A Model Way to Play, Part III

This is Part III of a 4-part series that reviews a bit of the history behind papercraft, provides direction on where to begin, and then delves into some expert tips and tricks.

Part II discussed the tools, materials, and software a papercrafter would need to start building highly detailed cardstock models for their own games. Part III is still one step away from breaking out the scissors and glue; before printing, I always take a quick glance at the files to see if there’s anything I want to add or change graphically.

As a quick reminder, I’d like to repeat something important that was said in Part I:

From this point forward, I’m going to go full bore and show you everything you need to know to make amazing looking models, but at any point you can skip to the next step, the next section, or just walk away entirely. Don’t feel like my level of commitment must be your level of commitment; you’re free to disembark at any stop along the way.

As I mentioned in Part II, I use Adobe Acrobat to extract graphics from PDFs and Corel PaintShop Photo Pro X3 to modify those graphics—but there are many other options available, such as Adobe Photoshop and GIMP. Though the following instructions will assume the reader is using Acrobat and PaintShop Photo Pro, those familiar with other applications will be able to duplicate my steps with little effort.


Before being able to load up the graphics, we must extract them from the PDFs that hold them. Now, explaining the difference between PDFs and TIFFs is beyond the scope of this article. Nevertheless, think of the PDF as a frame and the graphics as the painting inside that frame. We want to remove the frame in order to make modifications to the painting. To illustrate this process, we’ll be using the very simple, very free Hovel model, available from Dave’s Games. Download and open the PDF in Acrobat.

As a reminder, Adobe Reader will not extract PDFs. I use Adobe Acrobat; if you do not have Adobe Acrobat available, use GIMP.

Open File

In order to extract the graphics into TIFF files—which is the format we will be working with—you must select Export from the File menu; choose Image and then TIFF.


Save “Hovel-Free-Sample.tiff” somewhere where you can easily access it. That’s it—it’s extracted and ready to be modified.


I typically take a close look at anything I’m about to print. Sometimes the model will have graphics that I want to tweak or erase and now is the time to do it—before printing. Go ahead and open “Hovel-Free-Sample.tiff” in PaintShop Photo Pro.


Now that you have everything ready, it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with three tools that you will use the most.

  1. Selection Tool: The selection tool is designed to select regions from the active layer so you can work on them without affecting the unselected areas. This is one of the tools I use the most and is indispensable for nudging elements around and shifting graphics from layer to layer.

  2. Clone Brush: The clone brush is used to replace information from one part of an image with information from another part. In other words, object removal—or more colloquially known as “airbrushing” or “photoshopping” out an unwanted part of the image.

  3. Layers: Layers are a way of keeping different elements in an image separate. Any part of a layer which contains no image information is transparent, so layers below are visible in these areas. The main thing to note about layers is that each layer can be edited without affecting any other layer.

A perfect way to showcase all three tools, while providing a perfect example of something you may find yourself doing often, is to remove something from our Hovel—like a window. Then we’re going to put it elsewhere on the image. The first thing you’ll want to do is click on the down arrow next to the Selection Tool and choose the Freehand Selection Tool; it looks like a lasso.

Freehand Selection Tool

Zoom in to the large window on the right side of the model and trace completely around the outside edge.


Press Control-C to copy what we have selected and then create a new layer.

New Layer

Make sure the new layer is selected and press Control-E to paste a copy of the window as a new selection. Move the window copy until it’s centered over the blank wall to the right. Now there’s a window where once there was none!


It might be nice to add a drop shadow, which will make the window copy blend in a bit more. Do this by choosing Effects on the menubar; select 3D Effects, and then Drop Shadow.

Drop Shadow

For our drop shadow, use the following settings:

  • Vertical: 0
  • Horizontal: 0
  • Opacity: 100
  • Blue: 15
  • Color: Black

That gives our window copy a nice shadow, making it look much more natural. Press Control-D to deselect the window copy and press the little eye icon next to our new layer in order to hide that layer. This way the window copy won’t be in the way of our next step.

Hide New Layer

Click on our original layer to select it.

Select Original Layer

Choose the Clone Brush tool and zoom in so that you can see both the original window and the blank wall to the right of it.

Blank Wall

As you can see, the blank wall looks just like the wall that would be behind the window… if that window weren’t there. We’re going to use the clone brush to “copy” the blank wall over the window so that it is “erased.” This step will take some practice, so take your time and don’t be afraid to undo what you’ve done to try again.

