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Cleaning and Curing Your 3D Printed Miniatures

Once your miniatures are printed, you need to clean them up and cure them. This is the step where most miniatures are ruined by left over uncured resin that cures into the recesses of your miniature. Don’t skimp on this step.

Removal from Build Plate

Your print needs to stick to the build plate, which means a longer exposure time for the first few layers. This also means you will likely have some difficulty removing the print.

Most printers come with a small plastic scraper for this purpose, but I have found them to be inadequate in many cases. If you use a stainless steel scraper that is wider than your build plate, you will have an easier time removing your prints. It’s important that the scraper is wider than your build plate, so the corner doesn’t gouge the surface. Use a shallow angle and slide it under your prints until they come loose.

Many will caution against using a metal scraper, but they have worked well for me. If you don’t have the steadiest of hands, a high quality plastic scraper will still get the job done. They will be damaged over time and need replacing fairly often though.

Support Removal

Removing supports is usually best done before cleaning your prints to ensure a uniform cure. Using a good pair of flush cutters, just snip them off near the print. I prefer not to get too close to the print, however, as it’s a lot easier to remove a tiny nub from a cured print than it is to fill in a tiny hole.

Cleaning

You should have a cleaning station set up nearby for when your prints come out of the printer. Don’t delay on this step, as ambient light in the room can start to slowly cure whatever resin is still stuck to the print. Your cleaning station should be two or three containers, graduating from dirtiest to cleanest. These containers should have airtight lids to control odor and evaporation.

Cleaning agents are mostly a matter of personal preference. Isopropyl Alcohol (IPA) is recommended by manufacturers but, if you’re like me, the fumes are a harsh and trigger migraines. Other options are Denatured Alcohol, Simple Green, Mean Green and LA’s Totally Awesome. In my experience, they all clean about the same. I have tried them all and have seen no discernible difference in my prints, but my personal preference is LA’s Totally Awesome. I’m sensitive to smells and it doesn’t affect me at all. It’s also a mild yellow color, which makes it easy to see your prints in the container. Best of all, it’s a Dollar Tree brand and dirt cheap, so you don’t have to worry about how often you replace it.

Additionally, if you hollowed your miniature, you may need to remove the uncured resin from inside. I know many will leave it be and allow it to cure over time, but I don’t know the long term effects of doing so and prefer to remove it. Usually, I add holes while slicing the models to allow it to drain, but these can often be plugged. Using a small drill bit, you can either unplug these holes or simply drill new ones. I have used a Dremel and even a drill to do this, but it doesn’t give me enough control to avoid ruining my miniatures. Instead I use a pin vise to drill them out.

Be sure to create two holes in areas that will be easy to fill in or hide later. Two holes will allow free flowing cleaner through the model. Dip the entire print under water until air bubbles stop coming out, then drain it. Do this several times. Intermittently, fill it only a little bit, cover the holes with your fingers and shake the miniature to remove as much uncured resin as possible.

Once you have your prints in the bath of cleaner, use a toothbrush to get any uncured resin out of the nooks and crannies. Resin is sticky and likes to find it’s way into any crevice it can find. Try to find an extra soft toothbrush for this job, as your print is not fully cured and quite soft. A firm toothbrush may leave scratch marks on the surface. Clean it well and rinse it multiple times, then move to the next container of less contaminated cleaner and repeat the process. This might seen redundant, but you’d be surprised how much resin is still stuck to your print. A third container of cleaner that is fresh for every print is optimal if you want the highest detail from your prints. This is important for miniatures with a lot of tiny details.

Proper Curing of UV Resin

You will need a place to cure your prints. Many in the hobby simply set them outside to cure in the daylight. It works, but is far from optimal. UV Resin cures around the 405 nm range, which is just on the visible side of the UVA spectrum. The sun definitely provides that, but it also provides a lot of UVB that is damaging to the resin. You likely wouldn’t notice the difference, but the strength of the piece would be compromised. Since so many miniatures are dropped at some point or another, I think it’s important to make them as strong as possible.

