Whether you’re going to a local game store to play or traveling hundreds of miles to enter a handful of display figures into a contest, the best way to transport the miniatures you want to use is an issue that can take some thought, effort, and money to resolve. I’m going to share my ideas and experiences, and also ideas that other people have shared with me. I’ll include links to some commercially available options at the end of this article. Many thanks to the people who shared their experiences and suggestions!
A foam compartment tray is one travel option.
What Types of Miniatures, and How Many?
Before you begin buying or making transport containers, it is helpful to have as thorough an understanding as you can of what you need. It is also helpful to think about this well in advance of a trip, so that you have time to work out the best solutions. I have more than once put a lot of effort into creating and painting an ambitious contest entry and only a day or two before the trip realized I also had to figure out how to safely transport it! If you decide you want to order a commercially available option, remember it will take some time to ship to you.
Once you have purchased/created a transportation container, you may want to keep its parameters in mind when in the design phase for new pieces. For example, you will need to be able to put the piece on its side or use another container if you design a piece taller than your transportation container.
This figure is too tall for the lowest shelf position in my carrying case, and the base protruded over the plinth on all sides so I couldn’t put it on its side. I had to affix it (and any other figures I wanted to transport at the same time) to the bottom of my case, which has damaged the material coating the interior.
Some questions to consider:
How many miniatures are you likely to want to transport? Is it a handful or an army of hundreds? This will heavily influence the size and nature of the storage solution you need.
Nature of the Miniatures
What size(s) are the figures? Are they sturdy metal or plastic, or fragile resin or 3D prints? Remember to consider everything that is part of the figure, not just the figure itself. A lot of basing material used on display figures is pretty fragile. Your transport system needs to accommodate not only the size of the figure, but also the base or plinth you attach it to.
Method of Transport
How will you be traveling? You can consider a much wider array of options if you’re traveling in your own car than if you’re traveling via plane, train, or bus. Flying introduces a number of constraints to the size and other requirements of your transport system. If you choose a stand-alone case, remember that it will count as one of the two items you’re allowed to carry with you on the plane.
Secure and Protect
As I was putting this information together, I realized that transport and shipping is made up of two components. One is the inner method used to secure and/or protect the figures. The other is the outer container. These work in tandem, and the choice you make for one may limit or dictate the choices for the other.
The inner methods break down into two main options. One method is to cushion the miniatures in a protective layer like foam or bubblewrap. The other is to securely attach the base of the miniature to a flat surface. The figure is freestanding, with nothing touching it on the sides.
Another option is to attach the figures to a shelf via magnetization, poster tack, or mounting tape, or a combination of those.
Each of the inner methods has advantages and drawbacks. Foam pockets and magnetization are probably the best options for gaming scenarios where you want to be able to quickly and easily pack and unpack numbers of figures. Bubblewrap, poster tack, and mounting tape are more cumbersome to pack and unpack, but can allow for more customization or transport security.
Bubblewrap and some foam options are designed to keep figures secure regardless of the orientation or impact to the outer case. Poster tack, mounting tape, and magnetization may work best when when the outer carrying case will be kept largely in an upright position, just tilting somewhat or being bumped or jostled.
Foam is a common method for cushioning fragile objects, and comes in a variety of forms. All of them mostly or completely enclose the figure. Some kinds of foam are a little abrasive and could damage paint. Sharp pieces like swords or spikes tend to stick into foam. You can use a barrier like sheet plastic (plastic wrap, cut up plastic bags), bubblewrap, or tissue between the miniature and the foam to reduce these issues. You can wrap this around the miniature or fold it into the foam compartment. Contact with foam (or any surface) can be be damaging to fragile base work like dried or paper plants.
Waffle: Miniatures are secured between foam sheets that are shaped into peaks and depressions. It can accommodate a variety of figures and be fitted into a variety of cases. If miniatures of different widths are stored in the same case/layer, it can cause the foam to not clamp tightly enough to secure the smaller figures. Waffle foam is easy to use, but not the most secure option.
