Building a Display Board

Thursday, September 27, 2012

I'm a beginner when it comes to building terrain or a display board. But it's something I'd like to spend more time on. This was the first board I've ever done, and overall I'm really pleased with how it turned out. It really didn't take a lot in terms of time, effort, or money. Here's a quick breakdown of what went into it and some of the cool things I learned along the way.

Step 1: Inspiration. Go to any 40k tournament / convention / event / etc. and you're bound to spot some really incredible works of art. This is what struck me the most at Nova last year and is one of the things I look forward to most of all -- seeing the armies on display. I was blown away by most of the armies in attendance and even felt bad that my army lacked a display board and barely met the 3 paint minimum. Going to an event like this is perfect for inspiration and gathering cool ideas that you can incorporate into your own armies.

Step 2: Theme and color scheme. Usually during list building, a theme or two starts to emerge -- is the list more defensive or up close and personal? These things should be taken into account when designing a display board. It helps you determine overall placement of the models, setting a dramatic scene that is "realistic" for your chosen army (well, as "realistic" as toy soldiers can get anyway). Is your army bunkered up, defending a relic, or mounting an unrelenting assault... etc. Try to get the layout and landscape of the board to match the overarching theme and composition of your army.

Then there is the color scheme. When planning how to base the models in an army, I first consider the actual paint scheme of the army then try to pick colors, textures, etc. that compliment those main colors -- something that really makes the actual models stand out. Once you have the bases locked down, the display board colors will follow suit. Up to this point, it's all planning and coming up with a vision for how you want the army and display board to look at the end.

Step 3: Materials. At tournaments, I noticed a lot of players using serving trays as the base for their display board. It's a great idea really; you've got handles, fold out legs, and something that is easy to transport to an event. It can also be used as a frame for multiple display boards when you have multiple armies to choose from. I found this one at target:

I've used this as-is before, but then it's just a handy carrying tray, not a real display board ;)

Here's what actually goes into the display board that sits inside the tray:
  • Foam
  • Cork board
  • Scenery/props
  • and of course flock, glue, and paint
For this I used standard styrofoam just to raise the main display area up an inch so the models wouldn't be so low within the tray. For anything else, like building hills or jagged scenery, make sure to use foam core instead since it wont melt to spray paint. But for adding height, styrofoam works fine since it will be covered up by a layer of cork that will act as the board's surface. You can get a big roll of cork board like this at Michaels for a few bucks.

Make sure the combined height of the foam + cork layer fits within the walls of the tray and/or is sufficient for the type of landscape you are going for.

Then it's time to think about placement of props, bunkers, buildings, lights, etc. I'm still a kid when it comes to this and think it's awesome when things light up, haha. So I wanted to incorporate some kind of lighting effect on the board. I originally tried to make a blue glowing cavern through the middle of the board, but changed direction when I found a sweet cardboard skull and resin hand at the craft store. The source for lighting would stay the same though. These push LED's are awesome and really easy to build into the board. My board uses one that is held in place by the foam pieces, which also hold the skeleton hand in place.

To get the blue glow effect, I simply hot glued some of these blue glass beads (which I'm using as Reanimation Protocol counters) together to sit on top of the LED.

I also hot glued 3 beads to the painted skull, which catches the light underneath to complete the glowing eyes / nose effect.

For the actual surface of the board, I started by spray painting the cork layer black, then applied patches of glue for the black sand that I used on the Necron bases. For the areas not covered in sand, I thought I would try this interesting product:

It worked pretty well! However, it sprays everywhere, so make sure you use it in a very open area away from anything you don't want speckled with fake snow.

After letting it dry over night, I went back over the snow areas with the earlier snow mixture from Gale Force 9 to more closely match the snow effect on the bases.

That's pretty much it! I'm planning on doing a similar board that fits into the same tray, but next time for my bike army. I think my Dark Eldar will end up needing a larger board than this just to fit the number of models I'm planning on running in that army, but we'll cross that bridge when I get there ;)