pre-paints owned by other players). They really look fine together on the table, and my vast collection of cardstock minis always draws the attention of players who had never considered printable minis before.

      Let us know how your gaming group comes together, and what route (or routes!) you and your husband follow with your tabletop mini collecting!

      –Jeff

  2. It’s a shame you don’t have a donate button! I’d definitely donate to this superb blog! I suppose for now i’ll settle for bookmarking and adding your RSS feed to my Google account. I look forward to fresh updates and will talk about this site with my Facebook group. Chat soon!

    1. Thanks for the kind words, Reanna! At the moment, the only way I have set up to support the blog is through affiliate links to DriveThruRPG. I’ve been intending to write a post explaining how that works, but essentially, if you go to DTRPG via a link from PnPG, the blog gets a (very) small commission. That commission comes in the form of an account credit, which I use to buy more PDFs to read, test, and recommend to PnPG readers (or not!). In 2018, that credit averaged about $7 a month; I assure you, my spending on DTRPG far exceeded that!

      So far, I haven’t asked for or received free “review copies” from publishers, writers or artists. Everything I’ve discussed on the blog has been something I paid for myself, or bought with my DTRPG credit, and found valuable. And by the way, you don’t have to buy a specific product I’ve recommended to support the blog–anything you purchase from DTRPG after clicking one of the links at PnPG will generate the credit for the site.

      Bottom line, if you really want to support what I’m doing here–and give me more incentive to post more often!–go from here to DriveThruRPG and buy something you like. And if you find something great I haven’t discovered or posted about yet, let me know through comments or by email, and I’ll help spread the word!

  3. Hi Jeff & everyone! I wish everybody is doing all right. I wanted to share you some printable miniatures a friend of mine is creating for our games.

    https://imgur.com/a/a498xdu
    https://imgur.com/a/DvYZWkg

    I’m trying to convince him to create figures weekly and start a kickstarter campaign or even a patreon page. What do you guys think? Think is worth the effort? He is a full-time employee, father and husband, who likes to draw but spends a lot time working. I like the crowdfunding ideas and this miniatures are great! (at least is what I think 😛 ).

    I wish to know the opinion of all of you, what do you guys think? 🙂 Thanks in advance!

    1. Hey, Carlod. Thanks for sharing your friend’s minis and telling us about his aspirations. The figures in the images you linked look great. My personal preference is for the simple black outlined versions, but many printable miniature producers offer their PDF files with layers that allow the user to choose the outline style when they print the figures. As for formatting, I’d definitely recommend your friend look at the files offered by established miniature publishers, and borrow ideas from them.

      Personally, I’d caution against a new artist starting a printable miniature Patreon until he has at least a dozen minis ready to offer at launch, and is confident that he can offer at least two new figures, with color variants and reskins, every single month. It’s very easy to over-commit through Patreon, and set up expectations that you find you can’t fulfill. Once you disappoint customers, it’s hard to win their trust back.

      The real reason to do a Kickstarter is to cover production, manufacturing, and distribution costs for an already designed product. Since the cash investment for producing printable miniatures is almost zero, there’s not much reason for new artists to use Kickstarter to launch a set or line of minis. Like Patreon, Kickstarter imposes schedules on artists that they may not be able to meet, especially when they are new to the format and don’t have a good handle on how long things take. When people who have paid weeks or months in advance for a product have to wait beyond the promised date for delivery, they get justifiably frustrated. Again, it’s much harder to win back a customer you’ve disappointed than it is to please a new customer with a product that is available on the day he pays for it.

      My strong recommendation for new miniature artists is to produce two or three sets of a six to twelve minis each, preferably with alternate color schemes, and offer them through DriveThruRPG. In doing so, you’ll learn alot about the process of designing, producing, and marketing printable miniatures, and will be in a much better position to make smart decisions about Patreon, Kickstarter, or other distribution options. At that point, you’ll also have an existing customer base interested in your products, which will be a tremendous advantage in launching a successful Patreon page or Kickstarter project.

      I hope this advice helps. I’ve had a couple of other people contact me in recent months with similar questions, so I’m thinking it may be worth a blog post about what goes into a successful line of printable miniatures–in my opinion, of course!

      –Jeff

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