Are you a tabletop miniature gamer? The battlefield you play on might be a dining room table, but it should be more. That’s where terrain pieces come into play. If you’re playing games like Warhammer 40k and looking for terrain ideas, all it takes is an online search. Images of beautiful wargaming terrain are everywhere. But, if you want to make your own wargaming terrain without breaking the bank or spending a lot of time, here are a few ways to do it.

3 Awesome Ways to Make Wargaming Terrain (Cheap, Easy, and Free)
Simple is elegant. Photo credit: Donjondo

In this article, I show you 3 fun and easy ways to make wargaming terrain.


3 Awesome Ways to Make Wargaming Terrain (Cheap, Easy, and Free)

How to Decide What Terrain to Make?

Consider space and time.

The approach I’m using is made primarily for the Warhammer 40k terrain boards for an urban city environment. The basic principle is the same, however, across a variety of game types.

Terrain for wargames can span the gamut. History and place (anywhere in the imagined Universe, really) is open to a creative approach for terrain for wargaming.

Buildings are just one way to setup a board for a tabletop wargame. Terrain DIY style is great because it is free-form.

Ultimately, when it comes to making your own terrain for a tabletop game, you’re only limited by your ideas. If you have a vision for how you want your battles to play out, you don’t need to spend a lot of money.

Here, all you need is to grasp the idea that your battlefields exist in a space (the actual world) and the time period (whether this is a fictional or simulated actual history).

As with choosing a color scheme, deciding what wargaming terrain to make is simply starting with an idea.

Then, with this spark, you can go through the process of what you want to make.

3 Ways to Make Wargaming Terrain

1. Use Reference Photos, Books, and Paper Craft

A lot of what you do in the modeling and miniature hobby arises from admiring all the work you find out there. The internet is chock-full of ideas and beautiful art.

You can see my Pinterest board with the things I’ve found inspirational for terrain pieces.

Terrain making is an art!

DOWNLOAD AWESOME LOOKING PAPERCRAFT TERRAIN

Reference photos and books

The other way that can help you decide what terrain pieces to make is to use books. There are ton of books on the internet about wargaming and the art of making terrain.

3 Awesome Ways to Make Wargaming Terrain (Cheap, Easy, and Free)
Scratch building techniques and approaches: very useful!

For example, the book entitled “Wargames Terrain & Buildings: The Napoleonic Wars” is an excellent example of an instructional and reference for scratch building terrain buildings.

The book is all about scratch building terrain for a tabletop wargame. Although the period in history is a bit different than the dark grim style of the Warhammer 40k Universe, or other sci-fi genre, the basic principles for terrain making are the same.

Advertisements

The photos inside the book are top-notch. And, I love flipping through the step-by-step guide just to spawn new ideas.

The book is filled with terrain making techniques, including what to build, what materials to use, including glues (I’ve been fascinated by glues), and general best practice for handling challenging builds.

Again, although you will find the history time period a bit different than what you might be lookin for in a game of Infinity, Warhammer, or any of the fictional war games we enjoy, the underlying ideas are the same.

3 Awesome Ways to Make Wargaming Terrain (Cheap, Easy, and Free)
Another great book for learning how to make realistic and effective terrain pieces for wargames. See more great how-to books in the miniature hobby

Finally, as mentioned, you can certainly find a ton of references with simple online searches.

Once you find something you like, you merely take some of the basic techniques from these books or other tutorials and create the pieces.

When it comes to homemade terrain, I like taking the easy route (see further below — “Improvise“).

Make Paper Craft Terrain

Along with using found materials and reference guides, you can download paper crafted terrain from various places on the internet.

What is paper craft?

Paper craft is an art form that uses paper or card-stock to create three-dimensional objects. Paper craft is another name for a paper sculpture.

For making terrain, there are various ways you can use paper craft. There are pre-printed plans that you can find online.

Here’s a site that sells paper craft terrain (paper craft link for DriveThruRPG here). The site also sells 3D printable files of terrain and buildings, too.

Another great site for paper craft terrain includes Wargame Vault.

This PaperTerrain site sells some really cool paper terrain.

3 Awesome Ways to Make Wargaming Terrain (Cheap, Easy, and Free)
DriveThruRPG here
3 Awesome Ways to Make Wargaming Terrain (Cheap, Easy, and Free)
DriveThruRPG here

If you’re looking for free paper craft tabletop terrain, there’s a huge amount listed here and here and here.

