Working with plasticard tutorial

I’m an Ork player. It’s in my blood to convert. It is in my nature to scratch build. If I don’t make some Orky contraption each month then I start to get a bit… jittery.

Back in the day, way back in the day, in 4th edition, the Ork range was not fantastic. While we had plenty of infantry models, literally everything else in the range was from Gorkamorka or earlier. The trukk models were tiny and shite. The buggy models were shite. We had no battlewagon kit and Forgeworld had barely started making anything. Killa Kans and Dreadnoughts were in metal. The warbikers were monopose from 2nd edition*. Scratchbuilding was not only a good skill to have, but it was a requirement to be able to scratch build and heavily convert your army just to have something that looked modern.

*note that all Gorkamorka and earlier models, including 2nd edition, were unusable if you wanted a coherent army. The basic Ork design underwent such a radical overhaul at the start of 3rd edition to the current Brian Nelson Ork design that the old Ork drivers and gunners looked like a different species.

Plasticard is one of my favourite materials to work with for miniatures. You can build almost anything from it, from basic armour plates all the way up to entirely scratch built vehicles.

What is plasticard and why should you use it?

Plasticard is quite simply sheets of thin plastic and has incredible use when it comes to modelling. You can use it to make things from simple armour plates all the way through entirely scratchbuilt vehicles. I’d say that the only limitation is your imagination but that’s not quite true – it’s only useful for mechanical shapes and can start to get really tricky when trying to make curved panels like on Eldar or Tau vehicles. Flat panels or those with a slight bend in them? Perfect.

The most obvious material that springs to mind when people think about scratchbuilding armour plates or vehicles is cardboard. Unfortunately, card is not great. It’s not very strong, it frays, warps and it almost always comes with a slight texture to it that’s unwelcome for metal plates. Plasticard on the other hard is better at all of these things. It’s strong, it doesn’t fray or come apart at the edges, it (mostly) doesn’t warp and basic sheets are perfectly smooth. For those times that you actually want texture, such as treadplate or corrugated iron sheets? Yep – you can get textured plasticard very easily.

Plasticard sticks to wargaming miniatures the same way as any bits – plastic glue/polycement for sticking to plastic and superglue for sticking to metal or resin. You can use greenstuff for gap filling, you can sand and file it and it just gets primed and painted at the same time as the rest of your model. It’s just a way of making custom bits for your models.

Tools & Materials

From left to right:

  • Plasticard sheets of varying thickness
  • Tubes, rods and girders
  • Dental pick
  • Heavy duty Stanley knife
  • Pencil
  • Metal ruler(s) – I have two*, a short 15cm ruler for smaller measurements and the larger, cork backed ruler for longer measurements.
  • Polystyrene cement

*Well, I actually have 3 rulers but I don’t use the third 60cm ruler for Plasticard…

In terms of actually getting the plasticard, I get mine from ebay. Specifically from a shop called Station Road Baseboards. They sell starter packs for £9 with multiple sheets of varying thicknesses. They truly are the best starter packs.

For tubes and rods, again you can get a great deal on ebay, for example

Don’t buy evergreen scale models plasticard. It is an absolute rip-off for how much you get.

Which thickness to use

The thicker the sheet, the more difficult it is to work with but the stronger it is. Thick sheets (1.5mm+) are used for structural work or for simple armour plates without much detail. If you’re wanting to do fine detail, such as iconography, then you will need to go to a thinner sheet. I’ll very rarely do detail work on anything more than 0.5mm in thickness, and preferably thinner.

You’d be surprised at how strong even 1mm thickness can be once you cut it down to size. When you hold an A4 sheet of plasticard in your hand, even a 1mm sheet can see quite flexible and bendy. That’s for an entire A4 sheet though – when you trim it down to a smaller, usable size, say a 5cm wide panel, it’s a lot less bendy than you think it can be. 2mm in most cases is excessive and only really needed if you’re making a huge model such as a titan or super heavy tank. 1.5mm is usually the thickest I’ll use for a tank.

Account for the thickness.

