Beyond Basics: Grid Pattern Display Shelf

Discussion in 'Tutorials and How Tos' started by chchchch, Sep 29, 2019.

Thread Status:
Not open for further replies.
  1. chchchch

    chchchch Chunky Coherent

    Jul 17, 2018
    News Credits:
    Trophy Points:
    I recently created some backdrop lining for my Masterpiece display shelves to hide the ugly fake wood pattern particle board underneath. Each shelf is now black with a neon gridline pattern meant to evoke the grid backgrounds shown in the various G1 cartoon opening sequences, as well as the grid pattern on the vintage G1 toy packaging.




    I've finished three of the five shelves I have available; the last two will be completed to accommodate future expansion of my collection (hopefully!).

    I've received a number of requests for instructions on how to make this backdrop, so following is a tutorial of what I did. There are no doubt myriad techniques possible to achieve the same effect, so while I will detail my specific procedure, you may think of a better/easier way!

    I had a few key goals with this project:
    • It needed to be cheap. My target budget was $50-$60 USD maximum. This is because I need to save as much as possible for future figures, and I hope to eventually buy or build some cleaner, larger floating shelves. The present shelving is a decades old particle board bookshelf, and is quite bowed and warped. It is hopefully temporary!
    • I did not want to use paint. I am not a wood painting expert, and any time I've painted wooden shelves, they seem to retain a hint of tackiness even years after curing. If I move a book or picture frame that has been resting on such shelves for years, I hear that sickening cracking/smacking sound as the paint unsticks. I can't take a chance on transferring paint streaks to my MPs! There are probably easy ways to make paint work, but I wasn't prepared to learn them for this project!
    • Because I do wish to eventually transfer my collection to better shelves in the future, I wished to somehow make the backdrop (or at least most of it) transferable as well and avoid redoing the whole thing in a few years.
    With all this in mind, my final solution was to build up the backdrop out of smaller "tiles" affixed with tape rather than glue. That way, I can peel off the tape and rearrange the tiles as needed onto new shelves, which will be of a different size and shape. I chose to make the black base of each tile from matte black cardstock, and the gridlines from neon adhesive label printer paper.

    If you don't care about repositioning these backdrops in the future, you can just use one or more large pieces of black paper cut exactly to fit your shelf. The neon adhesive paper may be difficult to find in larger sizes, but you can still piece together smaller strips using some tips found later on in this tutorial. Automotive pinstripping tape and whiteboard/charting tape are other options and are available in very long rolls, but ultimately I had trouble finding them in the colors I needed within my price range. And if your shelves are already black, you may not need the cardstock at all!


    Alright, enough chatter! Time for a tutorial! I will show how to turn this shelf of Decepticons:


    into this shelf of Decepticons:


    WHAT YOU'LL NEED (Tools & Materials)


    • 8½"x11" sheets of black cardstock (or background color of your choice). I used and recommend Astrobrights 65lb. Cardstock in Eclipse Black. It is a good medium weight and has a very pleasant matte finish, while still providing nice subtle diffused reflections for a bit of dimension. Make sure you choose an acid-free and lignin-free cardstock, which will avoid color fading and remain strong for many years. You'll get at least one 8"x8" tile from each sheet (and possibly another 2"x8" tile depending on how efficient you want to be), so you'll need to buy enough to cover your shelf (tips on calculating this later on).
    • 8½"x11" sheets of adhesive label printer paper in your desired colors. Make sure these are full-sheet labels with no perforated shapes cut into them. I mixed and matched two brands to get the colors I wanted and both have turned out to be very good quality (Milcoast Bright Neon Adhesive Sticker Paper Labels and OnlineLabels OL177 Full Sheet Fluorescent Label Sticker Paper). The OnlineLabels product is slightly brighter than the Milcoast product and can be purchased by the sheet depending on your needs, but may be a bit more expensive. Because the gridlines are ⅛" thick and 8 lines are needed for each 8"x8" tile, you'll need 1" of label paper per tile.
    • Double-sided poster tape. I ordered Scotch Brand Double-Sided Tape which I thought was described as repositionable in the product description, but what I received says "Permanent;" I must have ordered the wrong thing by mistake! However, it seems to work well enough in either case!
    • Measuring and cutting tools. I used a ruled cutting matte with a straight edge and rotary cutter, which allowed me to make all my cuts without drawing lines on the paper. But, you can certainly use a hobby knife or even scissors if you lightly draw or print straight guidelines on the paper!
    WHAT YOU'LL DO (Instructions)

    The plan is to cut 8"x8" squares from the cardstock and apply 8"x1/8" adhesive gridlines spaced 2" apart as shown in the following diagram. Note that one gridline in each dimension lies directly on the edge of the tile. This helps to hide the seams between tiles (as opposed to butting gridline strips together end-to-end).


    Measuring & Planning

    You have an immediate choice to make when starting out--you can either just start making tiles and mounting them on the shelf until it's covered, or you can pre-plan exactly how many you'll need to make. If you're really ambitious about minimizing wasted cardstock (as I was) you can plan to cut some partial tiles as well. Here's the formula I used; if you wish to skip the planning step, go directly to the Cutting section.

    Measure how many complete 8"x8" tiles you can fit on each surface starting from a corner, as shown. You will probably want to make a similar diagram to those shown below for your own shelf layout; it will make determining the orientation of the gridlines much easier later!