Of course, in paper craft there is some assembly required. In some cases, you may also need to color in the paper after you print them.

But, in general, paper craft is a very budget friendly way to get awesome looking wargaming terrain on your table.

It is certainly a step above DIY options, but still has the build and assembly aspect that many hobbyists enjoy.

3 Awesome Ways to Make Wargaming Terrain (Cheap, Easy, and Free)
Dropzone Commander, a 10mm scaled miniatures game, uses paper craft card stock terrain for these buildings. It looks great and functions really well!

Obviously, you’ll need a printer and good paper or card stock to make paper craft terrain. I can recommend these printers for card stock.

My printer recommendation for paper craft

I have the Canon Pixma Pro-100 and print stencils (for airbrushing) and other paper-based things on it, including DIY card stock terrain. These are 3 of the best printers for card stock.

3 Awesome Ways to Make Wargaming Terrain (Cheap, Easy, and Free)

If you’re looking to buy an ink jet printer, or upgrade, this is probably more than you need. There are budget-friendly printers on the market. They all produce excellent color, print fast, and work with heavy-weight card stock.

Card stock is a paper product that is more rigid that regular computer paper. You’ll want to print on card stock to make your buildings stand up properly. Card stock is affordable, too.

The terrain and buildings will also last longer if you print on card stock.

See the images below of what you can do with a good ink jet printer and some card stock.

2. Use 3D Printing and Modeling Software

The method I have used in the past for deciding what to make has been with 3D modeling software.

There are two ways you can use 3D modeling software for making terrain:

  • Download pre-made building or terrain files (and modify them)
  • Model the building in 3D from scratch

To actually make the terrain buildings with 3D digital models, you either 1) download the files for 3D printing (if you have a 3D printer), or 2) use the 3D models as a blue print for scratch building with available materials.

When you want to download pre-made buildings and terrain you merely have do an online search.

There are ton of free 3D files for you to browse on Thingiverse. All you have to do is type in the search bar is “wargaming terrain”.

Ways to Make DIY Wargaming Terrain: Overview

And, this is an example of what you may get….

3 Awesome Ways to Make Wargaming Terrain (Cheap, Easy, and Free)
3D model render of a barricade terrain piece
3 Awesome Ways to Make Wargaming Terrain (Cheap, Easy, and Free)
3D printed and painted barricades
3 Awesome Ways to Make Wargaming Terrain (Cheap, Easy, and Free)
Assembled 3D printed barricades form an enclosure; a perfect piece for a tabletop miniature game

If you’re looking for professionally made 3D terrain and building files, you can check out this site “Drive Thru RPG”.

3 Awesome Ways to Make Wargaming Terrain (Cheap, Easy, and Free)
Check out this site for downloadable 3D printing files and paper craft terrain

In general, making terrain with 3D modeling and printers is the more technical and recent development in terrain making.

But, if you pick up the skill and knowledge with working with 3D models (it’s not hard; more about it below), then you’ve got an awesome way to take advantage of all the creativity that people have shared online.

You’re just a few clicks away from downloading some amazing terrain pieces.

3 Awesome Ways to Make Wargaming Terrain (Cheap, Easy, and Free)
Look familiar? Warhammer 40k-stylized building and terrain is 3D printable, too.
3 Awesome Ways to Make Wargaming Terrain (Cheap, Easy, and Free)
3D printed and painted Shadespire terrain pieces. I painted these using very quick and easy techniques.

IS 3D PRINTING GAME MODELS PIRACY?

3D modeling software: my recommendation and thoughts for designing your own terrain and buildings.

Let’s say you wanted to make your own terrain pieces with modeling software. In this case, there are another host of options.

But, I’ll narrow it down to the easiest and most budget friendly app for almost any terrain making needs.

In whatever scenario you’re looking for, my two favorite apps for creating 3D files of buildings and wargaming terrain are SketchUp and Fusion 360.

Both are free!

Importantly, there are a great tutorials on YouTube. Using videos from YouTube was the best way I learned how to 3D model.

By the way, I talk about Fusion 360 in another article for making custom model bases.

Advertisements

3D modeling for terrain and buildings

If you’re looking for the simplest and best software for 3D modeling buildings, my recommendation is to first try SketchUp.

The software is free for use online. There is a desktop app for Sketchup, but it’s limited unless you pay for the pro version.

For students and educators, the professional version is free. I’ve used both the free version and pro version, and for the simple buildings either is fine.

