Model Railroading – 3D Printing A Complete Game Changer
Model railroaders have different reasons for getting involved in the hobby, some like collecting as many different locomotives as possible while others prefer to build layouts from scratch over and over again. Being able to exert a high level of customization on your own layout design is what makes model railroading a creative and enjoyable pursuit.
However often times you might find yourself with a particular layout design that you really want to build, but are unable to find the scenery and model trains to do so. In addition you do not have the crafting skills to create your own components and are not very enthusiastic about learning them. In such cases model railroading can start losing some of its appeal, because you feel like you are stuck creating generic layouts whereas you really want to impose a high level of customization.
Consider the following scenario, you watch a movie that includes an action sequence on a train. This gives you an idea for a new layout. The scenery components that you have in mind are very specific and are vital in order to create the atmosphere you want. Your search for the scenery components at your regular online and offline stores returns item that are a close match to what you have in mind, but not close enough.
At this point you have probably lost some enthusiasm for the project and are considering calling it quits. Now if you had a 3D printer in this scenario you could manufacture the exact scenery components you are after all by yourself at home. This new and evolving technology is a complete game changer for model railroading fans, read on to find out what 3D printing is and how it affects our hobby.
An overview of 3D printing
3D printing is a process of creating solid objects from a digital file. This is achieved using an additive process where the three dimensional object is created by the addition of successive layers. This is a complete contrast from traditional methods where you start with more material than you need and remove layers in order to arrive at your desired object. Depending on the printer, the materials used are typically powder or liquid plastic. The time taken to print out your average scenery components would be a couple of hours.
3D printers are linked up to computer aided design (CAD) software where the digital representation of your layout components can be created and stored.
Currently a rapidly developing technology
At this point in time 3D printing is under heavy development and has not yet reached the mainstream marketplace in the model railroading industry or any other. As a result the price of the 3D printer and the materials it uses can be out of reach for some model railroaders. However as more companies start to take notice of this new technology, competition will increase and prices will go down.
While some 3D printers are very expensive costing in the region of $10,000 there are more accessible versions to the everyday model railroader at around the $700 price point. Additionally you do not have to actually buy the equipment and materials yourself. You can submit your CAD drawings to companies such as Shapeways that will print the layout components for you.
3D Printing is not without its limits
The initial cost of the 3D printing equipment can be an issue, however there is a more fundamental one which is the resolution of the printer. The resolution in this context is to what degree of detail an object can be printed. A lack of resolution can make the model railroad scenery look unimpressive, especially if you decide to lean in for a closer look.
The scale that you are modelling in will be a big factor when deciding if the resolution limitations are a problem. For example the bigger O scale will not be as badly affected as the smaller N scale. In light of this you do not need to do something drastic like start modelling in a scale that is bigger to what you usually prefer. Like mentioned earlier this technology is rapidly developing and in the coming years the resolution level will only get better.
Fund your hobby
Model railroading can be a very expensive hobby at times. Some locomotive models can set you back hundreds of dollars. Manufacturing your own scenery for the purpose of selling using 3D printing will allow you to raise some funds. In turn you can spend more on your hobby without the felling of guilt that you are recklessly spending hard earned money. Selling your creations might seem like a daunting prospect at first, you might think “why would anyone want to buy anything I make?”. However if you study the model railroading marketplace you can potentially come up with a number of scenery components that caters to a wide range of buyers.
Do you really require a 3D printer ?
Making the decision to invest in a 3D printer not only requires an investment of money, but also of skill. Unless you plan to use design companies to draw the objects for you, some effort to educate yourself in how to draw using CAD software will be required. For some of you this might be a potentially significant obstacle, one that you are not very interested in overcoming.
An increasing number of model railroad enthusiasts enjoy crafting the scenery themselves using more traditional methods such as wood carving and painting. Eliminating this process can take away a lot of the appeal of why they decided to get into the hobby in the first place. If you find yourself in such a group of people then 3D printing might not be best suited for you.
However if you are running out of options in terms of sourcing new components for your layouts and are willing to try something new then 3D printing should be given some consideration. Being aware of all the different tools and methods out there to create your layouts can only be to your advantage.