by Thomas Hawk
As a kid, I spent countless hours building plastic model kits and have always loved models and model building. As an adult, my time is more limited, but I’ve continued to envy models of all kinds. Some years ago, I stumbled upon a new twist on an old hobby: paper models you can download from the Internet. You’ve probably seen those architectural paper models in the bookstore that only require cutting out and gluing together. This concept has come into the computer age. Now, there are countless paper models available on the web as graphic files. You simply download the file and print out the pages on your color ink jet printer. Then it’s just a matter of cutting out the pieces and assembling your model. Even better, most of these models are free!
Don’t think these models are like flimsy paper dolls or unrealistic and boxy. A few are, but most of them are cleverly designed and a joy to behold when completed. Some will have your friends scratching their heads in disbelief when you tell them their paper. I like the fact that their light weight makes suspending even larger aircraft models from the ceiling easy.
Building a card model has many advantages over traditional model building I like. I love that they are don’t require painting and can be assembled with common white glue. If you mess up a part, you can replace it easily by just printing out the page again.
What sort of models can you download free from the web? Because card models go straight from the designer to the builder, the range of subjects is much greater than it is for production models. You can find card models (as builders call them) depicting all sorts of vehicles, buildings, and even animals. Movie and TV subjects are among the most popular. You can find free models of the Disneyland Sleeping Beauty Castle, the Graf Zepplin, the starship Enterprise (all versions), or a grand sailing ship.
Where Do You Find them?
Once you start looking, you will find card models everywhere. Here are some tips to start: Doing a Google search of a subject with “paper model” on the line will almost always tell if it’s available online. There are a few great link sites and some sites full of professionally designed models, such as Canon Creative Park. There’s a great forum called the Zealot Hobby Forum (http://www.zealot.com/forum/) full of model links, reviews and advice. Another good trick is to use the Google Reader RSS reader. In Reader, click the “Add a subscription” button and type in “paper model”. Cull through the feeds and subscribe to them. This way, you’ll be up on many new models that have just been posted.
Most paper model downloads are available as PDF files, which can be viewed and printed using the free Adobe Acrobat Reader or some other reader such as Foxit Reader (which I like). These usually offer all model files in a single multipage file. Usually, the author includes directions, too, though with downloads, sometimes you have to do some interpretation. Otherwise, a model may be a folder of JPG graphic files, easily printed from any graphic viewer. Rarely, a model will be offered in the PDO format, which can only be viewed and printed after installing the Pepakura Viewer. Pepakura is a program used by some designers to create card models.
Card models are best printed using a good high resolution color ink jet printer. Laser printers are not very good for model printing because they deposit powdered toner on the page which tends to crumble when bent.
Building a paper model does not require any special tools. Have a bench or table someplace where you can leave an in-progress model out of harms way during assembly. You can cut out model pieces with scissors, but it’s best to go by the craft shop and pick up one of those plastic cutting mats. a 12 inch by 12 inch mat is fine. A good X-Acto knife is best, too. If you don’t want white paper edges showing on your model, there are a couple of ways to fix that. You can use a set of colored pencils or markers to carefully color just the edge. I prefer watercolors for this, so I can thin the color to a shade closer to that of the printed surface. Any kid’s watercolor set will do, but it helps to pick up a very fine brush for this. Any white PVA glue will do. I use Alene’s Tacky Glue, but Elmer’s and others work fine. For gluing small parts, I use toothpicks: the flat sided type. Q-Tips are good for gluing larger areas. Pick up a metal ruler for cutting straight line edges. If you’ve never done this, practice a bit before trying it on your model page. Another good thing to have is a can of spray-on fixative or varnish to set the water-based inks on the page before assembly.
There are free paper model downloads that can be assembled in a few minutes and others that can take weeks. Try one. Paper modeling may not replace plastic modeling, but it can be a fun variation of your model-building routine.
Wade Watson enjoys collecting movie-related models and props. You will find his list of hundreds of free movie/TV-related card model downloads listed by title at http://www.freewebs.com/moviecardmodels/