HIPS and Plasticard sheet types | Railwayscenics

HIPS or Plasticard Sheet

Our full range of plastic extrusions, mouldings and sheets can be found by viewing the Plastic and Acrylic product category.

Types of plastics

ABS, Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene or ABS is a common thermoplastic polymer typically used in injection moulding applications. This engineering plastic is popular due to its low production cost and the ease with which the material can be machined by manufacturers which makes it ideal for modelling applications.

HIPS or High Impact Polystyrene is a plastic sheet that is available in a variety of thicknesses from 0.5mm up to about 4mm and can be supplied in many colours and finishes. It can generally be sourced through many good model shops.

UK modellers know it as plasticard, and in the US it is commonly called styrene sheet, plasticard or plastic card. The same material is normally used for injection moulded plastic kits.

The plasticard we sell has a matt finish on both sides and is available in black or white. Apart from the colour, the two are identical.

PETG, glycol-modified polyethylene terephthalate, is a copolyester that is a clear amorphous thermoplastic. PETG sheet has high stiffness, hardness, and toughness as well as good impact strength.

This clear sheet can be used as glazing in models and has the same characteristics as HIPS sheet.

PET or APET, polyethylene terephthalate, is the most common thermoplastic polymer resin of the polyester family. PET sheet is a flexible material and can be laser cut and vacuum formed.

This clear sheet can be used as glazing in models and has the same characteristics as HIPS sheet.

Working with Plastic sheet

The plastic sheet is very easy to work with although care should be taken when cutting. To cut plasticard it is a simple matter of scoring the surface with a knife and then bending the sheet away from the scored line and it will snap.

Thicker sheets of HIPS can also be cut with a saw as long as you go slowly so that you do not generate too much heat which will melt the plastic.

To clean up the edges of the cut HIPS use a file or a piece of sandpaper on a flat surface or sanding block. HIPS can be easily shaped with normal modelling tools although anything that generates heat will cause problems, so be careful when drilling or sanding with power tools as the HIPS will turn into a molten mess very quickly.

HIPS can be glued with a variety of adhesives from specialist styrene glues, epoxy glues, superglue, and even contact adhesives. HIPS is also relatively easy to prepare for painting as gaps can be filled and sanded to leave a very smooth surface without too much effort.

Plasticard is also relatively flexible, which will allow it to be bent into curved shapes without breaking.

HIPS can also be heated and formed over a plug or mould. Care should be taken when applying heat as plasticard has a low melting point of about 80 degrees centigrade. Heat can be applied with the use of hot water or the gentle application of heat from a hair dryer. Paint removal guns tend to give too much heat and should either be avoided or used with extra care. When the sheet cools it will maintain the formed shape.

HIPS can also be built up in layers and carved, sanded, or filed to almost any shape. If you are going to build up layers of HIPS the best type of glue to use is one that melts the surface rather than a glue like superglue that adheres to the surface. This is because the glue often sets harder than the plastic and can make it difficult to obtain a good finish to the item being constructed.

Window openings can be created by first drilling small holes in each corner of the windows and at the centre. Then score lines from the centre to the corners and around the outline of the window. Carefully bend from the middle to the corners to snap out triangles. The finished edges can then be filed smooth.

Being plastic, styrene will melt if it is exposed to heat. It will also bend if heated so this is something to watch out for but also can be used to shape the plastic. You can bend rods into shape after heating them with a hair dryer.

You can also use a flame to draw out thin parts like antennas from styrene model kit sprues. All you need to do is heat the sprue slowly and evenly then when the plastic is soft, draw it out slowly. The speed you pull on the ends of the sprue will determine how thin it is. With a bit of practice, you can create many thin items including wires and TV aerials.

Tools for styrene modelling

Most modellers will have the tools required to work with plasticard sheets. For best results, you will need a cutting mat, a sharp knife with an assortment of blades, a metal straight edge, and a set square. Marking out can be done with a sharp pencil and a plastic or metal ruler. Scissors can also be used for cutting thin sheets.

Glues for styrene

Styrene is best glued with specialist plastic welding glues which are applied with a fine brush and use capillary action to get into the joint. Solvent welding as it is known joins two pieces of styrene together with no gaps because it softens the two surfaces so that the material flows together. Once the solvent has evaporated, the finished joint is very strong. Do not use too much solvent or you will weaken the joint.

Cyanoacrylate glues, contact adhesives, or two part epoxies can be used where styrene is being glued to wood or another type of material. Where parts are precisely cut, liquid plastic welding glues work best, as they dissolve the styrene and allow it to weld together. On less precisely cut pieces, tube plastic cement or thicker Cyanoacrylate glues work best, although the bond may not be as strong.

When using any glue with styrene you should ensure that the work area is well ventilated. The fumes from solvents can be dangerous.

Preparing the finished model for painting

There are specialist fillers available from toy or model shops. These fillers have been specifically designed for use on plastic models, and are the ones to use. The fillers sold for DIY or car bodywork are best avoided as they will either fail to bond or contain solvents that can damage the plastic.

The filler should be carefully mixed and applied. Do not use too much, as you will then have to remove this extra from the model. The filler can be filed or sanded using progressively finer tools to get a good finish. Some people make their filler by melting small plastic chips in solvent but when applied to the model the solvent can leach into the base material, causing damage.

Dental probes and wax carving tools are both useful for applying fillers.

Painting styrene

Any of the enamels or acrylic paints that are marketed for plastic kits can be used on plasticard sheet. The acrylic aerosols sold by car accessory shops can also be used, but test out on a piece of scrap material first. To help the paint to key it is advisable to slightly roughen the surface first, a fibreglass brush is ideal for this.

HIPS sheet availability

We sell matt finished plasticard and clear sheeting in the following sizes. All of our available plastic sheets can be found by clicking here.

Colour 10 thou 0.25mm 20 thou 0.5mm 30 thou 0.75mm 40 thou 1.0mm 60 thou 1.5mm 80 thou 2.0mm
Black N/A 304-001 304-002 304-003 304-004 304-005
White 304-019 304-020 304-021 304-022 304-023 304-024
Clear 304-006 304-007 N/A 304-008 N/A 304-009

Give styrene modelling a try - it is lots of fun!