Phototoxin

Physical Limitations of Metal

38 posts in this topic

I'm not a metallurgist, heck I'm not even 100% sure what I guess is a proprietary formula of metal ('white metal', pewter* etc) used in making Infinity minis.

Wiki gives me this: 

Spoiler

A typical European casting alloy contains 94% tin, 1% copper, and 5% antimony. A European pewter sheet would contain 92% tin, 2% copper, and 6% antimony. Asian pewter, produced mostly in Malaysia, Singapore, and Thailand, contains a higher percentage of tin, usually 97.5% tin, 1% copper, and 1.5% antimony. This makes the alloy slightly softer

What I was thinking about is the shift of companies like GW & Wyrd to plastic due to economy of scale. And I get that CB aren't as big and have a wider catalogue of minis in a lot of respects so metal makes sense.

However what I don't know is if there is a limit to the detail you can get? Typically swords or knives on metal minis are chunkier because casting something that thin isn't really feasible. 

I ask because we're seeing 3D sculpted renders which then produce what are presumably master figures from which moulds are made. I know infinity is marketed as a 28mm metal miniatures game, but is metal the best choice of material when plastic is possible?

I'm not saying it is but more positing the question for discussion and food for thought!

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'When plastic is possible' is somewhat misleading. Wyrd only manage it commercially by having the production outsourced to China, and in terms of detail by having massively multi-piece models.

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All miniatures have a limit on detail, which is accounted for in the sculpting process (and sometimes have to be refined after the first few casts). Metal, resin and plastic can all achieve about the same amount of detail, but it takes much more work and structure to do it with plastics. As an example with some Wyrd models that I've worked with: The amount of cuts you need to put into the model to get crisp lines and the ability to do all of those thin little arms, swords and pistols is staggering. I've seen them cut up a woman's head into 3 parts, face, hair and back of the head, which then slots into the next, which then slots into the body. The front and back of the bodies are separate, with arms down to the elbows, which are separate pieces. The chest has a bit of detail, so that's another piece, and then both legs go on. Almost none of these pieces mate up with clean line (almost all of them have dips between the parts) and it's a ton of work to deal with, as removing mold lines from such fragile models can be difficult without damaging the little pieces. With CB's metals (which have been admitted to creeping up to 32mm, and almost 35mm in some cases), the whole model would be maybe 5 pieces (Body/leg, leg, arm, arm, head, throw in a backpack for 6). It's much less work and while they may not have the insanely thin pieces (which are also very easy to bend) as Wyrd does, they are still able to easily convey anything they need. As a note, I find Kingdom Death's plastic's much easier to work with than Wyrd's (Models with less cuts, less fragile, better mating), but you threw Wyrd's name out, so I would use that as an example.

 

As an example of how the ability to use thinner pieces is used, I'd like to bring up female models. CB's female characters a noticeably thinner (though still sturdy) and look great when placed next to a male model. Wyrd's look great next to the male's, but they are so fragile that I don't even like to handle them. GW's females are the size of males, and in some cases larger (looking at you dark elves). Also, swords and knives look like swords and knives for CB and Wyrd, even if CB's are just a bit thicker, which they account for with the style of blade. 

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Don't get me wrong I think that CBs minis are probably the best metal minis in terms of wargaming. And metal has an appeal and a timelessness all of its own. 

I know technology has improved since GW did metals (which were quite soft and 'rounded' looking).  PP has moved to some resin stuff but frankly their models are terrible given the competition.

17 minutes ago, IJW Wartrader said:

'When plastic is possible' is somewhat misleading. Wyrd only manage it commercially by having the production outsourced to China, and in terms of detail by having massively multi-piece models.

Can't fault you there Ian - if you google "yan lo's beard" you'll find a tonne of rage-hate for the tiny fiddly things!

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Oh, are we going to complain about Wyrd model's fiddlyness? Her'es my pet case that i've personally seen: This fella here is Burt Jebsen. Fun mini, homage to Jack Burton in Big Trouble in Little China. But you see, he's a gremlin. A tiny mini. Yet his goddamn 28mm head is split in three freaking pieces:

Spoiler

jPmmUxw.jpg

Three. Freaking. Pieces.