To maintain the integrity of your miniatures, I would suggest a dedicated curing box. This can be as simple as a cardboard box with a UV lamp inside, to a dedicated UV cure box purchased online. If you choose to build on yourself, just follow these general guidelines;

  • Find a lamp that emits UVA in the 405 nm range. Don’t get the strongest lamp you can find, as this is a case of slow and steady wins the race. You may notice that UV Resin manufacturers talk about the low shrinkage of their products. The amount of shrinkage is neglible to end users, as most would never notice any difference in size after curing. It is important when it comes to curing though. As the surface of the print cures, it shrinks around the resin beneath it. If this happens too quickly, it can create microfractures that will make your print more brittle. A low power UV lamp will allow it to cure more evenly.
  • Find a proper container to house your curing station. I use a large stainless steel pot that I purchased at a thrift store for a couple bucks. The polished stainless steel works as a great reflector to ensure my prints are curing evenly. If you choose a non-reflective container, I would suggest lining it with aluminum foil. I advise against using mirrors, as the reflective coating is on the back part of the glass and glass filters out a good portion of UV light.
  • Submerge your printed miniatures in water while curing. The water creates an oxygen barrier, which prevents oxidation on the surface of the resin. That oxidation can cause your cured prints to be sticky and brittle. While tapwater is adequate, using distilled water is preferred. I couldn’t find any data on the specifics, but a chemist friend warned me that tapwater can have all sorts of things in it that may adversely affect resin. “May” is obviously the keyword here, but I tend to err on the side of caution. Do you know how flouride or chlorine affects uncured resin? Neither do I. It’s best to use a clear plastic container for this, as glass will block a lot of the UV light.
  • (Optional) Use a small jewelry turntable to spin your prints for even exposure to the UV. These are cheap on Amazon, usually costing under $10. I find the solar powered versions to be great additions to a curing station.

Curing your printed miniatures doesn’t take long at all. Ten minutes in a curing chamber is more than likely sufficient, however, I would suggest longer times for large models or those that were not hollowed out. If curing multiple miniatures at the same time, try not to let them touch or they may stick together.

Connecting Multiple Pieces

After your miniatures are cured, some may need to be assembled. The best adhesive I have found is simple CA glue(Super Glue). The bond is so pervasive, I have broken miniatures in half trying to fix a bad joint. The only drawback to using CA glue with resin is that is doesn’t dry as fast as it does on other materials. Investing in a bottle of activator is highly recommended. It’s inexpensive and a quick spray will cure the joint in just a couple seconds.

An equally effective alternative is to apply a small layer of uncured resin from the bottle to the joint and use a UV light to cure it. It becomes a permanent bond, but then you’re working with uncured resin.

Fixing Dimples, Zits and Gaps

One of the best things about UV resin is how easy it is to file, sand and fill in the gaps. A simple set of jewelry files will serve you well. Just be careful, because it’s very easy to remove too much material. If you’re used to cleaning up miniatures from your FLGS, you will want to be especially careful with resin so you don’t overdo it.

Gap filling, on the other hand, has been a mixed bag for me. I’ve always used Liquid Green Stuff for tiny cracks and Vallejo Plastic Putty for larger gaps, but neither likes to bond to resin quite as well as they do to other materials. Don’t get me wrong, they still work, but I’ve had better luck applying them after priming the miniature.

If you want to save some money though, I’ve found that Kwik Seal Plus works wonderfully on resin miniatures. It adheres well and will fill the largest crack, but it’s not easy to manipulate once it’s dry. Primer is also necessary, in my experience, as some paints don’t like to stick to it.

Once you’ve come this far, you’re ready to paint, play or display. Enjoy your miniatures. 🙂

Tools List

Cleaner
Simple Green Industrial Cleaner and Degreaser
99% Isopropyl Alcohol (Pack of 12) 99% Isopropyl Alcohol Single Bottle

Scraper, Putty Knife
– Stainless Steel – DEWALT Stainless Steel Putty Knife Knife, 5-Inch
– Plastic – 4 Pieces Plastic Putty Knife Set

Flush Cutters
– Hardened Steel – Hakko CHP TR-5000-R Pro Macro
– Standard – IGAN-330 Wire Flush Cutters

UV Lamp
– Flood Style – UV LED Flood Light 10W Waterproof
– Strip Style – 24 Watts UV Black Light LED Strip

Turntable
Solar Display Stand Turntable

Jeweler’s Files
TACKLIFE 11 Pcs Diamond Needle File Set

Cyanoacrylate Glue
– Glue – Bob Smith Industries Insta-Cure Super Glue
– Accelerator – Bob Smith Industries Super Glue Accelerator

Gap Filler
Vallejo Plastic Putty
Games Workshop Citadel Liquid Green Stuff

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