Friday, June 22, 2012

Battlefoam Custom Tray Review

I just received my custom Battlefoam order and I am blown away.  Simply stunned at how easy the process is, the price, the great customer service and the quality of the trays.  Bottomline up front:  18 out of 16 fully protected painted miniatures.  They get 2 bonus points on top of the 16/16 for customer service ;-)


Ok…what is Battlefoam you ask?  It is God’s divine gift to miniature players to protect your figures as you carry them to and fro and hither and yon.  I am specifically going to talk about the Flames of War bag and custom foam for that bag; but, the basics of the custom foam are the same for the other products they make.


First you go to Battlefoam’s website (website). They have custom trays for just about every game system out there and as well generic bags that cover everything else.  Each system has different length/width/heights so you need to know what these are when you make you order.  Most of the systems already have pre-designed trays and in the Flames of War section they have trays for specific units.  Check here first to see if there is a ready-made tray that fits your needs.  Ready-made FoW trays are $12.99 each and Custom trays are $18.99 each…so if you find a ready-made tray that works you can save some cash.  I wanted something a little different and wanted to make trays for each platoon/group of platoons so I had to make custom trays. 

Before we talk how to make the custom trays, we need to have a plan.  How do you want to organize each tray?  You don’t need specifics at this point…just general groupings.  For instance, I wanted trays for:  

All 3 of my Para Infantry Plts, their Platoon Leaders/PIATs/Light Mortars, and the Company Command Section with all the PIATs and snipers

8 gun Artillery battery (and all their vehicles) and a Typhoon
Two 6lber plts and  the 17lber platoon
Mortar platoon, MG platoon, Glider Pilot Platoon
All the Recce jeeps (I can run a 3 plt Recce Company  :-)  );
Engineers and 2 Para Infantry platoons that will be based on Urban stands
If you don’t have a rough plan you will be spinning your wheels and possible leave a unit out.

So how do you make custom trays?  The first thing is to watch the video with Romeo (Battlefoam’s Cool Dude In Charge) explaining the process.  In summary, there are 2 ways to do this.  The first is to use the Custom Tray Design Tool Battlefoam has on the site…this is a slick app that you can use where you can play around with the specific size and shape for each hole in the tray…more on this in a bit.  You can also just trace the model on size specific paper and send that in.  The tracing is good for “odd” sized or custom figures from Warmachine, Warhammer and 40k.  The tool actually has shapes for pretty much all of the “basic” stands/vehicles/ships for the games in the tool as well as generic shapes of different sizes.  The tool is by far the easiest method and gives you positive feedback if you screw something up.

So what is the “tool” of which I speak?  You can find it on Battlefoam’s website in the upper right corner.  The tool allows you to select a tray size and then gives you options for different shapes to place within that tray.  The tool even accounts for “buffer” space between cut-outs and alerts you if you have an overlap (the shape(s) in error turn red). 

How do you use the tool?  Romeo does a great job on his video and the tool is intuitive, so I will give you helpful hints on using the tool.  The first is to have a plan for each tray.  Second is to know the tray size and the ultimate “stack” height you will need for your carrier.  My Flames of War bag is officially 9 in tall.  So the maximum number of trays I can stack cannot exceed that height.  When you do your math in adding the tray heights make sure you add an extra 0.25 inch per tray to account for the tray bottom.  If you don’t you could your stack not fitting in your bag. 

The second thing you need to determine is the height of your tray.  A typical Infantry tray will only need a tray 1 inch deep.  Vehicles will need deeper trays…and don’t forget to account for any antennas on those vehicles and count them in the height…otherwise they will stick in the bottom of the tray above or bend….I speak from experience  L  The next thing to look at is the size/shape of the cut-out.  For most Flames of War cut outs, you can use the standard FoW shapes (small/medium/large base, Plane, etc…).  You need to look carefully at gun teams and vehicles.  Many gun teams have the gun’s barrel extend over the edge of the base.  You have to account for that in the size of the cut out.  This happened to me when I was building my AT Gun tray.  All the barrels extended base the based edge, so I used a rectangle of the appropriate size and not the stock medium/large FoW base size.  Once you have those basics down, it is just a giant puzzle to make everything fit.  When you are done the file saves as a .JPG that you will upload when you place your order.  Simple.


