The Board Finalised

Following from the first & second posts about the board design process I got really into detail with getting a quality print, laser etch, window film application as well as polishing the legibility and even the board tile shape…
As the laser cutter follows the outline of the vector the shape perfectly, when cut any unjoined shapes overlap which on close inspection looks untidy and can cause some over heating/browning of the acrylic when the same point is cut multiple times.

While perfecting the vector I changed the shape quite considerably as the dashed outline was quite busy on the eye over the illustration. I opted for a double stroke which has a clearer path & reflection off of the iridescent film.
New laser vector

I also discovered that cast acrylic etches and cuts much better than extruded acrylic so got down to Amari for the final (fingers crossed) two sheets.

Finally I wasn’t happy with the board cut into square tiles, the cut lines were distracting from the etched design so I printed some paper versions and tried a few different ways of dividing the board, finally
picking a 5 tile version where the cut lines follow the graphic layout and the whole thing still breaks up to fit into a reasonable sized box.

New tiles

For the window film print I wanted to get the text as visible as possible so I attempted to have the graphics layer of the window film illustration under printed in white which caused some headache for the printers as the print driver expects under printing to cover large areas of the design so doesn’t lay the primary layer down very thickly causing the illustration to come out greenish and not a strong black. After much trial and error having weighed up the possibility of printing the illustration normally, waiting several days for it to dry and then attempting to register the print for under printing against the marginal benefit I decided against it and
went with the richer blacks of a regular print.

Print Tests

I have finally perfect the application of a single sheet of window film without creases or bubbles, however the new film contains PVC which means it isn’t possible to laser cut it…. so I had to painstakingly cut the tiles out and register the application of them onto the tiles. I swore a lot but got there in the end without too many mishaps.

Finally the iridescent window film which is so central to the entire aethsetic of the game has been my biggest disappointment. For early prototypes I was able to order sheets of the film big enough to cover the entire board however 3M (who manufacture everything, ever) have stopped manufacturing it and with my Uni hand in looming I have to order every last scrap of if I could find on the internet in A4 sheets and hope I had enough. 3M have replaced the product with a 5X more expensive thicker variety which is beautiful but also marks with finger oils much easier. It now would cost £45 to cover a single board. I am sure there are equivalent products out there for mass production (you can but iridescent everything) but for a small run I couldn’t find anything anywhere.

3M dichroic film

So with huge disappointment I applied the worlds last remaining A4 sheets. The border between sheets is visible on the final board but it will have to do as proof of concept.

I spent a great afternoon in the uni photography studio taking fancy shots of the whole thing followed by a tragic hard drive failure later that day so I’m waiting for another studio session before I reveal the final thing! For now enjoy this taster of one of the player pieces which I had emailed off before my drive died.Player piece

Rhino 3D & 3D printing

Took an amazing workshop learning to build 3D models in Rhino 3D, we even had a chance to run our creations through a 3D printer. I attempted to model one of the ships I carved as the symmetry allowed for a bit of cheating. It took 2 days to get comfortable enough with the software to navigate without accidentally using Adobe shortcut keys.


Some of the amazing possibilities…. I am dying to have a go at Pepakura which takes your 3D model and flattens it into a paper model complete with taps and numbered sides! The spirals in the below image are the same model using different construction techniques.


Stone Spaceships

I designed and sculpted the masters from which to make molds for the cast resin ship token used as player pieces in the game Skirmish.

Stone Ship

I started with paper aeroplanes as the most familiar form and material, probably not the most progressive futuristic choice but, you know, childhood.

To get a more solid ship I used 0.5mm copper foil and experimented with bits of origami and cutting things up and sticking them together. Having already

decided on the narrative of solar powered space craft that use ‘star shards’ to generate power from solar energy I wanted the craft to have a crystalline quality. My idea was that the ships would be translucent with a sort of geode within that housed the players so the copper ships were not quite solid enough. I tried padding them out with scuplty and then tried just making the forms in scuplty from scratch but found it impossible to manipulate a clay into perfectly flat geometric forms, every time I got one section flat I was depressing into another.

Having worked with shou shan stone while carving chops which is very soft and can be worked with simple files and hand tools as well as polished to a shine I bought soap stone on ebay. I wasn’t very impressed that it came in a pile of rubble.

I used hand tools to make my self some starting cubes and then small files and chisels to work the shapes taking inspiration to my pile of copper origami and a couple of semi precious stones kicking about the boat.

Soap stone is a silicate, the dust is talcum powder but that doesn’t mean it is safe to breath. Silicate dust is a repository health hazard eventually causing silicosis so should be worked wet or with extraction or dust masks. Soap stone also contains very small amounts of asbestos so all the more reason to be cautious.

I’m trying to think of technique practiced and developed while carving but it really is very simple, a couple of different shaped mini files and patience.

