Even though I always look for deals I have spent gobs of money on this hobby. The last thing I want to do is pay $100+ to take my army to the game without damaging my figures. I've tried alternatives, but nothing beats a sturdy box with foam trays that hold miniatures safe and snug. So I plotted and planned and came up with this method to make foam trays out of high density foam.
High density foam is the bright green foam sold at fabric and craft stores for making cushions, children's costumes, and other nonsense. When I saw that JoAnne's Fabric and Crafts had a 50% off sale on foam I grabbed up all the foam I thought I would need to transport the army I'm building. For somewhere around $40 I made three 1" thick infantry trays, four 2" thick trays (one for suits, three for piranhas), two 3" thick tank trays, as well as several small trays integrated into my case's compartments. I picked up a plastic case for the trays for another $15, but that doesn't have anything to do with making the most important part...DIY Custom Cut Foam Trays for Cheap!
Materials & Tools:
High density foam, several thicknesses
Fabri-tac fabric glue
3M spray adhesive
Marker or felt pen (ball point won't really leave a mark on foam)
Hot wire foam cutter, I recommend getting the bow and guide
A quick word on substituting glue: Read the label! Make sure the glue you plan to use is recommended for foam. Many glues will just sink into foam and turn it into hard lumps, ruining it.
Before you even go buy foam it is absolutely necessary you know what measurements your trays will be and how many you plan to make. Measure the inside of the container you want to use. Keep in mind the size of the foam sheets to maximize how many you make. In my case, the store I buy from sells foam sheets 24 inches wide. If I buy a 12" length, I know I can make two 12"x12" trays from the single piece.
Here's another example of how to plan out what materials to buy. My current project is to make a bag to transport all my tanks and piranhas. If I make my trays 12"x14" I'll need two 3" trays and three 2" trays. When I'm buying foam, this breaks down into a 14" length of the 3" foam, a 28" length of the 2" foam, and a 42" length of the 1/2" foam. The 1/2" foam is to make bases for the trays.
Now that you have your foam make a template for your tray. I'm just making rectangular trays right now so a piece of cardboard fits the bill. For my previous project I filled a crafting case with foam that had ridges on the inside and I had to make a template in Illustrator.
Trace your template onto the foam sheets–both the thick foam and the 1/2" foam.
Use the hot wire foam cutter to cut out the pieces for the tray. Set the 1/2" pieces aside.
Now you need to trace individual models onto the sheet. For my piranhas I made another template since they aren't posed differently. When I made my infantry sheets I traced each individual model to ensure a snug fit for everyone. Make sure the outline you trace is how you want the model to lie in the sheet. When tracing infantry I hold onto the model's base and keep the base perpendicular to the foam. A note about the picture below: I decided to make my piranha stands using Diehard's method
so they are stored in the case separate from their models. To make all the stands fit in the tray I had to overlap them, every other stand will be placed in the tray upside down and rest on the paint pot instead of the wide base.
After tracing all the models you want on the foam take your hot wire foam cutter and cut out the shapes. If it is not possible to cut each model from the edge of the tray don't be afraid to cut from one model to another.
With the places for your models cut out, take your fabri-tack glue and glue the places where you had to cut through the tray. Alternatively you can use the 3M adhesive spray for this step.
Once the glue is dry enough to handle the tray flip the tray over and spray the underside with 3M adhesive spray.
Carefully set the sticky tray on the 1/2" thick piece you set aside.
Wait for it to dry, come back and put your models in your new custom cut tray!
Note: After the tray way dry, I used my hobby knife to make shallow slits to hold the burst cannon and fusion blaster for each model.9/30/10
Here are some templates I use for making tank trays. Since I magnetize everything some of the shapes might not work for you. http://www.mediafire.com/?q76cqrkdbqgbknp
Illustrator editing capabilities have been kept on.