My goal was to create good looking terrain that's not going to look out of place next to time consuming, costly, and heavy plaster cast pieces or the expensive prepainted modular terrain, and I want to do it on the cheap. The materials required are very cheap, and while a couple of the tools I've used are going to cost a bit up front, hopefully you'll see how very quickly they'll reveal their value.
First up, here's a shot of the materials required for this project. As you can see I've got all the usual suspects lined up, including a couple of different paints, some brushes, an X-Acto knife, a Hot Wire Foam Factory engraving / scribing tool, a T-square, a cutting mat, my custom textured rolling pin, a bag of sand, some glue, and the star of the show - a piece of foam core from the dollar store.
These sheets from the dollar store near me come in black or white, and measure 20x30 inches, or approximately 50 x 75 centimeters. That's a lot of material for the money, but its value doesn't really show until you look under the surface.
That's right, you'll actually want to peel the paper off to reveal the lovely foam in the middle. To do that, I generally lay the foam core flat on the table, and start in one corner. I've chosen the black foam core because I find the paper peels off more easily for some reason.
And with a bit more effort, keeping the foam flat on the table and sliding my hand under the paper, the surface is revealed...
Now that you have the foam surface, you can mark it for cutting. Here I've measured four inches and am ready to make the cut, as my tiles will each be a four inch (10cm) square.
Here are two strips cut at four inches, each 20 inches long.
Now I've used my textured roller, which is a cheap wooden rolling pin with scenic gravel glued to it, and then covered with a two part sculpting epoxy called magic sculp, which I can use to quickly roll texture into the surface of the foam. I'm only texturing one of the strips because I'm gluing the textured top layer to the smooth surface of the other layer, which will be painted to (hopefully) look like water.
Note : My roller is NOT required for this part of the process. You can easily get a textured surface using real rocks that you press into the surface of the foam, though that takes more time. Alternatively, you can use rolled up aluminum foil that still has some of its bumpiness, and roll that in a ball over the surface of the foam to create your texture. I've made this rolling pin, so I use it.
First the roller itself...
And the foam after I've rolled the texture on. Just a few quick passes of the rolling pin creates the texture you see here.
Once that's done I'm cutting my strips into the previously mentioned four inch squares.
Now I'm marking off a corner section for my cavern piece, with a one inch border to allow for standard RPG use...
And I've cut that out. I used an xacto knife because that's what I have, but you could also use the Hot Wire Foam Factory cutting tool for this step, and you wouldn't have to worry about tearing the foam or replacing the blades regularly.
And now it's glued onto one of my non textured squares. I've been using tacky glue but the Hot Wire Foam Factory makes a glue specifically for use with foam that can then be cut through with their foam cutting tools. That product is called Foam Fusion.
Here's a solid piece as well as a blank water tile. I actually made several pieces all at the same time, but didn't photograph every piece as I was making it, but this will show a couple of the tiles in progress.
Now open the window, plug in the Hot Wire Foam Factory scribing tool, and turn it on.
Then, if you're like me, you wait for the tool to warm up and wonder why it's taking so long and then notice you didn't turn the tool itself on, just the base unit. Oops. Okay, now with the tool turned to on we're ready to go.
This is the first square cut into the piece with the Hot Wire Foam Factory tool. It's a great tool for creating the more natural lines required for the look I'm trying to achieve, much much better than trying to do it with a knife and pen, and super fast to boot.
How fast? These two sample pieces were gridded up in less than a minute. I'm just eye balling the lines here, using my cutting mat as a guide underneath the tiles. I wanted a one inch grid for game play purposes, but because I want it to look more natural, as long as the grid is generally there you don't have to be particularly precise.
I know I've only got two photos showing the Hot Wire Foam Factory tool in use, but I can't over state its usefulness in this project. Without it, I really wouldn't have been able to achieve the look I'm going for on these tiles, and it made the process very quick.
Now I'm going to put some sand around the shore line for the corner tile so that there's some more interest to the piece when it's painted up, and to make it look like a more gradual water line. Trying to make it look natural, not man (or dwarven) made. For this step I just mixed up some of my sand (nabbed from the kids' sand box outside) some wood glue, and some water.
Using a plastic knife (you could use a small spatula or spoon I'm sure), just kind of slop it on, where you want it to go. In my case, I just wanted a thin border around the edges, to about a half an inch out at the edges so my pieces will line up well next to each other.
One piece of foam core is enough to make a couple dozen tiles or more, depending on the type of tiles you're making. The edge pieces only take one inch strips so one square of textured material can go onto four of the untextured tiles. Here's a shot of just some of the tiles I've gotten to this point so far.
After assembling the tiles, I went out and got some cheap green craft grade acrylic paint. I'm using a Hunter Green color from Apple Barrel. I based all of the water with this green, and to create the shallower water lines around the edges, I just used the same color but watered down.
And here's a shot after basing the rock tiles in black, showing all 48 tiles constructed so far.
After dry brushing the rock (I used Apple Barrel colors again, Toffee Brown for the first dry brush, and white for the second dry brush), I used an acrylic gloss medium to put some shine on the water.
In future versions of these tiles I'll probably spend some money on a higher quality medium, because the gloss medium I used doesn't really scream "water" when all is said and done. Still, my total cost for the project in materials is under ten dollars, not counting the Hot Wire Foam Factory tools or my textured rolling pin, so in terms of having very playable pieces on a budget, I really can't complain at all.
Hope you've enjoyed the project!