A Scale of a Tale

Nothing ruins a diorama faster than an out of scale item (except a turpentine spill!).  The immersion is spoiled, and the out of sorts item becomes the focus of the scene.  So, save the poor size estimation for closing time and try this technique for scratch-built scale.  Specifically, I’ll show you how I scaled some road signs I’m making. 

I found a website that allows you to print rulers for free.  At printablerulers.net I was able to make a ruler that showed inches at the bottom and 1/35 scaled feet at the top.  You can play around with the options to make it different scales like 1/72 or 1/48.  You could also change it from inches to millimeters.  I printed my ruler and laminated it for longer survival on the workbench. 

Next, I found a website that sells road signs.  This site was kind enough to provide the actual dimensions of the signs in the item description.  I found images of the signs I wanted and dropped them into PowerPoint. 

In PowerPoint, I turned on the gridlines and ruler feature.  Next, I adjusted the zoom feature from the bottom right of the screen.  While holding the printed ruler up to the screen’s ruler, I adjusted the zoom until one inch was the same size on both ruler and screen.  For my screen and scale, this was 90%. 

I pasted my signs into PowerPoint.  Using my printed ruler, I knew that two scale feet (width of sign) was equal to about 1 ¾ real inches.  I adjusted the size of the image until it matched. 

I didn’t have the correct dimensions for the highway sign, though.  Luckily, because I scaled my screen to match my ruler, I could hold a 1/35 scale figure up to the screen to get an idea.  With the figure as reference, I sized the highway sign to what I thought looked right. 

I copy/pasted the signs a few times.  There is plenty of room for error in this process, so printing a few extra is a no brainer.  Once printed, I cut them out leaving plenty of edge around the borders.

I have some thin-rolled tin I use for canvases and signs, but I’ve seen aluminum cans used as sign backings to great success.  I sprayed one side of the tin with spray adhesive.  I like to use the spray because the water in PVA (white) glue can mess with the ink on the paper.  With the spray adhesive dry, I use a hobby knife and scissors to cut around the border.

At this point, I sprayed the signs with a gloss clear coat.  I wait to do this until after I cut them out because the clear coat will help keep the paper edges from fraying from the metal backing.  As long as you keep the can back 12-18 inches from the paper, you shouldn’t have a saturation problem with the ink. 

From here I can work on the signpost and any weathering I might want to include.  The metal backing will ensure the sign holds any bends I want to put in it.  How do you keep scale in your models?  What’s the tiniest scaled piece you’ve fiddle with?  What’s for lunch?  Thanks for stopping by!

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