Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Review of Shapeways model - British Boarhound armoured car

My experience to date of 3D printing has been CGD models - for example see my posts on the British A39 Tortoise and the American T28, and also the Calliope turrets. I will first provide some views of CGD by way of context and for later comparison. They keep changing their material - and I note it has recently changed again since I last bought anything (now more smooth). The Calliope turrets had excellent detail but extremely grainy. Later materials have been fine on detail in general (although not quite so detailed on the new Calliope turrets) and have been much smoother. Although there are two issues with CGD for the models I have bought:

  • while smoother than their first efforts there is still a kind of light ridging effect on the models which I guess is a consequence of the printing process. This is actually easily removed by sanding or filing the model and it sands down without a great deal of effort - although can be difficult to get in to some parts of the model. So this is not an issue I have too much of a problem with as easily rectified;
  • the models come with a massive amount of sprue attached and all closely packed (e.g. from rear of vehicle). This is a pain to remove as the material is a bit glass like and hence it is quite likely that a bit of the model comes away when the sprue is cut off no matter how careful you are - and because there is so much (could be 15 or more bits) and closely packed it is actually difficult to see what is part of the model. So some work with Milliput or the like is needed to repair any damage.
The new material (which I don't have any of yet) may sort the first problem but actually it is the second that is the biggest pain and the thing that has stopped me doing the CDG models I have waiting to do as the sheer effort involved is a bit off putting (when I have many other things to do that do not require such heavy preparation).

I have occasionally scouted around on the Shapeways site. But my experience with CDG, the many different material options for Shapeways that can get very expensive (and what is good enough?), plus high postage compared to model price has stopped me trying anything. Over the summer they had a free postage option and with my birthday coming up I decided to treat myself. I got 3 British Boarhound armoured cars in "Transparent Acrylic: Firm translucent plastic with a smooth surface and rubbery feel." and one Polikarpov I-153 in "White Strong & Flexible: White nylon plastic with a matte finish and slight grainy feel.". I went for the cheaper option for the plane as my main interest is vehicles and did not fancy spending a lot on an item that would only make an occasional appearance in games and would probably not be on display in between.

I have fancied the idea of Boarhounds ever since I saw them in the Flames of War Mid-War Monsters book. They just looked cool and were actually made and used - although not really in combat roles but then they could have been. When I got them, a week later than first suggested but they did email me about the delay, I was actually quite pleased. No sprue other than a tiny bit for the wheels so unlike CGD no horrendous preparation time. Pictures as they came out of the box:

Very difficult to see the surfaces due to the transparent material but they looked smooth. However, after spraying with the undercoat I realised that the flat horizontal surfaces were smooth but the vertical and curved surfaces were far from smooth. I did not take any photos until I had applied lots of paint but I was sent 4 turrets for the 3 vehicles so later on I put a bit of paint on the unused one to try and show the issue:

Very difficult to get a good picture but the sides of the turret (and the vertical and curved parts of the main body) are all like they have been cut from something like MDF and a slightly rough cut at that. Actually getting paint on was quite an effort as it would not flow as a result of the surface. It took about 4 coats or so before it could be painted at all normally and I ended up with 15 to 20 coats on the final models with acrylic paint to try and build up a reasonably smooth surface.

When I got an email a week or so after delivery asking me to rate the models and I gave 1 out of 10 they did contact me and refunded the cost of the Polikarpov I-153 in the end as a token gesture. Since then I was able to show the extra turret I managed to get a full refund even though the above pictures were not enough to properly show the problem - I am left wondering if this was a printing problem or this is really what the supposed "smooth finish" is really like. For about £11 a model I can't say I am impressed if that is the case. Weirdly the cheaper option on the Polikarpov I-153 looks much better - here is an unpainted version - I have put on a first coat and much easier to get paint on and the finish is the same everywhere on the model, but more when it is done.

While putting on my many coats of acrylic on the Boarhounds I was far form convinced they would look OK right up until the final stages. Below a model with the basic paint job done and then one with the finishing touches (wash in Games Workshop Agrax Earthshade, dry brush of Games Workshop Snakebite Leather and mud effect and decals).

The version with just the basic paint job does not look great but the wash and dry brush etc. makes a huge difference - always the case but even more so on these models.

So here are the final models after lots of coats of paint, weathering and decals and basing. They do at least look the part which, as noted above, I was far from sure about until the final stages of painting. The awful surface does not stand out from any sort of a reasonable distance - although with so many coats of paint they were far slower to do than I though when I got them.

They are huge. A comparison with an AEC mark II below (Pithead model). I did wonder if the pattern was not quite to a proper 1/144 scale but then checking out the page on the Flames of War site they are actually pretty huge and if you Google Boarhound armoured cars and see pictures of the real ones with people around them they are massive.


So even though the final models look quite good - unless you look very closely - for the price I would not say they are good value for money. If I want something unusual I would rather pay a bit more and get a quality resin kit (not sure that is an option for Boarhounds mind you). Compared to CGD there is much less in terms of preparation time but once prepared CGD take paint very well and look very good and have much better detail. Perhaps the even more expensive options for Shapeways are smoother and better detailed but I am certainly not going to risk it at over £22 for ultra detail (and would not pay that for a single vehicle anyway). Other models may be better but I don't think this is the design rather the printing method so I am not going to try anything else. To be fair to Shapeways the customer service was excellent even if I was far from impressed with the models - very proactive after poor feedback. I really wish I knew if I was unlucky or this is the normal quality but I suspect I may never know now.

For an easy way to see all my WW2 posts check out the WW2 Summary page.

1 comment:

  1. The issues you have faced are normal on vertical surfaces for this style of printing. I should know as I'm a professional modelmaker and we have this style of printer at work. To get a nice smooth finish we have to paint the model, then sand it down wet, which helps to get rid of the waxy support material, which is the stuff that cuases the grainy surface. Then we paint it again and then sand it down dry as the materials are quite hygroscopic and so swell slightly, giving a layered finish. Dry sanding gets around this. then we paint it again and generally you have a good surface to work from. So as you can see a lot of time and effort involved:(.