Chalk and Cheese Backdrops

Things have been progressing nicely on the layout over the last few weeks in between Christmas, trips away and family visits. I spent today with a couple of friends who came around to work with me on applying photo backdrops on two layouts: mine and a QR outline layout being built by a friend north of Brisbane. A little ironic then that the backdrops being applied to both layouts use photos of the Victorian bush! 🙂 The backdrops supplied by Kieren Haskell worked out brilliantly and Morpeth now sports these new printed backdrops on two of the layout’s three scenic modules. The third is waiting for some basic preparation and painting to be completed before it can have the backdrop applied.

Some learning points that Peter, Phil and I worked out as we applied the backdrops were:

– You need to make sure that the surface that the backdrop is to be applied to is as smooth and clean as possible. All the surfaces we applied the backdrops to had already been painted so we worked on making sure that paint bumps, brush bristles and chips embedded in the paint were sanded out first. After we sanded we worked to ensure that the surface was scrupulously clean and that surrounding work surfaces were also clean. Any chips and bumps that are on the backing board surface will be seen through the photo backdrop.

– As we were working with long rolls of self adhesive backdrop we needed to carefully plan out our method of attack for applying them. We discussed the jobs each of us would have and spent a lot of time drawing lines and checking what was and wasn’t square. In my experience you should start with the assumption that nothing is square, including in this case the edges and ends of the printed backdrops. It is no use fussing for half an hour drawing a long straight line that is exactly 90 degrees to the end of the backing board which you intend to use as a datum line to lay down your backdrop, only to discover that the photo backdrop itself has been cut slightly off square.

– The backdrops we were applying today are a bit like thick contact. The rear of each roll (which in my case were just under 2m long) is self adhesive and has a thick backing sheet that is peeled off as applied. There is no give in these backdrops and very little if any adjustment as you apply them, so you have to make sure you have the leading edge positioned correctly before committing. Once you start (and if you’ve got the lining up pretty close to the mark) you work your way down the backdrop smoothing out the wrinkles and any air bubbles as you go. You can back up a bit by pulling the section you’ve just laid up again but there is a limitation to this. We didn’t have any sort of roller or other tools to help us but our hands seemed to work fine.

– We applied the backdrops in full as a first step and didn’t trim them until we’d laid the entire roll. We were lucky with my layout because I could remove the simple mdf backing boards from my modules. This allowed us to apply the backdrops flat on a work table I have in my train room. After preparing the surfaces, all we had to do was draw a datum line, draw a cross line that was at right angles to this and start applying the backdrop. After this I put a new blade into a scalpel, turned the board over on the work table and ran the blade along the back side of the backdrop. The other layout we worked on was in the form of shadow boxes and this made getting in to the surface of the backing boards a bit more challenging but things worked out ok. I would suggest that you need to do something about your backdrops earlier rather than later. The longer you leave it in the development process the more difficult it becomes. This applies to using photo backdrops or painted ones.

– Gaps between the backing boards are the only real downside to using these photo backdrops that I can see. A small (2mm) gap between the backboards on my modules was hardly noticeable when they were painted. This gap now sticks out like the proverbial. I can’t see a way of easily overcoming this problem but what I’ve learned from this is that I need to make sure that my backboards mate up properly before applying the photo backdrops. I need to darken the edges of the boards with some suitable paint so that this gap isn’t as noticeable but it will still be there and is going to bug me no end.

In spite of the challenges of applying these backdrops the difference between my painted efforts and the printed end product is like chalk and cheese. The depth added to the scene is truly spectacular and I was very lucky in that the colour match between my 3D scenery and the hues in the backdrop were a great match. I have no hesitation in recommending using photo backdrops: they provide an extremely effective return on your investment of hobby dollars.

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