How to Make Your Own Iconography and Put It On... Stuff, Pt. 1

This is the start of a series on making iconography for use with fine-scale miniatures - in this case, I'm specifically creating iconography for use with my Warhammer 40K Chaos Space Marine Warband, the Disciples of the Four. Ideally, I'll be covering a number of things:
  • How to create an icon in a paint program
  • How to transfer a saved icon via a Laser copier/printer
  • How to transfer a saved icon image from your computer via an inkjet printer
  • How to transfer a saved icon onto other mediums
 For the sake of starting somewhere, I'll assume that anyone reading this is at least computer-savvy (it's posted online, after all) and has access to some sort of image/photo editing/creation software. There's a number of programs out there, from the oft-overlooked MS Paint that comes with Windows, to image editing software available for download from the internet for free/shareware use (GIMP springs to mind, for one), to full-blown (and generally) expensive professional-grade image editing/illustration programs such as Adobe Photoshop and Corel Painter. In the example pics, I'm using Paint Shop Pro 7 - it's quite a few years old now but was more or less comparable to Adobe Photoshop at the time, and the rights are currently owned by Corel with the recent iteration emasculated and stripped down into strictly a photo editing suite. In other words, it doesn't necessarily matter what software you use (old or new), but there's certain things I'm going to be demonstrating and if your own program can't do them you're going to have to either get creative or find some other workaround. If there's any questions about any of my steps, by all means feel free to ask me!

 This is what your own image editing/illustration program ought to be able to do in order to replicate what I'm going to show: use image resolution of higher than 300 pixels per inch, save your images in a higher resolution format, and be able to save your image with actual transparency as opposed to dithering (if you want your final insignia to have uneven shapes w/ crisp edges, that is). Ideally, you'd be able to draw using vectors, multiple layers, and both background and layer transparency (whether via alpha channel or by default) as it makes things much easier and allows for many more options in what you can put in your iconography.

Here is the example I will be using for the remainder of the tutorial:

 The entire image was drawn on a transparent background, as I wanted to use 4 spiked cog shapes to represent the 4 Chaos Powers in 40K that my Chaos Marines worship. I went through quite a few test designs - adjusting the length of the spikes, the shape of the spikes, the size of the circles, their relationship to each other, etc. before finally settling on at least the design of the 4 cogs. My version of Paint Shop Pro allows you to draw images formed out of multiple vector "parts," group them, and then save them altogether as a reuseable "preset shape." Since the shoulder pad color for my Chaos Marine Warband is purple, I wanted to have white iconography - but for the sake of printing on white decal paper, also went with a thin black outline for all the shapes.

 What you can see here is one of the spiked cog shape layers "opened up," showing the component vector parts of the design - a hollow circle and eight evenly spaced triangles. As the "spiked cog" preset shape, though, it's an easy thing to rotate and resize things - so what the rest of the picture shows is that the overall spiked cog design is actually made up of two sets of 4 cogs: one white, which is the actual insignia design; one black, which has each of its spiked cogs centered under a white one and at a slightly larger size. The 45° angled lines in the background on the underlying "Alignment" layer are there for the sake of having the iconography itself aligned evenly, to a certain extent, even though the spikes on the cogs themselves are of different widths, lengths, and overall "balance" - that's how I'm hoping to get across the sense of "chaos" in the imagery although the icon itself is proportionately spaced so as to be "aesthetically pleasing." That's the idea, anyhow.

 It wasn't until I printed out the design and tried cutting it out that I realized that although trimming around all the individual spikes was manageable (for me, anyways, although I'm told I have a higher tolerance for mindless tedium than some), it was going to take so long across an entire army's worth of shoulder pad insignia that it was more trouble than it was worth. Rather than scrap the entire design, as I rather liked it after all the work I put in, I decided instead to add a colored background to fill in some of the space and cut down on the overall "pointiness" of things. I actually was inspired by an image of the Omega/Swan Nebula (M17) that I found on the official Hubble Space Telescope site, which is the "Image" layer after some trimming and tweaking. To put a black edge around the colored area and blend everything together, I used a hollowed-out partially transparent color gradient - the "Shadow" layer.

 This is where problems started to crop up. Although I had created everything as vector graphics for transparency and accuracy across multiple formats, when I went to flatten my design to a standard image in normal resolution so as to make it printable on a decal sheet (or other medium) it ended up pixellating things so horribly as to make the end result ugly and useless for anything.
In effect, I went from this:
To this:

 Not so good, obviously. I figured out an easy enough workaround, though, which was simply to save the original 600 pixels/inch resolution vector image at the actual size I created it in (2.117cm x 2.117cm) and then import that into another program where I could not only create a sheet format suitable for decal printing but also resize images as vectors without losing resolution or image quality. For reference's sake, the image format I used to keep layers/transparency and resolution intact was Portable Network Graphics (.png) format and the program I was able to use for accurate resizing and layout was MS Word - I've created an Adobe format for my decal sheet since, but I didn't have access to a .pdf editor at the time. In any case, the important thing when I imported the graphics into Word was to set the Measurement units of the particular document into Millimeters - as seen below, but File Options may vary depending on version and program used:

 At this point, it was just simply a matter of importing in multiple copies of different icon styles I wanted to print out in multiple - some with background, some without, some with a single spiked "cog," etc. - and lay them out as needed, and then use Word itself to adjust the image size to what I needed. As can be seen in the below picture, I settled on a height of slightly larger than 7mm (or 4% the height of my original image) for my particular icon - a perfect fit for the available space on my Chaos Space Marine shoulder pads:

 In the image before, the careful observer will note that I have the sheet labeled "Print as A5" - that was the original size of the white-background decal paper I was able to lay hands on. Ideally, you can lay out the format of your Word (or Adobe) document to suit whatever size you'd be printing to. I ended up moving everything to a "Letter" size 8 1/2" x 11" format for the final version. I saved my finished document file on a flash drive, took it to a copy center, and had it printed in color laser format onto a "Letter" size white-background decal sheet.

 It was several years before I made it to the point where I actually used one of my decals on a finished figure, but this is how the "single spiked cog" variety turned out:

 I hope this was some help to anyone trying to make printable insignia or other items for fine-scale models. As always, comments and feedback are appreciated!

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