I may bitch about the fiddlyness of some CB minis once in a while, but not even the Dakinis are this much trouble.

 

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I think part of the reason CB still uses metal is that they already know how to work with it, have all the machinery and experienced people who work on it. If they switch to plastic they will have to learn everything from start, including miniature design ( harder to design a 3 piece head than single piece :-P ), and that would take so much time to learn. Also I think they get money from the state for hiring so many people, if they outsource production to China they would have to fire bunch of people which I think they are not willing to do. Starting production in plastic locally would take big investment and a period of learning, so that is another reason why I guess they would be reluctant to attempt it.

On the other hand, if they did switch to plastic they would probably increase profit in the long run. Especially if they continue to gain popularity world wide. And people are kinda used to plastic these days, I don't think any major company is doing metal miniatures any more. For a good reason.

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9 hours ago, Phototoxin said:

if you google "yan lo's beard" you'll find a tonne of rage-hate for the tiny fiddly things!

Eh, just dry-fit and don't use too much glue, and it'll be OK.

The Ashigaru can get bent though, despite being such simple models.

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Metal has several advantages as a production material over plastic and resin.

  • Can be done in house through spincasting so no need to outsource
  • No worries about bubbles in the cast due to the high density of the liquid metal
  • No limitations on detail due to lack of undercuts or no surface textures
  • No loss of material through wastage since miscasts and excess from casting can easily be re-used.

That said plastic casting technology is light years better than it was even 5 years ago and some of the Chinese companies are producing very high quality plastics that are pre assembled and match up to metals quite well. Look at the Guild Ball 2 player starter set as an example 

I don't know if CB would ever switch to plastics for the whole range since keeping things in house is a big part of their ethos and the casts would need to match the quality of metals to meet their standards.

However that's not to say they wouldn't have plastics for a potential future release that had a limited set of miniature sculpts needed in large quantities, at that stage it becomes all about the economies of scale.   

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CB labels warn about 5% lead (Pb) content.

Plastic is possible if you can put thousands into milling a mold. If the model flops, you have a nice block of steel or aluminium that is useless and only gets you some money as scrap. See how GW is launching games that reuse sprues. Going to China is becoming less and less viable. If you want quality, they want money, and warranties are what you would expect when playing abroad (sue them if something goes wrong? we are talking of a place that disallows foreign companies going beyond 49% and that plays the international postal agreements in their favour... :nope:).

As for chunkier... have you measured some knifes or katanas latelly? Or the damn antennas? Or the fingers of some models? Look for hackers and flipping the bird ones. Now, if what you mean is you want those parts to last after bouncing around in foam every week, that is a different thing.

280723-0630-miranda-ashcroft-authorized-

Unlimited Miranda, rifle end, katana and heels are tiny.

Plastic would be nice (joints as strong as the rest if you use the right "glue", no pinning), if not for some of the limitations it comes with.

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11 hours ago, Mob of Blondes said:

CB labels warn about 5% lead (Pb) content

As for chunkier... have you measured some knifes or katanas latelly? Or the damn antennas? Or the fingers of some models? Look for hackers and flipping the bird ones. Now, if what you mean is you want those parts to last after bouncing around in foam every week, that is a different thing.

280723-0630-miranda-ashcroft-authorized-

Unlimited Miranda, rifle end, katana and heels are tiny.

Plastic would be nice (joints as strong as the rest if you use the right "glue", no pinning), if not for some of the limitations it comes with.

Ah well I don't need Calcium ions in my brain anyway and I *always* lick my unpainted minis after a successful game!

I haven't seen that miranda - she's awesome! I've been out of the game for a bit due to new job/life commitments and am still assimilating the amazeballs red veil stuff and other releases.

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First of all, I know absolutely nothing about the casting of metal vs plastic mini's. As a customer I prefer metal. I like the feel and heft of metal miniatures. I would never fault CB for going plastic if they chose to do so and it won't change how i feel about the game or hobby. The newer miniatures CB is making are incredible. I just want more mini's to be released or re-sculpted... yesterday. Switching to plastic seems like it would slow them down and I'm going to be selfish and say that's the last thing i want. 

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5 hours ago, Phototoxin said:

I haven't seen that miranda - she's awesome! I've been out of the game for a bit due to new job/life commitments and am still assimilating the amazeballs red veil stuff and other releases.