Compartments: Shapes (usually rectangles) are cut into the foam or created by gluing sheets of foam together. One miniature is stored in each compartment. Pre-made commercial compartment foam may not accommodate the exact number or dimension of figures you have to transport. Some cases can store multiple layers of foam sheets so you can purchase sheets with different sizes of compartments. You will need to find foam sheets that match the dimensions of your case (or vice versa). Some companies may offer options for customizing the compartments on foam sheets.
Left: Elements of the figure or paint job can be damaged if portions protrude from the compartment, even on plastic figures.
Right: You can add a pocket of bubblewrap for cushioning if the compartment is too big, or to protect the paint from damage caused by rubbing against the foam.
Pluck: Pluck foam is produced as a sheet/layer, but the foam is cut into a grid pattern, and is secured only to the bottom of the sheet. The squares are usually 5mm to a half inch or so in size. You can create exactly the size of compartments you need for the miniatures you will be transporting by pulling out pieces of the foam. This is helpful if you have a war band or similar set of figures that you are transporting to multiple events. You may need to get additional foam sheets if you transport varying sizes and shapes of figures to different events. As with compartment foam, you will need to be able to buy foam layers in the same size as your case, or vice versa.
Solid: The ultimate in customization. This is a block of solid foam of whatever measurement you acquire. You carve into it to create the perfect shape to cradle your figure(s). This is a good method for shipping large figures with protruding parts, like a dragon.
One option to secure miniatures is to individually wrap them in bubblewrap or use various types of foam.
Just as when you pack china, you can wrap bubblewrap around a figure to protect it. Bubblewrap works best on single figures. As the bubblewrap is wrapped around the figure, it may bend thin parts like a staff or sword which are held away from the main body of the miniature. Most metal miniatures can withstand a trip or two with some bending or compression, but you may risk stress fractures if you travel with them often. The pressure of the bubblewrap cocoon may be too much for small fragile resin pieces and similar.
To use bubblewrap, you also need to use tape, and you should plan to have some available to you at both ends of the trip. I find that shiny style tape sticks to the bubblewrap, which bursts the bubbles so you only get one or two trips out of the bubble wrap. I instead use a medical tape that has a different glue. Magic tape also works, though not quite as well. I can reuse tape and bubblewrap for multiple trips. I can also cut out strips of medical tape and put them on the inside of my carrier so I don’t have to bring a whole roll or scissors. Whichever kind of tape I use, if I’m carrying multiple figures I often write an identifier on the tape so I can find the figure I’m looking for without having to unwrap all of them.
This is the kind of medical tape I use with bubblewrap.
Bubblewrap is also a feasible option to transport numbers of plastic figures. All you need to do to preserve paint jobs on light weight plastic figures is keep them from rubbing against one another. You can lay down a layer of bubble wrap, space figures out on it, then add another layer, and so on. You can do this in any size container, from a smaller food storage container to a small bin. It’s more cumbersome to pack and unpack than foam or magnets, but probably the least expensive option.
Poster tack is a malleable putty. Its original use was to attach posters to walls without damaging the paint. You knead the tack with your fingers to warm it up and get it a little more sticky, and then apply it. When you remove it, it peels easily away from solid materials. If some sticks on the surface, you can usually pull it up by dabbing the remainder with a ball of the tack. Blu Tack is a very popular brand, but there are lots of options. I recommend testing the one you try before travel, as some work much better than others. You can test it by attaching an unpainted heavy miniature to a surface, turning it upside down, and shaking it. You could also knock your hand lightly against the figure. If the figure falls off, try another brand.
People use poster tack to attach figures to a flat shelf that slides into a carrying case, or to the bottom of a bin or similar. Poster tack is not strong or sticky enough to attach a miniature with a bottom that is flat to a flat surface. However, you can instead pile it up along the edges of the base/plinth to hold a piece in place. It will generally attach something like a slotta base to a flat surface well, but I would still recommend using additional tack on the base edges. I tend to like to be extra secure and use mounting tape or magnets to secure the base to the shelf surface, and then also put tack around the edges of the base.
I’ve also used poster tack and mounting tape to secure single fragile figures into ad hoc transport systems like the above.
