styrene backdrop

I use 2mm white styrene which i buy in 1200x1800 sheets for fifteen bucks from a plastics warehouse.

I live in a city of 200,000 in the most remote Western country on earth (New Zealand) and I found several plastic sheet suppliers/distributors. There's gotta be one somewhere around :)

I join the sheets with a strip of styrene down the back and good old styrene solvent. With care the join can be almost unnoticeable but you will probably need a filler. i certainly needed lots of filler for my two-way curves in the corners! I'm hoping I've chosen a filler as stable as the styrene else the filler will be cracking on me not the sheet :(

N.B. The quality is about the same as the Evergreen or Plastruct sheets and it doesn't cost much more per sheet, just the sheets are about 40 times bigger!

It curves beautifully, is extremely strong when curved under tension by a wooden framework. It can be permanently curved to tight radii with heat: I work outside with hot water

I have been able to cove it in two dimensions so it curves round a corner and over the top as well. Cutting was tricky. I'm sure one of you mathematicians could prepare a cutting plan.

i just cut it into verttical strips, folded it, then hand-cut each strip and glued it to its neighbour. the result was very rough

but i used a patching filler to smooth it off and it looks pretty good. [This is an interim photo before patching but fater gluing adn several attempts at other fillers. I'll post a
patched-but-unpainted photo soon.]

I am leaving the styrene white for now (foggy San Francisco). it looks as good as a plain blue backdrop to me. One day i may spray-paint in greys and blues.

I put it up with the gloss side showing. I wish i had put it up with the matt side out. But no matter - I run 200 grit sandpaper over it and it goes matt quick enough - also smooths out scratches, blemishes and filler.

One more phenomenon for those who don't paint the stuff (and even for those who do?). Styrene is not truly opaque, more translucent. So the different density where there is a joining strip in a supporting timber actually shows through as a subtle variation in colour. More noticably, any light behind it (a curtained window in my case) shows through big time, even in 2mm stuff. I lined it behind with sheets of blue-coloured card - anything opaque will do. I suspect even a light coat of paint will hide this effect but i haven't tested that yet.

Pros

  • it is a familiar material
  • bends easily
  • cuts and shapes with simple tools
  • glues easily and strongly to itself
  • is dimensionally stable
  • looks OK unpainted

Cons

  • It behaves well when under tension, i.e. bent. So it needs a rigid frame. My upper deck and the wall behind form a right-angle to fit it under. Most peopel will have a lighting valence above and backdrop frame behind to do the same, but not all. A long straight vertical sheet would need good support or it would sag. I'd suggest get the thickest sheet you can, then glue ribs on the back. It seems to behave well with no support up to 300mm or even 500mm (12-18") high.
  • It scratches easily; treat with care.
  • It lets light thru: you may need to line it with card or other opaque material.
  • it takes paint moderately well but not as well as fibrous materials like masonite.
  • It is (as far as i have found) only available in sheets not rolls. For a big room I'd favour linoleum or similar long-run material.