Adding LED Lights In Plastic Models
Adding LED lights in your plastic model; static lights, blinking lights or coloured lights will enhance it and take it to a whole new level.
Mark Andrews has kindly written the below "How To Guide".
Whether you're thinking of illuminating a cockpit interior or bringing a rescue vehicle to life the size and simplicity of lighting rigs can leave admirers with mouth agape.
Explosions, smoke effects and even fire balls are all achievable; some modellers are able to create jaw dropping dioramas that propel their scale models into the premier league.
And yes, there are many times I've had to literally think, as I’m stood there with eyes popping out and mouth wide open: “Compose yourself!”
Scale Model Lighting Rigs
Are scale model lighting rigs complicated and can they only be built by those with knowledge of the dark arts?
Not at all, they are simply two bits of wire, a battery and an LED bulb put together with an understanding of a simple wiring process.
When I started to build my Revell Tornado I knew what I wanted to create and I could visualise the effect.
However, electronics isn't one of my strengths, so shopping for the elements and making sure all the single components were compatible was giving me a headache.
Even asking the questions on social media gave a multitude of answers.
“Don't buy this bulb they pop in 2 minutes”, “Make sure this LED is compatible with this amp battery”, “Whatever you do don't mix the wires up, you'll blow the planet up”.
You know what I mean?
If you're nodding right now we're on the same sheet and you're probably thinking; “I hope Mark gives me an actual easy to read and digest guide on how to do this”.
Of course, I certainly wouldn't tease you with all this and then not give you the simple solution.
The solution came to me from a guy who runs a small business whom I met early 2019 at a regional model show. He's called Chris, and he runs Leigh Models And Hobbies.
The initial chat was how & why etc but I soon realised when he said "small business" I didn't realise he meant 1 man in his small shed.
Chris makes the rigs himself, packages them up nicely in a little cellophane packet, slips a little 1 page "how to" guide in and away you go.
You could go about purchasing all the Single components yourself and saving a few quid.
For me this little packet had everything I needed, all guaranteed to marry up with each other (planet still intact) and I knew once I'd done I could flick a switch and there she is.
I wanted to have two AIM-9 sidewinder missiles coming off the pylons on my Tornado, a cross between a "what if" and a beautiful piece of imagination.
I wanted them at different stages of launch:
The first just fired off and the second fired off a few seconds earlier so it gave the model more dimension.
After that began the research:
Sourcing all the materials.
Finding a suitable method for application.
Basically, how can I stick that to that, make it look smokey, & make sure it stays straight without drooping.
How to get the missile into launch location?
- Basically, I drilled a hole into the rear of the missile.
- I then got a length of stiff rod, I used 2mm brass rod, making sure that the rod fits into the hole at the back of the missile.
- I then identified where I wanted to attach the other end of the brass rod to. I opted for the inner side of the pylon in this case, as the Tornado pylons, which carry the external fuel tanks, also have a side rail that holds a missile.
That side rail is on the inside, closest to the air-frame, not the external side which is closer to the wing tip.
I also decided that I wanted a realistic smoke effect. You instantly think cotton wool, but I'd tried this medium before and I just couldn't get the desired look.
Not in a rush to complete the job I left it, knowing I'd stumble on the answer eventually.
I think a few days had passed and as I was putting my son to bed one evening he'd asked for his favourite teddy bear from the bottom of the bed.
I picked it up and noticed one of the legs was showing signs of wear at the leg/body joint and there was my answer.
This was like some Holy Grail moment. I lifted the bear up high in a Musaffa / Simba style aaahhhhaaaaaaaaaa ceremony.
Smoke = teddy bear stuffing.
The next day I gutted an old soft toy in my workshop and ripped out the white internals.
I then started experimenting with the fibres by sliding chunks of it on to the length of the brass rod. It worked!
A light airbrushing of colour; yellow, touch of orange, greys & blacks, added extra realism.
After giving it 24 hours to dry I gave it a light dusting of regular hair spray (wife still asks me if I've seen her can) to stiffen it up and there's my "smoke".
Experiment over I removed it all and used bits of small cut masking tape to tape the wire to the rod, with the LED bulb at 1 end and the bare wire at the other.
Then a new batch of stuffing went on again, following the same procedure as the experiment.
I left the last inch of the brass rod (at the bare wire end) uncovered.
That inch of bare rod got Superglued to the inside of the pylon. Even with the weight of the rod, wire, tape & stuffing, the rod stayed straight & true.
Next was to follow the little instruction paper on how to connect those bare wires to the battery.
In the pack (Pack A, static white light) you get everything you need, including a separate on/off switch mechanism.
Using this saves battery and is a simple bypass on the wiring.
Instead of soldering wire to battery housing, simply solder to the on/off switch, then from there to the battery housing.
I used Superglue again to hold all the housings to the pylon with plenty of solder for rock solid connections.
I then touched up the smoke with a fine touch of grey & black through the BARTSHARP 186 Airbrush and finished the whole look off by pushing the AIM-9 sidewinder missile on to the end of the brass rod.
It's a great feeling of achievement managing a job like this, especially if you're new to the task and, yes, I stood back and admired my work... I then realised I'd got the other side to do!
Leigh Models And Hobbies do fantastic little lighting rigs for just about anything, whether you're after static white, static colour, continuous flashing, random flashing, pulsing or just on.
Chris, the owner, is a good bloke and always happy to help where he can.
They're on Facebook so easily found and pretty responsive to questions.
I just hope he isn't too busy because I want him to do a full lighting rig (fuselage lights, wing-tip lights, belly lights, the lot) for my 1/32 Gulf War Tornado next.