In the beginning the world was dark and void, and there weren’t any minis. God saw this, thought we can’t have that, and promtly created them. Then he had to make a whole universe to give his tiny creations a bit of relevance, but that’s another story. What I’m getting to in a very round a bout manner, is that for a long time there was really only one material toy solidiers and miniatures were made out of, metal. Generally lead, then lead based alloys, and finally lead free pewter.
But metal has disadvantages. Chiefly, it’s getting more and more expensive. It’s also heavy, so transporting it about is getting more expensive too. Wouldn’t it be great if there was someting cheaper and lighter to make the minis out of ?
Plastic was the obvious choice, but compared to metal casting the tooling costs are extreamly expensive. So many small manufacturers have gone down the resin casting route. Now resin is light, takes detail very well and is cost effective. It can be a bit brittle, especially in thin sections, but generally is good for small batch production. The moulds wear quickly though, so frequest re-moulding is a must.
Then came 3D printers. Firstly filiment and then those clever ones that use UV light to cure just tiny layers in a bath of liquid resin. These ‘prints’ take a bit of washing and extra curing and are another string to the bow of the small manufacturer. By now you’re probably thinking ‘ surly there can’t be any more ways to make a mini ?’ Well I thought so too, then Siocast said ‘ hold my beer ‘.
A New Way
I’ll qualify this first by saying they haven’t paid me to write this, neither have Reaper. I’m also a metal minis fan. But I like to road test what I sell in the shop, and having done the same with Bones and Bones Black, I wanted to see what this material was like. But it’s not just a material, no sir, this is a new way of making plastic minis too.
Siocast are a Spanish company, who I first heard of when they wrote to me explaining their product. I’m not much of a mini producer, and explained this to them while wishing them well. Didn’t think too much more about them until I started to see Reaper were starting to produce plastic minis in-house at their Texas HQ. This is a big change as up to now both Bones and Bones Black have been made in China, and shipped over to Denton. This can create a problem when their stocks of a popular miniature run out. It can take a while for new stock to arrive. But if you can make your own in house ?
Reaper have bought into the Siocast system and have started producing their Bones USA range using it. As you can see from the video above, it works like a traditional two part mould for metal casting, except it’s not round. Warlord and Creature Caster have also invested in the technology, so it’s clearly causing quite a bit of interest. I beleive the Siocast system costs in the tens of thousands to buy, and you have to buy the spacial casting plastic from them. This makes it much more expensive than metal spin casting, but quite a bit cheaper than plastic injection moulding.
Bones USA Roadtest
So enought about the tech, what’s the end result like. Well I was curious so I popped a Bones USA mini out of it’s blister and painted it up. The one I settled on was the ReaperCon special edition miniature, the Mousling pirates. Fun little sculpt and something very different from the Ral Partha Legacy giant trolls that I had worked on previously.
The plastic isn’t shiny, which is good and goes someway towards their boast of not needing priming. it was a pretty clean cast with not much of a mould line to remove. I found a file worked better on this stuff than regular bones, but as always, a sharp craft knife wirks best of all. The plastic is still flexible, but not as rubbery as traditional Bones, another good point. So I decided to test the priming point further by just priming half of the mini to see if it made any difference. I used Reaper’s white primer with a little flow improver to thin it down a bit. Primer should help the paint to stick, not be thick enough to obscure detail.
Everything Except the Kitchen Sink
To be as fair as possible, I used every paint brand I own on these. Reaper MSP and Bones Ultra, Citadel Contrast, Scale Colour and Model Colour inks. Everything worked fine. Even the metallic Green Stuff World Chameleon Emerald Getaway for the rum bottle behaved really well. I found the details to be crisper than ordinary Bones. The unprimed surface made no difference, and the whole experience was rather enjoyable. I’m an old school metal head when it comes to miniatures, but as with Bones Black, this Bones USA isn’t bad. My only real gripe is that I think this sculpt was a computer generated digital affair. The angles on the admiral mousling’s coat are very sharp and a bit too pronounced, but that’s probably just me being picky.
So what now ? Well with metal prices getting ever more expensive, and metal being heavier to transport, I can see the Siocast system being popular. Yes it’s more expensive than 3D printing, but it’s quicker and less messy which is a boon to a small producing business. It brings plastic manufacturing much nearer the reach of the smaller business, and could well become something offered by the larger metal casters.