Monday, October 28, 2013

Powered Suit Fake Type

At long last, it's time to unveil the Powered Suit Fake Type replica kits I'm offering through Shapeways! I had been planning on releasing the Type C suit last month, but because the Types A and B were so close to production, I just decided to delay the whole thing until all three suit geometries were ready. And to make things even MORE confusing, I'm offering these three Types at two different pricepoints. So read on...and pay attention! ;)


When you first go to my Shapeways store, it can seem pretty daunting at first. There are TEN lots of parts for these figures...and the lead images are all in black & white (so everything looks the same!)...and all the names are kinda confusing. Trust me--even *my* brain turns to clay while staring at this stuff. But it ain't like filing your taxes, so don't get scrrd! This blog post is meant to walk you through the purchasing process.


The first thing is to decide how much you wanna spend. See, there are two types of these kits: Standard ("ST") and Deluxe ("DX"), each with certain advantages and certain disadvantages. But before we get into those, it's important to point out that the ST kits will run you around $30, while the DX ones are around $85. Yikes!

Let's start with the ST kits.

Fortunately, these guys are pretty straightforward. They're 3D printed in a material called polyamide, in a process called selective laser sintering (SLS). Basically, thin layers of fine nylon powder is fused via laser, one at a time, to form a light, but super-tough solid object. This stuff's pretty great from a TOY standpoint. Very durable...and as you can tell from the blue and white Type C suit above, it's available dyed in different colors! Further, once you receive the sets necessary to build an ST suit, they're real easy to assemble. You just squeeze the parts together (though you may want a drop of superglue here and there), and you're ready to smash some Waruders. So super-durable, easy to assemble, and available immediately in different only $30-$35 (depending if you want a matching "Inch Lady" driver). What's not to love???


Cue the bad news. Well, if you really scrutinize these pics, you can kinda tell the parts look a little...doughy. And grainy. See, that's the problem with polyamide: it's cheap, light, and strong...but the resolution is pretty crappy. Sharp edges are a bit softened and micro-scale details are almost lost entirely. Just look at the Inch Lady's face in polyamide:


But here's the real caveat: tolerances. These models have essentially been *done* for that past several months. So why has it taken so long to release them to the public? Because 3D printing assemblies of several components--even simple ones like these--is asking a lot of the printing tech that's available today. There's a little tab that secures the feet to the bottom of the legs, right? I broke one foot last night taking these damn pics because the hole at the bottom of the leg printed too narrow! It happens. So after *months* of tweaking, I think I've got a nice balance of tolerances in my current CAD designs. And I have a graveyard of failed suits to prove it!

So when you order an ST PSFT (yup, start getting used to the acronyms! it'll make ordering from the website a MUCH more sane experience), dry fit all the parts as soon as they arrive. You want to check for any misprints as soon as possible. Trust--I get botched parts fairly be comfortable with the possibility that you may have to log a complaint with Shapeways. I have three pending complaints in with them as I type this. No lie.

If all the parts check out, you still may need to file down some of the pegs or use a drop of glue to secure some bits. Don't trip--that's normal (especially with the feet and getting the black upper arms anchored into those shoulder pauldrons). Obviously DON'T glue the shoulder pegs, the wrists, or the main hatch...unless you seriously don't want those parts to move! You shouldn't have to...but if you find those connections too loose (or so impossibly tight that you actually *break* the pieces trying to assemble them), log that complaint. Shapeways makes mistakes often, but they're also VERY quick and friendly to deal with. They'll take care of you.

Now let's take a look at the DX kits.

What's special about these ones that makes 'em almost three times more expensive?? Steel. Cold, hard, magnetic stainless steel. This is baller territory, y'all. The original Diaclone Powered Suits had diecast metal (zinc-aluminum alloy) bodies. That made them pretty damn cool: chogokin power armor? Hell yes, I'll take three. And now...we have the technology to PRINT IN STAINLESS STEEL! Somewhat similar to the SLS process for polyamide, a simple organic glue is deposited on a thin layer of powdered steel. Another layer is spread, and more glue is deposited. Once the basic structure is done, they take the delicate, glued-together piece out of the vat of steel powder, and they toss it in a crucible. There, it's exposed to liquid brass, which soaks into the structure, while burning away the glue. The result is a stainless steel formula that's heavy on brass, but definitely responsive to a magnetic field.


