Realistic Tarps!
By Brian Balkwill
More about Brian HERE
First published by
Copyright ©2008 by Brian Balkwill. Images also by copyright holder unless otherwise noted. Opinions expressed are those of the author(s). All rights reserved. Originally published on: 2006-06-12
Published here by

Initially I tried using the PVA glue method but found the result too stiff and unworkable (probably my fault), so I tried various methods until I hit upon one that worked well for me. It produces a tough sheet of silicon treated tissue that is very hard to tear, takes paint really well, and can have creases imprinted and removed at will. You will need the following:
• A water based bathroom silicon sealer
• Extra strong pocket tissues
• An airbrush
• A good half to three quarter inch flat paintbrush
getting started
The pocket tissues used are generic Walmart, but they have about 3-4 ply and the edges are pressed together. They are also a good size for this work. The first thing I do is iron the folds out of them, as I want the central area smooth.
Next squeeze about 3 inches of the bathroom sealer into a small sealable container and add warm water (ratio about 1:2). Seal the container and shake it for a few minutes until most of the sealant has liquidized and its foamy (there will be some residue, don’t worry).
Take a tissue and lay it a flat surface (I use paper card), and using short strokes with the flat brush, paint the solution onto the tissue, making sure each area is soaked through, before moving to the next. When one side is done, turn the tissue around and do the other. When both are wet, hold the tissue between your fingers and gently tease the major creases from it (similar to how you work a pizza base).
When done, take a hair dryer and dry both sides of the tissue. Now peel the single coated outside ply from each side of the tissue and repeat the steps above for the uncoated side of each. When finished you will have two rubberised textured sheets of fabric. At this point I roll them against a flat surface to further force the sealant into the fibres, and remove creases. I then cut the patterned outside edge from each side, retaining the 6x6” area in the middle. At this point you should have two sheets
base paint
I do not use primer as it makes the tarp too smooth when finished. Take a tissue and spray both sides with your chosen colour. I use a 1:1 mix of XF-65 Field Grey and XF-26 Deep Green mixed 1:1 with IPA (don’t use water, the alcohol
ensures a dense paint coverage). Mix quite a bit of paint, the tissues are thirsty! When dry, take the tissue in one hand and draw it gently between your thumb and first two fingers of the other to smooth out the final creases - expose any unsprayed areas, and fix them.
preparing the tarp
For this article I am building a tarp for a pallet holding a 44 gallon drum, some scratched ammo boxes and some Friul tracks. These items have great scope for raised edges and depressions, which add realism to the finished item.
Put the model onto the tarp and work out the area required, allowing for seams, folds and depressions, then add another 10% to be on the safe side. I want part of the items on the pallet to be in view, so I cut it accordingly.
optional extras
At this point you can put in seams, repaired areas, or eyelets. For seams, score a line with the BACK of a blade about 1.5mm from each edge, and glue it down with PVA. Then take each folded seam and fold it over itself AGAIN, and glue down.

For patches, take a spare piece of sprayed tarp, cut the size and shape you want, and paint it a darker green (straight XF-26 Deep Green in this case) than the original, (don’t forget the edges, or they will be white). Glue it to the tarp, and with the point of a straight scalpel blade, make the ‘stitches’ around the edge.
For eyelets, take small rings from and old PE fret and glue them at corners and points in between along the seams. Take a sharp pick or pin and punch out the tarp hole through the ring. You can now run ‘ropes’ through these eyelets. (I use rigging rope from the shipbuilders).
Once done with all the extras, seal both sides with a good coat of future. Rub down the length of each seam with a Q-tip to ‘raise’ it. It should now be looking quite tarp like.
Before fitting to the model you will need to create the normal folds that appear in a stored tarp by folding it into halves and quarters, and sharpen each crease between finger and thumb. Do this several times to really ‘form’ the creases, then flatten the tarp again to eliminate some of the sharpness to create a used effect.
Now lighten some of your 1:1 mix with some XF-60 Dark Yellow (Do not use white!), mix with water 1:9 and paint some the squares formed to show areas of more exposure.
Remember – these exposed panels will be next to each other, not diagonally opposite. With a thin wash of straight XF-60 (again 1:9) gently highlight each of the RAISED folds.
This is where using the sealant really comes into its own. You can now mould the tarp around the items as any times as you wish, and it will hold in place – if you are not happy, smooth it back out with finger pressure, and do it again. When happy, start at one side of the model and glue the tarp down with CA, ensuring folds, creases, depressions etc are formed as you go. You can now ‘rope’ the tarp down, pulling quite hard to create the creases formed by the rope (don’t worry the tarp is indestructible). Now rub all raised areas with fingertip to reveal detail.
painting and weathering
First you need to decide your environment and proceed accordingly. This project will be in Europe in autumn/winter so there will be dirt and water. First, highlights and shadows are put in (not many as the tarp is pretty realistic anyway). Raised contours and fold edges are given a wash with XF-64 Red Brown.
The whole surface is then washed with a thin solution of Mig Dark earth. I then take pure water and ‘paint’ this wash downwards to make the pigment run into depressions and crevices – don’t worry, you can use lots of water as the tarp really is waterproof.
Once this has dried, I add Woodland Scenics water to a couple of areas to show rainwater collection.
For a drier, dusty environment, the tarp was drybrushed with MMP Sand (I found the Mig to be too ‘sticky’), and the surface rubbed back with a fingertip to force the powder into the small depressions in the tissue. Then I added small splotches of Mig pigments (European dust, Dark mud), and rubbed them back with the paintbrush (don’t use a finger as it smears).
The method is quick (start to finish in 90 min), and produces a totally realistic, and waterproof, tarpaulin. Because the treated surface of the tissue is so robust, its virtually untearable, and any weathering errors can be washed off and redone without soaking and destroying the tarp.
polycell squeeze and seal (kitchen and bathroom) – availability outside the uk
This product is WATER based/miscible. When I wrote the article I had no idea that water based sealants were not common worldwide or I would have mentioned it. Having done some research I have now discovered the following: The reason this sealant is water based is because EU law states that by 2012 all such products must be water based (i.e have the solvents removed). It is therefore possible that in other countries, they may not produce a water based product because they do not have to.

Polycell is a UK company that is part of the ICI group. They do not do much exporting outside of the UK, and that is mostly to Europe. Your local ICI company may be able to tell you if they produce an equivalent. ICI did tell me that another global company Masterchem produce many similar products, and they may have one in your country.

If you do not have water based sealant in your country there are two options:
• Buy this one online from a UK shop
• Use a local solvent based sealant and dilute it with the correct solvent for that product.

As the solvent is only the medium to transfer the sealant to the tissue, once it dries the effect should be the same. You may have to ask about the correct solvent.

If you want to order online from the UK I have contacted DIY Tools UK and they do ship overseas. You can pay by cheque or card, but as every overseas order has a different weight, the extra shipping amount will have to be confirmed telephonically as they use a secure transaction system, and do not see you
card details.

DIY Tools UK can be contacted here: DIY Tools UK Polycell did send me a data sheet which is five pages of waffle and lists only two components (the dangerous ones) which is NAPHTHA HYDRODESULF. HEAVY and CALCIUM CARBONATE. I hope this helps