In this article, I want to share my experience with taking a fairly inexpensive Gunpla kit and transforming it into something much more valuable with the addition of custom panel lines. It requires more time to be invested into the building process, but the results are well worth it. If you’ve wanted to try adding custom panel lines to a kit, I hope this guide will give you an idea of how to achieve good results. Let’s get started!
#01: Sketch Custom Panel Lines with a pencil
Sketching concept custom panel lines with a pencil is the most forgiving way of experimenting with custom panel lines before creating any cuts. If you sketch a line you aren’t happy with, then simply rub it off the plastic with your fingers and try again. For some people, this first step can be daunting if they think “I don’t know how to design custom panel lines”. But, trust me – with a little practice, it soon becomes second nature! The trick is: Always try and use existing part geometry to your advantage. Decide what you think is missing rather than everything you think you would like to add. And if in doubt (when designing anything) follow the KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid) principle.
#02: Cut & Position Dymo Tape
When you have a few sketched lines that you are happy with, use a ‘flat’ X-Acto blade and roughly cut the required length of Dymo Tape.
I’d recommend cutting the tape in half, along the length, in order to make things more manageable and use less tape. If you want to prepare small pieces to keep for later then cut a small notch out of the rough side – this way, it is easy to tell what edge is your cutting edge. Place the tape along your custom panel line sketch. Until you get used to the offset of the scribing against the tape, use a pencil to check alignment. Let the tape sit for about 10-20 seconds before moving on.
#03: Use a Scribing Tool to gently create Custom Panel Lines
Once you are satisfied with the position of the tape, take a scribing blade (I use the Tamiya Plastic Scriber II) and very, very gently start to run the tip of the blade along the tape in one direction. Make sure you have some indication of where you are going to start and stop the custom panel line in order to keep things tidy. The reason for going so lightly is for 2 main reason; to make sure you are not applying too much pressure and make an error, and to create a beautifully clean custom panel line. Applying too much pressure will result in aggressively forcing and stretching the plastic – the panel line will not be smooth.
As your custom panel line begins to form, start scribing lightly in the opposite direction. As you begin to feel comfortable with scribing, you can use the hook of the scriber to pull back in the opposite direction. Again, I’d advise doing this very lightly, multiple times, for the smoothest results.
How far you scribe into the plastic is up to you. Try it out, compare it to other panel lines on your model to your own custom panel lines and just enjoy the results!
#04: Rub Away Pencil & Tape Residue
This isn’t essential, but I find it very useful to understand when you have a clean custom panel line. Lick your finger or your thumb and rub any excess tape residue and pencil into the panel lines. This will give you an impression of what it may look like when panel lined with either a pen or a paint wash.
You now have a clear view of your custom panel line and the next step is very easy as a result of wiping the residue into the panel line.
#05: Use a Miniature Chisel to Tidy Things Up
You are almost there – and this is what really makes the panel lines super crisp. During this step, custom panel lines transform from a ‘maybe this wasn’t a good idea’ into a complete success! For this step, you will want to use a small chisel. For finishing 90% of my custom panel lines, I use a BMC 0.5mm chisel. I’ve tried some more inexpensive chisels (Trumpateer 1.0mm) but, the quality of the metal is simply not as good. The BMC chisels will ask a bit more of your wallet, but the cost is well worth it. They are a fine piece of craftsmanship and allow a high degree of accuracy (and confidence) while creating custom panel lines.
It’s time to bevel the edges of the panel lines. A bevel is basically a chamfer (it can be any ‘size’ but, typically for Gunpla, I aim for a 45 degrees) and it is added to the line you have scribed by running the chisel along the edges of the panel line. The following images will visually explain exactly what is happening during this step.
Start by using the tapered face of the chisel to lightly bevel the edges. I don’t use the flat face side to begin with, mainly because it is a little less forgiving and is likely to dig in to the plastic if you are not careful. Try and be ‘free-flowing’ with this; if your custom panel lines not too long, try and bevel it all in one smooth motion.
Rinse and repeat on both side of your panel lines. When you’ve done this you should have really clear and seamless custom panel lines on your Gunpla model. If they are tidy enough, you might not be able to tell the difference between molded panel lines and your own custom additions!
If you made it the end, thanks for reading. If you decide to test out some custom panel lines on one of your model kits be sure to share it with me on Twitter, it’s the best place to get in touch!
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