Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Tools of the Trade

This section is a catalog, of sorts, of the supplies and equipment we use on our customs. I will permanently link this page in the "Links" section on the right, and will update it as necessary.

Basic Customizing - part swaps and repaints
Intermediate Customizing - decals, airbrushing, weathering, and Dremel-ing
Advanced Customizing - sculpting, molding, and casting
Other Supplies - unpictured supplies and miscellaneous items

(the above categories are also how the recipes are classified into difficulty levels)

Tools and Supplies for Basic Customizing

Flat Coat
Protects paint. Has a flat sheen (not shiny).

Gloss Coat
Protects paint. Has a glossy sheen. In special cases, it can also be used to simulate "wetness".

Map Tacks
Little push-pins, usually used to mark locations on maps. Great for making tiny holes that would be too difficult to drill. I especially use these when making repairs.

An absolute necessity to keep your table-tops clean, and to keep the wife happy. Go for plastic so paint, glue, and water don't soak through.

Set of Files
These are great for filing and sanding hard-to-reach nooks and crannies.

Get a variety of sizes, in natural fibers (sable is good, but expensive). Make sure the type of brush you get matches the kind of paint you want to use (acrylic vs. enamel). There are also some brushes that work for all mediums. Remember to keep your brushes clean and in good condition! The most common sizes I use are a size 0 shader (for general painting), a size 0 spotter (for larger areas), and a size 18/0 spotter for very small detail work. I also keep a few old brushes on hand to use for clear coats/lacquers.

Clips, Rubberbands, and Paper Clips
Great for holding things together while waiting for glue to dry. I also use paper clips as "rebar" when doing repairs of joining parts that aren't meant to be articulated.

Hobby Knives
Get a nice set of X-acto knives with a variety of blades. You will use these all the time!

Pliers and Wirecutters
The wirecutters are great for cutting paper clips. The pliers are good for keeping super glue and spinning Dremel bits away from your fingers (i.e., hold the piece being worked on with pliers, not your fingers).

Paint Tray and Pipets
You'll need a good place to mix paints. Pipets are great when mixing your own custom colors, as you can measure out each color drop-by-drop. Once you have a custom color created, make sure you write down what kind of paint (brand and color) and proportions, so you can recreate it in the future.

The plastic cement on the left is for gluing styrene to styrene - it is a solvent that melts the top layer of the plastic, which creates a strong bond once it dries. To glue other kinds of plastic, or even styrene to other kinds of plastic, use the superglue (on the right).

This can be a lengthy topic, so I'll just summarize. Stick with acrylics (water-based) 99% of the time. Enamel (oil-based) paints won't dry on some types of plastic and will leave a sticky residue. The other 1% of the time is when painting a large area (perhaps like an entire vehicle). Enamel paints spread much more evenly, so they may be a better choice in that situation, but make sure they will dry on the surface you intend to use it on!
I use two brands of acrylic paints. The two on the left are PollyScale. I use these most of the time. I've heard it contains micro-resin particles that helps it adhere better to plastic. Not sure if that's true or not, but I like them nonetheless. If I can't find a color I need, then I will use ModelMasters Acrylics (the two on the right). Tamiya acrylic paints are also really good, although I didn't have any when I took this picture.

Storage Case
Get a good storage case that is easy to carry around (if you need that) and that can store all of your supplies in an easy-to-find, organized fashion. I have two - one for all my suplies and another for my fodder parts.

Masking Tape
This stuff is good for painting and striping, but I've also used it as wraps for wrists and other things. This particular brand has the right stretch characteristics so you can make small radius curves with it, is resistant to solvents and moisture, and has a thin film that prevents edge build up. It is specifically made for modelling. It comes in a variety of widths ranging from 1/16" to 1/2".

Not everyone uses primer, but if you do it usually turns out better. This brand (Mr. Surfacer) is a primer and a micro-filler in one. It comes in different consistencies ranging from thin to thick. I usually use a middle-of-the-road consistency, but you might need different ones for specialized applications.

