How do I start lighting models

A place for those new to the hobby (or at a basic skill level) to ask questions and hone their skills.
Captain Martin
Erratic Ensign
Erratic Ensign
Posts: 1
Joined: Thu Oct 20, 2016 4:38 am

How do I start lighting models

Postby Captain Martin » Thu Oct 20, 2016 5:03 am

Hi guys, I have built many models in the past but I have not put lighting in one yet. I'm not sure where to start or what to use. I will be building the Polar Lights 1/1000 Reliant and thought it might be a good idea to ask someone for some advice. Thanks.

User avatar
Can-Do Captain (CW)
Can-Do Captain (CW)
Posts: 1735
Joined: Mon Oct 01, 2012 4:16 pm

Re: How do I start lighting models

Postby trekriffic » Fri Oct 21, 2016 6:33 am

Lighting is a great way to add realism to your models. It can be done fairly cheaply too if all you want is to light up the windows and the engines. Now if you want to add flashing formation and strobe lights it can start to get more expensive. Really the starting point is how much do you want to spend? Tenacontrols makes a small flasher board for about 40 bucks that can handle both your strobe and formation light flash rates. You'll want to get some small Cool White LED's (and some orange and blue ones for the impulse and warp engines) for placing in the saucer to illuminate the windows, they are fairly cheap too, like, less than 20 bucks thru online retailers. You'all need some resistors too to drop the voltage down from your power source so as not to burn out your LEDs. You'll need some fine gauge wire and a soldering tool to solder all your connections. Before buying the resistors you need to determine what impedance (ohms) you need and that will be based on the voltage coming from your power source. You can use batteries or a wall adapter. An external battery box provides portability but eventually the batteries will need to be replaced. Wall adapters convert 110V AC to 6, 9, or 12V DC current but you need to have a wall outlet nearby or a power strip. There are online calculators that will diagram your whole circuit depending on your voltage and number of LEDs in each circuit. So tell us what you want to see lit up and we can go from there.
"You broke your little ships."

My albums on flickr:

User avatar
Fatidical Fleet Admiral (CW)
Fatidical Fleet Admiral (CW)
Posts: 4943
Joined: Tue Mar 12, 2013 9:36 pm
Location: West of Eugene Oregon.

Re: How do I start lighting models

Postby Moongrim » Fri Oct 21, 2016 1:36 pm

Starship Modeler has a nice bit of info on the subject:
Scroll down to lighting and electronics.

And on Instructables. ... ic-Models/

Batteries do need replacing, but you can always incorporate the battery housing module in some easily accessed part of the model or stand.
There are Times, Sir, when men of good Conscience cannot blindly follow orders. You acknowledge their sentience, but ignore their personal liberties and freedoms. Order a man to hand over his child to the state? Not while I"m captain.
- J.L.Picard.

User avatar
Charismatic Commander
Charismatic Commander
Posts: 419
Joined: Wed Jun 15, 2016 5:49 pm
Location: Houston, TX

Re: How do I start lighting models

Postby MSgtUSAFRet » Fri Oct 21, 2016 2:18 pm

Captain Martin,

These guys are wizards at lighting and, after following some very detailed builds, I was able to copy what they did in my own build!

I am wrapping up my first lighted build so maybe I can offer some basic advice: I don't know your expertise on electronics or lighting (I had none) so I will start where I started - Simple!

1. Have a plan! Answer questions about what do I want to do with the lighting? (As Trekriffic pointed out) What colors do I want? Where do I want them? I have written, drawn and made graphics about how I was going to light my model to the point that once I actually placed the lights, I knew where each was going to go! So have a plan!

2. Get a Pin Vice. In your plan, decide where the lights will show through the model. Windows and such will need holes made in the model. A Pin vise will help you make these. This is a drill bit holder that allows slow hand turning of the bit so as to not warp or burn the plastic. Also, in your plan, decide where you don't want the light to come out. Usually this is a majority of the hull. You will want to light block (a process of spray painting coats of black on the interior of the model.) This blocks the light from going anywhere but where you want it to. Then follow up with coats of white spray paint on the interior. The white will bounce the light around the interior for even distribution of the light while using less LEDs.