One other thing Battlefoam offers that is real slick are their custom foam toppers.  These are 0.25 in thick foam that will go on the top of the foam stack in your box.  They offer a plethora (I would say they have a plethora) of toppers with different unit logos cut into the top. 

Too cool.  Again 18 out of 16 fully protected painted miniatures. 


********* Disclaimer:  I have received no compensation for this review and the review is based on items purchased**********

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Painting Miniatures Declassified - Pigments

The show room finish on vehicles only lasted while they were in a paved motor pool.  Even then they get “dusty” just from the environment, whether in an urban or a rural setting.  One way to weather vehicles is to use pigments.  What are pigments?  They are colored powders that can be used to create many different weather effects.  MIG (MIG Website) and Vallejo (Vallejo Website) both produce pigments that are perfect for what we need to do and both have a broad range of colors to cover any situation you can think of.  I will let you make the decision as to which is better…I use MIG for work. This is mostly because that is what the hobby store when I first started experimenting with pigments.  I primarily use pigments to create dirt and mud effects on my vehicles and this is what I will be focusing on in this post. You can also use pigments to create urban weathering.  For instance, brick dust, rubble dust can be simulated…just use the correct colored pigment.  I will make future posts on other weathering techniques and other uses of pigments. 

So…why should you use pigments?  For dirt/dust effects, pigments give a very realistic look compared to a “mud wash” or textured paint.  Think about it.  Real life dirty vehicles look dusty and the dirt has texture to it.  Textured paint (like Games Workshop’s new range of textured paints or mixing a little paint into pumice or glue with sand in it) can give you the color and texture and replicate a freshly muddied vehicle, but are lacking when it comes to a dusty vehicle. Here is where pigments shine in my opinion.  Since they are dusty to begin with, they replicate dusty effects perfectly.  And let’s face it…vehicles are dusty A LOT of the time.  But how do you make a dusty vehicle and still be able to play with it and not rub the dust off? 

Ahhhh here begineth the lesson and a video!  (Pigment Video) 

To get a dusty effect like the PzIVH pictured above I used the following equipment:

- Flat Matte Finished Model
- MIG Pigment: Europe Dust
- MIG Pigment: Dry Mud
- MIG Pigment Fixer
- Worn out “Thick” Paintbrush to use with pigments
- Medium Paintbrush to use with Fixer 

The first step is to determine what you want the dust to look like.  Here your creative storytelling juices can flow.  For my PzIVH, I wanted to have a group of vehicles that have been moving around the countryside and been in action for awhile. I wanted them to have some built up mud and road dust on them, but not too fresh and had been knocked off a bit from their movement.  So this drove me to use MIG’s Europe Dust and Dry Mud pigments.  Fresh mud would be in the tracks and splash guards and the dried mud/road dust would be higher up on the vehicle.  Dried mud/Road dust is lighter in color than the fresh mud which is deeper and darker.  If I wanted fresher mud/dirt I would have used a dark pigment like Track Brown. So now I have my story and colors selected…what next?

Now the fun begins!  The first step is to make sure your model is sealed with a Flat Matte finish and that the finish is completely dry.  I am not sure of the exact physics, but a Flat Matte finish helps the pigments hold to the model much better.  On a gloss finish, the pigments can slide around.  This can be used to good effect if you only want the pigments to rest in the detail.  Here you apply the pigment of choice and, with your finger, rub the pigment off of the high areas.  This can be used to show where troops have been walking around a dusty area. 

