Wednesday, February 21, 2024
Home » How To's » Dress Up Your Model With Trim Stripes

Dress Up Your Model With Trim Stripes

Here you see the finished model in action on a local lake. While not a dominant element, the pin striping provides a subtle accent and helps complete the color scheme.

If you are anything like me, when you near the end of a new RC project, nothing seems more important than getting to the field for that first flight. I have been known to cut many corners late at night while looking forward to calm winds the next morning, and cosmetics are often high on the optional list. If that flight gets delayed though, adding some pinstripes is an easy way to dress up a new model a bit more and make those first flight photos even more special.

Traditionally applied by skilled artisans using high-quality narrow paintbrushes, pinstriping has been used on just about everything that has ever been painted. Two main obstacles stand in the way of neatly painted trim stripes for our models. First, most of us are not skilled artisans, and second, the plastic covering film on most of our models is not a suitable base for paint.

The base colors on one of my wings. The cream and maroon look great together but are still missing just a little something.

Where skill fails us, cunning takes over. Hobby shops often have self-adhesive tape available in a variety of colors and widths. While a convenient solution, these tapes can pose problems with color matching and adhesive permanence. Instead, some modelers cut stripes out of plastic covering film using a straightedge and either a hobby knife of a single-edge razor blade. These stripes provide perfect color matches and easy application, getting us close to an ideal solution. Cutting the stripes by hand has its limitations though. First, cutting anything longer than the diagonal of your cutting mat requires quite a bit of care as you align consecutive passes. And if you need more than one, matching the width of multiple stripes is not easy, not to mention the width variation that occurs simply from hand-holding the blade. If you want more precision and longer stripes, consider adding the Top Flite SmartStripe to your tool collection.


The complete SmartStripe tool has been temporarily blocked to my workbench with magnets. Note that in addition to the offset right edge, I also taped the material to itself at the end of the roll and to the roller itself.

The SmartStripe will look very familiar to anyone who spent some time working on a lathe in high school shop class. This seemingly simple tool precisely holds both a roller loaded with covering film and a knife blade to cut it. At just $20, the SmartStripe offers several advantages over cutting stripes by hand. First, you can roll on as much stock as you want. The 6-foot length of most covering material rolls is a lot longer than my best cutting mat and straightedge technique can handle. The blade holder rides on a 1/4-32 threaded rod, so you can accurately size the stripes to suit your needs. Each turn of the rods knob advances the blade exactly 1/32 of an inch. Because of this precision, you can repeat your needed dimension stripe after stripe.

After securing your covering material to the roller, trim the excess from the overhanging end to clean the edge.

Setting up the SmartStripe is pretty straightforward. First, you need to spend a few minutes assembling it from its individual components. This shouldnt take more than 15 minutes or so, and it gives you a chance to fine-tune the blade angle to ensure accurate tracking while cutting. Be sure to adjust the roller and threaded rod for the blade holder so that there is no play.

Slightly offset the covering as you roll it onto the spool, and then secure each layer with tape as shown.

Loading the roller with covering stock is straightforward, and easier than you might expect, since you actually want the layers to be offset slightly. Being able to see each layer lets you then secure them with tape so that they are stable while you cut. Before you make your first cut, measure the total offset and bring the blade in from the opposite side slightly more than this number to remove the overhanging scrap and create a clean edge. You are now ready to cut your trim stripes. Set the width you want, and then rotate the roller under the knife blade while pushing down gently. Dont try to force the knife, or you may distort the film and waste a cut.


By working carefully, you can create a smooth arc around a curve. Gently pull the loose end, and tack it into place as you proceed.

Once I have enough striping cut, I use a piece of tape to help grab and remove the backing from one of the pieces. With a trim iron set just warm enough to activate the adhesive, lightly tack one end of the stripe into place on your model. I pull it tight and tack the far end for straight lines, and then I go back and tack the stripe in the middle, and then divide the halves again, and so on, until I have tacked it about every inch. At this point, I carefully iron it down, taking care to not overheat the material or to push it out of position.

Using a contrasting color for the striping, and offsetting it from the secondary color area creates a nicely finished appearance on this wing.

You can work around a curve almost as easily as straight sections, as long as the stripe is not too wide. Again, tack it at one end, and while gently pulling on the other, tack it in place every half inch or so while leading it around the curve. If you dont like what you see, use the heat to release the stripe and try again. Using too much heat or pulling too hard can distort the striping enough to compromise its appearance, so work slowly and take the time to get it right. If it doesnt work out, lift it off and try again with a new piece. Once you have the stripe tacked along the curve, you can increase the temp slightly and secure the entire length while working out any slight wrinkles or distortions that may have formed.


The SmartStripe cutter is an effective solution for cutting pinstripes, and while its a bit more expensive than a single-edge razor blade and a straightedge, the results are much more accurate and come with less frustration. Additional spools are also available, so you can keep several loaded with your favorite colors for maximum convenience. I have also used the SmartStripe to cut wider strips for hinging control surfaces and covering wing struts, or the sticks of the cabin areas of a model. Although I have hand-cut my fair share of pinstriping, that was simply because the SmartStripe is a recent addition to my shop arsenal. In the time I have had it though, I find myself much more willing to make that final finishing effort before the first flight. Give it a try; I think you will be pleased.


Top Flite, distributed exclusively by Great Planes Model Distributors, , (800) 682-8948