Here are a few examples of efforts trying to make buildings for Infinity the Miniatures Game.

3 Awesome Ways to Make Wargaming Terrain (Cheap, Easy, and Free)
You draw simple lines and shapes in SketchUp. The only difference with 3D modeling here is that you draw these shapes and lines in the x, y and z-axis.
3 Awesome Ways to Make Wargaming Terrain (Cheap, Easy, and Free)
The toolbar on the left hand side gives you a number of ways to create your terrain piece. The good news it that you don’t need most of them!
3 Awesome Ways to Make Wargaming Terrain (Cheap, Easy, and Free)
A simple house that I rendered in SketchUp. Cool, huh?

The result of 3D printing terrain is based on quality of the 3D file. I have some work ahead of me to get my designs ready for the printer. But, you get the idea.

Software 3D modeling can get you pretty far along in the terrain design phase.

Below are some examples of 3D models that I printed from a Kickstarter Campaign that had rewards with 3D files of terrain pieces. You can check out Thunder Chrome 3D printable terrain pieces here.

3 Awesome Ways to Make Wargaming Terrain (Cheap, Easy, and Free)
A one story building with windows and doorways. After this is painted up, I think this would look great for a post-apocalyptic tabletop game, e.g., Fallout miniatures anyone?

By the way, Amazon even sells 3D printed terrain from different vendors, which are cheaper than a lot of the plastic model kits you might find. Though, you should shop for the better quality pieces. Here’s what’s available now.

3 Awesome Ways to Make Wargaming Terrain (Cheap, Easy, and Free)
A catwalk that was 3D printed from a downloadable file.

The cool thing about using 3D modeling software is that it’s scalable. It doesn’t matter if you’re playing a large 28mm scale game, or the smaller epic scale stuff like epic 40k or Dropzone Commander.

3 Awesome Ways to Make Wargaming Terrain (Cheap, Easy, and Free)
Advertisements

With 3D files, you can enlarge or shrink terrain pieces for these miniature tabletop games as needed. Just be aware that at a certain point, the size of the details will determine whether they will appear properly on your 3D printed piece.

3. Improvise (Scratch Building and Kit-Bashing)

I think this how most people who start tabletop gaming get their terrain.

It’s fun and easy. As I mentioned, I tend to go on Pinterest to collect ideas for making DIY wargaming terrain.

Now, there are a ton of ways you can take found material around your home, or workplace, and turn it into useful terrain and buildings.

In terms of what you need to jump in, you won’t need too much. Obviously, I’m assuming that most of the material you will use are used packing materials, e.g., card board, styrofoam, and what-not.

Here are the essentials for DIY terrain with stuff scrap material:

  • Sharp knife
  • Metal ruler
  • Surface to safely cut stuff
  • Glue
3 Awesome Ways to Make Wargaming Terrain (Cheap, Easy, and Free)
It starts with this scrap, simple materials you find around your home.

Simple right?

A knife to cut, a metal ruler to make straight edges, a surface that you can use for cutting, and glue.

I’ve written a lot about glues for tabletop miniature and model kit assembly. For scratch-building with paper based material, however, I recommend either PVA white glue, or a hot glue gun.

The hot glue gun that I have is one of the larger sized ones. It heats up quickly, has a low-drip nozzle (super useful), and a stand so it doesn’t tip over.

3 Awesome Ways to Make Wargaming Terrain (Cheap, Easy, and Free)
My trusty Chandler hot glue gun – great for cardboard and any terrain DIY project

The best knives for cutting card board are utility knives. They are affordable, and come with disposable blades. They are super sharp out of the box and take to cardboard like…cliche incoming… a hot knife through butter.

3 Awesome Ways to Make Wargaming Terrain (Cheap, Easy, and Free)
Any utility knife will do.

You may disagree, but I would suggest that you not use an exacto knife.

The small hobby knives you use for sprues and scraping mold lines won’t hold up to the demands of cutting through card board.

Sure an exacto-hobby type knife might give you more precision, but what you really want is a good grip on that handle.

Most hobby knives have thin barrels, e.g., less leverage, and because the blades are so short and thin, they dull quickly.

Card board is one of the most damaging materials to a sharp knife. Card board will dull out any knife super fast.

3 Awesome Ways to Make Wargaming Terrain (Cheap, Easy, and Free)
I don’t recommend using one of these hobby knives for cutting through card board. They are sort of flimsy in comparison to the demands you’ll put on it for making terrain.

