Sunday, June 28, 2009

Basic Plasticard Tutorial

During the Part One of the Troop Transport Truck Tutorial I had a few people comment about cutting plasticard (or sheet styrene, as it is also know). These people were impressed by my skills and not at all confident of their own.

Hopefully this mini-tutorial will show everyone that there are really no tricks, just some straight-forward techniques that everyone can do.

The first thing to do is to make sure you have a sharp blade, a very sharp blade. The one above is an Exacto #11. I always have a bunch on hand (from a box of 100 I bought a couple of years ago) as the sharp tip can snap off easily if you push too hard or twist the blade as you are cutting.

Two other tools that are important are the steel ruler (I'm a big fan of those with millimeter increments) and a "self-healing" cutting mat. The one above is from the Gale Force 9 range). The first tool helps you cut straight lines and reduces the number of times you will cut yourself. The second tool helps prevent you cutting your work surface. You don't want to slice up your dining room table do you?

This is where I need a third hand. When cutting plasticard, never try to cut all the way through. Instead, pull the blade along the edge of the ruler to create a shallow cut known as a "score". Score the plasticard two or three times, but don't cut all the way through. It is important at this stage to have your hand on the ruler, firmly keeping it in place. Obviously I couldn't and take the picture too ; )

The next step is to snap the plasticard along the score line. Depending on how many times you've scored the card and the card thickness, this might be very easy or quite tough. If you think card is bending more than preparing to snap, then score the card a few more times.

You might notice at this stage that there's a little lip on both pieces along the score line. This is where the plasticard has been "pushed aside" by the blade. If you don't take care of this, the item you are assembling might not fit together smoothly and that lip can interfere with the structural integrity.

I usually get rid if this lip with a quick scrape of my knife. In the shot above the plane of the knife is at about 60 degrees to the edge of the plasticard piece. The sharp edge is angled away from the direction of the scrape. Done correctly you'll get a little bit of plasticard scraping off and curling up like in the shot below.

The idea here is to remove the obtrusive lip. You can, however, keep scraping to add an angle to the edge of the card. I used this technique to prepare the plates for the fenders on the Truck.

So there you have, a few simple steps to take each time you're cutting pieces of plasticard project. Regardless of the size and scale of the model you're building or converting, this simple process will get you through 95% of the pieces you need to make.

I hope this has been helpful, particularly for those who haven't done much plasticard work.


DON'T FORGET: Only two more days until the Stalk Tank Competition closes. Get cracking on your entries!


  1. Nice write up. I'm fully aware of scoring, but for some reason never thought to apply it to plasticard. Thanks. :)

  2. Dave, my impression is that you get a lot of your stuff laser cut. When you're not doing that, how do you prefer to transfer the design/template onto the plasticard before cutting? Do you just free-draw everything, temporarily glue down a print out, or something else?

    All great stuff BTW, very inspiring.


  3. Thats a brill tutorial. The problem i have had as joe has said is getting the templates cut correctly as i always seem to get it wrong by a few mm's? I guess it just practise?

  4. Great tutorial for plasticard newbs such as myself. It's good to see people talking about the basics of the hobby, especially those little tricks that come from experience and aren't immediately obvious to beginners.

  5. Hi guys

    Thanks for the comments, yep this one is certainly for those without much (if any) plasticard experience.

    @Joe Kopena - nope, the truck is certainly the first thing I've worked with Thomas on. Never done any laser cutting prior to that. Everything else has been drawn onto the plasticard and cut from there. I have, on a very rare occasion, glued a paper template to the plasticard with a glue stick. Just make sure you wash and dry your plasticard parts before you start assembling them.

    @max - practice is key! I've been using cutting sheets of plasticard for 15 or so years, and three years of cutting artboard before that. I used to make all my Epic Squat vehicles from artboard ; )


  6. Ok how are you taking pictures? Third arm??! lol