I’m going to start with a crude outline. This will of course, change – which is the entire point. I said above that ‘Suggestions are appreciated’. That’s the purpose of putting this up for viewing on the web after all.
Building Cardstock Models the Modern way
- What is Card stock?
- Card stock – is a generic name referring to a range of fairly thick and heavy paper weights. The main features distinguishing card stock are weight, fiber, color, finish and size. Also called cover stock or pasteboard that is thicker and more durable then normal paper used for writing or printing.
- Paper Weight – Paper is described in several ways: point sizes that measure the thickness of a single sheet of paper in thousands of an inch; and by “basis weight,” a measurement in pounds of the weight of 500 sheets of 25 by 38 in.
- Thickness – Most U.S. cardstock comes in a weight measurement, assigning a lb. number to the cardstock, while most European cardstock, also known as cover stock, is assigned a pt. value that directly indicates the thickness of the stock. If the points are known you can divide them by 1000 – each point is 1/1000th of an inch in thickness. 14pt. cardstock is .014 inches thick.
Where it is listed in weight it becomes more difficult – a dense paper is going to weigh more of course. Most cardstock is in the range of 50 to 110 pounds. In contrast, standard copy paper is 20 pounds. Since the density affects the weight, making precise conversions, an 80 pound paper is approximately .01 inches thick.
This is just to give a general guide. For modeling purposes it is more important to simply measure the thickness directly and make note of it. Generally – Paper such as you will have for your laser printer is around .003 inches thick and is in the 20lb-32lb range. Paper stock of 110lb or more is commonly referred to as cardstock. This is complicated since depending on the use that the paper is used for the density, flexibility etc. changes. That’s why I’m simply giving a general overview of paper weight for informational purposes. For modelers it really becomes quite simple .. you purchase a quantity of different weights of paper/cardstock and use what’s appropriate for the project in hand. The question of whether what you are holding is paper or cardstock is for me irrelevant. For modeling it ‘depends’.
Georgia-Pacific Copy paper. 20 lb – bought at Walmart. It is about .0035 in thick
Daler Rowney Tracing paper, 40lb – bought Walmart. It is about .001 in thick
Wausau Exact Vellum Bristol, 67lb – bought Office Depot. It is about .008 in thick
Cason Bristol, 100lb – bought Michaels. It is about .014 in thick.
Note right off that the Tracing paper at 40lb is .001 in thick while the Copy paper at 20lb is .0035 in thick. This is a perfect example of how density effects thickness as the tracing paper is a much denser paper. I think everything considered for modeling purposes, the denser the better. What is important is the thickness – which you see varies so you have to measure it directly.
I have my dial calipers that I constantly use for modeling and they work fine for measuring paper thickness. I model in O scale and using those papers above I get this:
Tracing 40lb – .001 in … O scale .048 in
Copy 20lb – .0035 in … O scale .144 in
Bristol 67lb – .008 in … O scale .384 in
Bristol 100lb – .014 in … .672 in.
Tracing paper – it’s made by immersing uncut and unloaded paper in sulfuric acid for a few seconds. The acid converts some of the cellulose into an impermeable character. Much stronger when dried, it is resistant to oil and grease.
Copy paper – copiers and laser printers. The important quality is a smooth run in a copy machine/printer and good dimensional stability.
Bristol board – an uncoated, machine-finished paperboard. It is used for printing documents, brochures, promotional materials and envelopes. It is also used for paperback books or catalog covers, file folders, tags and tickets. To further complicate things it ranges from one-ply Bristol that is thin enough to be translucent with two and three-ply most common. THEN .. we have finish. Plate finish is smooth as glass, suitable for pen and ink while vellum finish is a medium texture more appropriate to friction-based media.
The point is that as a modeler you have to decide what is important. Texture is often important to make a surface ‘real’ as the eye expects texture often. A plate paper will take a higher resolution then vellum. There isn’t a ‘right’ paper for any project .. you have to simply try printing on different papers and see which one works best. A brick pattern printed on photo paper might work less well then the same brick pattern printed to a vellum surface since we ‘expect’ texture.
- I use mostly 65# “cover stock” and occasionally 110# if I need extra strength or thickness. For rolling landing gear legs and such, I use 25# letter paper adding extra length to get the right rolled diameter. I can buy all three at K-Mart.
- There is no “ideal” paper weight….it depends on the size of the model and the intended purpose of the individual part. Generally, though, I think 35 lb paper is too light weight to use in most paper modeling applications. I think 65 lb paper is a very good “general purpose” paper choice. For some applications, 110 lb works well (such as internal framework for JSC 1:400 scale ships). Bond paper is effective when used for rolling small diameter (less than 2 mm) cylindrical parts. I keep a fairly wide selection of paper (both in weight and type) on hand, and keep my eyes open for new stuff every trip to the crafts store that my wife drags me on.