Applying the pigments is easy….but can be messy.  To help with the mess that you WILL create, hold the model over a tray to catch any pigment that falls off (you get a 2-fer on recycling…one for the tray and another for the pigment it catches which you can reuse).  If the model has a Flat Matte finish, you can apply the pigment directly to model.  You can brush it on for a thin even coat or tap it on for a more uneven look.  I do something a little different for my tracks and vehicle sides.  I apply fixer to the area where I will apply pigment before I apply the actual pigment.  Then I apply the pigment pretty thick and heavy where I want a built up mud look and a little lighter and “wispy” where I want a dusting.  I probably don’t need to add the fixer first and can still achieve the same look. I did this when I first started using fixer and liked the look…don’t mess with success, but I am going to test it out with a pre-coat of fixer when I get a chance and see if there is a difference.  To get multiple dirt/mud effects, I start high with the lighter colors to show dried mud/dust and then apply the fresher, wetter, darker colors on top of that and lower.  I tap the pigment in spots to get “bigger” pieces of pigment to fall and replicate clumps of dirt. 

Once the pigments are applied it is time for the magic and to make the pigments disappear and then reappear.  “S-s-s-s-s-say whut?”  Yep.  I get my fixer out and a separate brush and then dab the fixer on top of the pigments….everywhere I applied them.  When the fixer hits the pigment, the pigment WILL disappear.  But fear not!  As I wave my magic paintbrush/wand…Hocus Pocus Pigment come into focus…As the fixer dries the pigment will reappear in all its glory!  First time I saw this I freaked out and applied more pigment and then when everything dried I had TOO much.  So anytime the pigment gets wet, the color will disappear and reappear when it dries.  As you apply the fixer you can create different effect.  If you brush it on, you can move the pigment you applied around and basically “paint” the effect on.  Be warned though, this can leave noticeable brush strokes.  I like to the fixer on the brush…pretty heavy…and then gently touch the side of the brush to the pigmented area and let the fixer flow off the brush naturally then lift the brush off and repeat.  This technique minimizes movement of the pigment.  With the fixer applied is there anything else we need to do?

Yessirree Bob there is!  The fixer gives a LITTLE protective shell to the pigment and will keep it safe from mild…very mild…use.  To be able to use the model in a game I recommend giving the model a Flat Matte coat once the fixer has completely dried.  This will lock the pigments into place and they won’t rub off from use.  Using a fixer first is a must before you apply the Flat Matte finish.  If you don’t, especially if you use a brush on flat matte, the pigments will get all smeared and you will have a “was” effect and not the dried mud look. 

One other little trick you can do with vehicles is to add carbon buildup around the muzzle of the vehicles’ main gun.  Just apply some black (MIG Smoke) pigment to the tip and a little down the sides of the barrel and then add your fixer….BAAAAM!  It looks like the vehicle has been doing a good bit of shooting.  This goes a long way in telling your story. 

Let me know what you think…any other ideas/techniques you use

Friday, June 8, 2012

Painting Miniatures Declassified - Priming Part II

The "Declassified" post on Priming your figures stirred up a lot of conversation about the differences in what I was calling a TRUE Primer and what could be used as a substitute for a primer.
ancientsociety on the WWPD forums said it best when he described a primer as "True primer is specifically formulated to increase the adhesion of subsequent layers by increasing hygroscopy and porosity. In the case of metals, primer also acts as a barrier against oxidation. Paint and primer are two very different mediums and its important to point this out to beginners." Full Thread Here

In the same thread MiniuteaOfWar mentioned that undercoat and primer are used interchangeable even though they are technically different, but can be used for similar purposes to varying degrees.

I believe that is exactly what I have done here. I have interchanged Undercoat with Primer. When I was talking about a TRUE primer, I was referring to primer as described by ancientsociety and elsewhere in the post I was really referring to an undercoat. Are they different? Yes in a big way, as ancientsociety described. If we use my walking on ice analogy from the first Primer post, the undercoat is like throwing kitty litter on the gives enough traction to get from point A to Point B (if you don't run), in this case to build the paint up and seal it with a varnish which holds it all in place. Primer is like throwing rock salt on the etches the metal like salt etches the ice.

