Hand-Made Collector’s Edition Dice
D20: A Journey of Dice
As some of you may know, I’ve been working on these 20-sided (or “D20”) dice for approximately three years. What many of you may not know is the number of hurdles that I had to overcome in order to achieve this success. The journey, as you will soon discover, was definitely an interesting one and allowed me to reach a much higher level of creative freedom.
So, why on Earth would I want to create a 20-sided dice from scratch? Well, there were many reasons for this, one of which being able to learn the processes involved so I could produce other products in the future. By working on something at such a small scale, I could in turn figure out the limits and benefits of using certain materials. While some of this information is confidential, a good amount of it is common knowledge.
The second reason is that I really enjoy playing games such as “Dungeons and Dragons” (or DND), and “Magic the Gathering”, when I have time to do so.
The last and main reason is that I enjoy a good challenge, and boy did this project fulfil this requirement! I can definitely say that there were a good number of “rage quit” days involved. In the end, I always came back to the project the next day.
So, what was the first step? I needed to know what type of limitations I would face, and the best way to find out was to produce a version made using traditional sculpting techniques. This way, I could learn what steps might be involved before investing in more heavy machinery or supplies. I went full DIY for this portion. I created the initial set of dice by folding somewhat thick pieces of plastic and using extraordinarily small pieces of tape to hold the parts together.
At this point, I hadn’t quite figured out how I would be adding the numbers, since they had to be so small to begin with. I tried a couple of methods, including carving them out, but they weren’t as accurate as I had hoped. Instead, I continued working on the main shapes.
Once I had my scale at the right dimensions, I then worked on making the mould. For this, I used the traditional silicone caulking method, which I mixed with corn starch and solvent. However, this had severe limitations. The main issue with making moulds with this type of material is that they have a tendency to shrink substantially if you dilute them with too much solvent. A more liquid consistency is definitely preferred, because it allows for the material to enter all of the small pockets.
I also tried using the silicone with dish-washing soap, and this produced quite a few air bubbles. For me, this was unacceptable. Admittedly, I salvaged the dice from this test and tried to finish them by hand, using nail polish and epoxy putty to fill out any holes. Once the main areas were filled in, I then sanded and polished them to a semi-gloss. It was at this point that I realized just how much the balance of the actual object could be changed if you sanded the dice too much, and attempted to minimize this in future attempts.
After making a couple of these dice, I knew enough about some of the problems I was going to face, and ordered my first 3D printer. The machine that I had ordered was definitely not a great pick, and although I learned a lot about how the machine worked, I would never buy from such a company in the future. For anyone misled to believe that using a 3D printer is as easy as hitting a button, I can safely say that they have never owned one themselves!
At this point in the video, there’s a significant amount of work to be done in calibrating the printer to achieve usable results. This poor machine forced me to learn how to solder wiring to fix circuitry, replace power supplies, swap out motherboards, fix power switches, and recalibrate firmware from scratch. And not to mention learn how to model and print with the required 3D software! I also learned not to purchase a machine that didn’t have all of the circuitry enclosed, since this can definitely be an electrical hazard. This first machine is currently completely dead, and I had to get a replacement from a different company, with a warranty. Most of these initial stages occurred within a year and a half of work. I had by this point gone through approximately eight kg spools worth of filament, with approximately over 1,800 hours of work. With my new machine, I was finally able to get more reliable prints, and the process definitely improved greatly.
The next main hurdle was to figure out how to create a proper mould for the dice and settle on a method to use. There are many techniques, and each method has its pros and cons. The next year of this project was purely experimenting with these techniques as well as the materials I planned to use. While the primary materials normally involved are silicone and liquid latex, these aren’t necessarily the only ones available. Each of these has different characteristics which are unique and more suitable, depending on the application and materials being cast. In the end, I found the right material for my needs and have stuck with it since.
A big roadblock I now faced was getting the proper orientation and finding solutions to remove air bubbles within the castings. These air bubbles were very difficult to eliminate, and took months of research and development before I found reproducible results. In the end, using a pressure pot and instead of a degassing chamber was the solution that worked for me.
By this point, I was pretty much ready to begin production. However, a new type of resin came into the market. This resin was far less toxic in nature, and would allow me to produce more accurately weighted dice. I pre-ordered the material and the accompanying printer, and so began a waiting period. Once the machine arrived, it was then time to learn a new slicing software and figure out the intricacies of the new machine. This machine was quite a bit different than my previous ones, and required a different kind of knowledge in order to be functional. Several test prints later, I finally had a production-ready design from which I could create a mould. It was from the third generation of moulds that these final dice were cast, and that my project was finally completed… for now. You see, the intention was always to create the full set of dice, so I still have to make the remaining dice, for “Dungeons and Dragons”.
So, was this project worth it? Yes, I believe so! What I learned by the end of the project made it worthwhile for me, but this isn’t something that I would recommend to everyone. The number of sleepless nights and problem-solving pauses were indeed numerable, but valuable in their learning experiences. If I were to recommend something similar, I would definitely suggest working on some small three-dimensional magnets or the like, since these don’t require as much precision, and would provide more instant results.