    At this point, you could make some more 8"x8" tiles and plan to cut partials to perfectly fit the empty space, then skip ahead to the Cutting section. With my goal of ultimate repositionability, however, I chose to overlap smaller tiles, which also gives you a little more flexibility when dealing with surface angles that aren't quite true or are bowed/warped.

    Add a 2"x8" tile to each row and column around the outer edge, and a single 2"x2" tile to the remaining corner, as shown. Note the orientations of the tiles and gridlines!


    In both the horizontal and vertical directions, determine how many 2" grid squares can fit between the full 8"x8" tiles and the surface edge. Beginning at the edges, add partial tiles of that size to fill the remaining empty space, overlapping the tiles already on the edges, as shown:




    First, cut a ½" strip from the long edge of a sheet of black cardstock, yielding a 8"x11" rectangle:



    Then, cut a 3" wide strip from the narrow edge to yield a 8"x8" square:




    To cut the gridlines, first remove a ½" strip from the long edge of a label sheet (as with the cardstock) to yield a 8"x11" rectangle:



    Next, cut a ⅛" strip from narrow edge to form a single 8" long gridline:



    Continue slicing off ⅛" strips. You'll need 8 strips for a single 8"x8" tile, so you can get 11 tiles out of a single sheet of label paper.




    To assemble a tile, first peel the backing from one of the gridline strips. This is by far the most tedious and time consuming step because of how thin the strips are, but eventually a well-placed thumbnail between the label and backing will do the trick. Don't worry too much if the end gets a bit wrinkled during removal; this will hardly be noticeable when everything is put into place.


    Affix one end to the top edge of a cardstock tile, with the left edge of the strip exactly 2" from the right edge of the cardstock. Try to place it as close to a 90° angle from the edge as possible but don't worry too much if it's not exact. If you don't have a ruled surface to help with the placement, you can draw light pencil guidelines on the cardstock.


    Now, pressing down on the top end of the gridline with your thumb or a heavy object, pull the other end of the gridline so that it's taut and affix it to the bottom edge of the cardstock, 2" from the right edge. Press down on the entire gridline to be sure it is fully adhered.



    Working toward the right, attach two more gridlines, spacing the left edges every 2".


    Rotate the tile 90° counterclockwise and attach 4 vertical strips in the same fashion. The last gridline will fall exactly along the left edge of the cardstock.


    Finally, rotate the tile 90° clockwise back to its original position and attach the final gridline along the left edge of the cardstock. I save this for last so that this gridline will cover the raw edges of the orthogonal lines, making the appearance just a bit neater.


    If any of the gridlines overhang the cardstock edges slightly, simply cut them off or fold underneath:


    Repeat to create as many tiles as needed.

    Partial Tiles

    If you want to use partial tiles to waste less paper as mentioned earlier, you can easily turn the 3"x8" waste section from each full tile into a 2"x8" tile (or smaller) by trimming off 1" of excess from the long edge.



    To attach the gridlines to these tiles, I do not recommend cutting the gridline strips into shorter 2" sections, as removing the backing from that many pieces will take forever! Instead, lay 4 of these smaller pieces edge to edge to form a 8"x8" square, and then attach 4 long gridline stripes as before right across the seams. Then, use a knife to cut the gridlines between the cardstock seams.






    Now add one gridline to each partial tile along its edge; whether you affix to the "left" or "right" edge will be determined by the layout diagram you hopefully created specifically for your shelf! You may not need to attach another gridline at all if the tile will be acting as a "filler" piece at the edge of the shelf surface.


    For larger partial tiles, I recommend making a full tile and then cutting apart as necessary. If you need help finding the optimal arrangement of partial tiles to minimize the work, feel free to message me and I'll try to help!


    It's time to attach the tiles to the shelf! Place small pieces of tape along the edges of the underside of each tile; I used a piece on each corner and another one at the midpoint of each edge longer than 2". You may need more tape if the surface is rough or porous; for example, the bottom surfaces of my shelves are unfinished particle board, and the tiles kept falling off of the "ceilings" until I added more tape.


    As mentioned, this tape is easy to remove if you make a mistake or need to adjust the position of a tile after affixing it. Note, however, that while it peels off of the shelf surface and cardstock without causing damage, it does seem to rip apart the label paper strips. So if you are overlapping tiles and are serious about being able to rearrange, you'll need to make sure the tape is positioned so as not to touch any gridlines.

    Attach the tiles on the same order as described in the Planning section above, pressing very flat to avoid "bubbles" under the cardstock.





    A few tips on placement:
    • Because it's nearly impossible to make the gridlines perfectly straight and evenly spaced by hand, there will inevitably be some tiles where the gridlines don't line up exactly right at the seams. It may be worth dry fitting everything in place to find the best arrangement.
    • If your shelves are detachable and warped or bowed (like mine), find the lowest point that the shelf touches on the back wall, and align the back tiles to it (or lower) so that you don't end up with gaps.
    • If there are any obstructions such as brackets or other support pieces, you'll have to cut holes in the tiles large enough to accommodate.

    If you also wish to cover the outer edges/lips of the shelving as I did, the final step is to cut some strips of cardstock the same width as the edge to cover (you should have enough scraps for this remaining from previous steps). Arrange strips end to end until the edge is covered, cutting or overlapping the final piece to fit. Again, use a piece of tape under each end and another piece in the middle.





    Thanks for reading! If anyone does this or comes up with any variations, I'd love to see your work!
    Last edited by a moderator: Jan 13, 2020
    • Like Like x 9
Thread Status:
Not open for further replies.