How We Made Our Custom Miniatures

In this article, we’ll detail the process that we underwent in order to create the miniatures in our Custom Miniatures Sample Kit.

For aspiring miniatures or custom piece creators, this information can be a valuable tool to learn from the process we underwent. It’s our hope that our experience will help you be more knowledgeable and more efficient in the creation of your pieces. 

The pieces that we used for our miniatures are based on characters that we originally created for our Card Game Sample Kit. We loved the idea of creating Ninja characters based on a trading card game look and feel. 

Below you’ll see the original sketches, the colored artwork and the work that was formatted into the card artwork. These beautiful cards were created by our talented staff ninjas Elle Opitz and Jeff Zwirek. 

We later developed our Board Game Sample Packet and used our “Ninjamon” characters again for that sample, but this time we wanted to create 3 Dimensional versions of them. You can find the miniatures depicted in this article in both our Board Game Sample Packet and our Custom Pieces Sample Packet. 

Original Designs from our Card Sample Packet

We wanted 4-5 miniatures made and identified the designs that would be best suited for miniatures with our Board Game Sample Packet.

We then had a designer make some sculptures of the drawings. (Elle Opitz again)


Unfortunately, when we sent these to our manufacturer they explained that 3D scans of these sculptures would create models more complex than if their staff artists created sculptures in a 3D environment from flat reference drawings.  They kept the sculptures as a reference, but it was a lesson about the complex nature of creating miniatures and how the design of the figures must account for how they are created to maintain cost control.

We moved onto the next step and sent them 2-D turnaround drawings of the characters that didn’t get sculptures.

The miniatures manufacturer then took these designs and created 3-D models in a CAD (Computer Aided Design) program. 

Generally, these looked great, however, there was some miscommunication and mistakes that required improvements for several areas. For example, the Ninjamon were not depicted with bases outside of the Dragon.

The largest piece, the dragon (Swagerad, for those taking notes at home) was noted as 35mm. This character was meant to be twice as large as the others, so it should have been 70 mm.  Also, the turtle character (ChaiBeard) was missing his legs. We sent back images that had correction annotations on them to help with the communication.

1st Round Of Revisions

For the rabbit, we asked that the ridges on his ears and tail be turned into just lines instead of a raised dimension. Also, the connection of the tail to the backside looked unnatural. We asked for the base of the tail to be wider and connect up the back smoother.

Printninja Ninjamon Process
 For the purple character (Growbak), his beak seemed to be completely misinterpreted. The manufacturers gave him something like a smushed nose instead of a duckbill effect. We did not provide a complete turnaround set of drawings for this design since we had the sculpture made, but in retrospect, if we did that, we would have saved a lot of time and money. 

Printninja Ninjamon Process


A higher angle allowed us to show the shape of the beak better. We also pointed out a strange ridge on the wrist.

The Radish Princess was very close but the proportions and features were slightly off. We indicated the shape of the head to be wider and to position, the tip of her head should be centered. We also noted the eyes needed a more specific curve and the mouth was placed a little too low. 

At this point in the process, extra care to detail is really important. The better you can communicate the changes you’d like, the better they will be able to capture the likeness you are after. 

Swagerad needed the most work. His facial features weren’t quite right, so we asked for the eyes to be larger.

The V-shaped ornament on his helmet wasn’t pronounced enough The way the head and neck intersected needed harder lines, while his jawline was too strong.

It needed to flow into the neck with a softer transition. The angles on the helmet were also slightly off and needed adjustment.  The body position was too static and needed to have a more defined S-shaped curve flowing from the neck through the body. 

Printninja Ninjamon Process

Swagerad was the most complex character and thus required the most attention to detail and time. The original artwork left a lot to be interpreted into a 3-dimensional form. In large part, they did an excellent job on the first attempt, but we wanted everything to be perfect. We sent these revisions along and they made adjustments and sent updated files. 

2nd Round of Revisions

We decided to take the files of the revisions into photoshop and make revisions there to emulate the final effect we wanted more successfully. This was a much easier way for us to get exactly what we wanted. We were able to adjust the files with as much control as we wanted to really nail all the details.  

Our edits were on the left here with the new update from the manufacturer on the right. 

Printninja Ninjamon Process
Same for the Vegetable Princess (Vidahlia). Our update on the left. Revision from the vendor on the right.

