|Photo (c) Mike Van Daal|
Hey guys, I'm planning on releasing a Full-Silicone Mermaid tutorial fairly soon, but I just wanted to answer some questions about materials and silicone that people seem to have and don't get answered very often. I know it's not a tutorial, but it's some very useful information that may come in handy to those of you who are trying to make a mermaid tail but don't know where to start.
What type of silicone to use?-There are lots on the market but I think Smooth-on's DragonSkin is probably the best to go with simply because I've seen the most information about it and Smooth-on has many distributors around as well as staff members who are great at answering questions. Whichever you decide to choose, you MUST USE PLATINUM CURE SILICONE!
What is platinum cure silicone and why do I care?- Platinum cure silicone is silicone that is SKIN SAFE. It's vital that you make sure you get ahold of platinum cure silicone or else you may develop skin complications from over-exposure to an unsafe material. The other option, tin-cure silicone is unsafe for prolonged skin contact.
Dragonskin has lots of numbers and types? Which to use?-Dragonskin comes in many grades with many numbers. The numbers: for example: Dragonskin10, Dragonskin20, etc. All tell you how hard the silicone is.
Dragonskin10 doesn't seem hard enough, but it is. You have to remember the Dragonskin will be against your skin and you'll be stretching it a lot. The harder the Dragonskin gets, the less stretchy it becomes, so Dragonskin10 is probably the best choice.
Dragonskin10 is a great choice because it comes in 3 working times: Slow, Medium, and Fast. This allows you to choose howmuch working time you will have with the silicone before it cures. Medium is generally the best, since it allows you ample time to work with it, even if you're a beginner.
Dragonskin10 also gets the best of both worlds. It's soft, which is great, but it is also very durable. Dragonskin10 has the best properties in terms of stretch, durability, and softness, so it is highly recommended.
***Dragonskin FX Pro is another type of Dragonskin that can be used for mermaid tails. However, it is a bit more difficult to use since it has a much shorter working time. I managed to speak to a Smooth-on tech about FX Pro and he said that FXPro has amazing flexibility so it follows the skin a lot better, but it is less durable than Dragonskin 10. So really, depending on what you plan on using your tail for will highly contribute to which type may be best for you.
A special thanks shout out to Merman Jesse who told me to also consider FXPro
That chart you posted is a little weird. What does everything mean?
-I may seem like a total Smooth-on nerd but that's because I love the fact that they post these charts for every product they have. It really helps you compare product A to product B in what you're trying to use it for. Anyway:
A:B Mix Ratio is the ratio you need to mix parts A and B. Everything Smooth-on sells usually comes with 2 parts that have to be mixed together in order to begin the curing process. So a 1:1 or 1-to-1 ratio basically tells you that parts A and B are mixed evenly. Something like 1:2 would mean partA requires only 1 while partB requires 2. So for example, if I measure out 30cups for partA I would need 60cups for partB to achieve the proper ratio. Simple math, really. You don't have to worry about that since Dragonskin is always 1:1. BY VOLUME means that you measure it out by volume rather
than weight. So you'd use measurements like cups, tablespoons, etc. rather than ounces, pounds, or grams.
Demold Time is the time the mixture takes to FULL CURE. This means that after both parts are mixed and distrubuted into your mold, the demold time is the time it will take before you can remove the product from the mold. You can think of it as a "fully cure" time.
Elongation at Break is the amount of stretch the material can withstand before breaking apart. Usually, the harder a material is, the less it can stretch. So in this example, Dragonskin 10 can stretch to 1000%(10 times) it's original length before breaking.
Mixed Viscosity is essentially how thick the product becomes once parts A and B are combined. I don't really know how to read this off the chart, but the higher the number is, the thicker your mixture is. I THINK numbers below 4000cps must be poured into molds. Just a guess
Pot Life is the amount of working time you have with a product once both parts are combined together. This time is very important because it demonstrates the amount of time you will have to work. Usually for Dragonskin (which needs molds to work, anyway) it's not such a big deal, but giving yourself a long working time is always good just incase something goes wrong. Pot life can be translated into the amount of time you have to work with your material before it becomes too cured to maneuver anymore.
A special thanks shoutout to Mermaid Lorelei who suggested that freezing the mixed silicone is a way to extend the pot life. So just incase you mix more than you're going to use, you can potentially use it later by tossing it in the freezer.
Shore Hardness is the hardness of the material once cured. This is sometimes hard to grasp since the measurements on the scale are things like gummy bears and shopping cart wheels. For a mermaid tail, you generally won't need anything over 10. Silicone rubber is usually measured in shoreA.
Tear Strength is the amount of abuse a material can take before beginning to tear. The lower the number, the less abuse. It's a bit confusing when you compare it to elongation at break, but think of it this way: the amount of stretch you can get out of your jeans before they tear is different than the amount of wear they can take before a hole tears in them.
