1. Introduction

I tried many methods to make tarps, but they all ended up being unrealistic, or very over scale IRO thickness (rolled putty method). The one day I hit upon one that worked well for me. It produces a tough sheet of silicon treated tissue that is very hard to tear, fully waterproof (you can wash off any incorrect weathering), takes paint really well, and can have creases imprinted and removed at will. You will need the following (Pic 1):

* A water based (very important) bathroom silicon sealer (see bottom of page)

Extra strong pocket tissues

An airbrush

A good half to three quarter inch flat paintbrush

2. Getting started

The pocket tissues used are generic Asda/Walmart, but they have about 3-4 ply and the edges are pressed together. They are also a good size for this work. The first thing I do is iron the folds out of them, as I want the central area smooth (2). Next squeeze about 3 inches of the bathroom sealer into a small sealable container and add warm water (ratio about 1:2). Seal the container and shake it for a few minutes until most of the sealant has liquidized (there will be some residue, don’t worry).(3)

3. Treating the tissue

Take the ironed tissue and lay it a flat surface (I use paper card), and using short strokes with the flat brush, paint the solution onto the tissue, making sure each area is soaked through, before moving to the next. When one side is done, turn the tissue around and do the other. When both are wet, hold the tissue between your fingers and gently tease the major creases from it (similar to how you work a pizza base). When done, take a hair dryer and dry both sides of the tissue. (4)

Now peel the single coated outside ply from each side of the tissue and repeat the steps above for the uncoated side of each. When finished you will have two rubberised textured sheets of fabric. At this point I roll them against a flat surface to further bond the silicon, and remove creases. I then remove the patterned outside inch from each side, retaining the 6x6” area in the middle. At this point you should have two sheets of treated tissue that are tearproof, flexible, and will retain a fold or imprint (which can also be removed if its not right)

4. Basecoat

Take a sheet and spray both sides. I use a 1:1 mix of Tamiya XF-65 Field Grey and Tamiya XF-26 Deep Green mixed  1:1 with IPA (don’t use water, the alcohol ensures a dense paint coverage). Mix quite a bit of paint, the tissues are thirsty! When dry, take the tissue in one hand and  draw it gently between your thumb and first two fingers of the other to smooth out the final creases,  expose any unsprayed areas, and fix them.(5)

You now have a finished base sheet. Make a few of these in different base colours and store until needed for new dioramas.

5 Prepare for Dio

For this article I am building a tarp for a pallet holding a 44 gallon drum, some scratched ammo boxes and some Friul tracks. These items have great scope for raised edges and depressions, which add realism to the finished item.(6) Put the model onto the tarp and work out the area required, allowing for seams, folds and depressions, then add another 10% to be on the safe side. I want part of the items on the pallet to be in view, so I cut it accordingly.(7)

The little things....

To create realism we can now add seams, patches and eyelets

6. Seams

For seams, score a line with the BACK of a blade about 1.5mm from each edge, fold over, and glue it down with PVA. Then take each folded seam and fold it over itself AGAIN, and glue down.(8)

7. Patches

For patches, take a spare piece of sprayed tarp, cut the size and shape you want, and paint it a darker green (straight XF-26 Deep Green in this case) than the original, (don’t forget the edges, or they will be white). Glue it to the tarp, and with the point of a straight scalpel blade, make the ‘stitches’ around the edge.(9)


8. Eyelets

For eyelets, take small rings from and old PE fret and glue them at corners and points in between along the seams. Take a sharp pick or pin and punch out the tarp hole through the ring. You can now run ‘ropes’ through these eyelets. (I use rigging rope from the shipbuilders).(10) 

Once done with all the extras, seal both sides with a good coat of future. Rub down the length of each edge and patch seam with a Q-tip to ‘raise’ it. It should now be looking quite tarp like.(11)

9. Folds

Fold the sheet into quarters, or sixths, or eights - entirely up to you. Make sure you sharpen the creases between you fingers to 'raise' them when unfolded.(12)

10. Washing

Now lighten some of your 1:1 mix with some XF-60 Dark Yellow (Do not use white!), mix with water 1:9 and wash some the squares formed to show areas of more exposure.(13) Remember – these exposed panels will be next to each other, not diagonally opposite. With a thin wash of straight XF-60 (again 1:9) gently highlight each of the RAISED folds.(14)

11. Fitting

This is where using the sealant really comes into its own. You can now mould the tarp around the items as any times as you wish, and it will hold in place – if you are not happy, smooth it back out with finger pressure, and do it again. When happy, start at one side of the model and glue the tarp down with CA, ensuring folds, creases, depressions etc are formed as you go. You can now ‘rope’ the tarp down, pulling quite hard to create the creases formed by the rope (don’t worry the tarp is indestructible). Now rub all raised areas with fingertip to reveal detail.(15)

12. Painting and Weathering (1)

First you need to decide your environment and proceed accordingly. This project will be in Europe in autumn/winter so there will be dirt and water. First, highlights and shadows are painted in (not many as the tarp is pretty realistic anyway). Raised contours and fold edges are given a wash with XF-64 Red Brown(16) 

The whole surface is then washed with a thin solution of Mig Dark earth. I then take pure water and ‘paint’ this wash downwards to make the pigment run into depressions and crevices  – don’t worry, you can use lots of water as the tarp really is waterproof.(17)

13. Painting and Weathering (2)

Once this has dried, I add Woodland Scenics water to a couple of areas to show rainwater collection.

For a drier, dusty environment, the tarp was drybrushed with MMP Sand (I found other pigments to be slightly too ‘sticky’), and the surface rubbed back with a fingertip to force the powder into the small depressions in the tissue. Then I added small splotches of Mig pigments (European dust, Dark mud), and rubbed them back with the paintbrush (don’t use a finger as it smears).(18) 

14. Painting and Weathering (3)

For a drier, dusty environment, the tarp was drybrushed with MMP Sand (I found the Mig to be too ‘sticky’), and the surface rubbed back with a fingertip to force the powder into the small depressions in the tissue. Then I added small splotches of Mig pigments (European dust, Dark mud), and rubbed them back with the paintbrush (don’t use a finger as it smears).


The method is quick (start to finish in 90 min), and produces a totally realistic, and waterproof, tarpaulin. Because the treated surface of the tissue is so robust, its virtually untearable, and any weathering errors can be washed off and redone without soaking and destroying the tarp.

* Polycell Squeeze and Seal (Kitchen and Bathroom) – availability outside the EU

This product is WATER based/miscible. When I wrote the article I had no idea that water based sealants were not common worldwide or I would have mentioned it. Having done some research I have now discovered the following:The reason this sealant is water based is because EU law states that by 2012 all such products must be water based (i.e have the solvents removed). It is therefore possible that in other countries, they may not produce a water based product because they do not have to. 

Polycell is a UK company that is part of the ICI group. They do not do much exporting outside of the UK, and that is mostly to Europe. Your local ICI company may be able to tell you if they produce an equivalent. ICI did tell me that another global company Masterchem produce many similar products, and they may have one in your country.

If you do not have water based sealant in your country there are two options:

  • Buy this one online from a UK shop (i.e. Amazon)
  • Use a local solvent based sealant and dilute it with the correct solvent for that product.

As the solvent is only the medium to transfer the sealant to the tissue, once it dries the effect should be the same. You may have to ask about the correct solvent.