- Use sharp blades. It should be obvious but it makes a huge difference in the quality of the finished model. 
- Chisel blades are a great help in cutting out molding and window details. Dulled blades (of which you will have many) can still be used for scoring. Consider having a separate, marked blade, to use just for scoring. another great trick for getting sharp clean corners is to make a pilot hole with a streight pin in each corner. this helps avoid over cutting the corners.
- Usually, a part is cut in two stages. First, the part is separated from the rest of the parts by cutting roughly around it with scissors. Don’t attempt to cut on the lines at this step. Once the part is separated, you can work on it without fear of damaging other parts. Often, it’s best to do the scoring and folding before proceeding to the fine cutting. Especially with small parts and narrow tabs, it’s easier to fold them neatly while there is still waste paper around the part.
- Once the part has been scored and folded, lay it flat again and cut to the outline. There are three methods of cutting: scissors, knife, and chisel. Scissors are used for most curves, as it’s very difficult to cut curves freehand with a knife. For sharp curves, it’s easier to first make a cut about 1/8”, 3 mm, outside the outline, then cut on the outline. With only a thin strip on the waste side, the waste paper doesn’t push against the scissors, and it’s easier to guide them.
- A knife guided by a straight edge is used for straight cuts. Unless the line is very short, it is very difficult to make an accurate straight cut with scissors. Use a steel straight edge, line it up with the cut, and draw the knife along the edge. With a sharp knife and firm pressure, you should only need to make one pass.
- There is a natural order to the cuts on most parts, as you work your way around the outline. This is difficult to explain in text, but will become obvious after some practice. It’s different for left- and right-handed modelers, of course. If there is an interior area to be cut out, I find it usually works best to cut that out first.
- The printed cutting lines have some width, of course, and this introduces some limit on how precisely the cut can be made. If the outlines are thick, I usually find it’s best to try to split the line with the cut.
- You won’t always use a knife – actually I use scissors whenever I can get away with it.I’m writing this for Right Handed people because I am one. The most basic thing is that you don’t want to cut where you cannot see the line that you are cutting on. For a Rightie, you don’t want to cut on the left side of a part as your hand and the blade obscure the line you want to cut on.
You (almost) always want to cut with the body of the part nearest you. You’ll get a good look at the line and you won’t be at much risk of cutting into the part if you flinch. You’ll cut away from the part and you can always correct that.BTW, I recommend not using straightedges for cuts. I use them for scoring but not cuts.This picture shows how I am cutting on the correct side of the part so that I can make a detailed and controlled movement.
How to fold
- When folding very thin pieces, make the fold before you trim the piece to its final size. Pieces of less then a quarter of an inch need the extra support of the surrounding paper to make a crisp fold. So, cut out your part leaving an extra quarter to half inch of paper surrounding your finished part. Score and fold then unfold and cut out the part. The kits I make include some parts that fold that are 1/8th of an inch (6” in O scale) creating a 3” x 3” scale part. That’s the smallest detail that it makes sense to fold though I’ve seen smaller. The thickness of card stock is approximately ½ to 1” in O scale so in some instances it is best to laminate a couple of cards back to back in a kind of paper plywood. 
- To get crisp folds, use a steel straight edge as a kind of “press break” to support and apply even pressure along the score line. For tight spaces and small parts a long thin pair of needle nose pliers works great. 
What glue’s cement?
- When using CA glue, less is more.
- Really handy glue I’ve found is the kind that has a pen applicator. This is great for tacking parts together. They advertise it as permanent but I wouldn’t trust it to last too long, however it will hold very cleanly long enough for you to build parts that you can reinforce with stronger glue. Think of it as tack welding before you lay down the pretty welds.
- I use the Aleene’s tacky primarily. The quick setup just makes the project go much faster. A quality gel-type CA like Zap-a-Gap is good for attaching non-paper parts like rigging thread. Where I want a thinner PVA glue I’ll use Elmers and if I want something even thinner, I go to the 99-cent store for their generic brand of PVA glue which is cheap because it’s watered down, so good when you want a very thin film and don’t need a lot of strength or quick setup. And I’ll experiment with almost any adhesive that comes along. I even use spray adhesive for some things, like laminating large flat parts where warpage is a concern.
How do I butt glue edges together?
- Often with small parts, especially small cylinders, it’s necessary to glue two edges of card together, without an overlapping tab. These butt joints can be challenging, because the glued surface is tiny, but there are several approaches which can give good results.
In butt joints, it’s very important to have a good fit. Use a straightedge to guide your cuts, and test fit the pieces carefully. It may be necessary to bevel the edges if the joint isn’t flat. You can make the initial cuts at an angle, or use sandpaper or an emery board to make the bevel. Use fresh sandpaper, because as it wears and gets dull it will tear rather than cut the fibers, and you end up with a fuzzy edge.
If carefully done, it’s possible to simply glue the edges together. You need to be very sparing with the glue, and it soaks readily into the fibers on the cut edge, so it’s difficult to get the right amount of glue. Double gluing is often helpful here.
