‘quick view’ materials info

This is a version of the basic info sheet I provide for teaching sessions focusing on constructional materials for model-making. It represents a small selection chosen for their availability, versatility and ease of use.

Prices shown are from 3/2016 unless otherwise indicated for some entries, and adjusted to include VAT. Full addresses can be found in the ‘Suppliers’ section.

Foamed PVC sheet                                                                                                         Soft, matt white plastic (also gloss, black and some colours available for 3-5mm). Foamed interior makes it easy to cut, but it has excellent rigidity and resists warping. The matt white is available in thicknesses from 1-19mm.1mm thickness ideal for fine cutting. Superglue must be used to bond (though Pvc ‘pipe weld’ may be a repositionable alternative). Foamed Pvc an be painted with anything if primed first (best to give light coat of Simoniz car primer). Can be sanded down, carved or shaped unlike card. There are many brands of foamed Pvc but the Palight brand is softest and easiest to work with.

Obtainable (Palight)  e.g. Bay Plastics (plasticstockist.com); Abplas (SW19, brands vary, ask for Palight or equivalent); 4D (small sheets) As of 2015 the standard matt white is clearly defined on the Bay Plastics website as Palfoam which is the ‘economy’ version of Palight and identical for model-making purposes.

Price e.g 8ftx4ft sheet 1-2mm thickness c.£12, 3mm c.£17, 5mm c.£28, 10mm c.£57 (Bay Plastics). 4D now stocks Palight in 300x600mm sheets, 1mm £1.80, 2mm £2.70 or 3mm £4.00

Obeche wood                                                                                                                   A soft but firm wood, ideal for small-scale work. Subtle and tight grain, stains very well. Most suitable in sheet form (i.e. for panelling, floorboards) but also available in thicker pre-cut strips.

Obtainable 4D; other good hobby shops

Price e.g 100x915mm strip-sheet of 0.8mm thickness £3.55, 6x6x915mm square rod £0.76 (4D)

Balsa wood                                                                                                            Although this is an easy, inexpensive and pleasant material to work with it is too fragile for long-lasting work and it is difficult to keep edges clean and precise. It is better suited in combination with other materials i.e. as cladding (floorboards, panelling) on card or Pvc. It stains well, although it can be difficult to obtain a dark, rich effect. It should be glued with a good wood-working Pva, used sparingly. Using other glues often results in a mess!

Obtainable 4D; other good hobby shops; UAL college shops.

Price e.g. 100x915mm strip-sheet of 0.8mm thickness £1.30; 915mm dowel 6mm diam £0.81; 915mm square rod 12x12mm £1.12 (4D)

Foamboard                                                                                                                  Standard foamboard is commonly a layer of very soft polystyrene foam between two layers of thin card. Available 3, 5 and 10mm thicknesses (though many shops just stock the 5mm). Usually the covering paper can be peeled away from the standard 5mm black fairly easily but not the white. Price varies but on average c.£5-6 for A1 sheet of 5mm.

Kapa-line foamboard is a special superior type (polyurethane foam instead of styrene) which will resist solvents, is less liable to warp and generally tougher. Also the paper coverings (both sides) can be carefully peeled off to use just the foam itself as a constructional, sculptural or surfacing material. Obtainable 4D; greatart.co.uk; London Graphic Centre Price 700x1000mm 5mm £9.98,10mm £12.40, 3mm £8.90 (4D)

Stencil card                                                                                                                 Also known as ‘oiled manilla’, impregnated with linseed oil. Very thin, cuts cleanly, stays rigid, can be directly painted even with acrylics without too much warping. Strong PVA will suffice to glue it, but this is not an indefinite bond and superglue is surer. Stains well for wood simulation (especially when scraped with sandpaper to create grain effect). There are two thicknesses commonly available, the thicker (c.375microns) is better suited here.

Note 30/03/2016 A number of suppliers have started to stock an inferior form of stencil card, recognizable from its dull brown colour. See my post March 2016 ‘Poor stencil card substitute’

Obtainable 4D; Atlantis; Cass Arts; Flints and most good art shops.

Price e.g 76x50cm sheet £3-4.50 (in London ..cheapest at Flints or University of the Arts shops)

Styrene                                                                                                                         The most common form of plastic, though there are many different types and hardnesses. Available in sheets (0.13mm to 3mm) or in strips. Either superglue or plastic solvent (dichloromethane) can be used to bond. Bends easily but harder to cut than foamed Pvc. In sheet form commonly white, but there is also black or basic colours (strip form usually only white). Slater’s ‘Plastikard’ is basically just a form of sheet styrene, re-packaged and more expensive.

