Lighting Demo - Lighting the Cylon Raider

March, 2008  June, 2008

- Article and Photos by Stephen L.

This is a beginners demo on lighting a model kit. I say beginners because I'm not an electronics expert, and the circuitry principles used for this kit are very basic. This is the first kit I have finished with lighting installed. Since it turned out OK (i.e. the model lights up when switched on), I decided to document my experience for those who might like to try lighting a kit.

The first step in deciding to light the Cylon Raider was watching some footage to see what was lit up on the model. All I could see that was lit was the aft engines, predominately a blue color and two (presumably) navigation lights at the front of the ship, both red in color. I had purchased the 30th Anniversary kit reissue of the Cylon Raider. The upgrades to the kit included some clear parts to facilitate lighting. This was where the idea came from. Ironically, the clear parts included in the kit were discarded in favor of a more scratchbuilt solution. The first lighting parts acquired for this endeavor were the LEDs. They are clear super-bright LEDs bought at a dollar store from a light-up keychain flashlight. The LED in the keychain was powered by two coin cell batteries rated at 3 volts each. So if one LED could be powered by 6V, I figured two LEDs in series could be powered by a single 9V battery with only a slightly diminished light output.

Although this diagram was the last thing produced for this article, the actual diagram (in pencil on scrap paper) was the first item done in preparation for lighting. The elements of the circuit that were needed were the two LEDs, a switch, and a battery. The Raider has a fairly sizable interior so there was room enough for lighting the model.

This diagram shows the basics of the placement of the various parts used in lighting the model. The battery was located in a specially- built housing beneath the canopy of the ship. I made it so the canopy was removable without too much of a seam showing. A snug fit and a contrasting color hides the fact the canopy can be easily removed to replace the battery. The switch was located here as well as there was room left for it under the canopy.
This picture is more or less the photographic equivalent of the schematic above. The 9V battery housing is visible as is the bottom end of the switch. The plastic boxes built around the engines had holes drilled into them for the LEDs on the interior walls of the boxes and a smaller hole for the fiber optic strand.

One of the engine boxes was left off in this picture to show the blue-tinted plastic that tints the clear LED a blue color. The blue plastic is actually from a tinted Compact Disc case. I had purchased a long time ago a pack of empty CD cases and some were tinted. I wasn't happy with the color of the tint until I had placed two pieces of the CD case plastic together, so it's a double thickness.

The visible portion of the lit engine is a piece of Plexiglas that has been sanded on both sides. This made the Plexi opaque so the LED and other components of the engine lights could not be seen. Instead a uniform light was produced by the LED with the blue plastic tint between the light source and the opaque engine panel.

It was a conscious decision to house all of the lighting and wiring into the upper half of the Raider only. This made it much easier to install a d finalize placement of the LEDs, wires, fiber optics, etc., without also having to bear in mind the actual construction of the model.

Once the components were properly installed, the two hull halves of the kit could be glued together without disrupting the lighting components.

This shot shows the engine boxes painted Chrome Silver to minimize the amount of light escaping through the plastic. Once the wires were soldered to the LEDs and the switch and the fiber optics were installed, 5 min. epoxy was used to secure those components so after the model was built and the electronics were no longer serviceable, the delicate parts would not slip or break out of their respective spots.
This lighting test proved one thing to me immediately...almost as much light was escaping from the back ends of the LEDs as was coming out of the engines! This was resolved by painting the back ends of the LEDs with a couple of coats of Flat Black. It worked well enough that after the ship was base coated, no additional painting was needed to stop any further light bleed, even in a dark room.

This also shows the fiber optics to good effect. They were eventually stuck to the upper hull surface with epoxy to make joining the lower and upper hull halves easier without having to wrestle fiber optics out of the way. As far as I can tell, the epoxy was non-reactive to the plastic fiber optics. I have seen no evidence that the light has diminished due to crazing of the strands.

Due to the brightness of a super bright LED, I had to change my plan for installing the LEDs. I had originally installed them with the LED at the front end of the engine box, so the light was pointing directly out the engine. This unfortunately created a 'hot spot' that was visible on the sanded Plexi. I had envisioned a uniform glow to the engine, so I ended up placing the LED facing sideways. This caused the hot spot issue to vanish and had the added benefit of how to maximize the light from the fiber optics. By placing the LED sideways, I could now install the fiber optics directly across from the LED and use the most of the LED's light.
This picture show the nearly structurally complete model. The purpose of this lighting test was to see the amount of light produced by the fiber optic strands. The light is predominantly blue in this picture. The final model had white glue in the holes the fiber optics were in to seal the fibers and to provide a medium to tint the color. The clear-dried glue was them tinted with Tamiya Clear Red tint.
A lighting test conducted with a dry fit of the kit. (Another photo below will show the same test with the room's lights turned off.)

There are two vent structures that the slatted engine cowls lead to. This vent is normally open to the interior in the Cylon Raider kit. I had to use small custom-cut styrene to block all access to the interior. These were the largest holes to fill in.
A final lighting test reveals some light bleed. This is where the boxes containing the LEDs had been constructed and had been painted silver, but had not yet had the back ends of the LEDs painted a couple of coats of flat black to help seal some of the interior light bleed. After this was done, there was virtually no light bleed at all. The primer coat o the model's surface was enough to keep any light from seeping through anything but the engine exhaust ports; even in total darkness.

In this shot the light bleed is from the center-aft region of the upper hull. The midline light seen is just due to the model being dry fit. Once the halves of the kit were glued, no light was able to escape from the seams.
This is a sneak peek under the canopy. The 9V battery is in its socket and the on/off switch is screwed in just in front of it. A slit at the back of the canopy and a hole between the already kit-standard holes for the canopy provide the support the canopy needs to fit snugly to the ship without falling off or needing to be glued in place.

The switch is on in this shot as the red-tinted light from the fiber optic strands are illuminating the navigational lights below the cockpit.

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