Weight is a weird measure, I don't really understand it, but I'll take a guess. The measure is in CU.IN/LB = cubic inches per pound, so my guess is that the measure given is the WEIGHT the material can support. So for Dragonskin10, it's 25.8 lbs per square inch. I have no idea.. Lol
How much to use?- Generally you'd want to use at least 2 gallons of Dragonskin. TECHNICALLY SPEAKING when you buy the 1 gallon measure of Dragonskinyou're actually getting 2 gallons (1 gallon each, part A and B) so by 2 gallons I really mean 2 "gallon orders" in according to Smooth-on, which is actually 4 gallons. Your fluke is going to eat up a lot of silicone, so you have to consider that. Probably a good idea is to save an entire gallon for your fluke so you don't end up having a half-finished fluke after casting your scales.
How do I paint silicone?- Smooth-on sells a silicone paint base called Psycho Paint which is an absolute ripoff in my opinion, but if you have a lot of money and are very meticulous about making everything perfect you should consider it. Painting silicone is literally impossible with regular paint since not much can stick to cured silicone, so your best option is to mix pigment or paint into part B dragonskin, then mix parts A and B together, water it down a bit to reduce the viscosity, then run it through an airbrush or paint it directly on with a paintbrush. Powdered pigments are generally better to mix into silicone. You can mix acrylic paint, glass paint, floral paint, etc. but the thicker the paint, the more likely it is to interfere with the silicone properties.
How do I work with silicone?-Dragonskin silicone is very runny, so you can't exactly sculpt or maneuver it very well. Molds will need to be made in order to shape it. When it comes to making a mold for Dragonskin, you can use ANYTHING, even Dragonskin.
How much does Dragonskin cost?- All Dragonskin silicone costs the same: $183.72 per "gallon" (actually 2 gallons).
What are the advantages to making my own tail?-Making your own tail may seem daunting at first, but a lot of the work is mainly mold making, so errors can be spotted far ahead of time before you even touch any Dragonskin. Making your own tail not only saves you money, but it allows you to be artistic, to design and make a tail that is fit just for you. It is a LOT of work, I don't want it to sound like it's easy, because it is very hard and time consuming. However, the reward of being able to tell someone you make a tail yourself is great, not
to mention you cut out potential risks of tailmakers messing up your measurements, etc.
How much would I save by making a tail myself vs purchasing one from someone?- The main concern with pricing a silicone tail is the fact that there is a lot of time put into making it. So if you have absolutely no free time, you may have no choice in purchasing a tail, however, if you start early and tackle the process one day at a time, you can work to your ability. Charging yourself for your time is essential and is also what others base their price off of, so it's very important to consider.
Here is a cost estimate of the tail-making process when using the following materials:
$367.44 - 2 gallon units of DragonSkin (actual tail material)
$138.18 - 20 lbs Alja-Safe Alginate (leg mold)
$35.00 - Fiberglass resin (casting legs)
$64.41 - gallon unit of ShellShock (plastic mold making material)
$46.31 - pint unit of Psycho Paint (silicone paint base)
$47.50 - 2 units of 5lb Monster Clay (sculpting)
$10.79 - paper cutter punch (shaping scales)
$30.00 - estimate cost (wood used in mold box)
$100.00 - random decoration/tool budget
$100.00 - shipping estimate
$939.63 = PROJECT TOTAL
As you can see, even with all the extra costs added in that may not even apply or be needed, the cost to make this tail is still less than $1,000 whereas many tailmakers charge $2,000 or more. Not to mention, these materials are used for the very first time when making a tail. Once you have your leg mold, scale mold, and fluke mold finished, you will never need to purchase those materials again and it will cost you only the price of the Dragonskin and decoration costs to make another tail, dropping
the price down to around only $500.
Where can I get Dragonskin?- You can obtain Dragonskin straight through Smooth-on, but generally it's a good idea to find out if there's a distributor near your area so maybe you can drop by and get some in person to avoid those annoying shipping fees. Smooth-on has a list of their distributors on their website: http://www.smooth-on.com/ and they generally don't charge any more or less than Smooth-on themselves so it's usually better to find a distributor closer to you for shorter shipping time and cheaper shipping in general.
What's a good mold material?- Mermaid tails are comprised of many different parts. Making molds for them is difficult because you sometimes need several different materials. Regular molds usually include a silicone layer to capture detail with a hard "shell" backing to support the silicone and keep it from flopping around. When making a large scale sheet, you probably aren't going to want to make a shell backing that large, since it'll be difficult to move around and match up to your silicone layer. Liquid plastic is great because it can be poured over your scales and capture detail while also drying stiff and rigid so it cancels the need for a backing. Special thanks shoutout to Mermaid Lorelei and Dr.Seaweed who used liquid plastic for scale molds
What do I make scales and flukes out of?- When making molds, it's generally a good idea to use oil-based clay as your original sculpture since it's sulfur-free. I don't really know what the big deal with sulfur is but I think it interferes with the curing of certain silicones so it's best to avoid it altogether. Super sculpey is sulfur free. Monster Makers clay is a great clay to use because it's very rigid so sculpting complex pieces will be supported well and it hardens very fast so making the mold will not damage your final piece.
Craft foam seems to be very popular when it comes to making scales since it's very cheap to purchase and easy to shape. Simple circular cuts of craft foam can be arranged into a scale sheet to save time. Pumpkin seeds have also been used before but they're a bit difficult to arrance since they require a layer of clay to stay fit into place.
Special thanks to Mermaid Star and Dr.Seaweed for scale shapes and materials