Collecting => Customs => Customizing Tips and Tricks => Topic started by: LandotheScoundrel on September 28, 2004, 02:47 PM

Title: Working with Styrene Sheets
Post by: LandotheScoundrel on September 28, 2004, 02:47 PM
This is a question for those of you that have worked with Styrene before. I'm trying to come up with a good method for making a carbon freeze chamber deck pattern, and I'm thinking thin sheet styrene might be the way to go. I'd really only need it for the pattern (which I would cut very painstakingly :-\ ). After that, I plan to spray it and paint it, then glue it to a circle of plexiglass to give it support and allow the orange light to shine through.

My question is whether this is feasible. You all know what the carbon freeze chamber deck looks like. Would I be able to cut that pattern without ******* the thing up completely? what thickness should I be looking for, etc?
Title: Re: Styrene...
Post by: Jesse James on September 28, 2004, 05:09 PM
If it's being supported by something thicker undereneath, go for something thin just out of simplicity.  I have thick stuff here, and it's a bitch to work with.

As far as the pattern goes, there's actually sheets that are specially designed to have "deck plating" patterns and such, so before you try doing it from scratch see if your local hobby shop has something close...

Doing it by hand wouldn't be terribly bad.  Tedious perhaps, but thin styrene cuts like butter with an X-Acto.  Just be very patient, very careful, and when it comes time to sand your cuts be careful and use a very fine grain sandpaper. (Finest you can find).

Working with Styrene's not hard, so don't fret...  Also, if you're buying just plain sheets, don't bother with a hobby shop.  Find a distributor in your area of large sheet styrene...  GE Polymer Shapes (A division of GE) sell ABS Styrene by HUGE sheets (like you need a pick-up truck to haul them huge), but for $50 or whatever you get two huge sheets that'll build you a Death Star or a dozen if you wanted.
Title: Re: Styrene...
Post by: LandotheScoundrel on September 28, 2004, 05:26 PM
Thanks Jesse!!!  8)
Title: Re: Styrene...
Post by: jokabofe on October 1, 2004, 08:38 PM
Styrene is one of my favorite materials to build with. Like Jesse said, it cuts like butter when you use an exacto knife, just make sure to keep the blade fresh and change it often if you need to. I would also suggest a cutting mat to go under the styrene while you are cutting it, that would also save your blades as well as make the cutting a little easier. I would say the thinest available should suit your purposes, especially if you are going to mount it to something else like the plexi you suggested.

As for the pattern, you can find a decent one at Niubniub's Universe ( I would say size it to your liking (although I think most of Niub's decals and downloads are pretty much "to scale"), print this out, tape it down, and start cutting  ;D. As you remove more and more of the cutouts, I would recommend putting down some new masking tape to hold it in place a little better.

Good luck, and keep us updated on your progress  ;D
Title: Re: Styrene...
Post by: Deanpaul on October 3, 2004, 02:46 PM
Or... You could create your pattern in a program like Adobe Illustrator (anything that makes vector lines) and take it to a vinyl sign shop. Think about the lettering on the sides of trade vehicles, it's the same thin easy to cut vinyl. They will be able to cut the pattern on a Gerber machine out of any color vinyl you'ld like - even metallics for other applications. The vinyl could then be easily applied 1st surface to the top of your acrylic since the back is sticky. You could ask for a few extra inches of the vinyl to wrap other parts of your diorama so the black has color consistency between parts.
Title: Re: Styrene...
Post by: LandotheScoundrel on October 3, 2004, 08:57 PM
Wow, thanks guys!

The pattern I made has been done in Illustrator, so I guess the vinyl sign route is an option. Do you know roughly how much that sort of thing costs?
Title: Re: Styrene...
Post by: Deanpaul on October 3, 2004, 09:53 PM
Wow, thanks guys!

The pattern I made has been done in Illustrator, so I guess the vinyl sign route is an option. Do you know roughly how much that sort of thing costs?

I'm usually sending big orders through for production graphics (trade show type application) - so it's hard for me so say anything other than "reasonable"... But call a few shops and offer to email them the file for them to price, or tell them the size and they can give you a price per square foot. Make sure to tell them you'll apply it yourself, and generally I have a spare cut just in case I screw up applying the first set.

Another term to know is "weeding". Weeding removes all the negative image surrounding the positive image you want, including places like the "hole" of an "o" or "g". This is tedious work, and if you're willing to take it on yourself your job will cost A LOT less.

These places have people calling with small jobs all the time. You'll be easy since your file is already prep'ed to go - most people calling up out of the book can't understand why their GIF web logo cannot be cut. Try calling an Insta-Signs type place first, tell them you've got a small, straight forward project you'ld like them to look at.

