I’m still working on building up my This is Not a Test terrain. The latest onto the table is a couple of experimental road tiles made from cheap, repainted, self-adhesive vinyl floor tiles. These turned out fairly well for pretty minimal effort, and a few folks asked for a tutorial so here it is.
Step One: Secure a box of cheap, 1′ square, self-adhesive vinyl floor tiles. Locally a pack of 36 tiles costs around $50NZ from Bunnings, which is a large home improvement chain in New Zealand and Australia. They used to come in smaller 12 tile boxes, which was a better deal, because you’ll probably only need a few of them. You may also be able to buy them separately. Make absolutely sure they’re vinyl though and not ceramic tiles because you want to cut them with tools.
You’re looking for textured tiles, preferably in a dark or grey tone – although that doesn’t matter too much since you’ll be painting over them. I believe the ones I used were called ‘granite style’. The faux stone texturing makes them easy to paint, and don’t worry about how glossy they are, because we will deal with that later. The next photo shows you an example of the tiles I used.
Step Two: Secure your tools. You should have most of these already in your collection:
- A sharp Xacto and ruler for tile cutting.
- Some cheap house paint or student acrylics to paint the roads. I have black student’s paint, a battleship gray and a white house paint test pot.
- Masking tape and an old paint brush. You’ll use the masking tape to create the road markings, and the old paint brush to both dry-brush the roads, and stipple on the white markings.
- Sandpaper (not pictured). I used a square of 120 grit. You’ll use this to prepare the road surface for painting, by taking some of that gloss off.
- Craft woodcut tools. You may not have these, they are used to cut and texture the lino tiles. You can find these at art stores. Locally I bought my set from Gordon Harris for around $20NZ. You don’t need a whole box, at the most you need two tools: a wide, ‘U’ shaped blade, and a sharp ‘V’ shaped one. Some art stores may sell you a handle and a set of interchangeable blades instead, which could be a cheaper option.
Step Three: Plan your roads, and start cutting. I cut one of the tiles into three 4″ wide, 12″ long strips for these roads. That’s about the right width for a 28mm scale, narrow, single lane road. The photo shows a raw road, with a finished one next to it.
You don’t have to cut all the way through the tile, just score it deeply with your Xacto and then you can snap the tile along the join easily. You’ll then have to then cut through the backing paper as well, which protects the adhesive back. Leave the paper on though!
Step Four: Ruin the Roads. This process will take a little time, as you’ll use the woodcut tools to cut away the edges of the rectangular road, and cut extra details into the surface of the tile.
WARNING: ALWAYS CUT AWAY FROM YOURSELF. ALWAYS! Even cheap woodcut tools are as sharp as your Xacto knife when new. Also when cutting the tiles it’s very easy to slip and lose control of the tool. Always cut away from yourself, because if you don’t, you’re one slip away from cutting into your hand or stabbing yourself in the torso.
This photo shows me using the tool with a wide, shallow ‘U’ shaped cutting edge. I’ve roughly sketched out where I want to cut with a Sharpie, and then trimmed and snapped the bulk of the corners off with the Xacto. I then use the woodcut tool to shave down the edges so they look more organic. I’m also cutting on a spare piece of MDF board, because the tool tends to cut through the tile as I work. You can see the cuts are also exposing the backing paper. I work my way around the whole tile, turning it and cutting away from myself all the time.
Next, I grab the sharp ‘V’ shaped woodcut tool and start working cracks and breaks in from the roughed out edge of the tile. The goal is to make something that looks like cracked asphalt or concrete. It doesn’t have to be particularly realistic looking, it just has to suggest that the road surface is falling apart with age.
It works best if you cut from inside the tile out towards the edges, because then if you slip, the tool won’t leave a long gouge across the middle of the road. You also want to cut fairly deeply because you want a nice texture to drybrush over when painting. The ‘V’ shaped tool is also excellent for creating cracked pothole effects in the middle of the tile.
Once I’m happy with the texturing on the front of the tile, I flip it over and trim away the tattered backing from the edge with my Xacto, while also leaving as much as possible still attached to the tile. The adhesive isn’t that strong, and we’ll over paint the exposed edge to kill the stickiness later. You just want to expose as little of the glue as possible.
Step Five: Preparing for Painting. After cutting, your road tile probably still has a lot of glossy, shiny surface intact. You need to roughen that up to ensure your paint job sticks. This is where the 120 grit sandpaper comes in. I take a square of that and a sanding block and work over the whole surface of the tile to kill the shine a little and add some ‘tooth’ for the paint. You’re not trying to sand the tile down flat, because you want to save that nice surface texturing it comes with, just rough it up a little. You can also sand the edges you’ve cut up lightly to get rid of any loose material there before painting.
Step Six: Painting. For the roadways, I mixed up a fairly dark asphalt gray base tone and applied two separate coats using a wide hog bristle brush. Depending on the quality of your paint, you might be able to get away with one coat – unfortunately my cheap student’s acrylic didn’t cover that well though. I also base coat over the edge of the tile onto the back, painting over the exposed adhesive to kill the stickiness. I leave the tiles sitting on old sprues to dry, since the back is wet as well.
Once the base coat was completely dry, I drybrushed two coats of lighter grays over the dark base, making sure to hit the cut edges and cracks well, but also lightly drybrushing most of the tile to capture the texturing it was manufactured with. The trick with drybrushing is use a large brush, make sure there’s almost no wet paint on the brush, and to brush at a 45 degree angle to what you’re trying to texture. This means the roads were painted back at forth at 45 degrees, working down the length of the tile.
Once the drybrushing was completely dry, I used the masking tape to mask out a stripe down each side of the road, and used the same brush to carefully stipple the white road markings on. Make sure you avoid the cracks you’ve cut into the road as you go though, because the painted surface is meant to be gone there. I’m not entirely happy with the white road markings, as I think they look a little too bright still. I’m tempted to hit them with a very light ink wash to darken them down a touch.
Finally, depending on the quality of the paint you’ve used you might want to varnish the tile with some cheap spray varnish. Although house paints are usually robust enough to handle being war-gamed on, which is why I generally use them for painting terrain.