A sharpener isn’t really necessary if you have a bunch of spare blades lying around. But, if you’re like me and don’t want to waste stuff, get a Dia-fold Diamond Whetstone sharpener.

I sharpen my utility knife blades on it. It’s awesome. And, in some cases, I think my utility knives end up sharper than they came from the factory!

Don’t let the name fool you, the Dia-fold Whetstone doesn’t require any wetting or lubricating agent. Just apply blade at the proper angle, and after a few even swipes on both sides that blade will sing through card board.

3 Awesome Ways to Make Wargaming Terrain (Cheap, Easy, and Free)
The Dia-fold Diamond Whetstone sharpener. I keep this handy to quickly sharpen my blades, even the disposable ones.

For those of you who are more systematic than I am, a metal ruler will come in handy.

I generally don’t use my ruler to measure anything. But I do use them for making straight edges.

I prefer to create by eye-balling dimensions. I feel this frees my mind up toward the creating process. For me, discovering what I’m making is part of the thrill of scratch building!

Just roll with it.

3 Awesome Ways to Make Wargaming Terrain (Cheap, Easy, and Free)

Of course, I’m sensible about my measurements. Although I don’t need to make sure things are to scale (more about scaling here), my terrain needs to work.

I want to make sure my troopers with 30mm diameter bases can actually fit through doorways, stand on steps, or stay put on walkways.

I’ll make sure my terrain pieces enhance gameplay, not the other way around.

Key principles to paper sculpting or scratch building terrain

To start making terrain, I generally take stock of what materials I have and ask myself what I could potentially make with it all.

A key tip to improvising with materials in-hand is to think big shapes.

Also, consider where and when your tabletop game takes place.

3 Awesome Ways to Make Wargaming Terrain (Cheap, Easy, and Free)
Start breaking down large materials into smaller elements that could form walls and rooftops.

Is it in a city?

Then, you’re probably looking at big blocks of different sizes. This probably means 90 degree angles.

Super easy and simple.

If you’re looking to make an urban environment, consider making it modular. Create boxes of different heights and footprint size.

Then, stack them. Ta-da! Modular urban environment.

Add details, like windows, and rooftop elements. Air ducts and chimneys provide cover and line-of-sight blocking objects.

Slowly work from the big shapes to the smaller details.

In general, I like thinking about crafting city-type terrain in three layers.

  • Big blocks – form the streets and alleyways.
  • Medium blocks – create narrower passages and even over-hanging elements, like bridges and steps.
  • Details – these are the scatter terrain elements. Not entirely necessary, but if you want to get to a more realistic tabletop, consider going down to the human-sized terrain pieces.

When I work with cardboard, I use the hot glue gun so I can move fast. Hot glue bonds within seconds of hitting the card board material. This allows me to work quickly to build up those big shapes.

3 Awesome Ways to Make Wargaming Terrain (Cheap, Easy, and Free)
Just a quick example of blocked out terrain shapes for city terrain. You can see my very young daughter’s hand in the background. She’s helping!
Advertisements
3 Awesome Ways to Make Wargaming Terrain (Cheap, Easy, and Free)
You can get really nice forms and shapes with a few cuts into card board.

Within a few minutes I can crank out a bunch of boxes and urban-looking sets that can stack together to form a city tabletop board.

3 Awesome Ways to Make Wargaming Terrain (Cheap, Easy, and Free)
Image credit: Pinterest

A good tip to strengthen any card board or paper-based material is to cover every surface with a coat of watered-down PVA glue. Simply mix a 1:2 ratio of glue to water and use a large brush to cover the final terrain pieces. Let that dry and the glue will fill pores and harden the overall structure.

3 Awesome Ways to Make Wargaming Terrain (Cheap, Easy, and Free)
Here’s a great example I found on Pinterest. Using cut-up cardboard you can quickly create terrain elements for an urban tabletop game.
3 Awesome Ways to Make Wargaming Terrain (Cheap, Easy, and Free)
With better materials and precision, you can even create model architectural marvels. This would be great for an Infinity tabletop game. Image credit: source

To add further realism and strength to a scratch built terrain piece, you can use DAS clay. O

3 Awesome Ways to Make Wargaming Terrain (Cheap, Easy, and Free)

DAS clay is a fast-drying clay that is awesome for terrain building. You can mold it, cover your buildings and terrain, and once hardened, paint it.