Once you've got drawing shapes in Illustrator down, you're ready to move on to laser cutting railings and decking. Most metal fabricating shops and some sign shops have a water or laser jet cutter that can cut out 3D patterned shapes. Great for Sail Barge railings, Death Star patterns and Tantive IV panels.
Title: Re: Styrene...
Post by: Deanpaul on November 6, 2004, 03:24 PM
Wow, thanks guys!

The pattern I made has been done in Illustrator, so I guess the vinyl sign route is an option. Do you know roughly how much that sort of thing costs?

Hey, how did it go? What did you end up doing? Are there any updates?
Title: Re: Styrene...
Post by: LandotheScoundrel on November 9, 2004, 09:54 AM
This one's on the backburner for the moment. I'm elbow deep in a Jabba's palace diorama, that should be pretty damn sweet when I'm done with it.

The Carbon Freeze chamber will be my next project, and I bet it will take some time. I plan on having some moving parts and lights in it. I'm also thinking about some sort of dry ice "steam" effect. The part that I'm having trouble brainstorming is how to have Han swapped out for the Carbonite when I lower the platform. That'll be a bit tough to execute, I think.
Title: Re: Styrene...
Post by: Jesse James on November 9, 2004, 06:28 PM
I've wanted to redo the Hasbro Carbon Freeze Chamber too.  I wanted to just make a "snap on" piece that makes it bigger and more accurate looking.  It, to me, is actually a really nice playset. 

The feature worked well, the concept was there...  It just wasn't a big enough playset to drive people in and buy it.  Overall I really liked that set though.  Kinda wish I'd gotten more of them when the FC store clearanced them.
Title: Re: Styrene...
Post by: CHEWIE on December 28, 2004, 02:40 PM
Lando, have you ever chatted with Owen Driscoll?  The guy is a master with styrene.  Check out his website and shoot him an email.  If you haven't chatted with him before, you can tell him you know me and that I suggested you get in contact with him (he also does commissions at very fair prices!).  He's one heck of a great guy, here's an example of something he made for me -


Title: Re: Styrene...
Post by: CHEWIE on July 20, 2005, 01:47 AM
I found this article, I thought it might be helpful -

Working with styrene
This plastic is inexpensive and versatile.
by Jeff Wilson

From left, plain, scribed, board-and-batten, and tiled sheets from Evergreen; telescoping round tubing and channel from Evergreen; girder, square tubing, and quarter-round strip from Plastruct; and square strip and H-column from Evergreen.
Styrene – short for polystyrene – plastic is one of the most versatile materials used in the hobby. Styrene is inexpensive, easy to work with, and comes in a variety of shapes and sizes of sheet and strip material. It can be used for building structures, rolling stock, locomotives, roads, sidewalks, and many other models. It also has many general purpose uses, such as for bracing or making jigs.

I find it handy to have a supply of styrene sheet and strips in my workshop. Evergreen Scale Models ( and Plastruct ( are the two major manufacturers, and their products can be found in most hobby shops as well as through distributors such as Walthers.

Another great source for styrene is a commercial plastic retailer (check the yellow pages under Plastics). These dealers sell sheets of plain and colored styrene up to 4 x 8 feet – handy for building large structures, roads, and other projects. You can also find adhesives, polishing materials, and clear acrylic sheets and shapes.

Plain sheet is available in thicknesses from .005" through .100" and thicker, with .020" and .030" among the most common used in modeling. Sheets are also available with many patterns, such as clapboard and board-and-batten siding, tile, and grooved (to represent individual boards). Styrene is most often white, but clear and colored sheets can also be found.

Strips are available in standard dimensions (with square and rectangular cross sections) as well as in rods, tubing, telescoping tubing, quarter-rounds, I-beams, Ls, and special shapes such as girders.

Cutting and shaping


To cut styrene scribe the styrene with a sharp knife, then bend it at the scribe to snap it in a clean line. Click on the photo to see the cut.
The easiest way to cut large pieces of styrene is the scribe-and-snap technique. Score the plastic with a sharp hobby knife. Use a straightedge to ensure a precise cut. Bend the sheet at the mark and it will snap, leaving a clean line. This method works best for straight lines and gentle curves. You can use scissors to cut thin styrene, and tin snips work well for cutting thicker stock.

Strips can be cut with a hobby knife, single-edge razor blade, razor saw, or with a tool such as NorthWest Short Line’s Chopper.

Styrene is easy to work with. It can be shaped and contoured with almost any hand tool, including hobby knives, full-size and needle files, scribers, dental picks, and sandpaper or sanding blocks.

Drilling holes is easy using a pin vise. I suggest buying a set of no. 61-80 drill bits, but you can use a pin vise to drill larger holes in plastic as well.

You can use a motor tool to drill styrene, but be sure to use low speeds. Working at high speeds causes heat to build up quickly, and this heat can distort the plastic. You can also use a motor tool to grind styrene using steel router bits of different shapes. Once again, use slow speeds and pause frequently so the plastic doesn’t melt.