One really cool thing which my mum put me on too was while polishing them I was working through the grades of wet & dry paper which on such a soft stone is pretty fast but getting the final shine seemed to rub off as quickly as on until I used a nail buffer which I shit you not is my new favorite polishing tool. It even works really great on resin. I cut the end of and divided it up into triangles to have smaller bits to get into the nooks of the ships.

Copper Ship
Copper and Sculpty
Stone Block
Hand Tools
Final Ships

The Board Continued

Picking up from the first post where I had figured out a way to marry the functional purpose of the board with a space scene background illustration and was beginning to develop the illustration and game layout to be as if the board is a screen from within the players space ships. To bring about the feeling of a screen I made up the board layout in Illustrator. I created some simplified iconography for the various positions and used the lovely Museo fontface.

trianglerI purchased some sheets of 3mm acrylic from Kings Plastics and after some adjustment of the illustrator file to set it up appropriately I laser etched the design onto the plastic.

The laser cutter cuts or engraves a 0.25pt line to a set depth, so set all strokes to 0.25pt and differentiate between cut and engraved lines with colour. All text needs to be made into outlines. There are lots of resources for setting up your files on the fabrication workshop info page. The fuzzy look to the plastic while in the laser cutter is working is because I coated the acrylic in a thin film of washing up liquid which dissipates the heat and prevents any discolouration or cloudy spots from over heating the plastic.



Here you can see the acrylic placed over the a print from the etching.


After scanning and digitally touching up the etching and layering in some further illustrative elements I printed it onto acetate and screen printed the illustration onto the reverse of the plastic using water based inks. Screen printing is a well documented process but some notes on printing onto plastic;

Firstly it would have been much better to have used a larger screen as the edges of the print were susceptible to errors from the over stretching of the mesh where the squeegee approached the frame. It was essential to build a supportive frame of the same depth as the acrylic around the sheet before printing to prevent the squeegee catching on the edges as I drew it across. I attempted to print with some fluorescent acrylic which unfortunately due to the thin layer of paint applied during screen printing came out very pale.



I added a sheet of iridescent window films both to protect the print from scratching and to shine through all the blank areas in the illustration. Ultimately however I wasn’t happy with the quality of the screen print. The gradation between black and transparent lost all detail when compared against the digital file and looked flat.

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The lovely Jon McNaught Suggested a method of… (going to make a separate post because this was a really interesting tip)

I experimented with digital printing onto acetate and various methods of mounting the acetate to the acrylic but since the fixative sits between the design and the acrylic even the finest misting of fixative shows as a grainy texture dulling the richness of the black.

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Next I had the design printed onto vinyl window sticker by the high quality art printers Hello Blue. While the printed vinyl surface was a little fuzzier than the acetate the print quality is a lot richer than the screen print and after much practice learning to apply window film, perfectly aligned and without even the smallest of air bubbles I got the two layers of film onto the board.

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Starting to get there…


The Board

Stephen the games creator provided me with a document with the number, position of places and their content for the laps around. The basic narrative he provided was that the game was set in space and did laps around a giant blue sun where players collected Star Shards to power upgrades to their ships and alter the course of the game.

I began by sketching out ideas of how to structure the functional elements while complimenting the background illustration.


My initial thought was the below layout however once I began planning the background illustration I realised this format was limiting because the content for the places didn’t make visual sense so evenly placed in space, the format didn’t allow for the illustration to have any kind of natural perspective.


Then while experimenting I came across the idea that the board its self represented the computer terminal from within the players space craft.


This lead me to position the sun within an isometric frame which the places/elements would orbit. I realised however that even with the places spread evenly in a fake isometric style, once drawn out in life size (painfully, with a protractor and lots of erasing) the spaces were too thin to fit the player pieces or any text.


Next I produced the below mockup which solved the function graphics vs illustration with depth of field issue.


After laying it out on tracing paper I set about with the background illustration.


The illustration posed its own challenges, I soon realised that futuristic imagery doesn’t read well in natural media, which I usually work in. I am not a visual effects artist and I’m not so interested in working in a comic style so I had to go about finding a new process which I could adapt more quickly than I could learn VFX.

I decided to produce the scene as an aqua tint etching as aqua tinting has a nice dark grainy quality I thought I could manipulate into something which doesn’t look so recognisably hand drawn. I experimented on a test plate (below) and found scattering large grains of aqua tint resin across the plate (once an even layer had already been applied) produced a very organic star scape.

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I then experimented with burnishing, wet and dry sanding and finally using a wire brush rotary tool to polish some cloudy nebular like textures back into the black plate.


The print from this plate had a nice quality for the beginning of the illustration.

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From this point I began considering how to take this grainy image and make it more futuristic. I returned to the idea that the board was the players ship interface and decided to experiment with screen printing the image onto the underside of a sheet of acrylic as generally shiny surfaces produce a much richer black and the material would bring a futuristic feel to the board.

To be continued!!