Thursday, December 22, 2016

What to do on a rainy day...

From a rocket perspective, rainy days kinda suck - can't launch, can't paint, can't sand. You can start a kit build, but have to stop at the sanding parts - not very satisfying, unless you are putting together something with plastic or fiber fins. These go together in like 30 minutes, leaving quite a few hours needing something to do. Such was the situation this past weekend, and I found myself online searching for a subject for my next build (yeah, I know I have a list, but that's for 2017, which ain't here yet). Glancing away from my monitor, I noticed the Centuri Stellar Hercules clone over in the corner, and I realized that it was high time I built another in the old Stellar series. A few seconds later, I was perusing the Centuri catalogs - I did not like the looks of the Loadlifter, a payloader with a minimum diameter main body tube. The engine hook was on the outside, held in place by a mylar ring, which seems a bit on the tacky side. However, the Stellar Photon Probe was a different beastie - it exhibited a futuristic style, with two part fins and reactor vanes. Classic Centuri... So classic that Estes later adopted a simpler version of the design in their early 1990's Solar Probe model.

The 1970's Centuri Photon Probe and the 1991 Estes Solar Probe
(Click to enlarge).
Before starting any clone build, one must first make sure one can actually build it. This entails searching the Net for plans, parts lists, and decal scans. The plans were easy, as they were located on Ye Olde Rocket Plans, the best source of rocket instructions after JimZ's site. The parts list was more difficult, as the instructions did not specify the part numbers; fortunately, there were a couple of threads on Ye Olde Rocket Forum (my favorite hangout) devoted to this model, and these listed the parts. A quick comparison of this list against my inventory showed I had all the parts needed for the build, including the laser cut fins (Thank you Semroc/eRockets!).

Which left the decals...

They were nowhere to be found - no scans anywhere. The authors of the YORF threads had whipped together their own based on the cover art and kit instructions (which were not in agreement, by the way). I was going to have to do the same, so I pulled out my ruler and started measuring the dimensions of the markings on the model's screen images relative to the body tubes and fins. Once I had these numbers, I fired up the Pixelmator software on my Mac and got to work. It turned out that I did not need to draw everything, for I had some of the markings in scans of other decals. In the end, I only had to create the bottom roll pattern, the numbers, a few lines, and the "NASA" and "United States" markings. The upper roll pattern came from the Centuri roll pattern decal sheet and the hatches were obtained from a scan of the Estes Solar Probe decals. Thus, after about an hour and a half of effort, I had a fairly reasonable reproduction of the Stellar Photon Probe decals.

A few hints for those of you who wish or need to make your own decals:
  • Always scan your kit decals - you never know when you may need to reproduce them for a repair or use them on another model.
  • The convention is 300 dpi resolution - use this when scanning decals and in creating the canvas in your art program. Also helps to place a ruler in the scan to confirm the dimensions.
  • I also set the canvas size to that of a standard 8.5 x 11" sheet of decal paper, so I can tell how much space will be occupied. Any free space is filled with other kit decals or markings, maximizing the use of the paper.
  • If using an ink jet printer, be sure to spray a clear coat on the decal sheet after printing to avoid smearing when they are applied. My HP Envy inkjet sucks at decal printing, so I use Bel decal paper for laser printers and print them out on the office color laser. No need for the clear coat and the quality is acceptable.
Below is my decal sheet for the Stellar Photon Probe, which also includes a scan of the Estes Challenger 1 decals and some markings for a Generic kit bash. I also show a decal sheet created by PaulK on YORF, so you can see the differences in interpretation. I followed the plans more than the kit art, whereas he did the opposite. No right or wrong here, though I do wish someone would post a decal scan from an original kit. Trouble is that these Stellar kits are fairly rare, and it's hard to imagine a collector opening a pristine box just to provide some rocket noobs a scan of the decals.

Paul's decals posted to YORF (click to enlarge)My decal page (Click to enlarge).
The build can now commence...

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