3D printing for historical reenactment

Historical reenactment started to boom in Spain at mid 90s and kept growing ever since. There is plenty of need to find original objects to restore, and in the lack of them, replicas more or less faithful of the objects from the period they want to represent. The main trends in Spain are reenactment of Roman and Napoleonic armies, and First and Second World Wars.

In absence of original material, digital fabrication has a lot to bring, and so these historical reenactment groups have been approaching this type of technologies.

In this post we are going to cover 3D printing specifically, knowing that once the 3D model is created there are several fabrication technologies that can be used to make a replica. In addition to 3D printing you can use other technologies such as laser cutting, CNC routing or a combination of them.

3D models

There are plenty of 3D models repositories that are usually for general purpose. To name few: Thingiverse, MyMiniFactory, Cults3D, CGTrader or GrabCAD, and the list goes on. Some of them are specific for 3D printing and others can have models with textures aimed to be included in renders or videogames, with no guarantee that they are 3D printable.

I find Scan The World a very interesting project, by MyMiniFactory, where you can find many art pieces that have been 3D scanned from museums or in their actual location. You can mainly find statues, buildings and miscellaneous objects that may be useful depending of the reenactment theme.

But the truth is that I do not have knowledge of any repository that is specialized in 3D models for historical reenactment.

If you know any please share!

This brings people to look for the object in the generalist repositories or through repository searchers (STL Finder, Yeggi). There are few available models, and we often have to sort it out with 3D modeling of the object based on existing replicas or pictures.


The materials are the usual for filament fused 3D printers (FDM):

  • PLA: The cheapest and easiest to print. But I only recommend it for interiors as it stands heat badly. Just by leaving it in a car in a sunny day you end up with a deformed piece, and it gets worse with direct sun exposure. It is biodegradable and does not stand well being outdoors for long term. Not recommended at all for historical reenactment.
  • PETG: it’s the material I use the most for these requests. It’s easy to print and stands more temperature than PLA. In addition it endures well with humidity and quite some chemicals. Ideal for outdoors. And you can sand it easier than PLA.
  • ABS: it’s affordable like PLA but more difficult to 3D print because it tends to shrink or break in the union between layers (warping or cracking) when it is exposed to temperature changes due to air current or cooling down too fast. It is also more difficult to get the exact dimensions given that it tends to shrink. On the other hand, it stands very well higher temperatures and bad weather (although it can get a bit yellowish due to UV long exposure). One other advantage of ABS is that you can smooth it with the acetone vapor smoothing technique if your priority is a smooth finish instead of exact dimensions, and you can sand it easily.
  • ASA: it’s a trendy material because it has all the advantages of ABS and in addition it is easy to print. Doesn’t get yellowish outdoors and you can also apply acetone vapor smoothing.


Generally all pieces require post-processing and painting because it’s all about emulating the original object.

To summarize, you will not get rid of sanding!

Even if you apply acetone vapor smoothing to ABS or ASA objects, you will have to eliminate small imperfections, sand smoothly to ensure primer sticks well and probably make additional sanding and priming passes.

With PLA people also use epoxy resins that smooth the pieces by filling the gaps between layers. However you loose definition by adding new material on top, and it’s a cumbersome process due to resin toxicity.

You can also use putty to fill or close bigger imperfections. But in general you will have to use several primer, paint and varnish layers, with sanding operations in between. Several techniques can be used for painting such as spray or brush although the ideal is airbrush to add shadows and make it more realistic. There are also tricks for weathering objects but this is not specific for 3D printing so we will not cover them in this post.

Examples with 3D Printing

I had the opportunity to make several objects for historical reenactment, either designing them and 3D printing them.

Impresion 3d mina nazi montada

For a reenactment group focused on German side of WWII, I 3D printed a German S-Mine AKA “Bouncing Betty”. In this case the model was already available in Thingiverse (this particular model used was deleted recently).

Another case was making M39 grenades, where I had to make the 3D model based on a replica that I was provided to get dimensions from. The objective was to make a suitcase like the ones used for disassembled grenades transportation. And in fact the client only needed to print the top half of the grenade, many of them, to stick them to the wood suitcase.

Moreover, the grenades had two parts with threads that had to screw in properly and be resistant to outdoor exposure, because the historical reenactment events are obviously outdoors. PETG to the rescue!

For the same client, a group of fans of reenactment of WWII nazi side, I had a request of a pair of 65 cm long RPzB rockets (Panzerschreck) to be made in several pieces. This time we had to design the rocket in Fusion 360, based on old pictures and the length distance.

Printing two identical models is the perfect task for the BCN3D Sigma with its Duplication Mode, as it uses both extruders at the same time to print a duplicate model. These rockets go lately in a sort of wood harness on the back. The client was taking care of the painting.

On the more ancient side I also collaborated with a member of the Jomsborg viking brotherhood by designing and making objects in wood. Some with its emblem, others were viking bag handles. It’s totally different because in this group they look for natural / original materials and craftsmanship work. So in our case it was only possible to use our CNC router to cut and engrave wood. I will explain that in a future post.

Piezas bolso vikingo en madera con CNC

I think it would be possible to use 3D printing, as silver and other metals can be 3D printed through online service bureaus. But I have not explored this option for historical reenactment. I have done it years ago with ceramic and silver as a hobby either for testing and for custom gifts.

In fact, and I mean no offense to anyone, I think from my humble knowledge of the topic that there is a certain similarity between historical reenactment and Cosplay. In Cosplay they try to replicate fictional elements from TV shows, movies, comics and videogames. In this area people have been more exposed to digital fabrication and are using it extensively to make their objects, although crafting foam is one of the most used processes.

From my point of view, the biggest difference between Cosplay and historical reenactment is that the latter make a representation as faithful as possible of reality, if possible in original materials, and in this sense foam is not ideal at all. I can state I have seen them using metal, wood and 3D printing. If you know any example where foam has been used for reenactment please share in the comments as it would be interesting for all of us to know what has been done.

Within this Cosplay theme I have also done stuff, for example the modeling of Thor hammer and Captain America shield, used as a practice in the advanced Fusion 360 course that I give in person.

Links to know more

Asociación Española de Reconstrucción Histórica (Spanish historical reenactment association) – https://www.aerh.es

Legion 501 Spanish Garrison – Legion501.com. We collaborated with them in Barcelona Printer Party 2018 – the 4th Edition.

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