In my first post in this series, I discussed the basic techniques of how dice are made – casting and carving – and delved into the specifics of how acrylic dice are made. Traditionally acrylics were used for the majority of mass-market dice; however, many plastic dice are now made with resin, a process which is quite different.
This is part two of a multi-part series of posts about how dice are made. See the index in the sidebar for links to all the posts in the series.
I’ll be posting the next parts soon, and I’ll link them here as soon as they’re up.
As mentioned in my last post I’d like to thank:
- Alex Abrate of Level Up Dice for generously sharing his time and knowledge about a huge range of dice-making topics; without Alex I wouldn’t have been able to write these posts.
- Donald Reents of Chessex Manufacturing for sharing information about the details of making acrylic dice.
- Lena, a fellow dice goblin with some truly lovely dice; Lena kindly assisted with pictures of handmade dice.
- Melissa of the Goblin Dice Hoard Facebook group for dice collectors, who generously shared pictures of many amazing sets of premium dice.
Kraken Dice – Mystic Unicorn layered resin dice. Reink and image by me.
How Dice are Made: Post Index
- Post 1: How Acrylic Dice are Made, including the basics of dice-making.
- Post 2: How Resin Dice are Made, including handmade dice from indie and hobbyist dice makers, and a comparison of acrylic vs. resin dice. (That’s this post.)
- Post 3: How Metal and Wood Dice are Made, popular materials in the premium dice market.
- Post 4: How Stone, Glass and Other Premium Dice are Made, and when stone isn’t stone.
How Resin Dice Are Made
Resin dice are made from various kinds of resin, a liquid which cures to hardness when you trigger a reaction. Common kinds of resin are epoxy resin (which harden when you add a catalyst) and light-activated or UV resin (which hardens when exposed to UV light); commercial resin dice making uses a range of resins depending on what’s most appropriate for the desired effect.
Forming Resin Dice
Unlike acrylic dice, resin dice are formed by pouring resin into large flat silicone molds to form the shape of the dice.
Traditionally, resin has always had to be hand poured even in a factory setting – resin products can’t be made through injection molding as the resin clogs the injectors. Recent advances in automation technology mean resin dice can now be poured using other automated methods, and now nearly a third of factory-made resin dice are made using some automation. This percentage is likely to increase as other factories develop automated processes.
In an attempt to clear up misinformation and miscommunications, I have often told people in the dice community that resin dice are always hand-poured even when made in factories, Up until quite recently, I was correct. However, I didn’t know about the recent advances in technology, and since then I’ve been misinforming people.
So, that’s my bad. If you’re one of the people who were surprised to learn that all resin dice are hand-poured, don’t be – they’re not, any more. For now, the majority of resin dice are still hand poured, and almost all resin dice currently in stores and in collections are hand poured. But that is changing.
Finishing Resin Dice
Once the resin has cured, the dice are removed from their molds and painted. As with acrylic dice, resin dice are usually tumbled to finish and polish them; this step also removes excess paint.
Like raw acrylic dice, some brands sell “naked” or uninked resin dice – these dice may have been tumbled but are not painted or finished, allowing keen re-inkers to do their thing without having to strip away a paint layer first.
Naked resin dice – Untumbled Glacial Moonstone from Die Hard Dice.
Indie and “Handmade” Resin Dice
All the materials and equipment needed to make resin dice are accessible to hobbyists and independent artisans, and there has been an explosion in recent months and years of indie dicemakers taking their hobby professional, often pushing the boundaries of design techniques and style ideas.
Even though most commercial resin dice are technically handmade, for many dice enthusiasts “handmade” means “homemade” and “indie”.
Dice made by an indie crafter are made in the same way as factory-made resin dice, with a few exceptions:
- The silicone molds used by indie makers are usually molded off a “master” set of dice which forms the template for the dice made with those molds.
- Tumbling is rare, and most indie makers sand and polish their dice with hand tools instead. As a result, many indie-made resin dice are sharp-edged, because they do not lose their edges in the tumbling process.
- However, this depends on how the molds were made; many indie makers use rounded-edge masters which results in rounded dice, and some indie makers have invested in a lapidary tumbler for polishing gemstones and will tumble their dice instead of hand-sanding.
Resin as a Stabiliser
Resin is often used as a stabilising or bonding agent to solidify materials that would otherwise be too flimsy (or the wrong size and shape) to turn into dice. More info coming in the posts about premium dice!
Acrylic vs. Resin Dice
Both acrylic and resin are “plastic” dice, and as such they’re often compared, but they have some key differences.
Resin dice usually feel denser and more solid; they may feel heavier or sound different when rolled. (This is changing as materials science brings new options for plastic materials; new acrylics can be much denser than older ones.)
- Resin can achieve effects that acrylic can’t: typically vapor/wisp patterns, layers and inclusions.
- Acrylic dice can feature micro-inclusions such as glitter and anything else that can be mixed into the liquid pre-injection, but can’t include anything that might be large enough to get stuck in a sprue or another part of the high-precision setup.
Manufacture – or “What does hand-made mean, anyway?”
- Acrylic dice are always made in an automated facility.
- Resin dice are more manual; most are hand-made, but this might be in large batches in a factory by a number of workers pouring in bulk, or it might be by an indie crafter in their garage.
- Both resin and acrylic dice are usually finished by machine-tumbling, but can be hand-finished and hand-polished if desired (e.g. for a sharp edged finish).
Injection molding requires high-precision components, so mold-making is a significant cost in making acrylic dice. This means acrylic dice become much more cost-effective at high volumes, but are very expensive to make in small batches unless you’re using an existing mold. Changing designs can thus be an expensive process.
Resin crafting, by comparison, is much better for small batches, because the molds are less expensive and more easily created and replaced.
Open Face Molds
Commercial resin dice making often uses open-face molds – where, as you would expect from the name, the top of the mold is open to the air. This has the benefit of easy pouring without having to struggle to align lids correctly, speeding up bulk pouring processes substantially. The missing number is then laser-engraved after the dice are demolded, before painting and finishing.
(If you find a number that is different from the others on your resin dice – shallower, deeper, or with a different texture in the number cavity – that number has probably been laser-engraved.)
Many open face molds are set up to have the “1” face blank, because every die size has that face, making it easy to engrave multiple dice without extra setup. Other makers choose to have the high number on the open face, allowing easy addition of symbols (e.g. for the common “brand logo on the 20 face of the d20” approach) without having to create custom molds.
Open-face is one style of mold used by indie dice makers, although it poses the problem of how to apply an appealing-looking number by hand and make it look consistent. Equally, indie makers don’t have the same industrial pressure to shave seconds off their working time, and can afford to spend the time to fit mold lids correctly.
Blank face molds are also possible in acrylic dice making – they’re not open-face, but one of the faces will be left blank when the mold is being made. Molds with a blank face make it easy to customise acrylic dice with brand logos; this is how dice brands can easily offer custom D6 faces for so many of their dice without huge mold setup fees.