Old miniatures also have tiny details. ;)

280502-0040-interventor-hacker.jpg

Classic Interventor Hacker with five separate fingers in one hand and the other hand with 4 groups. Hair.

280539-0246-bran-do-castro-triple-zero-d

Triple Zero with tail, hand and foot.

280348-0284-oniwaban-shinobu-kitsune-mon

Kitsune sword and scabbard. Or the damn ankle.

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31 minutes ago, Col said:

Plus CB are keeping things in house, plastic would mean outsourcing, likely to China but necessarily, and I really really respect their "do it local" ethos even if it means slightly higher prices.

Agreed. I'm a fan of employing more local people at the cost of a companies bottom line. Too many things tend to get sacrificed chasing every last scent. Paying more for a product from a company that does things right is worth it imo.

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53 minutes ago, Mob of Blondes said:

Old miniatures also have tiny details. ;)

280502-0040-interventor-hacker.jpg

I miss the times when minis could have separate fingers. Nowadays it's all Vulcan salute all the time. :(

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5 minutes ago, Pierzasty said:

I miss the times when minis could have separate fingers. Nowadays it's all Vulcan salute all the time. :(

The casters started complaining, apparently the individual fingers cause a disproportionate amount of miscasts.

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As a recent convert from all plastic models a la GW I am in awe of the detail these Infinity miniatures have. They are absolutely superb to look at in all respects. 

It is a learning curve, though. The ONLY thing I can say I prefer about plastic is the cement used and not sticking my fingers together, LOL. I've gotten proficient at filling gaps with Green Stuff so even that doesn't irk me anymore. I hate sticking myself to myself, though. LOL

I don't like working with resin at all. The problem with resin mostly is the molds deteriorate quickly and the detail in some of the models quickly disappears. That and how brittle it is to work with. Not a fan at all. 

Unless CB explodes in popularity I don't see them going plastic any time soon. The molds are a fortune. That being said, it would make for a much bigger bits market which I think CB needs. It would really help with their popularity, I think. Especially for the hobbyist that enjoys painting more than gaming. I'd LOVE to paint a whole fleet of the Orc Trooper than comes in the PanO Starter Box. That model is so cool! Alas, I'm not buying a whole box for one model. Even buying a single (if you can find one) is rather cost prohibitive. 

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Resin also has the issue of toxic dust!

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Dust is toxic. Metal, resin... wet sand (bonus: tools work better) or wear a mask.

As for brittle... many formulas out there. Some brands just go with the weak ones.

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Metal and resin mini's are always going to provide a higher standard of detail than plastic will. Even though GW's plastics are leaps and bounds ahead of where they were even 5 years ago, they still can't compare to the detail you see in FW, Infinity and Kingdom Death. The reason GW goes with plastic is because it's easier for making custom poses and models and even though those injection molds cost a fortune they last basically forever and can churn out thousands of casts for mass sale. Infinity doesn't produce nearly as many mini's(nor do they need to) so metal is a good option for them, providing long lasting molds with excellent detail. 

As for resin being brittle, GW's finecast is, but companies like KD and even FW produce high quality resin that is more durable. Honestly I think resin is a breeze to work with because it's very easy to bend a warped piece back into shape. 

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Wild West Exodus resin is terrible. Their casts lose detail quickly and it is extremely brittle. I might have just gotten a bad one, but was very disappointed. 

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One thing I liked about plastic was the opportunity to kit bash, convert, and create your own poses a lot more easily. But metal is pretty straightforwardly better for the reasons people have mentioned.

The spec ops blisters that offer an alt head and weapon options is pretty cool. I'd love to see slightly more of that, but without going overboard on too many options.

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6 hours ago, Col said:

I had a Magister Knight sword bend 90 degrees due to poor placement in foam, I was able to carefully straighten the blade and didn't even damage the paint! I doubt this would be possible with plastic and resin would have shattered and been a right pain to repair. 

I had a similar situation with Saito's Katana

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Some brands know how to select resin formulas. Check the sprue torture after 1:30. Some common plastics used for miniatures would have snapped.

 

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Hawk Wargames are truly masters of their craft, if only all producers were up to their standard.

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