Obtainable 4D modelshop (London)

Price e.g 660x680mm sheet of 0.5mm white £3.00, packets of strips ‘Evergreen’ brand £5.05 (4D)


Mountboard: (e.g. Daler-Rowney ‘Studland’ brand) most commonly used. Standard is 1.4mm thick (1,400 microns) Obtainable almost all art/graphics shops Price varies £3-5 per A1 sheet

Finnboard: Cheaper than mountboard, softer and less liable to warp. Natural light-beige colour. Made from wood pulp. Can be wetted and bent into curves. Available 0.9, 1.5, 2, 2.5 thicknesses. Obtainable 4D modelshop Price e.g. standard size 70x100cm sheet, 1.5mm thickness £3.65, 2.5mm £5.45

Kraft board: a thinner c.2mm version of brown box card, corrugated inside but fairly smooth-surfaced outside. Ideal for sketch-modelling, very easy to cut and surprisingly strong, also the cheapest around. Obtainable 4D; UAL college shops (some are open to the public); artesaver.com Price averages £1.20 per A1 sheet (£26.80 for 25sheets at artesaver.com; £1.60 per sheet at 4D)

Birch plywood                                                                                                     Available very thin, e.g. down to 0.4mm. Smooth, attractive appearance and strong, stable material, but tough to cut. Usually the thinner sheets cost the most. Will vary a lot in colour and surface patterning so matching can be difficult. Obtainable 4D modelshop Price 2015 e.g. 304x304mm sheets 0.4mm £7.75, 0.8mm £3.25, 1.6mm £2.20, 3.2mm £1.50. Larger sheets are available.

MDF                                                                                                                            Short for ‘medium density fibreboard’. A reconstituted form of wood available in sheet form, made from finely ground sawdust which is mixed with binding agents and pressed into sheets. It is very popular as a constructional material because of its price; its rigidity (better than plywood in maintaining flatness); ease of cutting (absence of grain) and surface smoothness. It is generally heavier than natural wood or plywood. MDF is standard stock in building supply or home hardware stores such as Wickes or B&Q. Usually the thinnest available from these is 6mm and the thickest 25mm.

Prices from 2015

B&Q 2440mm x 1220mm sheets 6mm £12.48, 25mm £35.00. Wickes 2440mm x 1220mm sheets 6mm £9.83, 18mm £14.39 Note April 2014 the Wickes prices are greatly reduced at present and may be only temporary.

Much thinner versions are available (though these are generally more expensive than the standard thicker) i.e. 2.5mm from Jackson’s Art Supplies (jacksonart.com) price e.g. £0.70 for 10x12ins sheet as ‘backing board panel’ for framing, max size 24x28ins £4.40. Prices for specialised thin MDF sheet may increase the thinner they get, often the case with thin sheet wood generally, i.e:

4D modelshop supplies mainly in 25x50cm sheets (1mm £3.65, 1.5mm £2.80, 2mm £2.05, 3mm £2.15), or 60.8×60.8cm (6.4mm £3.25, 9.5mm £4.30), or ‘laser grade’ 45x80cm (2mm £4.80, 3mm £4.80, 4mm £5.35), or finally 60.8×121.6 (9.5mm £8.55)

Could be good laser-cut material, though there is also a special ‘laser grade’ MDF available, as above.

Wet/dry abrasive paper

For sharpening scalpel blades, c.600-800 grit best. Obtainable 4D; ironmongers and DIY shops Price e.g. £0.50 for A4 size sheet (4D)


Quick and strong-setting, can’t be repositioned. Needs a little atmospheric moisture to work properly (often breathing heavily on the pieces to be glued can help a lot if the glue doesn’t take at first .. I’m not joking!) Not ‘gap-filling’ but will if used with baking soda!

Obtainable Poundland in small tubes highly recommended! Otherwise Loctite Precision is one of the best (B&Q; Screwfix)

Price Poundland 8x 3g tubes £1.00; Loctite Precision 5g bottle £3.09 (Screwfix)

3 thoughts on “‘quick view’ materials info

  1. Hi and big thanks for this webside; it’s truly a great resource! I’m playing with the thought of building a model church or cathedral-like building. It will have round towers and brick walls. My question is what materials would you recommend? I was thinking Kapa-foam glued onto Palight (and maybe some styrene sheets) and styrofoam for the spires. Are there any pitfalls with this combination of materials I should be aware of? Any recommended thicknesses?

    • This sounds like what I’d choose .. couldn’t do better! No ‘pitfalls’ just remember Kapa-foam can be glued with anything but no solvent glues for styrofoam. Can’t recommend thicknesses not knowing size .. whatever you can get hold of.

  2. Pingback: Modelling materials info | davidneat | Design Technology

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