Faster than figurines, tougher than cardboard, and way more fun to make.
Even in an age of immersive video games, there are those who like to play tabletop games. Real-world wargaming is very different from playing a multiplayer online game, even with real-time voice chat. Whereas Eve Online or Xbox Live is kind of like hanging out with your buds watching TV, actually getting together and playing a board game is more like a real party. Manipulating the physical game pieces is also satisfying in a way that virtual objects have yet to achieve.
Many tabletop gamers eventually end up making their own pieces, for one reason or another. They may be making a custom army for an established game, or they may be inventing a game from scratch. The time-honored method is to use illustrated cardboard “chits” that lie flat on the table or stand upright in simple bases. For pieces fully “in the round,” you can buy commercial 3D figures and customize them to your taste. If you have the time, you can sculpt your own minis and (these days) even 3D-print them.
Shrink film makes a nice intermediate approach to original mini design, midway between cheap cardboard cutouts and fully dimensional figurines. Shrink plastic is much more durable than cardboard and, unlike traditional minis, you can make your artistic mistakes at the software level, where they’re easily fixed.
Feel like giving it a shot? Read on.