Mounting tape is a strong double-sided tape with a thin layer of foam in the middle. My experience is with the 3M brand, which I have found widely available in anything from pharmacies to hardware stores. It comes in a few different widths. It is intended for attaching pictures to walls and similar. It adheres much more firmly than poster tack. In fact, it adheres so firmly that I usually pack a dull blade tool when I use it so I can pry the miniature up off of the surface. It is much more likely to damage a surface than poster tack, so should only be applied to unpainted areas like the bottoms of figure bases. It works best when adhering a flat surface to a flat surface, so it’s not a great option for slotta bases. When I transport particularly fragile or heavy pieces I use a combination of mounting tape and poster tack. Mounting tape is single use so you will need to bring some along, and scissors or a hobby knife to cut new pieces for the return trip.
I used to use this mounting tape, my new favourite is Gorilla brand mounting tape.
Magnetization is an increasingly popular option. People use a metal sheet in their case and attach a tiny rare earth magnet to the bottom of the base of each figure. The magnets are generally small enough to fit in the open areas of a slotta base. If you have a plinth or flat base you’ll need to drill or carve out space to glue the magnet. Options vary from commercially available carrying cases to homemade solutions that use storage bins and cookie sheets. The magnet system is very handy for armies as you can just pull off figures as you need them and then drop them back on. Many people transporting display miniatures also use magnets, but usually reinforce them by securing poster tack around the edges of bases. I’m told by some who use the system that the small powerful magnets are strong enough to work even if the shelf is turned upside down. I would very thoroughly test that for myself with unpainted figures over a cushion before I felt comfortable to do it with painted figures, however.
If you’re handy and willing to take a little time, using hardware is a very secure option. With this method you put a screw through your shelf. You have a wing nut or stop nut in the bottom of the base or plinth, and then screw the base of the miniature onto the screw in your shelf.
Outer Case Options
There are a myriad of options for the outer case, from homemade to commercially available. Often your choice of outer case commits you to using a particular inner method for securing the miniatures. You may not be able to easily switch between foam compartment sheets and metal trays with magnets, for example.
Small Plastic Box
This is a great option for transporting small numbers of miniatures secured in plastic wrap. I like to use hard plastic pencil boxes. I place these at the bottom of my carryon knapsack. Plastic containers are light weight and available in an array of sizes.
Larger Plastic Box – Stackable
Larger plastic containers are a good option for game players transporting locally or by car. You can attach a metal sheet to the bottom of a bin and use magnets on your figures. Stackable style boxes allow you to bring only the figures you need to each event.
Small Briefcase or Portable Tool Case
Hard sided cases are an option to transport a moderate amount of figures. You can fill them with bubble wrapped figures, or customize them with foam. If you’re handy, you can build in compartments.
Example of a small metal case customized with compartments.
On a few occasions where I have been transporting one fragile miniature by car, I’ve secured it to the top of a jar lid and then screwed the jar shut. I pack it into the car in such a way that it can’t get tipped over. If a miniature is well secured it’s possible this method could work in carry-on luggage, but you’d need to feel confident that the miniature would stay secured if tipped over or turned upside down.
Dedicated Miniature Case
There are a lot of options available, including quite a few that on Amazon. The most common seem to use foam trays or metal shelves, but there are also cases that use waffle or pluck foam. These cases come in a variety of sizes, to suit the needs of game players and display painters alike. If you are purchasing one to use in plane flight, ensure that the measurements do not exceed those permitted on planes. In particular, if you are at all likely to travel in a regional jet, the Tablewar small size is about the largest case that will fit under the seat or in the overhead compartment. You would be required to plane-side check anything larger and it would get literally tossed into the luggage compartment. At the bottom of this article you will find links to some of the commercially available options. The biggest downside to these is that they can be pretty expensive. I have found the clear front window of the Tablewar case I use to be very helpful at the airport. A surprising number of security agents know what miniatures are or at least recognize that these are fragile works of art.
The clear door allows airport security to see what is inside, and allows you to check up on your figures.
Homemade Wooden Miniature Case
Some of the modern cases like the Tablewar are likely inspired by wooden custom crafted cases that were popular some years back. These were usually made with a front door panel that swung open on hinges, and accommodated one or possibly two removable shelves. Sometimes the shelves were fitted with rare earth magnets so you could attach washers or similar to the bottom of the figures. Similar to the metal sheet shelf system, but the opposite for which object was metal and which was magnetized. I found a few cases of this type in a search, but none were in stock, so I’m not including them in my links below. I mention the option for those who are handy and would like to explore making their own case.
