In this blog I compare early and recent 3 D-printed ship models vs metal cast naval ship models produced by various methods: an early 3 D-printed DD Winslow by Paper Lab (2, 11), a recent 3 D-printed Ville de Oran by Nanomaquettes (1-2, 8-11); a centrifugually cast WW II recognition model of a Mogami class CA by Comet Metals (12), a slightly improved centrifugually cast Mogami by Superior (12), a silicone mold cast Neptun Maya (12, 14), a classic silicone mold cast soft metal Nordzee Kota Gede produced in 2002 (1, 3-8) and a diecast zinc/lost wax brass cast Maya (12-13, 16-17) by Konishi, date of production unknown. The two Mogami are a later class of heavy cruisers, with merged funnels, compared to separate funnels for the Mayas.
If the WW II Mogami were cast about 1944, and the Ville de Oran printed in 2021, this would represent about 77 years of naval ship model production methods and technologies. For 3D-printed models, the two models represents 14 years difference, with the Winslow purchased in 2007 and the French AMC in 2021. While the two models differ greatly in size, the AMC is proportionately much heavier than the DD, most likely due to a different, denser resin now used for printing.
While 3D-printing was developed in the 1980s, and is now a mature technology, there is very little information on how this technology has improved for modelmaking, if you are not actually a producer using such devices. It is obvious that the CAD software is better, the resins are better and there are fewer artifacts from the print process to result in much smoother finishes. I suspect, like metal castings, the better 3D-printed models are still multi-parts, although I am not really certain about this. One can see the lack of 3D-printing artifacts like stair stepping on the French AMC, vs those on the US DD, although I do not know if there was additional cleanup of the AMC that results in a smoother finish. My attempt to ask how current 3D-printed models are made and finished met with some replies by Joerg Niehage, the maker of Nanomaquettes, who produces excellent 3D-printed ship models. He utilizes professional printing services, with high end, professional Envisiontec Perfactory printers, that can use over 190 different materials. The printers range from about $4,000 to $125,000. These printers use DLP, an additive manufacturing process employing a digital light projector as a light source for curing the photo-reactive polymers. DLP reduces stair- stepping and produces a smoother surface finish by pixel tuning. Thus, it probably also eliminates post-processing, possibly procedures like sanding. These machines use Envision One RP software.
Joerg casts the hull and most likely superstructure in one piece, but smaller and fragile parts are printed separately. Thus there is still assembly and painting, both dependent on good hand skills for fine results. However, due to the small size of structures in 1250 scale, that may approach 0.1 mm in size, the limits of even professional printers may not permit objects this small to be printed successfully for all models.
In these almost eight decades of naval ship models, it is interesting to see how prices have changed. Although I do not remember prices of WW II recognition models like Comets and Framburgs from the late 1940 to the 1950s, about 72 years ago my late friend and collector Alex White bought a Comet Richelieu BB for $3.50 in a local Los Angeles hobby store (Liu 2021: 75). Of the seven models discussed in this blog, bought between 2007 to 2021, prices ranged from $4.50 for the Comet Mogami on a wooden plinth to $155. for the NMQ Ville de Oran. The used Konishi Maya was only $29. vs. $35. in 2010 for the Superior Mogami (12), which was from the famed ex-Pattee collection, in storage at that time for 50 years. These prices show which producers were valued, held or increased in their worth and how much less used models cost vs. new ones, although often there is little difference in their conditions or only required minor repairs. One can also see from this price comparison that WW II recognition models still did not cost much in 2011 but if the heritage of the model was famous, it sold for much more, almost ten times as much in the case of the ex-Patee Superior Mogami, which has now been extensively enhanced by me. Normally, I leave real WW II recognition models intact, except to remove them from their wooden plinths, to prevent the wood acid from attacking the metal alloys of the ship model.
I have not previously owned a Nordzee, but I bought NZ 80 in 2020, but did not really study it until now, due to family deaths. I now understand why Robert de Vlam’s models are so highly valued. Their masters are beautifully made, with fine attention to all aspects of the model; details like identification of the model (4) and the life rafts surpass that of any other maker. I did not realize the Kota Gede AP was only cast in 2002, so its photo-etched components, like the twin deck cranes abreast the funnel, are not that surprising. Many structures are add ons, like the scale cargo booms of brass wire, with missing ones replaced by me with copper ones. I learned much about Nordzee through the generous help of Rick Rudofsky and his friend, Edwin Velterop, a close friend of de Vlam and owner of a complete set of his models, as well as some masters, extremely well-detailed.
Another unique feature of Nordzee models is de Vlam’s practice of portraying various vessels in both civilian and warship guises, ranging from tugs to conversions of tankers to escort carriers, but especially numerous mercantiles. This philosophy essentially adds much historical value to his models and it would be beneficial to the collecting community if more producers followed his example.
Except possibly for recent metal models based on 3D printed masters, like those of Spider Navy, or the exceptional Sea Vee models that have a large amount of photoetch and other unknown methods of production, Nordzee’s models can still be considered among the best of metal cast naval ship models. Unfortunately, I did not have the Nordzee model when I completed my book on naval ship models of WW II, so I could not comment on their admirable traits, produced by one person who both made the master and did the actual castings also (Liu 2021).
The future of small scale naval ship models may follow two paths: detailed 3D printed masters used for casting soft metal alloy models with silicone molds, with smaller parts cast separately along with the use of photo-etching for delicate parts that need both detail and strength. The other is using CAD software and high-end 3D printers, with separately cast small, detail parts and a degree of careful assembly and finishing by the producer. However, the added cost of such labor may push prices beyond that affordable to most collectors.
Naval Ship Models of World War II is available to order here.
Robert K. Liu 2014 Naval Anti-aircraft in World War II. San Marcos, CA, Robert K. Liu: 32 p.
Robert K. Liu 2021 Naval Ship Models of World War II in 1/1250 and 1/1200 scale. Enhancements, Conversions & Scratch Building. Barnsley, Seaforth Publishing: 160 p.