If you apply liquid cement with a brush, capillary action will draw it into the joint.
Plastic solvent cements all work by the same principle: The solvent in the glue melts the top surface of each piece of styrene, bonding them. When the solvent has evaporated, the resulting joint is as strong as the styrene itself (as anyone attempting to disassemble a plastic kit discovers).

I use two types of plastic glue. The first is Testor’s Liquid Cement for Plastic Models (no. 3502). This is a thick liquid solvent applied with a needlepoint applicator on the bottle. To use it, apply the glue to one surface, then press it in place.

The second type is liquid solvent applied with a brush. Hold the parts together, then touch a brushful of solvent to the joint. Capillary action will draw the adhesive into the joint. Some liquid cements, such as Tenax, evaporate very quickly; others, such as Testor’s no. 3502, evaporate more slowly.

Cyanoacrylate adhesive (CA) works well for joining styrene to other materials such as wood, brass, and resin.


Styrene takes paint well, and any of the common modeling paints – acrylics, enamels, or lacquers – can provide a good finish. However, be aware that the solvent in lacquers, such as Scalecoat and Accu-paint, can attack plastic. I use acrylics whenever possible because of the ease of water cleanup and the absence of toxic vapors.

The key in getting a good finish on styrene is to make sure that the surface is free of dust, grime, and oil (such as from your fingers from handling). Any of these can keep paint from adhering to the plastic.

Scrubbing the surface with a toothbrush using liquid dish detergent in warm water is generally sufficient to clean the surface.

An airbrush or spray can will generally provide the best, most even paint finish, but brush-painting can also yield good results.

Jump in

Break out some styrene and start with an easy project like a small shed or length of sidewalk. Or, better yet, just try playing with it to see what you can make using this flexible and easy-to-work material.     

Owen D. is already a master in this area... I think I'm going to start experimenting with this stuff some more.  It's so awesome.  Any advice Owen?

Title: Styrene Sheets
Post by: BrentS on April 30, 2006, 02:49 PM
I've seen several posts were people are using Styrene sheets for their figures and dioramas.  Can someone help enlighten me on these styrene sheets?  I thought someone said you could buy them at a hobby store.  I went into Michael's and asked about them and they looked like I was high :)

If you use these, where do you find them??

Also what thickness do you recommend??
Title: Re: Styrene Sheets
Post by: Ryan on April 30, 2006, 03:07 PM
Evergreen Scale Models (

Plastruct (

Try these two out they should have a spot that will tell you who diributes for them, if you have a HobbyTown USA or another more "male-oriented" hobby shop they will likely have it.
Title: Re: Styrene Sheets
Post by: Smartypants1635 on April 30, 2006, 03:15 PM
I'll second what ryan said. My hobby Town has a large selection I have 3 different widths of tubes and multiple thickness sheets( and they have a hell of a lot more). They also have textured sheets as well like roof tiles and stuff for train modelers.
Title: Re: Styrene Sheets
Post by: BrentS on April 30, 2006, 03:36 PM
Thanks guys, I stumbled onto these brands as I was googling.  I wonder if Hobbylobby would carry these?  I've got one of those pretty close.  There is a Hobbytown USA about 20 minutes away but its in the middle of nowhere.
Title: Re: Styrene Sheets
Post by: Smartypants1635 on April 30, 2006, 03:40 PM
My hobby Lobby in my town is crap when I asked for styrene they said that there was no such thing. Pretty much the response you got. Even if its out in the middle of No where Id say hit the Hobby town.
Title: Re: Styrene Sheets
Post by: CHEWIE on April 30, 2006, 04:01 PM
From what I've seen the large hobby chains just don't carry styrene for whatever reason.  Small shops do and online shopping is a good idea.  And Owen D is the guy to talk to for tips!

Title: Re: Styrene Sheets
Post by: Nirvana on April 30, 2006, 05:12 PM
HobbyTownUSA is my one-stop customizing shop when it comes for knives, Dremel bits, and Styrene. It's the only hobby shop I've been to that carries it. There's a section with just plain strips, tubes, and sheets and another one with textured- concrete, brick. etc.
Title: Re: Styrene Sheets
Post by: Jesse James on April 30, 2006, 06:26 PM
Hobbytown USA is your best bet, however buying sheet styrene in quantity at hobby stores isn't wise.  It's very expensive.

Sheet ABS Styrene is just paper-like sheets of plastic.  You can get varying thicknesses and dimensions...  Shapes and things are available too.  Finding a well stocked plastics rack is tough in my area, and so far only HobbyTown has everything I need, but it's on the other side of the city so I go rarely.

It's not cheap buying sheets of styrene at the hobby shop though, so be warned....

