Tips on making
aircraft and vehicle lights - Part IV
devil is in the details, claims the old saying. This is particularly
true in scale modeling, and representing well lenses/headlights in
plastic models have been challenging me for a long time. I wrote a
series of articles (Part I, Part II, and Part III)
in the past with good and not-so-good tips for simulating the different
types of lenses used on aircraft and vehicles. With new materials
appearing all the time, new ideas come to light. Therefore, here is my
last tip on how to make headlights with textured lenses.
ingredient of this tip is UV curing resin or glue. As you will read in
a moment, the cool thing about this particular method is its
simplicity. It literally takes a couple of minutes to make several
textured lenses ready for you on your model. I effectively used this
method on my Hasegawa Toyota GB starter truck in 1/72 scale, and some friends asked me how I did them, so here it goes. Like I always say, if it works in 1/72 scale, it will work in any scale...
As I said, you
will need a fast curing resin or glue or acrylic or whatever... and a
mold (more on that later). With these two things you have a lens
factory in hand:
are several brands of UV resin and glues. I've been using Gaianotes UV
Gel Clear. It comes with a tube of UV gel resin and a UV light pen to
cure the first. You may find the packaging overkill, but remember that
these products are UV sensitive. Try to minimize their exposure to
light, even natural, because most lights may have some UV frequency
content or be close to it. That will reduce the shelf life of your
resin, or even harden it beyond further use.
First, the cheap whisky.
easiest way to use UV curing polymers is also a nice method to make
perfectly clear, non-textured lenses. All you have to do is to deposit
the UV resin on a non-sticking surface using a round-tipped toothpick
or rod. The amount of resin you deposit will determine its
size/diameter. You have some control over it, thanks to capillary
action: you can make them thicker or thinner by depositing more resin,
and also non-circular shapes by dragging the toothpick. I like to make
several of them to increase the chance to have two or three of the same
size, in case you need them in pairs or tripes. A word of caution,
though: it is important to reduce the exposition of the resin to UV
light. I suggest you do pour a small amount on a cap, close the tube
and store it properly, and work with the material reserved.
you are satisfied with the selection of lenses you prepared, hit them
with UV light - 30 seconds is more than enough for a good quality UV
resin. If you don't have a dedicated UV light-pen, you can use LED
flashlights, but you have to determine the exposure time by trial and
this method on a plastic bottle cap for five minutes rendered me a good
stock of clear lenses. These are particularly useful for landing lights
and small windows in aircraft models. And with a coat of transparent
clear paint you can give them several other usages:
Now, the good bourbon.
if you are interested in lenses with that characteristic texture, you
have to (i) make a master or (ii) copy the texture pattern from
somewhere. In the case of vehicle lenses, I found a pair of clear
lenses in a 1/32 scale toy car, and the texture was crisply molded. I
removed the clear parts from the toy and prepared a rubber mold of
them. I opted for a very rigid mold, I mean, I used hard rubber (the
type used to copy white metal parts) for reasons that will be clear in
The reason why I opted for hard rubber mold is to allow an alternative
usage of the method, in case you don't want to use UV resin to make
your lenses. When the mold is hard enough, you can use melted clear
sprues to make the parts.
is how: take a length of clear sprue, like the ones carrying the clear
parts of your models. Then heat one end enough to make
it soft, but not to the point that it starts to burn. You just
wanted it softened. Next, press the soft end against the rubber mold
and try to hold it in place while it cools down a bit. It probably will
take you a few seconds. The pressure is necessary to make the soft
plastic fill in all the details of the mold. The size of the lens
will be determined by the diameter of the clear rod, how hot you made
it, and how much pressure you apply. You certainly will learn as you
go. It is a gentle process, though, you don't have to push it hard
against the mold. Finally, cut off the excess plastic and start over if
you need more:
method is interesting if you need a styrene part. It may be especially
advantageous if you have colored clear sprues, as then you can make
colored lenses like a breeze.
The variation of the method is
the one that uses the UV resin. All you have to do is to pour small
drops of the resin inside the mold. You don't have to fill the mold
completely. Instead, adjust the resin amount accordingly to the
diameter of the lens you want. Letting the drop fall directly over the
mold will generally produce a perfectly round lens, but you may 'brush'
the resin with a toothpick to make really thin parts. Hit it with the
UV flashlight and there you have it - perfectly textured lenses:
can make molds for two or three different texture patterns, and if time
is not a problem, epoxy resin or PVA glue can be used as alternatives.
Just do not use CA glue as the lens material, as it will stick
irreversibly to the mold.
In one of my
models, I hollowed the headlight, inserted a small ball simulating the
bulb, and then cemented the lens. Looking from the right angle, you can
even see the bulb inside. Cool!
Here is the case of my little Toyota GB. I for one would not be able to scribe such fine texture in such a small part. And best of all, it took me just minutes to make these headlights, literally:
And there you have it. Simple and fast, and it can be adapted to other applications, as well.
I hope you find this
article useful for your next project. Let me know what you think.