The Alphastream Game Design Blog
I really love miniatures (see all my miniatures posts here). My players sure love when cool miniatures hit the table. While I greatly enjoy theater of the mind, I can’t resist using miniatures and terrain – especially for big epic battles and exciting engaging scenes!
High-quality miniatures are expensive. If you are on a tight budget, you may want to use other gaming options and save your cash for more important needs (like paying off debt or saving up for your future). If you can comfortably purchase minis, it can be a gratifying collector hobby and pretty soon you will find you need solutions for organizing and storing. Here is what works for me.
It is truly disappointing to have a great miniature collection, realize you need a particular miniature, and fail to find it. Don’t let every fight with thugs be the same crossbow guy miniature, or have an otyugh stand in for a remorhaz… when you actually have the miniatures to create exciting battles!
Having miniatures in a few enormous boxes makes it challenging to find anything. We forget what we own, and we use sub-optimal choices because we lack the time to go through our collection.
When considering options, here are our goals:
In an ideal situation, our storage looks good enough that we would have it out in the open in our gaming area. It is efficient, not taking up too much space. The minis are sorted by type and we can find and return minis easily. Our storage can inspire us. We can look through our collection and come up with cool adventure ideas.
You can use my D&D Miniature Collection Tracker to keep track of all the minis you own, and those you still need. I’m always up for trading miniatures, and you can see my list of trades and needs here.
Tracking your collection becomes more useful if you decide to hunt down entire sets, or if you want to be able to design encounters on your computer and then easily find which and how many minis you have for particular types. I’m designing a fight with a remorhaz… hmm… how many young remorhaz minis do I own?
There are many ways you can store miniatures. The options tend to narrow down as your collection grows, because you will find you need scalable solutions so you can more easily add storage and still keep the same look and approach.
With a small collection a toolbox or various storage solutions for hardware (such as racks designed to store nuts, bolts, and nails) can be great. As the collection grows, you will find you don’t want a bunch of different toolboxes and the racks start becoming too cluttered to be useful as an organizational scheme for a large collection.
You will also find that different solutions work best for different miniature sizes. Some types of storage are great for small and medium minis, but won’t hold most large minis. Other solutions are great for huge minis, but are completely inefficient for medium and small minis. Drawers can be great for large collections, but we may also want options so common types (such as skeletons) can be carried around, even brought to the table. For example, it’s really cool if we can bring our humanoids out to the table during character creation so players can choose an awesome mini and be inspired.
Storage companies often shake up their models. You might find a store carries a particular type one year, and then it’s gone. Buying a little more than you need can help you weather the changes across the years if you know your collection will grow. Generally you can find other brands/models that are close enough if you stick to common types of storage.
Finally, it’s worth noting that I am primarily focused on prepainted miniatures. These can handle being stored with each other without damage. Unpainted miniatures that you paint can be stored in the same types of containers, but you should store fewer minis per container/drawer and consider padding that lines the container to protect the mini. The best painted minis should be stored for display, which is a different approach (check out blogs that deal with painting wargaming minis for ideas).
Here are my suggestions with those factors in mind.
Dimensions: 14 ¾” x 14” x 2’
Details: 5 long rows all with removable dividers, plus 1 wider row with three fixed bins.
These ran about $17 each, though the Storables where I found them no longer carries them. You find these online, including directly from Artbin.com.
This is my go-to solution for storing medium and small miniatures. I can store a large number of minis efficiently. I have an absurd number of NPC and PC miniatures, and I can fit almost all of them in just two of these.
The sides and top are clear with great visibility (plastic organizers sometimes are only semi-transparent, especially where there are dividers, supports, or where the plastic curves). This is a sturdy box, with good solid closure. You can store a lot of minis, and the removable/configurable dividers let you change your approach over time as the ratio of minis changes. You might start with only a few warforged, get into Eberron, and then you can change your configuration to have more space for warfored minis. The depth is a nice balance of efficiency while being shallow enough that you can see your collection without having to run your fingers through it to find something.
These stack well, and they fit on top of the drawers I use for large/huge minis, which is great. They are portable enough that I could take a couple from my office to my gaming table, or even in the car to a friend’s house.
I own a bunch of these and highly recommend them. I used to own some IRIS containers without dividers, but even when they were shallow it was hard to find minis. Some had paper/cardboard interlocking dividers, and I would not recommend those as they are flimsy and minis get under them.
Dimensions: 14” x 8 ¾” x 1 ¾”
Details: 3 long rows with removable dividers, plus 1 row with two fixed bins and one shallow area by the latch.
Or, even smaller, Rimax 5520:
Dimensions: 10 ¾” x 7” x 1 ¾”
Details: 2 long rows with removable dividers, plus 1 row with two fixed bins and one shallow area by the latch.