I was at WM the other day and in the clearance area they had those "for sale" signs, or "No Trespassing" signs.  They were like $1 for the bigger signs, and a whopping $.25 for thin smaller signs.  These are simply ABS Styrene Sheets with printing on one side...  Perfectly useable though.

I have a plastics distributor I get my plastic from in bulk though.  A single trip when I can borrow a pick-up will supply me with plastic for quite a while.  Check the Yellow Pages for Plastics or Plastic Distributors and you should have some good luck.

BTW I suggest getting a good plastic welder if you're going to work with Styrene.  Glues like Krazy Glue and whatnot don't actually do much but bond the two pieces, whereas welders actually fuse sheet styrene, and make it much MUCH more durable.  Pricey but worth it.

Oh, and don't get styrene too thick...  Cutting is easy if it's not TOO thick.  When you get too thick though, you're going to require a saw to cut, and things become more complex.
Title: Re: Styrene Sheets
Post by: BrentS on May 1, 2006, 01:54 PM
Thanks for all the helpful advice!

I went ahead a drove out to see what I could find.  I picked up a few supplies.  Based on Jesse's comments I expected them to be even more expensive than they already were.  However, given what I actually was able to pick up, I suppose he's probably right.  I got a few pieces to play with to see if it is something that I can use.
Title: Re: Styrene Sheets
Post by: Jesse James on May 2, 2006, 04:31 AM
What I do is generally buy my shapes at hobby stores...  I look elsewhere for sheet though.  Like I said, price a house for sale sign at WM.  Check the clearance aisles even.  I got two nice sized signs on the cheapy cheap just the other day.  $1 each isn't bad at all, and this is fairly thick stuff too compared to the sheets I can get at HTUSA out here.  Still thin enough to score cut it, but much thicker than the 8x10 sheets I see at the hobby stores for certain.

For the detailed bits though I go to the hobby store...  It's just easier for me, and often I don't need a LOT of one shape I've found.  Some I could but eh, I deal.
Title: Re: Styrene Sheets
Post by: jediraven82 on May 3, 2006, 02:55 PM
I bought one of those cermaic tile scorers for my house last week, how would that work for cutting styrene?  So far, its sucked for tile, but maybe it won't be a complete waste afterall.
Title: Re: Styrene Sheets
Post by: BrentS on May 3, 2006, 07:28 PM
I took Jesse's advice and stopped by WM to look for styrene.  I found a really good size sheet for $1.  Seems like a pretty good price.  I'm assuming once the white side is painted you won't see the black through the back side.  Anyway, just wanted to say thanks for the advice!!

Title: Re: Styrene Sheets
Post by: CHEWIE on May 3, 2006, 08:23 PM
I bought one of those cermaic tile scorers for my house last week, how would that work for cutting styrene?  So far, its sucked for tile, but maybe it won't be a complete waste afterall.

I don't know, but I'd love to hear how it goes!

And great idea JJ on the signs.

Title: Re: Styrene Sheets
Post by: Jesse James on May 4, 2006, 12:57 AM
Dunno Jediraven82...  Long time no see by the way. :)

I've never seen one of those tools to know.  Basically though, anything like a box cutter can score plastic just fine.  When it's thin enough you score it, then just bend and it snaps right off cleanly.

If it's REALLY thin plastic you'll go right through it with too much pressure when scoring so be weary of that.

As far as painting goes Brent, styrene is what the old SW figure torsoes were made out of (the 2-parters).  That's a rigid ABS plastic.  It takes any kind of paint...  If you're fearful of the black showing through, prime it and you'll avoid the issue.  Generally vehicles don't have TOO much PVC style plastics on them.  For instance on the Naboo Fighter from Hasbro the ship's 90% a styrene-like plastic.  The engine tips and tail though, are a pliable plastic as you know most likely, and they aren't going to react to all paints well.  The rigid ABS paints with most anything I've found though.
Title: Re: Styrene Sheets
Post by: BrentS on May 4, 2006, 08:10 AM
Thanks Jesse.  Seems like I found a new Plastics expert  ;)
Title: Re: Styrene Sheets
Post by: Jesse James on May 5, 2006, 06:33 PM
N/P Brent, I'm glad to help...  Ships/Vehicles/Sets have been a focus of mine since it required nothing to get started that I need for my figure work so I have about 90 half-finished projects laying around, haha.  :)

Plus I've got experience in plastics and things professionally and model making and whatnot from my childhood.  I'm happy to share any help I can to the guys branching out that way.  Scratch-Building is a very satisfying aspect of customizing...  I like it sometimes more than working on figures I think, because there's more creativity involved sometimes IMO.  I feel sometimes limited when working on a figure.  That's why I always appreciate fanfiction work on figures when I see it.  People's imaginations sort of take flight with those, and it makes some interesting results.