Cricut Explore Air 2 Cutting Machine
Decals have their place and there are decal sets out there that are absolutely beautiful and perfectly printed with exquisite detail, but sometimes you just need to paint insignias and other large markings that might require some weathering, or where you don't want that unrealistic raised effect or carrier film showing. And, no matter how much matte varnish you put down afterwards, they just look like decals.
I had a little bit of experience with insignia masks while painting my RNZAF Corsair. I bought a set of Montex masks, and they didn't really work out too well for me. Compound fuselage curves really did a number on the masks warping them to the point that it was impossible to register them correctly. I ended up making my own with sheets of Tamiya Masking paper. cutting perfect circles with different diameters that had to fit together was difficult and time consuming.
Then came the Amodel Mi-6 project. This kit, as I've mentioned before, is a total nightmare. Nothing- and I mean nothing- fits together at all. The window glazing was no exception. The murky, wavy, and poorly shaped "clear" plastic was attached to the nose, huge gaps were filled in with CA glue and then the oversized parts were ground down, sanded, and polished to get the to fit destroying any semblance of the faint window outlines poorly molded onto the surfaces.
I normally cut out windows using Bare Metal foil. You press it down on the part and the detail comes through allowing me to carefully cut along window frame demarkations. That certainly wouldn't work this time.
Enter the Cricut Explore Air 2 pattern cutter. I've been looking at these things for the last couple of months and it's a pretty cool piece of technology that will become more and more helpful in the future.
I use a Mac computer and so far, things have worked out perfectly. The cutter connects to my Mac via Bluetooth. It looks like it disconnects each time after you cut a pattern, but re-establishes the connection pretty quickly when cutting the next project. This is probably to conserve Bluetooth bandwidth. It accepts a variety of formats and I've used both .png and .svg.
Here's ascreen shot of window patterns I created then saved as a PNG:
This is obviously a bit-mapped image file, and since they are tiny masks, they look very pixelated. The surprising thing is that the Cricut software does a pretty decent job of looking at contrast and determining a cutting path. Here's the result:
Not bad. I created an .svg file from Illustrator. Here's a screen shot of that:
You can see that it's a lot sharper and cleaner. I have not cut these out yet, but I did run an test with some complex shapes saved as SVG and the results were perfect. I'll probably cut new ones out using a new SVG file.
I'll keep you posted.