Backdrop Choices

David Calhoun's picture

 OK, benchwork is 90% complete and I am soon ready for homosote and a backdrop. I'm looking for ideas for a lightwieght, low cost backdrop surface I can paint sky blue and airbrush clouds while adding cut-out scenery to the surface for depth illusion. Some have suggested luan and others are proponents of thin plywood - but that seems a bit heavy to me. The layout is a point-to-point which covers 20 feet  with a gentle curve to the right after 8 feet.

Ideas? Suggestions? Experiences? Perhaps something that could be used for lightweight facia as well? Targeted backdrop height is 24 inches from the bench top.


rtw3rd's picture

Lightweight backdrop material


There are a number of choices for lightweight backdrops.  I personally have used 1/8 termpered hardboard (Masonite) with good success.  I've also heard of people using styrene - that's right, sytrene.  One supplier in our area sells it in 4ft x 8ft x 1/6" sheets.  It's not cheap and runs about $40 a sheet.  Vinyl flooring can be used with the back side out.  Since you can get it in long rolls you don't have to worry about joints; however, since it is somewhat soft it requires more support.



The Richlawn Railroad Website - Featuring the L&N in HO  / MRH Blog  /  

I use...

 I use 1/8" Masonite as a backdrop.  It's not overly heavy, is stiff enough to support itself and flexible enough to make curves with.  It's a little bit tricky to mount as nails and screws tend to go right though it, I get around this by gluing 1x2 strips to the back and using those as the mount points.

In Joe's videos he demonstrates using the back side of vinyl flooring.  He uses offcuts from a flooring store to keep the cost at a minimum.  I've also heard of people using metal roof flashing.  Being metal it is very smooth and comes in various widths, although it's probably heavier than the vinyl.

LKandO's picture


Although it is not up yet, 1/8" tempered hardboard is also my choice.


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When I was a kid... no wait, I still do that. HO, 28x32, double deck, 1969, RailPro

Have used vinyl, now use styrene

I originally used vinyl flooring for my backdrop, but unfortunately I underestimated its ability to hold its shape over time. I found that if you use vinyl flooring, you must insure that it is properly supported at the top, or it will sag and bow out, which makes it a challenge when you're trying to use flat background buildings against a rounded backdrop.

This past winter I got tired of looking at my vinyl backdrop, so I ripped it all out and replaced it with .080" sheet styrene from a local plastics distributor. They cut the 4' x 8' sheets to the proper widths for me for free. I screwed 1x2 strips horizontal strips to the concrete block walls at the top and bottom of the backdrop and nailed the styrene pieces to those with small wire nails every 12" or so. I used pieces of .060" styrene as splice plates and used MEK as adhesive to bond the pieces together. While MEK is nasty (open your windows for ventilation if you have to use it indoors), it's a lot cheaper than buying a dozen little bottles of Plasticweld or similar. I used pieces of 3/4" foam insulation cut to fit between the 1x2 strips to give the styrene some backing (and eliminate the large hollow places behind it where critters could live), and used Squadron White Putty to fill in the gaps at the splice plates. (You could use Green Putty as well, but the white putty was easier to paint over.)

The only downside of using the styrene is that it's not cheap. A 4' x 8' sheet of the .080" styrene cost me about $50 each, and I needed three sheets of it. On the other hand, all of the leftover material can be used for scratchbuilding!


Jerry Jordak
Modeling the Penn Central in Pennsylvania's Shenango Valley circa 1969

David Calhoun's picture


Good suggestions. One thing I have run across is something called "gaterboard." Although pricey like styrene, it looks promising. Has anyone had any experience or more information on this material? The material called E-flute that they make mail tubs out of looks sturdy and lightweight - does anyone know if they make the same material with a smooth surface?


Chief Operating Officer

The Greater Nickel Plate

Styrene comes in 4x8 sheets

Styrene comes in 4x8 sheets at your plastics/sign dealer, in a variety of thincknesses; he can cut it into a roll 2x8, and you have 16 feet of backdrop for about $20.  It's light, flexible, and easy to manage.  You'll might not be able to use latex on it so easily,  but you can tack on your photomural if you have one.

When you get to the corners, you simply make an arch with about a 1' radius and you have an instant curved corner. You'll have to work on how to support and hold it in place of course!

Using styrene

I use artist canvas panels for backdrop myself, but if you first paint on a layer of Gesso, the latex or acrylic should adhere to the styrene OK. I never tried it so I could be wrong, but I think it will work.



Roy Hoffman The S/Sn3 Scale Penn Western Railroad -

LKandO's picture

something called "gaterboard."

There is another thread somewhere on the MRH forums discussing the same thing.

Gator board and its more robust big brother Sintra board are both used heavily by print shops for mounting. Either should work well for backdrops.


All the details:        Just the highlights: MRH blog

When I was a kid... no wait, I still do that. HO, 28x32, double deck, 1969, RailPro

MRRSparky's picture

This time around, I found

This time around, I found white marker board very inexpensively at Lowe's at something like $12 for a 4' X 8' sheet at their every-day price.  It is easily bendable and already painted white.  You do have to find something to dull the shine.  A light sanding with a palm sander did the trick for me.  It takes paint very well.

It set the backdrop pieces into S- channel pieces bought from a vinyl siding supply house.  These are used to start the siding pieces around windows and doors.

Scott Groff

Backdrop Choices

I like to use aluminum coil stock, it comes in different widths 12"-36" and 25' to 50' long rolls, and different colors, a 24" x 50' roll the last time a puchased some was $45. I use liquid nails and clamp it into place.

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