How to Make Your Own Miniature Foam Trays

You spend countless hours putting together your models and painting them. Making sure they are protected is a priority. I’ve seen too many people toting around their models, unprotected, in things like tackle boxes. It’s all to save a buck, and to spend the money saved on trays and army cases on more models. My time is valuable to me, so going back to do touch-ups on models, where the damage could have been prevented, is not my idea of time well spent. All the models I carry around in my bag are in foam trays.

I’ve been making my own foam trays for a few years now, and they’ve held up really well. They’re really cheap to make too. I can make a foam tray that fits in a Sabol case that’s 1.5″ thick for about $2 – $3 a tray. Around here a pluck and pull tray is about $9. So, I make 3 trays for the cost of one pre-made one; can’t beat that!

Aside: This tutorial is aimed at infantry sized models, though it will work with anything really. However, if you’re looking to make some foam trays for something larger, like vehicles, then check out the tutorial that Kamui did for Tanks and Other Large Models.

The Materials

What I do is order my foam from this site: http://www.foamorder.com/packing.html (link goes to their packing foam which is what I use). I use the Y37ch foam for the main part of my tray, what the models go into. I then use the CD100 for the bottom of the tray by gluing it on once I cut the slots out. The CD100 I get in 1/4 thickness, again for the bottom of the tray. The Y37ch I get in whatever thickness I need for my models. The foam I use isn’t as dense as buying the pick and pluck trays, but you can get denser foam from them then what I use, it just costs more.

To order, just click one of the types listed above, it doesn’t matter which, and then click on the first shape listed: square or rectangle.

They will cut your foam to size, so just measure the trays you do have, and you can order it in that size from these guys. Then you just have to cut out your slots, which is easy and covered below. What I do is use a breakaway utility knife to cut the slots. I find these work best because you can extend the blade out a few inches, allowing you can cut through the foam easily.

Foam Trays - MaterialsHere’s a shot of the materials you need. The glue I buy at a craft store like Michaels, Jo-Annes, AC Moore, etc. for about $2, and I can get about 4-5 trays out of it. This glue is called Foam Glue and is made by Creative Hands. I’ve also used regular Elmers glue and it works just as well. Really, any PVA glue will work.

I’ve made a template that I use for this particular type of tray I’m making. I used a cardboard box, and just cut my slots out of that. The tray I’m making is 1.5″ thick and will fit 24 models, in my case Orks. The tray itself is 7.5″ wide by 13″ long, the same size as the Sabol trays.

You’ll see below that my tray and bottom are a bit bigger. I had ordered these ones a little long just to be safe, and I trim off the excess. Also, it’s cheaper if you order the foam in lengths, or widths, that allow you to get more then one tray from it. So, buying one piece of foam 26″ in length and 7.5″ wide and 1.5″ thick is cheaper then one tray at your exact dimensions.

Measuring & Cutting

The slots are 1″ wide by 2″ tall, and works equally as well for most Necrons, Tactical Marines, and things that aren’t overly dynamic in pose. The last slots on the tray are a bit larger, being about 2″ x 2″, the result of measuring off the 1″ x 2″ slots, and they work well for things like my Nobz and other larger models. I leave a 1/2″ edge around the sides and each slot for stability. Actually, the edge between the 3 vertical slots is a bit under 1/2″, so that I can fit 3 tall.

I just tape the template on the tray and use black spray paint to define the slots. Let it dry for about 10 minutes, so you don’t get paint all over you when cutting the foam. The line on the right is me marking off the excess which I trim off. For that I used a permanent marker. The permanent marker works great for marking your slots as well if you haven’t created a template.

I start the knife at an angle to get my initial cut. Once I start cutting, I raise the knife 90 degrees to the tray. Then I use a sawing action, so that I can cut to the bottom of the tray and get a straight cut in the corners. Once I’ve hit the first corner, I turn the knife around and go back the other way, towards where I started from, so that corner is cut. It takes a little practice, and you may find your own method, this is just what I’ve found useful.

