Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Protip: Custom foam trays

Yesterday I talked about how great magnetizing is for transporting infantry. Unfortunately, it is a lot trickier with vehicles. They're heavy and often have a small bottom surface area relative to their size and weight (especially wheeled vehicles) unless you base them, and I don't intend to. Using foam makes more sense in this case.

Now, there are several ways to go about it - from chucking your models in a box filled with foam offcuts, to lining a generic box with foam, to using one of the many carrying cases designed specifically for wargaming miniatures. In the past few years, several companies have started offering carrying cases with foam trays tailored specifically to your models, with each compartment designed to snugly fit a specific miniature. This has obvious advantages, but makes the trays even more expensive - and the cost of generic trays was already ridiculous to begin with, in my opinion.

Unwilling to pay more for a carry case than what I paid for the models inside, I decided to explore other options. As it turns out, foam isn't nearly as expensive as the price of ready-made trays might make you think. Even in my ass end of nowhere I was able to get really nice raw foam for a fraction of the cost of foam trays. I found it at a home improvement store in 2x1 metre sheets. I got a 30mm thick and a 10mm thick sheet (for the bottoms) and a can of foam glue spray. This will probably last me a lifetime and cost me 40 euro in total - less than two high-end foam trays.

Besides foam, I also needed a box or case, and I decided to go with these cardboard mailing boxes used by many UK online stores. They fit nicely in my backpack and I get free replacements almost every time I order miniatures online.

To start off, I cut several sections of foam, 30mm for the compartments and 10mm for the bottoms, sized to fit snugly into the box. I recommend using a fresh hobby blade for the foam to get smooth cuts.

The tricky part is coming up with a good layout that maximizes available space. I mucked about with the models until I found a good configuration, then drew the outlines with a marker.

I then cut the foam along the lines, cutting as deep as possible and making sure to keep the blade straight. I quickly realized that it's best to make all the cuts before removing any foam.

Once the cutting was done, I removed all the foam blocks, carefully tearing the last bits of foam where the cuts didn't reach all the way down.

This is the finished compartment layer with all the vehicles inside (it's a good idea to make a test fit when you can still make corrections, before gluing on the bottom layer).

By cutting a thin slice from some of the foam blocks that were removed, I made a few spacers that will allow me to stack smaller models and pieces (such as the turret) two high in one compartment to save space.

The last part is to glue on the 10mm bottom layer. It can get a bit messy, so I didn't feel like doing it while taking pictures for this blog post, but here's a tray I finished earlier. It holds all my wheeled Old Crow models. Don't be afraid to put your models in sideways if it saves you space, like I did with the Goanna scouts here.

That's it for today. Between these trays and the magnetic box from yesterday, I can carry all my models around safely and in a very small space.

I hope this helps any readers who are still struggling with miniature transportation. And if anyone can suggest a different approach, I'd be most interested. I'm always on the lookout for good transport solutions. Ta ta!


  1. I would recommend checking out They do different precut foam trays and the hard cardboard case is brilliant. It might sound crazy using a cardboard case but it can stand up to a lot of abuse

  2. Great tutorial, thank you for that. The way Mantic packs their miniatures had me thinking about plastic VHS boxes as a basis for custom foam solution. They should be pretty cheap, but I've probably missed the phase-out of most video stores for a decade or so. :)

    Here is a tutorial for a "classic" foam tray for 28mm minis

  3. I'm always on the lookout for cheap plastic tool boxes or "hobby" boxes. In one local shop (QD / Cherry Lane for anyone in the East Anglia part of England!) I found "cam cases" for 79p or 99p depending upon size (shallow or deep). They're ideal when lined with some foam that I bought from an upholstery stall on the local market in Norwich, will hold 50-odd figures or 6 or 7 vehicles. I just buy thin foam (about 10mm), stick a layer in the top and bottom of the case, then cut strips which I stick in place to make a load of small compartments, varying size depending upon whether it's for vehicles or infantry. I've got a couple of bits of thick foam too to try cutting out exact sized holes for vehicles too.
    I've also found that infantry do quite well when just sandwiched between two sheets of thick foam, though the success of this will depend upon how large your figure bases are. I just use small washers approx the same size as GZG's cast-on bases which fit neatly in between the foam sheets.