Constructing Styrene Buildings from Papercraft Templates

Odds are every wargamer has at least seen a papercraft building of some sort, from the Games Workshop card-and-plastic-bulkheads scenery packed in with Necromunda through the simple uncoloured folded-paper walls hastily constructed before a game to fold-and glue stuff like Paul Lesack's Heavy Gear Buildings.

The upsides of papercraft are obvious - they're cheap, easy to construct, lightweight and pre-decorated. It's scenery for everyone! The downsides, unfortunately, are just as obvious - they don't have much in the way of depth. Even high-class papercraft like Mr. Lesack's can only have drawn-on detail, less than a couple of millimetres between folds and they become impossible to construct out of normal paper. Those of us who long for more detail may consider recreating the pattern in styrene.

The basic approach to transform a papercraft building to a 'proper' 3D styrene model is straightforward enough - transfer the pattern to styrene, cut the bits out, glue them together in the right shape and add detail - but there are enough little hurdles to make it worth writing an article about. That, and someone asked. ;-)

(It should be noted that this is, of course, just the way I do it - several of the steps are optional, and there may well be entire other approaches that are just as viable... I just like it like this.)

Transfer the pattern

First, tape the papercraft building you're using as a pattern to a sheet of styrene. I'm using 1.5mm, but only 'cause I didn't have any 1mm to hand - 1mm would be more appropriate.
Use a sharp point - a bradawl, a needle, a pin or whatever - to stab through the design at the corners of the pieces to mark into the sheet below.
Obviously it's not necessary to include the tabs or any underside or internal surfaces in this, since these only exist on the papercraft to give structure and allow surfaces to glue against. Styrene is a lot more rigid than paper, and the pieces are thick enough to simply glue along the edges.

Pencil in the lines

Remove the pattern (keep it for later) and join the corners up with pencil so you can see where you're cutting; the pinholes disappear quite quickly as soon as you cut through them, so it's useful to have the lines drawn on so you don't lose them.
It's a good idea to use a pencil for this stage rather than a marker simply for precision; the smallest marker I have to hand has a line nearly a whole millimetre wide.

Cut out the pieces

Cut the pieces out using a sharp knife along the edge of a steel ruler.
(Obviously if you're not trying to photograph your progress it would be a good idea to hold the steel ruler down, as well...;-)

Keep the cut-off

It should go without saying, but keep the cut-off bits; they'll be good for something later.
For example, that piece on the left would be good for making another copy of the piece in the middle were I to make a second building to the same design.

Sketch out the design

You may find it useful at this stage to sketch out the design on the pieces so that you can remember which piece goes where and you don't get them mixed up. I went back and re-did these sketches in marker later 'cause the pencil kept rubbing off too easily.

Bevel the edges

Next, bevel the joining edges of the pieces to half the angle of the join - e.g. a 45-degree bevel for a 90-degree (right-angled) join. Styrene is typically too thick to just glue the edge of one piece to the side of another without fit problems, not to mention that this approach wouldn't work for non-right-angled joins anyway.

Here I'm sanding the join to a bevel on a piece of wet-n-dry sandpaper laying flat on my desk. It's a good idea to use this stuff wet, 'cause the water will keep the particles from flying in the air and getting in your lungs.

Buttress join

If you can, start with a 90-degree join, since they're easiest to get right. If you can't, swear at the guy who made the pattern for not including any 90-degree joins. ;-)
It's a good idea to make a small buttress piece to glue on the inside of your first join for added strength.

Glue along edge

Glue along the edge of the join and the buttress, and attach your second piece.

Complete in a similar fashion

Work around the model and glue on the other sides in a similar fashion. You probably won't need to buttress all the joins, as most of them will have at least two other sides to glue to.
You may find you need to cut the tips off of any particularly acute angles, since otherwise you'll have trouble fitting them in - especially since they tend to curl as they're cut out.

Fill gaps

Unfortunately, thick styrene means noticable gaps around the edges, unless your bevelling has been perfect... so next fill the gaps with something. I've used the mecha-modeller's favourite 'SGT' - superglue mixed with talcum powder - but this is mainly for expedience's sake. Milliput, gap-filler putty, polyester putty or whatever would all do just as well... just take longer to cure.
You could leave this stage 'til after you've applied the surface detail, but I find it better to do it twice than once with a lot of filler.

Transfer detail design

While waiting for the filled edges to cure, transfer the surface detail to another sheet of styrene. It would be a good idea to use a bit more pressure or a larger spike for the corners of the main pieces, so that you can tell them apart from the detail corners when you come to pencil in the lines.

Cut out surface detail

Cut out the surface detail. You'll probably find you end up having to cut a few sections out from the middle of surfaces - this is one of the 'hard' problems of modelling, and everyone has a different approach. I've detailed one particularly thorough approach before, but here I just went for laying a ruler down and cutting both ways along the inside edge with a knife. The important thing is to always cut away from a corner, even if it means two lines along the same side that meet in the middle. It helps if you're relatively ambidextrous, of course, so you can leave the ruler in place. If you're not, curse your parents for not birthing you a genetic freak like me and just be really careful.

The other approach, which as you can see I used for most of the parts here, is just to cut through the parts into convinient strips and leave yourself with more gaps between the surface detail that'll need filling later. This is the easier approach since you don't have to worry about neat corners, but it involves more work overall.

Wrap sandpaper around block

Once the filler for the edges is dry you'll need to sand it flat so you can glue the surface detail on. If you just hold a bit of sandpaper in your fingers you'll probably sand the edges off round, so it's wise to wrap a bit of sandpaper around something with a distinctly flat surface, like the steel ruler I'm using here.

Sand clean edges

Sand the filler away from the surface and the edges flat. Again, wet the paper first and regularly rinse off the sanding dust.

Glue on surface detail

Glue the surface detail parts to the main block... again, you can see there are quite a few gaps you'll want to fill in.

Of course, while we're waiting for the filler to cure, we can have some fun detailing up a few more bits and pieces.

Stick pieces to tape

First I'm going to scribe some detail into one of the doors. I need to attach a template, so first I'll lay the piece on a bit of tape with the sticky side up...

Tape pieces to template

...then lay the template down on top, allowing me to position it fairly accurately.
Here I'm using a Hasegawa photoetched detail scribing template that I purchased from HLJ, but if you don't have such a thing (or have friends with such a thing) you could scribe along the edge of tape instead, particularly the label-maker kind, you'll just have to be more careful.

Scribe with a sharp point

Scribe through the template with a sharp point - I'm using a sewing needle in a pin vice, simply 'cause sewing needles are the sharpest and strongest points you're likely to find in your home.

Scribed door detail

After a couple of passes with the scribing template the door has a window made of two cocentric rounded rectangles and a handle.

Scribed pieces

I also made a rounded window - the outer scribed loop being used as a cutting guide to cut the whole shape out - and a handle for the second door.


After the second round of filler has cured and been sanded away, it's time to add greeblies - those little extra bits of incidental detail that break up surfaces and keep the whole thing looking interesting.
Here I'm using photoetch detail and plastic option parts from Kotobukiya, but you can often find suitable boxy parts in model kits - particularly tank or truck kits.


I added a ladder made out of a bit of Evergreen textured styrene and a pair of strips made from the offcuts from the surface detail, and I'm done!

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