If the butt glued joint isn’t strong enough, you can back up the joint with a bit of scrap stock overlapping both sides. If this adds too much thickness to the joint, you can use vellum or onionskin paper instead of card stock for the overlap.
Paper clips, clothespins, and cross-locking tweezers are all handy. You can also put a rubber band around the handle of your smooth-jawed needle nose pliers. For some parts, such as tiny cylinders, there’s no substitute for fingers. As you acquire practice in getting just the right amount of glue in just the right places, you’ll find you need clamps less and less.
What to color edges with?
- Touching up the thin white line that appears when you cut or score paper is a crucial step. There are a lot of ways to approach it but this is what I’m currently doing. I use light gray, (cool and warm) pantone markers. Light colors will appear much darker on the card stock then you might think. These alcohol-based inks are very aggressive in how they soak into paper. Almost always going all the way through. What I recommend is that you apply the marker outside the cut line before you trim out the part. Apply the ink about 1/8th of an inch from the line and let it bleed towards the line. This may take a little practice on some scrap card to get the feel for the bleed. When you cut the part, you will find that the ink has saturated the paper and hidden your edge. For score lines I recommend using a partially dried out marker or apply the ink from the back of the printed surface.
- Water color Pencils work fine if it is a big enough set to have the colors to match – dip the tip in water. Some people use watercolor paint from the tube and mix colors to match use a small brush to apply, others use acrylic paints.
- In most cases duller colors on the edges is better than darker. With brighter colors I see many great builds ruined or at least worsened by someone trying to match the edges with the parts color. They usually don’t come close and it looks mismatched. My suggestion is use greys or dull neutrals on these edges. unless the part is ink black never use black on the edges, it always looks unnatural and just doesn’t work. caution on markers, they bleed notoriously, use them on wheels or inside stuff but use super caution on fine parts edges. Using acrylics will work fine, work from the backside of the part to edge, if you slip you won’t have a huge glop of color on the exterior. Do alot of testing first on scrap paper similar to the part you are working on.
laminating or doubling card stock
- Our kits are designed to be completely self supporting however you can extend the life of a model greatly by adding additional interior reinforcement. The simplest step is to double up the thickness of walls by using scrap card and gluing it to the back of walls etc. Some people create foam board structures using our images as a template. This takes some skill but gives excellent results.
Preserving your models
- Most high quality cardstock now is acid free, but you never quite know. If you want to find out if a particular stock is pH neutral, pH testing pens are available.
I recently went on a search for a finish that would waterproof soluble ink-jet printer inks for models I was printing on card. The best I came up with was Krylon (#41311 Matte Finish). Although it doesn’t waterproof to the point where you can soak the card in a bucket of water, it does protect from splashes, glue slops, etc. (Sorry, didn’t test A&W). Comes in a spray can, gives an invisible finish, has no effect on colour inkjet ink, is fairly inexpensive, is available in any artists’ supply store and is considered pretty high quality stuff. It’s used by artists to protect their work, photographs, etc. If you’re handling your models a lot (i.e. wargaming) remember that you’ll be transferring acid to the paper from your fingers, so two or three coats of Krylon would be a good idea I’d think. I’ve started spraying the cardstock (both sides) before I begin building. The matte finish takes glue well. Also a UV matt spray will help protect printing from fading over time. We have models over 5 years old that have shown no color fading. The cheap fixatives will become yellow over time – be careful.
Try UV-lacquer. It exists in matte and gloss. It´s a 100% transparent layer (spray), which protects photographs, airbrush, aquarelles, objects of window display, screen printing, art printing and – in our case – models. It dries immediately. Do not apply too thick, better more often, but only one time – in general – is enough. It protects against bleaching from sunlight.
- I use Krylon UV-resistant gloss before cutting and after to protect the finish and keep models from fading. For matte finishes, never use the Krylon products. They will frost like crazy. I have had great success with Testors dullcote for matte finishes.
- I prefer Krylon satin, and always spray the printed sheets before cutting/assembly. I never had much luck with Krylon matte. No matter how much I shake it, and no matter how lightly I apply it, it always leaves a visible fogginess. I’ve used Krylon gloss with no problem. The amount of gloss it imparts to plain old cardstock is pretty much undetectable.
- I use a cheap women’s hair lacquer spray for sealing my models before assembling them. I give both sides of the card a light spray after the ink is dry. It is alcohol based so it does not cause the ink to run.
- I use “Clear Aerosol Lacquer” by Minwax. It’s a Clear Satin and I’ve had excellent results using it. 
- Not really about preserving – but similar – Been using Elmer’s Rotted Wood Repair. No odor and water clean-up. It comes in a 16 oz. bottle. On a single sheet of 110# card one coat made the paper resemble a thin sheet of plastic. Have not tried it on thicker material yet.