3. Get some LEDs of various colors. RED, White, Green, Yellow are easily available at Fry's Electronics or Local Radio Shack. Once you decide what color things are (i.e. Red for Bussard collectors, white for windows, green for Engines, Yellow cause I don't know what you might want to do ;) )

4. Get some resistors. These will be coupled with the LEDs so, as trekriffic pointed out "You'all need some resistors too to drop the voltage down from your power source so as not to burn out your LEDs." For most model projects, at least in the beginning, I would recommend 470 mA resistors. There are calculations you can use to figure out how much power (voltage) each LED will need to burn best and the resistors make sure that the LED burns rather than pops.

5. Get some wiring, uhm, wire. Most modelers use 30 gauge AWG wire for their models. (The higher the number, the smaller the wire size; i.e. 30 is smaller than 24) For me, I have found 24 gauge wire, stranded, to work best for me right now. As my skill grows and the room inside my models decreases, I may get a smaller gauge to use.

6. A soldering iron is kinda necessary. Get an inexpensive one to learn with then at your choice graduate to bigger and better. Also, think about where you are going to lay the thing when on but not in use.

7. Also, get some solder. Look for the kind with flux in the solder. The flux will allow the solder to clean the soldering surface and create a better bond more easily. On one forum, an OP wrote "Most common lead-based solder you'll find at the gadget store will be 60Sn/40Pb (for 60% tin, 40% lead). There's some other minor variations you're likely to see, such as 63Sn/37Pb, but for general hobbyist purposes I have used 60/40 for years with no issue." The 60/40 was what I got at Radio Shack and it works quite well.

8. Get a multimeter. I would recommend a digital one over an analog. Again, your choice, but it was just easier for me to read. This will help you determine continuity (if the power "flows" from one end of the circuit to the other) in your circuit. It will also help you determine the resistance of resistors if you happen to forget how to read the resistors coding.

9. Get a "helping hand". This is a little device with a weighted stand, two alligator clamps on each end of an arm and a magnifying glass in the middle. Google it for a better picture! :) This is invaluable for holding the resistor and LED in the clamps while you hold the soldering iron and solder in your own.

10. Read! Read! READ! And then READ some more! If you don't know, like I didn't, research is key! Another key point is to find an expert and ask questions. Here on the forum is a good place to start; especially with specific questions. Most posters are more than happy to help out and share so don't be bashful. You really can't be if you want to learn it! :D

This is some of the basics I had to learn. Moongrim posted some site for the reading bit!

Here is an LED calulator I use to design my circuits.

Best of luck!

Let us know if you have any questions!


User avatar
Crafty Commodore
Crafty Commodore
Posts: 1280
Joined: Thu May 19, 2016 6:20 pm
Location: Brasil, SP

Re: How do I start lighting models

Postby NCC1966 » Thu Nov 10, 2016 12:33 pm

MSgtUSAFRet wrote:1. Have a plan!

This is no doubt the best advice of all. I am working on my first project and due to a lack of a previous plan I suffered (and am still suffering) more than necessary. Because my usual rush on put hands on I simply started to stretch wires and ended with a big mess -- and I am working on a Reliant that is the double of the size the one you are willing to build!

One thing that I don't regret is NOT to have bought one of those "lighting kits" being sold for twice the price of the model itself. Honestly, I think that ask $40, $50, $60 or even more for a small circuit board and a couple of spare parts is a rip off and it was one of the reasons that made me dishearten about to light my models in the past. Recently I got aware about Arduino (Learn more at: project and thanks to that I didn't spent more than $3 for the board and around $10 for a BUNCH of wires, resistors, transistors and LEDs of all colors that will be enough to lit several models if I want.

The only downsize of the Arduino is that it is not an off-the-shelf solution and you will have to learn how to program it. But it is really easy and simple. If you already have some coding background it will be a stroll in the park. I came with this running 10 minutes after to unpack my first Arduino board. No kidding.

And this is a rough test of my model a little before I close the saucer and fix the nacelles on place:


Good luck and enjoy the adventure!



Return to “Newbie Modeler Help Desk”

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 10 guests