So why use an undercoat instead of a primer? For me it is about the detail I want to preserve at 15mm.  My experience has been that primer is a little thicker than an undercoat and can clog detail that I want to preserve in a 15mm figure.  This is important to me because I am putting a gloss varnish and then a flat matte finish on top of the finished paint job that will further "clog" the detail.  So I want to preserve as much as possible to give a realistic look and let the model (and the sculptor) do some of the work for me.  The more detail that is "clogged" the more I have to work to
make it "pop".  More work equals more time and in the long run takes away from the look I am trying to achieve.  At 28mm this isn't an issue for me as the detail is deep enough (usually) and a primer still leaves enough for it to pop.  An undercoat, being thinner, doesn't clog the detail in a 15mm figure at the start and I am able to preserve more of it through the painting and varnishing process. 

So what are the downsides to an undercoat?  First and foremost is that until the varnish is applied there is greater risk to the paint being rubbed off. A primer is also supposed to aid in the prevention of oxidation on the metal.  An undercoat does not do this.  Have I seen rust develop under painted models that only used an undercoat?  Can't say that I have, but it doesn't sound good.  I can picture rust forming under the paint and the paint then flaking off.  I do know that I have some models just under 10 years old where I have used this process and haven't seen in difference between those and ones that I have just finished.  Time will tell perhaps. The key, I think, is that once the varnish is applied it locks everything in and that plastic shell should help prevent oxidation as well (keeps air and water out).  Maybe?  Makes sense logically as water and air are need for oxidation and the varnish keeps those out.

I ran some experiments over the weekend on the difference between a primer and an undercoat and the results were quite surprising.

I took 5 similar spare figures I had lying around and made 5 color coded samples.

- Yellow = Black Undercoat thinned, brushed on, then blown off ("Compromise method" from previous post)
- Orange = White Vallejo Primer thinned, brushed on, then blown off as above
- Red = White Vallejo Primer unthinned and brushed on
- Blue = Black Testors Model Master Acrylic thinned with Testors Model Masters Universal Acrylic Thinner and applied with airbrush
- Green = White Vallejo Primer thinned and applied with airbrush as above

I then conducted the first test.  How much detail was "clogged".  I used the black undercoat (Yellow sample) as my standard since this is the level I am happy with.  This is a subjective criteria and you can change this around to meet your standard as you see fit. 

- Yellow = Standard/Acceptable

- Orange = Acceptable...slightly less than the standard. Appears to be extra build up of primer in deeper recesses. This shows up as whiter areas than the rest of the figure. It might be an optical illusion, but again was only slightly less than the standard.

- Red = Less than standard. As expected, the uncut primer did clog enough detail to be noticeable.

- Blue = between the Orange and Yellow samples.

- Green = Acceptable...Very minor clogging of detail similar to Orange sample.

The next test was for the adhesion of the undercoat primer to the model.  I let the figures cure for 24 hours and then I rubbed the helmet of each figure 5 times from front to rear with my finger using approximately the same pressure (I didn't have a pressure gauge so EXACT pressure is unknown).

Interesting result:

- Yellow = Could see bare metal on 4th pass

- Orange = Could see bare metal on 3rd pass

- Red = Primer showed no changed

- Blue = Undercoat showed no change

- Green = Primer/undercoat showed minor wear after 5th pass (Could begin seeing bare metal, but there was still a THIN coat of primer over it)

Next, I touched up the helmets on all the figures with an undercoat of the type of procedure that was used to treat the figure.  After that cured for 24 hours I painted the models exactly the same...basecoat of Vallejo 830 Fieldgrau (1:1 ratio paint to water), dry for 2 hours, shade of Vallejo 979 German Camo Dark Green (1:8 ratio paint to water), dry for 2 hours and then a hi-light of Vallejo 886 Green Grey (1:5 ratio paint to water).  After that dried for 2 hours I gloss varnished the figures with Testors Gloss Acryl varnish and after 2 more hours I applied a flat matte finish using my airbrush of Testors Flat Matte Acryl varnish thinned with Testors Model Masters Universal Acrylic Thinner.

