Making Miniatures on a Budget

11 June 2024
It’s often been said that tabletop gaming is a luxury hobby, and there’s certainly some truth in that. But if one turns to miniatures, with the frequent releases from the likes of Games Workshop, or even the kit you need to get them together - it’s easy to find expense there too. So how can we enjoy miniatures and the associated terrain without the price tag?

Written by Charlie Pettit

Print Your Own

There are two options for this, one being if you have (or have access to) a standard printer, or the other, if you have access to a 3D printer. We’ll explain both.

If you’re trying to bring your RPG to life, but have something specific in mind, it’s easy enough to create your own miniatures as standees, simply by printing out the image, with a flipside next to it. Cut out the two, stick them together, pop them in a standee holder, and voila! Perfect 2D miniature in minutes. Now, the tiny little plastic standee holders can be found on Amazon, but you could easily forage some out of games you’re not playing at the time – just take note of where they went from and to so that it’s not an infuriating moment when you got to play the game and uh-oh, they’re elsewhere…

You can upgrade this further if you want to – if your printer can’t handle thicker card stock to make them more sturdy, try just placing something between the two sheets of paper to reinforce it, like old trading card cards (I have about a thousand spare Pokemon energy cards that are sacrificed for this cause), or for a thicker output, cardboard boxes. If you’ve got a laminator in the house (or a teacher in the family), you could even laminate your creations to keep them durable and tidy.

If you’ve not got the kind the brain that lends itself to creating your own miniatures, mine being one that certainly isn’t, there are tons of online options for downloading creations of this nature. PrintableHeroes and PaperForge are great for this, but you can also find loads on DriveThruRPG and Wargames Vault.

Of course, this can easily be followed by 3D printing, it’s more expensive cousin. You can download minis from anywhere and everywhere nowadays, by searching for STL files online. Etsy, MyMiniFactory, even DriveThruRPG has options. And if you can do this, you should absolutely check out the likes of HeroForge, where you can create your own mini in a builder reminiscent of the Sims, before downloading the STL file to be printed elsewhere.

What’s also worth considering, is that once you’ve got the hang of creating your own standee, it’s not too far a step to make your own of yourself – are you ready to fight in Resident Evil? Take the fight to the mythos in Mansions of Madness? Why not put yourself in the character's shoes?

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Modify what you’ve got

One of my favourite low budget hacks I’ve ever seen, was modifying a meeple simply by sticking something to it. You’re bound to have a game that includes meeples, but you could even pick a few up for very little, and then for gaming, just stick something to it. Got a fighter? Print out a teeny tiny sword, and blue tack it to the meeple. Got a rogue? Make it a dagger. Anything that makes that tiny meeple identifiable makes it a miniature, and one that can then take its role on your tabletop. It’ll make those natural 20 level successes all the sweeter when it’s the teeny blue guy who did it.

Of course, you can always raid your existing games for their miniatures, and let them take centre stage. A few modifications (if they even need that!) will have you away in no time – but you’ve probably already considered that if you’re reading this!

Another option is dependent on how sacrilegious you are about your existing pieces, because those one might not be popular, but it does make use of what you’ve got – and that's using trading cards. If you’ve ever collected, or even dabbled, you’re likely to have a load of unused common cards, that either have no use, no value, or you have many duplicates of. These often have gorgeous art, but especially as time goes by, they have little purpose. You could easily and carefully cut out some of the better figures, pop them in your little standee holders, and boom, new mini. I quite like the idea of an evil Ho-Oh Pokemon from the Celebrations set, after ending up with as many as I did. Watching my party give it a brutal end in an RPG session will feel quite suitable, for all the times it wasn’t the Charizard.

An added trick here would be to pick up some Mod Podge Dimensional magic, which puts a clear, almost 3D layer on top, that makes it seem like it’s got a resin outside. It’s about £9 a go, but it does look super effective - you can find it on Amazon.

Use household items

Greatly inspired by an article in Miniature Wargames magazine (our sister publication) some time ago by contributor Conrad Kinch, who created a wargame for his children to play using their favourite playmobil knights and princesses, I wondered what I might have around the house that I too could use for my RPGs. Children’s toys of course make it much easier – within minutes I can rustle up some small plastic dinosaurs, as well as a plethora of building blocks and terrain options. I could even go so far as to mod a VTech Farm (Zombies? Haunted? Endless possibilities that aren’t limited to repeating the word “moo” at a mini-me), amongst tons of other options in my child’s toybox. It’s certainly not a new premise, the game Gaslands literally leans towards using Hot Wheels cars rather than expensive new constructs. Here’s wondering if the infernal singing Toot Toot Cars can be repurposed…

The other option I had easily available within the house was Lego figures. Lego is the third love of my household (board games, Star Wars, lego), and so there exist at least three sets of custom minifigures, before the various collections Lego have released, and all before the ones that come in sets. Sure, scales vary for the likes of terrain or background pieces, but that could be half the adventure.

Otherwise, with a little ingenuity, anything could work. I set up an RPG that used my indoor plants as a treacherous magical botanist's garden. I tried wrapping paper for route-making. A garden gnome was a magical centrepiece of a town. When in doubt, call it fantasy or magical, and suddenly, all is forgiven…


Pre-made can mean three things. Either you buy minis that can be used for multiple purposes, you buy something else and use it for something other than its intended purpose, or you just buy the mini you need and hope you get a good price.

A good example of buying something that can be used for something else, is artificial grass. The middle of your favourite budget supermarket frequently has small rolls of artificial grass that can be used to immediately set the tone for the area your game is taking place on. Similarly, a wander through Homebase or B&Q can be helpful – a quirky wallpaper, a strange combination of pipes, an odd plant tray, can all form a foundation for terrain options. Small upgrades can make a huge difference to the tabletop experience. Combine those with the above standees, miniatures, or props you’ve made? You’re on to a winner.

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