You can even carve texture into the clay before it has hardened. You merely take clay carving tool like these, and you can create bricks or realistic stonework.

When you’re finished with these coating steps, you can prime the terrain piece and paint them up.

LEARN MORE ABOUT PRIMERS

3 Awesome Ways to Make Wargaming Terrain (Cheap, Easy, and Free)
Smaller blocks of terrain with “big” shapes put together can form those medium-sized or detailed elements that can provide additional details to any wargame. Image credit: Pinterest
3 Awesome Ways to Make Wargaming Terrain (Cheap, Easy, and Free)
After your piece is covered in a surface material, like DAS clay, you can prime and paint it. Image credit: Pinterest

For buildings with roofing and other detail elements, you can use cardboard scraps, bit of foam, plasticard, card stock, and wooden coffee stirrers.

All of this free stuff is probably lying around your home already.

3 Awesome Ways to Make Wargaming Terrain (Cheap, Easy, and Free)
A different take using the principles of starting with big shapes and working toward the details. Notice the roof sidings…they look like ice cream popsicle sticks to me. Image credit: Pinterest
3 Awesome Ways to Make Wargaming Terrain (Cheap, Easy, and Free)
Cute and effective. Image credit: Pinterest
3 Awesome Ways to Make Wargaming Terrain (Cheap, Easy, and Free)
Let your imagination run free! This is a tabletop scene built from scratch with different materials for Mordheim, a tabletop game. Image credit: Pinterest

Scratch building natural terrain pieces

Not all wargaming terrain needs to be urban, or human made. In fact, most pitched battles do play out on fields with natural formations, such as hills and rocky cliffs.

If you play games like Warhammer 40k or Age of Sigmar, natural phenomena on alien planets or other-worldly realms might be more in line with your scenario.

Tabletop games like Warmachine/Hordes (one of my favorites) also uses terrain features such as hills, forests, trenches, and rocky surfaces.

3 Awesome Ways to Make Wargaming Terrain (Cheap, Easy, and Free)
A hill made of card board. Image credit: Pinterest

The principles of making natural terrain pieces is the same as for buildings. Start thinking about big blocks with larger footprints. Then, move to the medium size shapes and stack them up.

Take a step back and see what you’ve made.

Add details.

3 Awesome Ways to Make Wargaming Terrain (Cheap, Easy, and Free)
Wine cork on wooden bases turn them into great scatter terrain pieces.

A tool I didn’t mention that might help make things look more organic when you’re making terrain with foam is a hot-wire foam cutter. The one I have is really affordable.

There are better, more elaborate wire foam cutters, e.g., routers and “table saw” type machines, that may suit you if you’re in making a lot of terrain with foam.

For natural terrain elements, I do enjoy seeing what others have made. Everyone is so creative!

3 Awesome Ways to Make Wargaming Terrain (Cheap, Easy, and Free)
Notice the bigger blocks stacked on top of each other. They were probably cut with a hot-wire foam cutter.
3 Awesome Ways to Make Wargaming Terrain (Cheap, Easy, and Free)
Another terrain piece for what looks like a role playing game (RPG), like Dungeon and Dragons or Pathfinder (which I play).
3 Awesome Ways to Make Wargaming Terrain (Cheap, Easy, and Free)
A combination of materials, including paper and cardboard, make this great looking terrain piece.

If you’re looking for more ideas for scratch-building your wargaming tabletop terrain, you can check out my Pinterest board. I’ve been collecting some idea for a new table I want to make for Warhammer and other games.

Also I should mention, that all these techniques work well for making doll houses (if you have a kid like me).

3 Awesome Ways to Make Wargaming Terrain (Cheap, Easy, and Free)
Mickey Mouse sits by the log watching TV.
3 Awesome Ways to Make Wargaming Terrain (Cheap, Easy, and Free)
A home for all the other toy miniatures. Scratch built with diaper cardboard boxes.

Final Thoughts

When you want to make your own wargaming terrain, there are several ways you can go about it. I’ve broken down 3 ways to make gaming terrain. You can use reference guides, like books, 3D model and print your terrain, or improvise and scratch build. If you’re looking for more DIY terrain ideas, you can do a simple image search in Google or use Pinterest. Best of all, terrain making is fun, inexpensive, and effective.

Do you have other ideas for how to make your own terrain for gaming?

Leave a comment below! Subscribe through email or follow me on Facebook and Instagram.


Like It? Share It!

Advertisements

Leave a comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.