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Scale Modeling Tips & Tools Monthly, Issue #040-- "Signs of the Times"
April 15, 2010
|April 15, 2010
Signs of the Times
There are few projects that can bring life to your scale model railroad layout like era-appropriate signs whether they are billboards, wall signs on structures or roadside/trackside signs. But to stimulate the “WOW Factor”, you need one or two ghost signs on structure walls.
Besides clearly identifying the time period of your modeling efforts, signs add a spot or spots of color as well as conveying the impression of a highly detailed layout.
The Internet has provided literally hundreds of sources for signs and signing ideas for almost any era. You will find there are several modelers who keep a collection of sign art by industry, by era or by medium (metal, paper posters, billboards etc.)
There are very few scale modelers today who don’t utilize a computer to create, download, scan and alter images and other printed material for modeling purposes. There are also software programs meant for purposes like creating banners or other signs for the printed page. With a little adjusting, cropping and shrinking, they are perfect for scale modeling.
A banner sign developed with Banner making software and reduced for use on an N-Scale building
For years I gave been creating my own signs for buildings using a program called “NetStudio” to create a “free-hand” factory sign in any font style, color and even shape, though for simplicity’s sake I normally work with a square or rectangle.
Once I get the “sign” to look the way I want, I use another program called SnagIt to grab a copy and resize it tom match the scale of my model, add a border if suitable and print the result.
There sure wasn’t a method of making your own decals practical for the modeler since there were no computers, no home printers and no known decal paper.
If I’m going to start hammering out decals, I’ll need a good teacher, or at least a well written tutorial on the topic.
Chris Bromley wrote one on the N Scale Limited Website last year that is just the ticket. There is no reason to try and re-invent the process so here’s a link to the instructions I am trying to follow.
If you learn things like this easier from a video, decalpaper.com produced a fine one you’ll find here:
This looks a lot simpler than I at first imagined, I think the tricky part will be coming up with an ideal, good quality photo of your sign.
I have put together a gallery of sign images on my website, feel free to browse and take what you need.
Decals by their very nature are fragile and easily torn and since most are water activated, you double the need to handle them in a gentle manner.
|Tools For Decaling
both straight and curved
Always prepare for their use by cutting from the decal sheet with a paper border surrounding it to allow you to grip it with tweezers for dipping into the water.
Watch for tiny bubbles in the decal surface which ruin the painted on effect. Be prepared to prick them with a pin of gently push them to the edge with a piece of cloth.
You will need to use a decal setting solution to help the decal mold itself to the surface of the model to appear like it was painted there. Most model surfaces are irregular with indentations and protrusions to emphasize detail. Decals are designed with the idea of applying them to a smooth surface.
The more glossy the surface, the better the adhesion. It is a good idea to spray the section where you are plying the decal with a coat of clear gloss. Once the decal is in position, we’ll deal with the shine around the decal later with an overspray of flat finish.
If you run into problems because of an uneven surface such as corrugations, float your decal in the water and then submerge (gently) it in white vinegar. The acetic reaction will make the decal softer and it can be more easily curved around tricky areas. Another vinegar trick is to apply it to the surface and once the decal is in position, dab it off with a soft cloth.
You will find the older a decal gets, the more problematic it will be to use, they tend to get brittle and crack. Try flooding it with clearcote and allow it to dry. Do a test soak in warm water (not HOT!). Often this won’t work and the decal acts like it is locked to the backing paper.
Don’t give up, you can always scan it into your computer and print the resulting file on commercial decal paper.
You can also apply flow solution (available from art shops to increase acrylic-paint flow) to your decal removal water. Instead of sliding, try to pick up one edge with a toothpick to remove.
I eliminated both the financial drain and computer resource crippling effects of Photoshop with a simple-to-use and economy-minded graphics manipulation program called CompactDRAW.
The basic concept behind CompactDRAW is that you draw,edit and combine your shapes, text and other objects as in vector drawing packages. However each object has its own bitmap properties as a color, texture, transparency, many 3d effects, bevels or casting shadows. The objects have smooth edges and the feel of bitmap image or rendered scene.
Because everything is editable all the time, you don't have to recreate the graphics again and again from scratch just to change small thing.
What that means in railroad-modeler-speak is you can take the image of a brick wall and paste it into the work-area of CompactDRAW and then copy/paste a sign on top of the brick wall image where you can re-size and move your sign to where you want it.
Here’s the cool part. You can then manipulate the sign with various texture elements and fade it to the point of being almost non-existent.
Alligator clips, especially if they are stationary can provide you with those extra hands and keep you from getting tangled up.
This is particularly handy for models of ships in an era that required rope-strapped blocks to provide a tie off point for other rigging lines below.
By sinking the butt ends of the alligator clips into the edge of a board you can pass your rope around the block at one end, bring it alongside itself and bind with a drop of glue. It is then easy to “seize” the glued area with a finer line as would have been done aboard ship.
You will find literally hundreds of uses for this particular rope-to-block process for the typical fully-rigged model.
As we get ready to embark on our third year, I am hoping to open the site up to input from other scale modelers. You may have noticed the Navigation Bar has been sub-divided into the major hobbies covered.
Each of these sections now has one or two pages that invite participation with questions, tips and pictures regarding your various modeling endeavors.
We want to hear from you as do the other 25,000 modelers who log onto this site monthly.
As I get ready to roll into my 71st year, I can’t believe how much I have learned about hobby activities In the past two years. I have heard from other modelers with similar experiences.
To help me develop and maintain my website your comments on its content are essential. You can send me your comments by visiting the “Voice Your Opinion” feature at the top of the Navigation stack in the left column on each page.
It was never my intention to make this website a one way street as my knowledge is no where deep enough for me to be termed an “Authority”. I hunger for your feedback, comments, ideas, tutorials, plans, pictures and even your negative comments if considered constructive.
The Internet and that includes www.scale-modelers-handbook.com work best when they are interactive and that is collaboration only you can provide. It has been a pleasure serving as your guide for these past two years and by no means am I throwing in the towel, for I honestly believe the building and maintaining of this website are instrumental in keeping my mind active.
I want to open up this site in the fast lane. That is your part of the two-way street.
If you have been giving some thought to launching your own home business in 2010, it is worth your time to take a look at what I found:
Steps To Success