First, choose a reference point; something that exists in both the part you’re copying and the part you’re copying from—like where the wood beam meets the wood trim.

Wood Beams

Next, Right-Click on the place you’re copying from and then left-click on the place you’re copying to. Now “draw” over the window and you’ll see it disappear before your very eyes!


When you’re done, unhide the new layer by clicking on the eye icon again. That’s it—we’re done!

Zoomed Out

You might be wondering why we kept the window copy on its own layer. For the simple reason of, now this little hovel can have no windows (by hiding the layer) or several windows by copying the window and pasting it anywhere we want. We can even take a copy of the window into other images, using it to add windows to other buildings.

In retrospect, moving the window from one wall to another didn’t accomplish a whole lot visually, but it did illustrate excellent uses of our three tools. And between those three, you’re going to be able to accomplish about 99% of anything you can imagine doing.

Advanced Modification

Using the above techniques, you can carry out some pretty interesting modifications to your purchased models. One adjustment that I have done on several occasions is to take a model and change all the textures on it to something completely different. Imagine the Hovel from my previous example, but with brick and cement instead of yellow stucco and wood trim. Sure, you could probably find a model that already has all those elements, but what if one isn’t available?

A more specific example I run into often surrounds WorldWorksGames’ TerrainLinX line of products. TerrainLinX is a modular terrain system—every piece has the same basic geometry and only the textures are different, allowing you to mix and match pieces from different sets. WorldWorksGames has been wonderful about providing TerrainLinX products in a variety of textures, from dungeon to city; streets to sewers. However, each set isn’t static—new sets introduce new pieces, such as double-high walls or roof tiles. Since these new options are not available in earlier sets, there’s not a whole lot you can do about it. But what if you really want the new piece with an earlier texture?

The double-high wall is an excellent example: It was introduced as a new piece in the Lost Halls of the Dwarven Kings: Vault of the Ancients set, which means earlier sets, such as Himmelveil Streets, won’t have double-high walls. Since all pieces of the TerrainLinX system are modular, I can just create my own double-high wall with textures from Himmelveil Streets, using the double-high wall from Vault of the Ancients as a base.

To perform steps from the next section, you will need more than a passing familiarity with your graphics editing software of choice. I won’t be breaking down each step into its base components; it’s assumed that, by this point, you have a basic to moderate understanding of layers and tools such as Fill and the Pen.

First, I load up the double-high wall from Vault of the Ancients in PaintShop Photo Pro, create a new layer, and then on the new layer draw over the outline of the wall with the Pen tool to create a wire frame.

Wire Frame

Once the wire frame has been created on its own layer, I can slip in any texture on the bottom layer that I want. Since all the wall textures in Himmelveil Streets are of single-high walls, I will need to make heavy use of the Clone Brush tool—but that’s just part of the process.

New Texture
Cloning the Wall

When I’m done, I fill in the spots I don’t want to be seen on the wire layer with white using the Fill tool.

No White
With White

That’s it!

A Word About DPI

Dots per inch (DPI), or “pixels per inch,” is a measure of video dot density—in particular, the number of individual dots that can be placed in a line within the span of 1 inch.

When beginning a new project, it’s important to know what DPI you’re working in. If you’re working with graphical elements that all extracted at 300 DPI and then suddenly include an element that’s 200 DPI, the scale will be off and your image will look odd at the least; at the worst, your 1″ grid for D&D will not print out at 1 inch!

A real-world example I run into often comes from WorldWorksGames. In the old days, their projects were created at 200 DPI. At some point they upgraded their graphics quality to 300 DPI. Occasionally, I will combine elements from their old graphics with their new graphics. When doing this, I always need to remember to upsample the 200 DPI graphics to 300 DPI first.

To see what DPI your image is in, click on Image Information in the Image dropdown menu. The DPI will be listed as Pixels Per Inch. To increase or decrease the DPI of an image, choose Resize, also from the Image dropdown menu. There will be an option to adjust the pixels per inch—just make sure and keep the original width and height of the image! For example, if you have an 8.5″ × 11″ image at 200 DPI and want to increase it to 300 DPI, the width and height must remain 8.5″ × 11″ and 300 would be typed into the pixels per inch field.

Time to Build

We’ve finally come to a place where we can sit down and put everything together. Simply take your files (modified or otherwise), print them, gather all the materials I mentioned in Part II, and meet me back here for Part IV.