Let’s say you want to make a cube that’s 2cm on all sides. That means you simply cut out six 2x2cm pieces right? Wrong. You need to account for the thickness of the plasticard you’re using. Say you’re using 1mm thick plasticard and tried to stick the 2x2cm panels together. This is what it would look like from the side:

For a perfect fit, the pieces around the sides would need to be 19mm, not 20mm.

Now, for a simple box shape like this it’s not a problem. You simply trim down the excess plastic on each corner with your knife, but it’s something that can cause issues if you’re not aware of it.

Cutting

All you need to cut plasticard is a sharp utility knife. A metal ruler will help you keep your cuts straight and a metal ruler backed with cork will be less liable to slipping around.

Thin sheets (less than 1mm thick) can usually be cut with a single pass of the knife blade, but it’s always better to make multiple thin cuts on top of each other rather than straining and pushing the knife through.

Thicker sheets will need multiple passes, and when it starts to get into the 1.5mm+ thickness, you will want to use the cut and snap method. Make a few thin cuts until you’re about halfway through, then the plasticard will easily snap along where you’ve cut.

For really thin sheets (0.25mm or less), you can switch to an exacto/hobby knife instead for finer detail. For me personally I do almost all of my plasticard work with my heavy duty Stanley knife.

Sticking

Glue it together with poly cement. This creates a very strong bond and not a brittle one like with superglue. Additionally, you’re often putting very fiddly bits together – prime candidates for sticking your creation to your fingers with superglue.

Next.

The Lip

When you cut plasticard, it creates a lip.

Sometimes the lip is difficult to see, especially when it comes to thin sheets of plasticard. Trust me though. It’s there. Mocking you.

Like a moldline, it will really show up when you start to paint your model. Drybrushing will make it even worse.

Whenever you cut out a piece of plasticard, go all the way around the edges and scrape the lip off with your knife, in the exact same way you would for a moldline. Hold the knife perpendicular to the edge and scrape it sideways along the edge.

Rivets

Speak to three Ork scratchbuilders about rivets and you’ll get seven different techniques. And then a rather interesting discussion, riveting you might say, about which one is best.

My preferred method is sliced rod.

Get some plastic rod. Thinner looks better but is harder to work with. I prefer using 0.75mm for most rivets, but will go larger for larger vehicles.

Slice the rod up like a cucumber, making dozens of teeny tiny discs, with your Stanley knife. I use the top of my finger as a guide, gradually sliding it down the rod, resting the flat of the blade against the tip and slicing as I move my finger.

Next put a tiny dot of plastic glue where you want the rivet(s). It’s best to do about 5-6 at a time – any more than that and the glue will dry before you get the rivet in place.

Now grab a sharp pointy tool of some sort – I use a dental pick but the tip of an xacto knife will suffice as well. First dip the very tip into the poly cement so you have the absolute smallest dot of it on the tip. Then touch it to a rivet and it’ll pick the rivet up. Place it on the model.

You may need to do a bit of man handling with the rivet once placed. They don’t always stick flat-side on so you need to wrestle with them a bit.

It’s a long, slow, laborious process. It took me two evenings of riveting action to finish off my main battlewagon:

Know the limits of plasticard

Plasticard is a great material. It’s only one of many though and while it’s great at some tasks, it’s not so good at others. Wheels, for example, are painful to build with plasticard. Round shapes in general are difficult to do with thicker sheets but perfectly round circles are near impossible, even with a circle cutter.

Use your bits box extensively. Buy spare wheels from bitz websites, use spare guns from your bits box and don’t be afraid to buy a tank kit for a set of tank tracks and wheels. I buy my tank tracks separately because the time taken to build a set of them is just too much, even for a simple design. I make extensive use of my 3D printer to make wheels and suspension. For my Wartrakks, I used the front half of a warbike and printed the tracks out.

You can see here how I’ve used a mixture of plasticard and kit bits rather than scratchbuilding each and every bit.

Build plenty of stuff with plasticard, but work out whether it’s actually worth your time to do so.

Choosing your project

As always it can be tempting to dive right in at the deep end and start scratchbuilding a full Orky tank. Don’t. Start small, get used to working with plasticard. Start with a couple of armour plates. Customise some models rather than scratchbuild, then gradually work your way up. Ork Big Guns often make for a good scratchbuilding exercise since they have a relatively simple shape and are expensive £ wise for what they cost in points.