Scroll Work

Day 213.

The Model Shipways Bluenose has some ornate designs painted on the bow around the hawse pipes.  These designed are called ‘scroll work’.  These were painted in yellow right on the black hull.

Getting this detail onto the model can be tricky.  I’ve read several different ways to do it.

  • Paint it free-hand.
  • Trace the design on using transfer paper, then trace over the transferred design using a paint brush.
  • Print the artwork onto decals, and apply the decals to the ship.
  • Skip it, and leave the scroll work off.

I’m not good enough at painting to do it by hand (with or without transfer paper).  The scroll work is small (about 1 3/4″ long).  Even with my smallest brush, I’m not going to be able to paint with that level of detail and be happy with the results.

Using decals won’t work for me either.  As I discovered with the nameplates, decals have some thickness to them, so they don’t look painted on.  That was fine with the nameplates, because these were often painted onto boards that were attached to the ship (so the decal’s thickness simulated the thickness of the board).  The scroll work, however, was painted directly on the hull.

So, I had a crazy idea.

A year or two ago I bought an inexpensive 3D printer.  It was an impulse buy, and aside from a quick test print to make sure it worked, I’ve never used it.  The biggest problem was that the printer’s software was Windows-only, and I use a Mac.  It was just annoying enough to switch over to Windows that I haven’t bothered with it.  But now they have Mac software.

I’m thinking that I might be able to model the scroll work in 3D, and print it out in a very thin sheet.  It is fine if the scroll work itself has a little bit of thickness – I just don’t want it to look like it was painted onto a board then mounted to the hull.

If I can get a good enough (and thin enough) print, I can paint it yellow and glue it on.

Making the 3D Print

To print the scroll work in 3D, I need to create a 3D model.  I’ve never done this before, but fortunately the part is small and solid, so as long as the shape and size are right, I should be fine.

I started with a scan of the scroll work from the plans, which was hand-drawn by the person who created the plans.

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The scroll work design from the plans.

However, the fine details of this drawing probably won’t turn out well on my printer, so I did some digging online to see if this was the only option.  I ran across this photo of the actual Bluenose, showing the scroll work on the bow.  The design looks similar, but a little cleaner.  It also looks raised – as though it was carved wood attached to the bow rather than being painted on.

I took that photo into Photoshop and flattened it out.  Then I traced the shape to create a drawing of the scrollwork.  I opted to simplify the design slightly further to remove some of the tight curves my printer would have problems with.

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Revised scroll work design, based on a photo of the Bluenose.

Next I brought this image into Sketchup, a simple 3D modeling program.  I used it as a template to draw curves and lines to create a 3D model.  A couple quick test prints showed that some of the smaller pieces won’t show much detail, so I simplified them to create straighter edges.

I’ve been using SketchUp for years, mostly to do office space planning.  (I’ve used it to design multiple office layouts, creating rough designs that were passed on to architects, as well as general space planning and furniture layout).

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My 3D model of the scroll work, 1/64″ thick.

The model is about 1 3/4″ long, and I set the height to 1/64″. This was exported as an STL file, which seems to be a 3D format that is supported by all the tools I’m using.

I opened it up in my 3D printer’s software.

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The model loaded into the printer software.

My printer is very, very basic, and so is the software.  It tries to make 3D printing easy and accessible.  Somebody thought that meant making the UI look like a virtual version of the printer.  So here you see my scroll work model sitting in the printer.

It takes about 20 minutes to print the piece.  The printer starts by laying down a ‘base’ of support material, then builds the piece on top.

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A 3D printed scroll work piece on the printer.  The piece is built up on top of a bed of support material that I’ll remove later.

When it finishes, the piece is removed from the printer, but left attached to the base material.  Since the piece is so thin, I’m leaving it on the base while I sand and paint it so I don’t break it.

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The printed piece before any cleanup.

The piece is cleaned up using a #11 blade.  I removed any extra ‘strings’ of plastic and cleaned up some edges.

While still on the base, I sanded the piece down with 220 grit sandpaper (attached to a flat block).  This removes some of the ‘grain’ of the plastic, and thins it a little further.

The piece is then painted, using the same yellow that was used for the cove stripe.  Two coats gave me pretty good coverage.

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After cleaning up the piece and sanding, it gets a couple coats of yellow paint.

Once the paint was dry, the piece was carefully removed from the base.  This was done by sliding a #11 blade under the piece.  (The printer uses very light amounts of material between the piece and base, so it comes up very easily.)

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The piece is carefully separated from the base.

The nearly-completed piece is now ready for one final round of cleanup, using a #11 blade to get rid of some of the extra paint.

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All that’s left is to clean up some of the excess paint.

Once I had it cleaned up, the piece was glued onto the ship.  A second piece was printed for the other side (the model had to be flipped over to make a reversed version).

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Completed scroll work installed on the bow.

I’m pretty happy with how it turned out.  It is certainly better than I could have done by hand with a paint brush.

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You can see the plastic’s grain if you get close, but nobody will be that close to my model.
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Scroll work and nameplates are done!

With the this in place, I’m finally finished with the nameplates and scrollwork.  These are a couple of the most detailed things that have to be done on the ship, and I’m glad to have them out of the way.