The art of 3D printing is a practice that's skyrocketed in popularity in the last few years. Known at first for its practical uses in fields like engineering and medicine, it has since become the go-to solution for cosplayers and hobbyists to create movie-quality costumes and accessories as the technology has become more widely available.
Enter Galactic Armory. A one-man operation in the American Midwest that proudly boasts to be the world's "premier provider of 3D-printed clone trooper helmets". Quite a feat considering Galactic Armory operates out of a storage unit with about 50 printers. An array that's continuously creating high-quality helmets and armour for (primarily) Star Wars fans and cosplayers the world over, including for members of the world-famous 501st Legion. The similarities between the business and the Kaminoans who created the Clone Army at the behest of the Jedi Order in Star Wars lore are not subtle, and certainly not lost on its owner.
"I've had that parallel brought up before," remarks Galactic Armory's founder and owner, Aaron, 26. The former software developer first realised he might be on to something after posting his creations on websites like Reddit. "Eventually enough people were interested in my work that I opened an Etsy shop to sell some of my prints and finished pieces," he explains. "Things scaled up and I soon had over 12 printers running in their own dedicated room in a two-bedroom apartment."
Moving to a house where the business overtook the entire basement "in both amperage and space", Aaron quit his job and made Galactic Armory his full-time calling, now armed with his own small army of printers.
Cosplaying itself has seen a surge in both popularity and acceptance. Brands have begun to realise the value of people connecting with their creations in an artistic way, and utilising the power of social media to share them. Aaron has built a healthy following across his own channels, including on YouTube where he often posts how-to videos focussed on building the kits he's designed. From printing to construction, painting and finishing; just about any character across the expansive galaxy far, far away is seemingly within reach of real-world creation.
3D printing has "absolutely" changed the game for cosplayers to create their own dream costumes in a way that simply wasn't possible before. "[It] has changed cosplay in the same way a sewing machine did," Aaron says. "It didn't finish the project for you but it made the process infinitely easier. 3D printing can give you a perfect starting point for practically any hard-surface piece of cosplay."
The quality of 3D printing is also something that's come along in leaps and bounds. As a member of the Star Wars charity group the 501st Legion, Aaron was the first to fully 3D print his own costume, with others now joining using prints and designs he made. The rigorously strict entry requirements for the 501st stipulate that members have extremely high-quality costumes in order to attend events with them.
"I try to make the default size accessible to the most amount of people. There are techniques to estimating the scale you'll need before you print but you can't be sure until you've printed out a piece and see how it fits. What I like to do is cut a thin cross section of the model, say the chest piece, and print it out at different scales. That way I can see which scale fits me best without printing the entire piece only to find it doesn't fit."
Using himself as a template for future units? How very Jango Fett. Stopping short of creating a miniature 3D print in his own image like Boba, Aaron says his favourite piece is "probably the original helmet I made for my first tutorial video, since that's pretty much what kicked off this whole endeavour."
The plans (which incidentally are available to buy through the Galactic Armory website and Etsy shop) require a small amount of technical knowhow to turn into your own tangible piece of fantasy armour, but it's something Aaron believes anybody can do with a sufficient amount of interest. "3D printers are becoming more and more available. Many high schools, libraries, or makerspaces have free/cheap access to 3D printers," he advises. "There is also a plethora of free files to use and software for it as well. If you're hesitant to drop the cash for your own personal printer I'd recommend searching for these spaces to test the waters."
With 2021 underway and Disney announcing a bevvy of new Star Wars shows, books and video games, the sky (or perhaps the galaxy) is the limit for cosplayers, enthusiasts and suppliers like Aaron. The simile of the Kaminoans is a fun one, but if the future of Star Wars is as bright as fans hope it will be, Galactic Armory may very well need an entire factory dedicated to the production of 3D printed armour. "200,000 units available with a million more well on the way," he jokes. To paraphrase the immutable words of Obi-Wan Kenobi, that's why we're here.
Featured Image Credit: Galactic Armory / Lucasfilm
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