The other aspect that makes the DX PSFTs superior is the plastic that's used. This translucent stuff is a much more expensive photopolymer made by 3D Systems. These parts are made in the classic stereolithography process, where thin layers of liquid photopolymer are cured (solidified) using a UV laser. The result is a VASTLY higher-resolution print than is achievable through SLS with polyamide powder. Details are sharp and the plastic is still fairly tough (I'd compare it to model kit styrene: maybe not as flexible, but it can take some stress). Here's a quick side-by-side comparison between a DX (left) and ST (right) PSFT-A:


But the best way to convince you of how nice 3D Systems' photopolymer is, take a look at a painted Inch Lady, along with an unpainted one...


The upper arms and shoulder cannon mount of the DX PSFT are done in black polyamide because of its flexibility/durability.

But here's the most important note about the DX PSFT: YOU NEED MAGNETS TO MAKE THE SHOULDERS WORK. Yup, I use tiny neodymium (rare earth) magnets to hold the pauldrons onto the body. I get them directly from nearby in Quincy, MA. Now, you're welcome to buy a whole 100-pack from them...but that might be overkill if you're just using them for these toys! Instead, if you order a DX PSFT from Shapeways, contact me via the link near the top, right of your screen. You Paypal me a buck ($1USD), include your address, and I mail you two magnets. Pretty simple...let's hope this system works out.

I just KNOW someone's gonna order a DX without reading these instructions...and then he's gonna complain to me about his arms falling off the damn body! :P

And the only other caveat with the DX PSFTs is that the 3D Systems photopolymer has a tendency to be a bit slimy when it arrives. It's not a big deal--just something to be aware of--so don't go spraying primer before you give these parts a thorough wash-down with hot, soapy water to remove that waxy slime. As you can tell from Mason's Gundam-themed DX PSFT-C from the Summit, this plastic paints up *quite* nicely!


Probably the biggest factor in determining which format of suit you want--ST or DX--is not just about the money. It's also about what sort of collector you are. If you're looking for something very "toyetic" (i.e., something simple, durable, and doesn't require paint or too much glue...or magnets purchased separately!), the ST is probably the best way to go. The ST is damn close to a plug-n-play kit. On several of these that I've ordered, I've only ever had to file down a foot tab (and in another case, I just glued the feet on because the tabs were too loose!).


The DX, on the other hand, simply feels GLORIOUS. Cold, hard, heavy, indestructible steel. And magnetic shoulder joints are just friggin' cool. There's no debate. Now, the translucent plastic looks a bit boring to me--though I've had folks mention that it's reminiscent of classic Henshin Cyborg! Your mileage may vary...but I prefer to paint these things. Again, check my last blog post for Mason's Gundam-style paint job! So if you're not as interested in hand-candy, but are looking for something that's going to look like a precious gem on your shelf--with the prestige of a solid metal design--you may wanna throw down for a DX.


So just hustle over to the store, pick the suit Type you like (A, B, or C) and the format you want (ST or DX), then order the THREE lots you'll need to complete your suit of choice. So for example, if I want an ST PSFT-C, I'll need this, this, and this. Or if I want a DX PSFT-B, I'll need this, this, and this...PLUS I'll need those magnets! Just pay attention to the names of each lot (especially the suit Type letter and that bit about "(# of 3)"). The item's description on each page should help too.

I apologize for the wall of text, but please don't tl;dr me! ;) I wanted to explain this complicated (but necessary) ordering well as set everyone's expectations of Shapeways' lack of consistency. Because of all this half-assery with magnets, glue, and Shapeways' quality control, you may decide this whole venture may not be for you. I respect that. But seeing as how these original Diaclone toys can easily break $200USD--IF you can find them--there are clearly a lot of collectors interested in these guys. So this is an opportunity to order as many as you like...and whenever you want them. They'll always be in my shop, ready to be made to order. And I ain't going nowhere!

Okay, that's about it for now. Feel free to hit me up with ANY questions you may have about these kits, the ordering process, or how to resolve issues with Shapeways. Next time...more Microman-scaled "Powered Bio Suit"! ;)