3d 1971 buick riviera kit

3D or Not 3D… That is the Question

Ron Ruelle model car hall of fame
by Ron Ruelle

I just bought a miniature model of one of my favorite cars, a 1971 Buick Riviera. The detail is pretty good, and it comes in the same color as the real Boattail that I owned for over 30 years. At least I think that’s what I bought.

Not sure what the scale is. Or the color. That will be up to me. What I actually bought was the digital file to print my own version of said car however I like it.

Welcome to the world of 3D-printed collectibles. Unlike AI, the technology involved here has been used mostly for good, including model vehicles. But it does pose an interesting conundrum in the world of completism. 

3d 1971 buick riviera multi

Once someone has created a digitized file for a particular car, it can then be printed out in any scale. 1/87, 1/64/ 1/43, sure. Also, 1/39, 1/45.88309… Literally, any scale can be punched into the print driver. And as for colors, well, that’s a bit tricker. It partly depends on the color of the goo that is fed into the printer, and also how the designer of the file separated the elements. Are the wheels and chassis part of the main body? Or are they separate pieces that can be molded in black, while some of the chrome bits can be molded in gray or silver? And the body comes out in one of infinite colors? And what about the glass? Print them in clear, light blue, or black.

If you’re shopping for a 3D-printed car, you might accidentally just purchase the digital file so you can print it yourself. This is neat, if you have your own printer or inexpensive access to one. If you don’t, you kind of own the equivalent of an NFT.


So the question is, how do collectors treat 3D-printed models? Since they can be created in any scale, and any color, it’s impossible to collect every variant. And anyone could potentially manufacture a colossal pile of models from one file, so the rarity is a huge variable. Do you print the car out in every scale in your favorite color? If someone offers pre-printed cars, do you buy every single variant they pump out?

Major diecast companies are using 3D models to create the parts that will be cast into molds for their new releases instead of the old days of carving or shaping them from acetate or clay. Don’t worry, there are still talented and skilled artists coming up with the designs, so there is still a lot of “soul” required. 

Hot Wheels even produced a very limited run of 3D-printed copies of the VW T1 Rockster Pickup a few years ago. At 300 bucks a pop, they sold out quickly. Yikes!


3d hot wheels vw rockster

As for the digital files, do you need to collect every single version of the car out there? For the ’71 Riviera alone, there are several options from a solid one-piece car to a kit complete with windows but missing wheels or some other detail.

In a way, the digital files for creating your own print-at-home (or print-at-the-office-when-no-one’s-looking) model are like NFTs that were so popular just a couple of years ago. Except these files have a legitimate use and are not marketed as a rare item. 

Have you acquired any 3D-printed model cars? Have you printed them yourself? Have you ever designed a file for one? We’d love to hear from you!

Ron Ruelle is a cartoonist, writer, and illustrator who also writes about model cars. You can see his work at www.ronruelle.com

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