If you’re handy, you could build your own case. The sliding shelf on this is fitted with magnets. It is more common now to use a metal shelf and attach the magnets to the figure. (Apologies for the lower quality photos, we still haven’t unpacked everything after renovations I couldn’t find this case to take new photos.)
Personal Recommendations and Reviews
Before I list specific products, I want to be very clear. Seeing a product listed here is neither a review nor a recommendation. I have only used a few of these products. It’s also important to note that I only travel with small numbers of display figures, I have not used any army transport method. I strongly encourage you to do additional research before you spend a lot of money on a transport case. There are some review articles online, and probably some YouTube videos, but I would recommend crowd sourcing opinions if you can. Go on a large miniature discussion group related to miniatures or the specific games you play and ask for opinions. You can find these on Facebook, Discord, or sometimes official or fan forums for the games you play. A number of these cases are sold on Amazon, so you can read reviews there, as well.
I do have one piece of advice about reviews and recommendations, however. Don’t just look for a yay/nay or number rating. Actually read reasons why people love or hate something. I have more than once bought something based on negative reviews where the reviewer has detailed their opinions. They might hate X, Y, and Z. I think about their opinions and consider that I won’t be using the product in X fashion, I actually like Y, and maybe Z is just a question of personal taste, like what colour something is. When I read reviews I care less about a rating number than the details of what people do and don’t like about something.
My preferred method to transport figures is to wrap them in bubblewrap and put them into hard plastic pencil boxes. I stash these at the bottom of my carry-on backpack. Since that has many important items in it, I am far less likely to forget it somewhere. I have the smallest size Tablewar case and the wooden case pictured above. These are heavier, and a second carryon item to keep track of. I have a few times left them at a restaurant or similar in the airport only to realize a few minutes later and go rushing back. The Tablewar case has a lot of great features and flexibility and I like the clear plastic window. I can check on the figures more easily and most of the time I find that airport security recognizes the items are fragile. They have wanted to swab the interior of my cases on multiple occasions, but have not touched the actual figures.
Tablewar also makes larger cases for transporting armies. The small case I have is the largest one that will fit in the overhead of a regional jet. The small size case comes with two shelves, so you could use it for units of gaming scale figures.
I’m including this photo again since I’m discussing my opinion of these specific transport solutions.
I have not used either of my foam container options for travel, I’ve just used them for around the house storage. The compartment style works pretty well, but I have found that I’ve had damage to the paint from contact with the foam. I can also hear some of the figures rattling around when I move the case. If I added bubblewrap pockets it would likely take care of both issues without impacting the ability to access the figures quickly in game play. I’ve been using the bubblewrap pockets for metal figures kept in that case and they’ve been held in place pretty well.
I keep the figures I painted when I wrote the Learn to Paint kits in the waffle foam case. Every time I open it up the smaller and thinner figures have shifted around. It’s not a big deal with these Bones plastic miniatures that are just stored in my home, but I would have qualms about using it for travel.
I encourage people to share their experiences and recommendations in the comments!
Commercial Transport Options
Below are links to commercially available miniature carrying case options. If you have a recommendation for a site to add to the list, please let me know!
Some of these or other options may be available on Amazon if you prefer to purchase through that. I found plenty of hits on US Amazon with the search term ‘miniature case’.
A-Case (or Army Case)
These are some review/suggestion articles related to carrying cases:
Tangible Day – Top 10 Great Miniature Transport Bags and Cases
Miniature Storage – Complete List of Miniature Storage Cases for Every Gamer
Nerd Bear – top 10 Best Miniature Carrying Cases (2021)
Tabletop Bellhop – The Best Ways to Sort, Store, and Protect Gaming Miniatures
– Includes a suggestion of egg crates for cheap and easy local transportation.
Figures Shown in this Post
There are a lot of figures in the pictures in this post, so it would take me forever to add purchase links for each one as I usually do. If there’s a particular figure you need more information on let me know in the comments and I’ll find you a link.