Skins/Coverings – Combining three things I enjoy.
Last edited 1/20/2012...
My background and profession have been in the graphic design, digital prepress (making computer files print right) and digital production printing (Xerox iGen3 & 4) field. I have a great respect and love of history, especially WWI and WWII aviation. I’m also a bit of a SiFi fan. Designing printed tissue paper covering or “skins” for “foamie” electric RC aircraft allow me to bring those three worlds together.
I mostly start with the plan of a plane that I am positive (or at least fairly sure) will fly well, I then research different color schemes (WW2, WW1 and SiFi), pick a cool one or one that I like, then the fun (at least for me) begins!
I open the pdf plans in Adobe Illustrator, lock them in their own layer and create my skins right on top on them in other layers. When I'm done, I delete most of the plan cut lines leaving a few “alignment marks” as a guide for applying the skins on the foam later. I then set up the skin to be printed in a 13X30 sheet of tissue.
Next comes the most difficult part, printing the skins. Tissue paper is mounted on “carrier sheets” of 13X30 24lbs bond which allow it to go through my inkjet printer. The tissue is attached using 3M photo spray mount . I use a FFF squeegee to make sure no wrinkles are present and that the tissue is nice and flat. The tissue has to be mounted secure enough on the carrier sheet so that no wrinkles will form in the process (the leave white unprinted lines) but not so securely attached that it will rip when you try to separate the two. Carrier sheets get little balls of glue built up on them that I think can cause wrinkles and keep the tissue from being nice on flat on the sheet. Carrier sheets therefore need replacing after a while. My inkjet printer uses pigmented ink as opposed to a dye type of ink that will smear and run when exposed to liquid. Pigmented ink gives the skins better durability. I also use a continuous ink system (CIS) which greatly reduces the cost of printing. In the beginning I had one 13X30 skin that took about a third of a yellow ink cartridge! At $18 an ink cartridge, that was a $6 sheet of tissue! My CIS now brings that cost down to a much nicer .30 to .50 cents a sheet!
Once a set of skins have been printed, the can be applied to the foam. In the past, I have used a modified method of decoupage to accomplish this. Decoupage is a method of using a watered down down white glue and gluing pieces of fabric or paper to an object while giving it a protective coating. Today I use 3M77 spray adhesive and a coat of Minwax Polycrylic. The process is simular to the decoupage method but has an alignment technique that solves most of the placement issues. Although the 3M route sounds like a one shot “all or nothing” deal, I think it makes for a lighter, nicer looking build. Sealing the skins with an acrylic polyurethane spray after the 3M77 has completely dried (very important, will bubble if you don't!) gives it a nice waterproof finish.
Gluing tissue is a lot easier for me than learning to airbrush. I have the skills to design as much detail as I want into my plane with this process. You can even print 3 view like the guys on the "Printed Warbirds Thread". It's also easly repeatable (re-printable) so the plane is never realy "to pretty to fly/combat/risk etc". Anyone can glue printed tissue to foam and you end up with a highly detailed model. You can practice using tissue your wife may have around for present wrapping and gift bags. She won’t mind!
Remember, skins will add some weight to the build, usually making your bird tail heavy! You may need to use a larger battery and re-set you CG.
PM me anytime if you have any questions!
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