It’s been a long road since our first ever 3D printed ship project back in 2018 with the Drake Kraken from CitizenCon. For that project we used “Grey Resin”; a high quality, standard product from Formlabs which was a great material to build experience with and perfect for a project of that scale. However, like the game that this project was born out of, we have learned new and important lessons that will serve to the creation of better, higher fidelity, more durable models.
Our first 3d printed props using Formlabs' "Grey" resin.
Our quest to improve on our kit models led us to exploring a range of resins which eventually led to our discovery of “Grey Pro” (again, from Formlabs) which resulted in much stronger, detailed parts; a step in the right direction. However, again proving to be more brittle than we would have preferred when it came down to the smaller parts of a kit model such as the guns, character fingers and other vulnerable elements. Since then, “Grey Pro” has also seen use in the body, roll bars and engines of the Dragonfly and all weapons on our Freelancer and Freelancer MAX model kits which has resulted in some beautiful painted replicas from the community.
By the time it came down to recreating the Tumbril Cyclone model kits, Formlabs had also been developing and improving and had released a couple more resins that we had the fortune to try out (It is worth noting that just to try a resin costs well over £300 due to the cost of tanks, resin, cartridges etc.). The first, named simply “Model Resin” is a retooled dental resin which was the same price as “Grey” but yielded much better surface quality and had much improved paintability over previous resins making it great for larger pieces such as ship hulls.
The second resin however has completely changed the game for us! By chance, another unrelated project came in and so we decided to put it to the test, and it must be said that this new resin is by far and away the biggest material step forward! This mystery resin goes by “Tough 2000”; it is an engineering resin equivalent of ABS plastics for machinery. We were blown away by the durability while retaining the excellent surface quality when used for the smaller and more delicate parts.
Our latest models, the Cyclone pair feature "Model" resin for the chassis, "Flexible" resin for the wheels and "Tough2000" for the guns and spoilers.
When used in tests, the “Tough 2000” resin had incredible material properties. Besides being shatter proof and displaying great plasticity (deformable), when dropped it bounces! As a result, guns, characters, ladders etc. on our ship and vehicle kits can take a lot more abuse before fatiguing!
What sets aside Star Citizen ships and vehicles and its subsequent model kits from that of other Pop Fiction Sci-Fi is that in the case of the latter, most of those ships are designed from day 1 to be models; in the early stages of the film and tv industry and even past the turn of the millennium, the luxury of using CGI for elaborate and workable ships in their scenes was near non-existent and so models had to come first. Nearly all ships were made with practical effects, resulting in smooth and highly manufacturable ships, the epitome of which (in our opinion) being Star Trek’s many hulls.
The Galaxy-class Enterprise D from Star Trek vs. The UEES Stanton from Star Citizen. The difference in ship complexity is apparent.
As stated before, Star Citizen is the complete opposite in this regard; from miniscule aerofoils to protruding guns and more, the necessary approach to creating Star Citizen model kits is more akin to real life planes which are designed with functionality in mind. When we set out with this project, our goal was to make the Ultimate kit model, complete with interchangeable guns, flight modes where necessary etc. just like in the game. For this, we had to model each weapon separately which means no ‘cheating’ by fusing everything to the hull. The “Tough 2000” resin makes this task a much more user-friendly experience.
But does this mean we have to redo the older kits? As it turns out, no. All the resins described earlier do a fine job when it comes to the hulls of ships. Because we set out initially to make our kits as modular as possible, the more fragile pieces of a kit are easily replaceable. We want to do our absolute darndest to ensure that early adopters to our project are not disadvantaged for supporting early and so if we redo particular parts in the future, you can expect to be covered by our already existing part replacement policies.