Hobby Sandpaper
You can usually buy this in packs that come with a variety of fine grades. Coarse grades are good for smoothing out plastic and putty, while the finest grades are good for sanding paint between coats to remove brush stroke lines.

Fine-point Pen
These are great for drawing in very small details, especially eyes. They can take a while to fully dry on plastic, however (up to 3-4 days in some cases). They also come in a variety of colors. I use a Micron 005 (0.2mm), but they come in other sizes as well.

Cutting Mat
If you're cutting on a table or desk you care about, make sure you have one of these protecting it. They have normal and self-healing mats. Self-healing means that the scratches in the surface of the mat disappear, leaving a smooth surface for the next cut.

Overspray Box
This is good for whenever you use any aerosol sprays, such as spray paint or finishing coats. It keeps the mist from getting everywhere, although you still shouldn't do this indoors. There are expensive ones you can buy, but I just made my own out of plywood. It doesn't have to be pretty.

An absolute necessity if you use super glue. This can remove super glue from your fingers, or wherever else it may have gotten unintentionally. Be careful, though, as acetone can damage a lot of surfaces and finishes, especially on most furniture. Note that acetone will also make the ink on the Testor's plastic dropcloth bleed right off.

The most important supply! You need left-over pieces from other figures as a base to build new ones.

Tools and Supplies for Intermediate Customizing

Dremel FlexShaft
Indispensable add-on to a Dremel when working in a small scale! Can hold it like a pencil for fine, detailed work.

Weathering Powders
These are dry powders that are brushed on after paint is dry. It can be sealed in place with a clear coat, or glued on, depending on the effect you want. The set I got came with:
  • Rustic Rust
  • Dry Dust
  • Faded Blue
  • Graphite
  • Mildew Green
  • Grimey Black
  • Brickish Red
  • Filthy Brown
  • Muddy Mud
  • Burnt Ember
  • Drabbed Olive
  • Desert Tan

Decal Paper
Comes in clear and white. This is great for hard-to-paint patterns and small details. You can print them out on your printer and apply them to the figure, just like with plastic model kits.

This can be used for flashing the plastic before painting, or for quickly heating certain types of plastic in order to reshape it.

Tools and Supplies for Advanced Customizing

Plastic Modeling Putty
Used to fill in small cracks or depressions. Not very good for covering large areas or deep depressions. For that, you'll have to use epoxy clay.

Sculpey III Clay
A great clay that doesn't harden at room temperature, even if left out of the bag. Hardens when baked or boiled. Some people use this for final sculpting of some features, but I find it too brittle to withstand play by a three year old. I use it for prototyping before sculpting with epoxy clay. As a result, I don't usually cure it at all.

Clay Gun
Extrudes clay in a variety of shapes. There are many more "stencils" that come with it than are in the picture. Great for making belts, braids, rope, etc. Although, small and thin items like that are usually very brittle, even when made with epoxy clay. A better, but more complicated, alternative is to prototype it with clay (Sculpey, since it is easier to work with) and then cast it in plastic or resin.

Clay Tools
There are actually two different sets pictured here - wood and metal tools. Get a variety because you'll never know what you'll need. These are an absolute must to keep your fingerprints off clay.

Epoxy Clay
There are many brands of this stuff, with varying degrees of quality. Milliput is a great brand and comes in three different grades, depend on how fine of detail you intend to use it for. I usually use the "silver grey" one, which the middle grade. For coarse work, like plugging holes, there are cheaper alternatives to Milliput, but if you are going to sculpt it, don't skimp. This stuff hardens at room temperature in a couple of hours, so you have to work fairly fast. Keeping it wet might give you a little more time, but not too much more. When it hardens, it is an epoxy compound that is much harder and less brittle than Sculpey. It can be sanded, drilled, cut, painted, etc. once it cures.

Other Supplies
Other good things to have are toothpicks (for stirring paints, painting eyes, etc.), a Dremel tool, a painting mask (for when you sand epoxy clay), safety goggles (when using the Dremel), and a magnifier for working on fine details.