Now I let the figures dry over night (roughly 7 hours) and conducted Test 3. This test was to reflect the actual handling of models and was the same rub test I used previously.  Very interesting results.

- Yellow = No wear after 5th pass
- Orange = Could see bare metal on 4th pass (Picture didn't come out)
- Red = No wear after 5th pass
- Blue = No wear after 5th pass
- Green = No wear after 5th pass

Only the Orange sample showed wear.  I think this has to do to the Primer being thinned with water and some adhesion properties are lost as a result.  The black undercoat whether airbrushed or brushed/blown on showed no wear and looked as good as the Red sample (full primer).

The final test was another handling test and was to see how the models withstood chipping.  I removed all the figures from the painting nails, painted their correct sample color on the underside of their base to maintain which sample was which, and placed the figures together in a box.  I then shook the box "gently" for 15 seconds.  Again no precious measurement, but the shaking rhythm was the same for all 15 seconds (at least to the naked eye) and all the figures were exposed to the same environment at the same time.

I took the figures out and ALL of them showed significant wear on the raised areas.

From Right to Left Yellow-Orange-Red-Blue-Green

So, in Summary we have:

Conclusion:  As long as you use a gloss varnish with Matte varnish on top of that, a Black undercoat whether airbrushed or brushed/blown off generates the same "protection" as a Primed model that has been gloss and matte varnished.  Add to this detail on 15mm models that is preserved with an undercoat that I am looking for and I have my winner.  The one thing that you should not do is thin your primer with water.  That was a clear negative no matter how you look at it.   

Again this is what I need to experiment and find what works best for you.  But whatever you need to prime or undercoat the model!!!!

Don't go walking on bare ice!!!!!! 

Monday, June 4, 2012

Painting Miniatures Declassified - Pre-Painting Organization

If you're like me, you have stacks of unpainted lead around as they wait their turn in the queue.  When you are ready to paint them, how long does it take you to get them ready?  Do you have all the men?  Are all the pieces to that gun still there?  If you work in platoon size sized batches and paint 2 teams (8-10 figures) at a time do you have to now organize them into their teams...taking time away from painting?  Ever have that "one time" where you opened the box...set everyone into their teams and found you still need some figures or something was missing/broken?  Now the timeline for that whole batch goes wonky as you wait for the replacement parts to come in?

Well....I have a solution to ALL these problems (well, maybe not the getting broken/missing parts...but I can mitigate that disaster).  2 simple words....

Egg Carton

Yes!  The incredible edible egg is a true wonder.  After you make your omelet or 4...that carton is a lifesaver (it does float....but don't rely on it in a life or death situation). 

I am one of those who HAS to open the box as soon as I get the box home (sometimes before).  This allows me time to check out if all the parts are there and in working order...and if not, I can order replacement parts and have them on hand BEFORE I need to start painting that unit (or at least before I finish it so it can go in at the tail end of the batch). 

Now here is where the egg carton comes in handy.  I use the egg carton to store the unit until it is time to be painted. Each "cup" in the carton holds one stand of infantry or one gun team or the pieces for a gun if is too big to be placed with its crew.  You can also put the bases for the unit inside (or store them in a baggie ...which I do for infantry units). 

Everything in once nice, neat, little package.   

You can put multiple units in a carton too...a MG platoon and Mortar platoon usually fit nicely in one carton...and if you get the 18 egg cartons you could put all the Infantry stands in 3 infantry platoon together in one carton and all the command groups in another like in the picture above.

And they stack and store very neatly too.

The only downside is collecting the egg cartons can be bad on your cholesterol level  ;-)