Craft filter: I'm looking to make an object appear as if it has 1/4" scales (like a lizard) with spray paint and painters tape but I don't know if it'll work. They scales have to be uniform in size and shape.
July 29, 2008 3:12 PM   Subscribe

Craft filter: I'm looking to make an object appear as if it has 1/4" scales (like a lizard) with spray paint and painters tape but I don't know if it'll work. They scales have to be uniform in size and shape.

I'm working on a project to make a rounded object look like it has scales like a lizard or dragon. My idea was to take painters tape and cut out hundreds of little "U"s, cover the object uniformly in the applicable pattern, and then spray paint the whole thing. After the paint dries I would then remove the painters tape "U"s. I believe this would produce the desired look but I have a few problems:

1) Cutting out 100's of "U"s from painters tape would take a long time
2) Consistency would be an issue because one can only be so precise, particularly if each scale is about 1/4" tall and wide.
3) I would like to avoid having custom stickers made up as I want to keep costs low and a deadline is nearing (my fear is this is the only way).

Maybe I'm approaching this task the wrong way. Keep in mind that I want it to look professional - almost as if it were manufactured. I'm willing to take some time with this project but I don't want to waste time if there's a better way to do this. Can the hive mind assist?
posted by alrightokay to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I believe this would produce the desired look

Not if you're overlapping the scales like roofing shingles, it won't. Why not make a stencil or cut decals? Are you required to use only spray paint and painter's tape?

If using paper is an option and you want a very uniform look, go get yourself an oval-shaped paper punch and fold or cut them in half.
posted by iconomy at 3:32 PM on July 29, 2008

Yeah, you're approaching it the wrong way. Your method would look like a bunch of Us left unpainted on a painted surface. You do need to use a stencil. There may be some commercially available, or you can cut your own with stiff mylar and an exacto knife.

I've done quite a lot of stenciling, and that's how I would approach it, so maybe some Googling for reptile stencil techniques can give you some more info.

Sorry my answer is so vague, but it's time to cook steak! I'll check back in later, though and try to add something of more value.
posted by Fuzzy Skinner at 3:47 PM on July 29, 2008

The key to making scales look like scales is texture and/or depth. I would suggest layering scale shapes out of some sort of material, but if paint is your only option, you'll need to do shading in order for it to look right, which would make the process even longer. Without the effect of (or actual) depth, scales tend to just look like painted Us. (In my experience.) I don't know what kind of look you're going for, but what I would do is get some good quality craft paper or shiny plastic film and poly it onto your form.
posted by phunniemee at 3:48 PM on July 29, 2008

^...plastic film, and then cut it into scale shapes and poly those...
posted by phunniemee at 3:49 PM on July 29, 2008

What about using an inkjet printer to make a "water slide" decal? (Here's a supplier I just found via Google and have never dealt with.) Basically you print it, get it wet, apply to your surface, let dry and spray on a sealant. You'd be limited by the quality of your printer, but it would allow you to skip the masking step altogether.
posted by contraption at 3:50 PM on July 29, 2008

Consider cutting out pieces of balsa wood and gluing them onto your work in an overlapping pattern. It comes in sheets that are easy to cut with an Exacto knife and very light so it won't add a lot of weight to your project. It will also add a lot more depth to your project that paint alone could not touch. It may be more labor intensive than cutting out paper but the effect will be much nicer.
posted by little miss s at 3:52 PM on July 29, 2008

I'll second two of iconomy's ideas. Depending on the size and curvature, a stencil and stenciling brush might work. Or paper, using decoupage, can result in a professional looking finish (with practice).

What size is the object and how rounded is it?
posted by Macduff at 3:55 PM on July 29, 2008

You also could create 1 or 2 or 3 stamping agents and stamp on a series of Us or scale-like shapes in different sizes and tints. You can make your own stamper out of a flat piece of rubber(tape it to a wooden spoon for easier application on your rounded object) or carved from a potato, which would give a mottled effect. Heck, you could sponge on color in 2 or 3 washes, and go back in with a sharpie and define scale outlines to get the color + shape effect in a flat sense.

Little Miss S's idea is a good one, too. You could also cut out pieces of paper and glue/decoupage them on the round thing.
posted by julen at 4:02 PM on July 29, 2008

fish scale stencil

or, you could cut a strip like the green pictured here and just repeat it in rows, having the bottom of each U center on the points of the row below. If you paint a gradation like in that example, you could have the bottom of each U be a lighter shade than the upper portion, giving an illusion of overlapped scales.
posted by Lou Stuells at 5:12 PM on July 29, 2008

If you're set on using painter's masking tape, cut it into strips with pinking shears. Your local craft store should have a variety of these with varying patterns/sizes. It'll be a whole lot easier than cutting a zillion by hand. Fiskars also makes a scallop scissor. Between pinking and scallop, you should be able to cut masks from tape that are a reasonable approximation of scales.
posted by jdfan at 7:24 AM on July 30, 2008

If you go the stencil route, you could punch out the scales' contours with one of those corner-rounder things they sell at scrapbooking stores.

Cut a bunch of "scales" in a row in some flexible board or film. Curve the stencil around the rounded object you mention. Spray a dark shade of the scale colors first, let that layer dry, and then spray a lighter shade of the same color the same way, but offset the stencil slightly so the darker scales look like a shadow of the lighter ones, creating a sense of depth and texture.
posted by Rykey at 6:00 PM on July 30, 2008

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