The ArtBin I mentioned previously works great. And, if in doubt, stick to that method. However, it can be worth considering smaller bins for discrete types of minis. This might also be a good option if you have space constraints, such as needing to fit into a particular size closet. Or, if you want storage that is very easy to carry – you can put one of these in a backpack and easily take it to a convention. I even fly with one of these as my storage for all the small/medium minis I use at a convention as a DM.
There tend to be a lot of similar items in this category, and the exact model and brand changes over the years. Plano is likely the most common provider you will find, though I like the Rimax models (in part because the company is from Cali, Colombia, where I grew up).
I suggest looking at options in person if you can, and choosing one or two sizes and getting a few for specific situations. For example, I use one of the Rimax 14” for zombies and incorporeal undead, and another for skeletons and werecreatures. I use one for my favorite villain and evil soldier NPCs. I use the smaller size for drow and another for orcs, just based on the convenience of having those common types isolated and easy to access.
Rimax and Plano also make a few simple racks. A while back I found these Rimax/Workforce “Storage Organization Box” that hold 4 of the smaller organizers. They stack, so I have three of these boxes in a side of my closet with common mini types.
Overall Dimensions: 26.44” (Tall) x 12.05” (W) x 14.25” (D)
Shallow Drawer Dimensions: 9.63″L x 12.50″W x 2.93″H
Deep Drawer Dimensions: 9.5″L x 12.5″W x 6.75″H
Details: Three types. One comes with 2 shallow and 2 deep. One has 6 shallow. One has 3 deep. They are all the same height and stack, with removable wheels! Roughly $30 for each cart. There is also a more expensive 10-drawer tall version.
This is my recommended way to store your large and even huge minis. The Iris “cart” has wheels that detach. This can let you choose between having the unit roll or not. It also lets you stack one on top of another! I picked one 3-drawer and three 6-drawer for my needs, and this has lasted me a long time. I found mine at Office Depot and I’ve seen them at several other stores online and in person.
The shallow drawers are a nice height, allowing many large minis to stand. Tall ones must lie prone. The deep drawers can hold huge minis such as all the giants in the Storm King’s Thunder WizKids set, and even some gargantuan minis will fit along with your huge ones.
Drawers pull out most of the way, and then you can pull diagonally to pull the drawer free if you want to take it to your gaming table.
These sets also work well for terrain, such as Dwarven Forge, if you want to store the pieces out of your boxes.
These have a nice clean look. They are meant to store paper and office supplies and look professional.
When you get to enormous sizes, no bin is efficient. It’s best to store these on a shelf! In rare cases a big plastic bin can work, but it’s seldom convenient to have such a big bin around unless you have a really large closet or gaming room.
There are two schools of thought with Dwarven Forge. Some folks like to sort it by type. All your straight walls in one place, all your curved walls in another, all your doors in another, etc. Another option is to keep your sets together.
My method thus far is to keep my pieces in the original boxes, but I label the boxes so I know what is inside. The first time I open a box of Dwarven Forge terrain, I take a picture of how the pieces are stored. I keep these in a folder on my computer, so if I ever have trouble getting everything in I can look up how they did it. Usually it is easy enough to figure out.
The benefit of the boxes is they tend to be similar sizes and stack well.
I’ve sometimes had a long-running game where I grouped pieces momentarily by type or use, and it hasn’t felt like an efficient system. I may change my mind in the future as I get more sets.
The IRIS carts, Ikea Alex drawers, and Sterlite drawer units can all work if you decide to store your Dwarven Forge outside of the original containers. Some folks use large bins since the terrain is so indestructible, but the larger the bin the longer it takes to find pieces you need. My ideal scenario is to have everything in shallow drawers so every piece is visible, or to have such a good labeling system that I always know where to look.
I label my storage. I pick a fun font in my word processor of choice, print out name tags, and use packing tape to tape the name to the container. This lets me see what is inside at a distance.
If you use the tracking spreadsheet, you can add a column to it for Storage, and label your storage bins accordingly. For example, if you have a bin for Aberrations, you can then add that title to the row of every mini in that bin. This is especially helpful if you put minis together thematically, such as in a bin for “Underdark” or if you find you own many minis that could go in one of several bins.
The labels you use will vary by your collection size. Early on you might get away with “Planes” for anything that is extra-planar. If you get a big enough collection, even “Devils” have to be in their own container and “Demons” in their own. Similarly, “Elementals” works for smaller collections but may need to be separated by element once your collection grows. Part of the fun is working through what works for your collection size.
Here are my current labels, should it help you:
Medium and Small minis in ArtBins:
Medium and Small in Rimax 14” containers:
Large minis in IRIS Carts, Shallow Drawers:
I don’t label my 3 drawers for huge minis, but they tend to be giants with a few monsters such as behir and remorhaz.
I also have one large tub that holds a bunch of extra dragons and other minis that have big wings, tails, or other aspects that make them hard to fit in normal drawers. Ideally, I would display these on shelves, but I don’t have a dedicated gaming room.
How about you? What storage solutions have worked best for your minis or terrain?