Monday, July 14, 2014

Tutorial: $8 X-Wing space mat

After becoming interest in the X-Wing miniatures game I decided to try making a cheap and quick gaming mat to play on. This gaming mat cost me $8 in supplies and took me 40 minutes to make. In this tutorial I will show you step by step pictures for making your own mat. I used an airbrush for this tutorial but you could probably do a similar mat using spray cans. This mat does not look quite as polished as the professionally printed vinyl mats but is a cheap alternative for home games or if you are making many mats for a tournament or store event. Read on for some pictures of the finished mat and a step-by-step tutorial on how to make your own.

-36" x 36" black felt
-airbrush (dual action ideally) and airbrush accessories (cleaner, compressor, etc)
-airbrush colours (I used Vallejo Model Air White, Yellow, Blue, and Light Camo Green)
-white paint (I used Vallejo Model Colour White)
-old toothbrush
-toothpicks or small plastic rod pieces
-some scrap card

I bought the felt from a fabric store (Fabricland). It was conveniently in 36" width already (they also had 6 foot width if you need a larger mat). Retail cost for the felt was about $8, but as they were having a sale I got mine for $4! I used an airbrush to paint my gaming mat but you could achieve good results using a spray can as well. An airbrush is ideal due to the control it provides. The colours I used could be changed for your preferred colours. I simply used the colours I already had on hand. "Candy" paints (translucent airbrush paints) or other bright airbrush paints would work well. I chose a green-blue-yellow palette. Red-yellow-orange-pink would also look really good. I also bought a letter sized piece of felt as a practice piece. I would highly recommend this as the felt takes paint a little differently than other surfaces.
Here is roughly the type of effect we are going for. This image is from the NASA public domain images.

Step 1: Felt
Cut your felt to size and lay it on a table surface. I got my felt cut in the store.

Step 2: Small stars
Add background smaller stars by putting some white paint on an old toothbrush and gently flicking it onto the felt. I like to hold the toothbrush about 6" from the felt to create small clusters of stars. Make sure you don't spray paint all over yourself and your house.
Click on the images to make them bigger. The felt is a little difficult to photograph.

Step 3: Larger stars
Use a toothpick, plastic rod, or some other object to add round stars 1-2mm in diameter around your mat. Try to not have them in a set pattern (unless making constellations!). Group a few in areas with lots of small stars to create some small clusters.

Step 4: Stencil
Create a stencil for your main nebula. I used two pieces of card to create a large rounded curve pattern. You can use one stencil or take a bit longer and use a variety of curves to create some more complex patterns. I taped mine down using blue painters tape to keep it in place.

 Step 5: Airbrush Nebula
Use the white paint to airbrush a nebula along your stencil. The white paint will make your colours much more vivid. Spray it on a bit thicker along the stencil to create a glow there later on. Feather the edges and add some bursts of white around it.
Step 6 and 7 was done here too

Step 6: Glowing stars
Gently airbrush a white glow around some of the larger stars. This really makes the stars "pop" and really raises the appearance of the mat.

Step 7: Airbrush other clouds
Airbrush some soft cloud shapes over a few clusters of stars. You can see this in the picture in Step 5 as well.

Step 8: Airbrush yellow
Use the yellow paint (or whatever colour you use first) to colour part of the nebula and clouds yellow. I painted only part of each of the clouds as uniform clouds look a bit strange.

Step 9: Airbrush green
I airbrushed the green next to the yellow. I faded the two colours together a bit.

Step 10: Airbrush blue
I then sprayed blue over the remaining nebula. I added blue to some of the clouds and added some blue areas in the green and yellow to add more depth.

Step 11: More stars
In the previous step we coloured many of the stars. This creates a bit of depth. Now we want to add foreground stars. Like it step 3, add larger stars using toothpicks or plastic rod to create small circles for bright stars. Add some on top of the nebula.

Step 12: Twinkling stars
Use a small piece of card and an exacto knife to create a small cross template. Place this over some of the stars (vary the angles) and lightly airbrush some white to create a twinkling star. Don't overdo it. A few stars is enough.

Step 13: More glowing stars
Gently airbrush white glow around some of the new stars you have added. Add a few white clouds to blend clusters of stars together. Add some white on the back of the nebula and inside it to add more depth and variety.

Step 14: Seal (optional)
I'm not sure if it makes a difference, but I sprayed a little bit of matte varnish onto my mat to protect the paint. You can probably buy fabric protector stuff. This mat is cheap and cheerful though so I didn't bother.

A 9" x 12" test.

Another test of the yellow-red-orange pattern.
There you have it. In total, I spent $5 on felt for this mat and spent 40 minutes actually painting the mat. I'm pleased with the final result and look forward to having many epic space battles on the mat. I hope this helps out people who are looking for their own low cost X-Wing space mats. You can see more of my tutorials by clicking on the Tutorials and reviews button at the top of the page. Check back soon for more X-Wing content. Thanks for visiting.


  1. Very effective. Being so doable the options for going to town on Star Trek style nebulas are rather extensive.

    1. Yeah, I am tempted to try a few other patterns too. It is pretty easy to do.

  2. Really useful, thanks for sharing :)

    1. Thanks. I hope you get the chance to make one too!

  3. I don't personally play X-Wing (Have thought about trying it tho) but this is really good work :-D why would you spend a fortune buying a mat when you can make a good looking one so easily like this :-p

    Keep it up :D

    1. That was my line of thinking too. I think the professionally manufactured mats look great. I love some of the images on the vinyl mats. I really dislike the smell of vinyl products though. This mat is cheap and portable. I didn't want to invest much into x-wing as I'm not sure if it will be a long term game or more of a fad.


More from Rust and the City:

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...