Tips & tricks for high quality graphics


I’ve done a bit of research, but haven’t found any definitive guides to creating high quality graphics for our props. I’m currently on a bit of a PADD kick and have a couple graphics designed that I need to print out, so that’s my inspiration for starting the post, but my intention is to get a collection of general approaches, techniques, materials, and sources for printing out graphics for our prop projects.

Over the years I’ve made numerous non-backlit recreations of LCARS panels ranging from replicator wall panels to console display to PADD graphics. For the larger panels, I’d send them to Staples and have them printed on photo paper and have them laminated. For PADD graphics, I’d often print them at home on glossy photo paper, though sometimes I’d send those out for printing too. From my experience, the laminated graphics work well enough, but could be better; home-printed glossy photo paper is susceptible to smudging.

I’ve heard mention in some tutorials of reverse printing the graphics on a transparency and backing it with vinyl backing, but unfortunately I haven’t found a good step-by-step set of instructions for this technique. (Matt Munson’s old PADD tutorials recommend this method, but I haven’t been able to recover his instructions)

So, to get the discussion going, what are your go-to methods for printing graphics? Any recommendations for suppliers for tools/materials, or online print shops for custom orders?

Small Voyager PADD Project

First thing-- the more bits, the better! You need an image with at least 300 dots-per-inch (dpi). 600 dpi would be better.
It doesn’t matter if the graphic is too big for the space-- you can always shrink it down, but growing a graphic is a problem. If the picture has a low dpi number, there’s not much you can do to make it better. You can try adjusting the document size in your picture-adjusting program, but anything that tries to increase the dpi is creating bits out of thin air-- a difficult trick!
If the image is a sharp-edged graphic, you need to use a ‘vector-based’ option and trace the edges of the graphic. This will give you multi-sided shapes that you can fill with color as needed. As a vector image, you can alter the size without losing dpi! Program “Visio” is a vector-based program. I use Paint-Shop Pro, which has vector options (especially for text, and text-on-a-curve).

If you’re printing with an ink-jet printer, no matter what paper you’re using, the ink will not survive water! So you need to find a ‘fixative’ at Michael’s or other hobby supply store. Fixative is a spray varnish/lacquer that is intended to waterproof/smudge-proof chalk or charcoal drawings. It will also work with watercolors/ink-jet prints.
I haven’t tried this-- but you can get water-slide decal paper from Micromark ( Sheets are 8-1/2 x 11. They also sell fixative and ‘decal snuggling sauce,’ which is used to ‘melt’ decals onto rough surfaces so they ‘disappear.’
–Paul E Musselman


Depends on the intended use. I once built a very large prop for a party (a holodeck arch) and created backlit panels for its computer screens. A single layer of black wasn’t dark enough once it was backlit, so I printed one copy full-color on paper and a second copy of just the black parts mirror-imaged on a transparency. Then I flipped the transparency over, lined them up and taped them together around the perimeter where the tape wouldn’t show once it was mounted in the prop. Looked fantastic backlit.

P.S. At the party, everybody poked it and it quickly fell out of the prop! Lesson learned: I had to hurriedly bolt a sturdy piece of clear plexi behind the graphic.


If you are making backlit graphics like the bridge graphics

You want to get something called duratrans prints made. They are specifically made for back lighting.

PS. I forgot to say… these aren’t the cheapest prints to have done… but are the best for back lighting!


That is exactly what I needed to find, thanks.


For backlit screens I’ve in the past gone to Fed Ex Office (formerly Kinkos) and had screens printed on their backlit film. It’s very similar to if not the same material as what Rick Sternbach was using with the PADD screens he sold on ebay a few years ago. The color accuracy is not perfect, and not all locations do it. It looks like their prices have increased since the last time I used them, as well. I suspect the duratrans above is a superior product.

For non-lit things, lately I’ve been using photo paper plus a matte overlaminate for my PADD screens. The laminate is by Papilio (thanks to @eclu123 for the recommendation!) :

They also have a satin version but there’s not a lot of difference. It adds so much to the prop to have a nice non-glare finish on the screen, and it protects the image from smudging, scratching, and fingerprints. Plus, it’s more accurate/authentic to have a non-glossy screen. The laminate is very versatile and I’ve used it to protect printable foil decals as well. Here’s a comparison of the matte film vs a matte aerosol spray over lab printed photos (click for bigger):

Papilio makes a lot of other great inkjet media. For decals and even small backlit things I really like Papilio’s glossy white waterproof vinyl:


I obtained some of the Blue River Digital backlit screens that Trekme suggested. Let me start out by thanking Trekme for this really great recommendation. The Duratrans prints are excellent and work quite well on the light PADD’s from the Star Trek movies Insurrection and Nemesis. The prints come in a 2 square foot section and are cut to size. I also had these images laminated by Blue River Digital. The lamination is necessary to protect the images from fingerprints. I was able to make a Cabin Light PADD and two of the Visual Plus Light PADD’s using the Duratrans prints. Those of you looking for an improved method for making light PADD images should really consider this.

This is an image of what the light PADD’s look like with the Duratrans prints and the lights on.


Where is that larger light panel used?


The large size light panel PADD is seen on Captain Picard’s desk

Here is another picture of this PADD
Maybe some one should start a thread on light PADD’s from the movies…?


I’ve just received my first Duratrans sheet and it is awesome. The best I’ve come across for back lighting. There is a minimum size sheet but you can set up several graphics within the minimum square footage and save a ton of money. Basically $16.00 a square foot of whatever you give them to print. The black areas are black when back-lit and no light diffusion layer needed. John Taylor of Blue River Digital is readily available to communicate with and really wants your project to succeed, but all work still depends on providing good material to work with. JPEG images are welcome as well as other standard formats so no need to supply AI documents or other proprietary file types.

Not the best photo but I’ll provide others later.


Is this a model? How does the duratrans look if you were to try to make the panels have blinking lights? How bright are the unlit sections vs. the lit?


The black is very opaque and stays looking black. The colors are saturated as well and hardly fade when lit up. I never tried using any blinking LEDs but I believe it would work just fine. If you are going to leave the graphic surface exposed such as on a PADD, I’d buy the coating they offer.


Man, look at those computers.
Scott, you are a machine.


Simply magnificent!!!


Do you have a pic of a non backlit vs. backlit so I can see the comparison?