It was about a year ago. After some searching I had just gotten into a new game called Firestorm Armada, by Spartan Games. It features large spaceship models in a mostly wet-navy setting. The rule system isn't bad, it plays quickly and easily. Some of the model sculpts are very nice, and usually that wins me over every time. The visual styles captured my imagination, many of them derived from Sci-fi shows and movies I enjoyed when I was younger.
The game includes rules for playing with small fighter craft (think x-wing or tie fighter), but they are represented as paper tokens. I hate paper tokens. If they aren't all dog-eared and peeling apart, they blow away every time I sneeze. I looked online for alternative model fighter sources, but none of them matched the the styles of the ships they were intended to support, and most of them don't look very good. I decided I'd try and make my own. After all, I have the ultimate tools; I run a model making workshop!
I wanted my fighters to look like they "belonged" to the fleet. I also wanted them to look original and reasonable. Everyone has a different idea of what "reasonable" is, but mine is free of useless do-dads that serve no purpose other than style. I like vessels that are cleaner and simpler than most.
Another design factor is size. These fighter craft needed to be very small. They could never be produced to scale with the ships they would accompany (they'd be specks of dust) but they needed to be as small as possible -- no more than 1/4" (6mm) cubed. The shapes needed to be simple, and there are minimum sizes to make sure they 3D print cleanly.
I made the Sorylian fighters first. The Sorylians are lizard-like aliens, supposed to be math-loving philosophers. I figured they would make no-nonsense fighters. The chasis would have to be efficient and modular. All 4 models of craft would use the same hull with different add-ons for the role it was expected to play (fighter, interceptor, bomber, assault boat).
Here's the first renders: I changed the names to ensure I wasn't infringing on a Trademark.
Very simple. They turned out rather well on the build pad. There were no problems 3D printing them. I ran 40 of them all at once. The build took about 1.5 hours, and used about $10 worth of printer material and a $5 pad. After washing and curing they needed to be clipped off the supports and sanded. Tiny holes needed to be drilled out of the bottoms so that they could be mounted on thin steel wire. The other end of the steel wire was glued into laser-cut black plastic base. The tiny ships were painted to match the larger models, and the steel wire was painted black. It was fairly easy.
The finished models looked something like this:
Here's the model vessels they are supposed to go along with:
When I showed them off on the forum, they were very popular. I received more than a few inquiries from fellow gamers interested in purchasing them. However, I had a problem with supply. It wasn't very economical to produce them in small amounts. It took a little while before I clued in to Shapeways. But that's another story.
If you want some, these models are available in my Shapeways shop as the "Reptilians" faction. With a different paint scheme they could be suitable for any number of other games representing another alien or human groups.