Beyond basic covering techniques, many people ask how to make more complex designs in a lightweight covering like Solite. I felt it's time for a "how to" form of article.
For those not familiar with it, Solite (aka Nelson's Litefilm) is a super lightweight (0.6 oz per sq yard) iron on plastic covering. Due to it being as light as it is, it lends itself perfectly to being used on either fragile airframes or parkflyer sized aircraft. Available in a variety of colors, Solite is also readily available from many distributors, both in North America and overseas. It originates, in fact, from England.
Owing to it's being very thin, Solite is also perfect for specific techniques in pattern transfer which may or may not apply to thicker, heavier coverings.
For the sake of this article, I'll be covering techniques in applying solite to the wing of a Miss June. Namely, I'll discuss how to apply specific patterns as well as non-linear designs.
Let's make a pattern. First of all, with a pattern that's more complex than just straight lines, I like to draw out the pattern on paper. In this case, I have a two-foot wide roll of paper that I use for this purpose.
As you can see in this picture, the pattern is to be an arced checkerboard. For easy identification with this specific pattern I have labeled each row with a letter, only labeling the specific squares that I'll be using.
Shown here is the fact that even some of the opaque colors of solite are transparent enough to partially see though. As I'm going to use cream over transparent red, I opt to lay the cream covering down over top of the paper, sticking the two together. Note that I have removed the backing from the covering to do this. If I were using a darker color that isn't semi-transparent such as dark blue or dark green, I'd turn the covering on its back and put the paper on top so that the lines and labeling are still visible. Keep in mind that if doing this, the design will be reversed as the covering is upside-down.
Once either the covering is laid down over the paper or the paper over the covering (depending on color and purpose), just start cutting away your given shapes. Though not visible in this picture, the covering is still attached to the small squares of paper. In this case, this aids me in that I can still read the lettering behind the squares, so as not to confuse them.
I now lay down my base color. In the case of this plane (300 sized, 13 oz AUW) I'm not concerned about the additional weight of the overlapping covering patches. The base color (transparent red shown here) has been thumbtacked down so as to be tight and not mobile. Note that I have not removed the backing from the base color. I don't want it sticking to my bench for purposes that will become apparent
Perhaps the hardest part of this process is actually laying down the squares such that they are in proper alignment and remain that way all the way out through the checkerboard. I've started at the middle and have worked out, one row at a time. Shown here is the next row in place, paper still on the back. These are used temporarily as guides to align the inner row properly.
Here we see the specific technique used to lay down multiple layers of solite with little to no bubbling. I lay it down on one corner and carefully press the rest down with my finger, working from one side to the other. In this case, I'm using the base of the covering and the temporarily laid down "F" square as guides.
Now we just work our way outwards in rows, careful to maintain alignment. Once that's done, we find ourselves with a pattern that looks like this.
This is very important. I now take my covering iron on typical solite setting (that will vary with each iron) and iron down the entire set of squares. Since the backing is still on the base color, I can happily iron away without worrying about my bench turning permanently pink and cream. Note that I'm not just tacking the squares down but am aggressively ironing them down. Yes, the covering will wrinkle up slightly. That can be seen to the left of this picture in the light reflection.
I remove the thumbtacks from the base sheet and turn the whole deal over. I now peel off the backing.
I can now treat this one big sheet with details and patterns on it as if it were nothing more than a single sheet of solite. I lay it down over my wing and go to work covering in the usual ways.
Will this wingtip shrink up without destroying the pattern we've so carefully made? You bet it will. I've used a heatgun for the entire shrinking process on this wing.
In order to maintain the pattern and how it flows onto the ailerons, I fold them back and cover into the hinge gap. If practical, doing this on both sides of the wings can make a decent hinge. I'd recommend hinge tape overtop as well, but I digress.
Following the above technique, here's the end product.
Now comes the big fun. With a few simple techniques, basically anything that you can trace you can cover. You are limited only by your imagination and possibly covering color selection. I tend to use a glass cutting board for this purpose. In this case, I've selected a popular cartoon character.
I start by sticking some solite of the appropriate color (cream for skin in this case) to my cutting board. I stick it to the board as with any other trim item - start at one side and work your way to the other, using your finger to press it down along the way. Now I tape down the pattern overtop and cut out everything in that appropriate color that I need
If the above step means you come out with many chunks of the same color, you can use the trace drawing you just cut from as a guide when sticking it down. In this case, I joined multiple sections into one as the red to go overtop will cover up nicely. Using your knife blade tip, lift the pattern pieces from the cutting board and then lay them in place over your base color or pre-covered surface. Here we see the cream in place over a base white with yellow stripe.
Lather, rinse, repeat. I used the exact same technique for the red, using a new copy of the trace image.
Again, I use the exact same technique but in this case I'm using transparent blue layered over white on the cutting board for a bright blue effect. The details on this cartoon were done with a black fine point marker pen.
Using the same technique as above, most any complex design can be copied to solite and to your airplane. This lettering was done in the exact same manner and transferred to a white base.
Last edited by Jim T. Graham; Aug 22, 2012 at 05:52 PM..
Well, hopefully that sheds some light on some of the "magic" that goes on with Solite covering and some of the results we see. Keep in mind that all covering skill comes with experience, so don't be afraid to experiment. Happy covering!
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