Sunday 24 March 2013

Pictish Shields

I really wanted some eye-catching designs for some of the shields for my Pictish cavalry. Not for every figure, but at least enough to make these troops look a bit more exclusive than the rabble on foot.

There are of course two obvious ways to do this:
1 Hand-paint them;
2 Take your money to the nice man at Little Big Men Studios.

Now I'm willing to have a go at number 1. I mean, I hand painted the flags for my Anglo-Saxon and ECW projects! But having tried it I have struggled to get a nice, clean design on the small (9mm) Pictish cavalry shields. So, on to the second option.

There are two issues with using LBMS for this application. The first, and perhaps the most obvious, is that their range doesn't include any 28mm Pictish shield decals suitable for this size. I looked around at the various 15mm designs, but none were quite right, and Steve Hales at LBMS were kind enough to inform me before I handed over my money that the quite deeply convex shape of the shields I have might not work terribly well with their decals. I thought this was very decent of him!

Which left a dilemma. So, after due consideration, I made my own.

My experience of using various image manipulating software to make banners etc has been variable. Some have worked quite well, others far less so. Some of it might be the limitations of my entry-level Kodak inkjet, and some the limitations of the bloke using it, but some, I discovered, was more fundamental.

I had been cheerfully using PhotoShop to cut, paste, shrink and recolour images. The problem with this is that PhotoShop (and others!) use bitmap based formats. And as you shrink or expand images, the bitmap definition disappears... Armed with this information, I downloaded a copy of Inkscape  (it's free), which is a vector-based graphics package, and started playing with it. I'll put my hands up and say that I found it quite difficult, but then, other than some time doing digital microscopy, I've spent my working life NOT doing image manipulation!

The big deal is, using Inkscape you can import bitmap images, and convert them to vector graphics that are (essentially) immune to losses in definition from re-scaling. Using my own hand-drawn images I scanned plus free content from the web, and background shield disks created in PhotoShop using the airbrush function, I made up a series of designs. Along with some inkjet decal paper, courtesy of Ebay, I was in business. Just remember one thing: inkjets don't (generally) print white - they use the background colour of the (white) paper! So, if you want a white, or off-white design, go with white decal paper.

So, via the magic of Inkscape, you can get from these:

To these, fairly easily. Ironically, saving them as a jpeg to put on here kills the resolution created in the vector package!
Shields designs...

 A bit more jiggery pokery gets you to this little lot! You can tape the decal paper to normal printer paper to feed it through, and so use small pieces. The upper set are printed to check everything seems to work, and the lower piece is the actual decal sheet.

The offending items - actual decals!

And here, again, in situ.

Pictish cavalry, with decorated shields

Personally I wouldn't describe it as easy, but to someone move savvy with image manipulation (i.e. most people!), it's probably a doddle. I managed to ruin one decal applying it, so had to scrape it off, print a fresh one and start again. On shields as curved as this, in days of old I would have gone with the MicroSet / MicroSol approach as used on model aircraft. However, I'm not sure that it wouldn't simply eat my decals if I did! A little trimming with a scalpel saved the day, though.

Even in close-up, I think they look OK. See what you think.

If you can read my shield, you are much too close...

The materials were under five pounds for two A4 sheets of decal paper so the cost per shield is almost incalculably small (you can get well over 250 decals this size from a single sheet). At the end of the day, I doubt this will scare LBMS, as they really do have the quality nailed down tight. But, the results here are all your own, and regardless of the price, there's a heck of a value in that. Oh, one further word of caution. I've found the whole process strangely enthralling. There have been a few times when I've started doing this (I have other examples now!), then looked up and found an hour or two has passed without me even noticing!

Merry Meet!


  1. That is fantastic work really. I think they look great! Thanks for sharing.

  2. Jonathan - many thanks! I'm happy with the result and I would recommend having a go.


  3. Good idea, and well explained! They look great, too. I have to echo Jonathan - thanks for sharing.

    Best wishes,

  4. Same here, thanks. I had a similar idea for making decals to put on preformed banners. I'm by no means an expert with inkscape but I used the trace bitmap feature in my heraldry project. It works very well.

  5. Sean, you're right "trace bitmap", where InkScape converts the bitmap to a vector file is the key. I've tried it with banners, but thus far the results aren't quite what I want. Well, ever onward!

  6. These look great, tempted to try some byzantine ones