They did a better job of getting the beak on Grobawk, but it was too poofy and round. Noted it should be more of a duckbill.

Adjusted the tail in several angles to communicate that better. 

3rd Round of Revisions

This round looked great. Everything we asked for looked perfect except for a minor change with Swagerad. We sent the manufacturer a PSD file with layers to highlight the new changes. This included slightly altering the eyes again. The new vendor image on the left. Our adjustment on the right. 

Once this was done we approved them for prototyping. The prototyping is a 3-D printed sample. The vendor was also going to paint the dragon sample, so we needed to provide them with Pantone colors to match the colors in the original art. We chose 4 colors: blue, metallic gold, brown, and red.

1st Round of Prototypes (Validation Proofs)

It took about 2 weeks for those to get printed and arrive at our office. This was a very exciting day! 

The first thing we noted was that the scale was not quite right. The dragon was supposed to be twice the size of the standard miniature size of 35mm so we expected the dragon to be 70 mm. He was more like 110mm. This was an error on the vendor’s side. (Good thing the prototyping process is required!)

We also did not take relative sizes into account – a rookie move on our part. We adjusted the size of the individual characters to work more harmoniously with each other. We needed to validate with the vendor though if that would not cause an issue with fitting within the tool. Luckily this wasn’t an issue. 

We photoshopped this image to see what the relative scale would look like before sending the request back to the vendor. We shrunk down the turtle to around 27 mm. Since he’s in a sitting position and a squat design, he looked too large in relation to the other characters. 

Conversely with the rabbit, since he was so slight and had tall ears, he looked too small. We increased his size to more like 40 mm. 

We also adjusted the position of Grobawk so he had a better balance in relation to the base. 

Finally, Swagerad was scaled down to closer to 70 mm. We also inquired if some of the details on the dragon could be sharper. There were a lot of rounded edges that we wanted to see come to more of a point.  We also didn’t like the paint job on the mouth and wanted his tummy a bit thinner, with the armor following a tighter line to the leg. We photoshopped our pictures to show exactly what we wanted in terms of the finer points and slighter dimensions. All of these details were in the digital file, so it was again our rookie mistake not to pay more attention to those issues in the digital version. Making another round of edits and prototype cost us time and money.

In general, the prototypes looked incredibly close to the 3-D models. The only other design that we asked for more work on was Grobawk whose beak was still not quite right and only evident upon seeing it in person. This was poor visualization and planning on our part. We should have spent more time adjusting the digital version before getting the prototypes made.

Printninja Ninjamon Process
We made more photoshop edits with better control of the angle to really show what we wanted. 

This is the original sculpt. We wanted to get rid of the hard edge down the middle and transform this from a beak to a duckbill. This actually looked just like some of the earlier revisions we made, but we changed our thinking on it when we saw the final printed piece. We also wanted the direction of the feathers on top of the head to be more in line with the center of the whole head.

Printninja Ninjamon Process

2nd Round of Prototyping

We received new prototypes of the adjustments. 

These were slightly different. They were 3-D printed, but these did not get a secondary process of a final smoothing and sanding. They also didn’t get a coat of primer so the details are a bit harder to see in photos, but this was cheaper than going through all the secondary processes again. Typically the secondary processes are only provided once to save costs.  

This version of the prototypes is cheaper and faster to produce, so it was a good choice for the second round of physical prototypes. 

All the adjustments we asked for looked great! We were really happy with all the designs at this point.

The only thing we needed to check on was one area of the helmet. It was unclear if this area was misinterpreted or if there was some shipping damage. 

This turned out to be shipping damage. Everything else looked great so we approved these changes and entered into production.

Pre-Production Samples

At this point, the vendor created the tools for our designs and generated a small batch of samples before beginning the final production. These will look nearly identical in nearly every way to the final product.  

These looked exactly as we expected. Another exciting day in the office! 

We approved the production of these and they began manufacturing.

 In Tandem we were also creating the printed products that would contain the miniatures. Once the production was completed, the miniatures were sent over to our printing partners to be kitted into the Board Game Sample, and the Custom Pieces Sample Packets. 

Board game sample in the box

Custom miniatures inside the box with a white background


All in all, while it took a massive effort to create these projects, the final product met and exceeded our expectations in many ways. There is nothing quite like bringing a design into the 3 dimensional realm. 

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