I do my cutting on a self-healing mat to help avoid dulling the tip of the knife.

Just go ahead and make all your cuts. I find it easier to make all your cuts one way, say all the long sides of the slots, then turn the tray around and make the other cuts, the short sides. It’s a bit tedious, but after you’ve done a few trays you can make all these cuts in about 10-15 minutes.

Once all the cuts are done, you pluck it out. Don’t pluck them out as you are making your cuts though, do it once all cuts are made. If you pluck them out as you do them then the tray loses density, and it’s harder to make the rest of your cuts. Plus, you can tear the slots easily this way. If you did your cuts deep enough, and all corners cuts meet, then plucking it out is easy, but be careful. I keep one hand on the top of the tray while I pluck out the slots.

Foam Trays - All Cut Out

Gluing on the Back

Now it’s time to glue on the bottom. I use a liberal amount of glue, and cover all areas on the bottom. Put the bottom piece on, and weigh it down with something to ensure even pressure. I normally let my trays dry overnight before I use them. However, I’ve also used them in a few hours after gluing when in a rush.

Once the base is thoroughly dried, I trimmed off the excess I had and I’m done.

Be sure to check out our other hobby tutorials.

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  • Anonymous

    awesome stuff. those look pretty much as good as sabol or gw’s stuff.

    you might want to check out lauby’s take on custom fit trays for vehicles and such

    http://lauby.blogspot.com/2010/08/wednesdays-in-progress-eldar-and-some.html

  • Thanks and I’ll definitely check that out. Vehicles can be a chore.

  • T Brown

    I had been looking for a inexpensive method for a while now. Much appreciative for your efforts to write up this article

    • Glad you found it.

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  • JD Brink

    nicely done!

    • Thanks. I wish I had more useful money saving tutorials to put up.

  • Mario Montes

    this is a very cool and a cheap way to get custom trays, thanks

    • Thanks.

      It really is super cheap if you buy it in bulk as well. I usually wait until I need a bunch of trays and then put in a big order; usually combined with someone else as well. Every few years I put in a new order as I expand my armies.

      • Mario Montes

        sweet, I need to start doing this lol I have a buddy who might need some as well maybe we can combine our orders

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  • Narric Techna

    I have a case still, but have no trays, so this is gold to me :D

    • Get together an order and you can fill that case inexpensively :)

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  • Very nifty way of DIY. Thanks for sharing!

  • Matt

    I know this is a little on the old side, but I want to thank you for the article anyway! I would like to do this for my paint, but I feel like doing circular slots cleanly would be challenging. Do you have an easy technique for that?

    • Hmm. I can’t really think of an easy way to cut small circles for paint. I would instead cut small squares. Far easier to get the shape and wouldn’t really take up much more room than circles.

    • Tyler Provick

      I don’t know about this foam but some foam can be shaped via heat. I’ve recently been purchasing this stuff called layered foam. I haven’t used it for miniatures yet but I build a tool insert for my hobby stuff that holds all my nipped, files, knives, etc. I used a piece of metal wire heated over a candle to cut finger notches.

      I have a thicker piece I’m thinking about using for miniatures.

      Stuff is cool, cuts easily and then you just scoop out as many layers as you want. Fast and no glue.

      • Sounds interesting. Got a link? Curious to look at it.

        I was thinking about heat but with this particular foam, from the tutorial, I don’t see it going well. I know I wouldn’t try it anyway.

        • Tyler Provick

          I got mine from a local hardware store but you can get it from Fastcap as Kaizen foam. http://www.fastcap.com/estore/pc/Kaizen-Foam-p13435.htm
          As I said, I haven’t used it for miniatures yet. I’ve realized that I don’t have a good way to carry my Warmachine stuff so I might use it for that and feature it in my series.

          • Interesting. I’ll definitely see if a local hardware store has it to check out in person.

        • This foam cuts very nicely with a hot wire cutter. I think a hot knife could work pretty well also.

          • Good to know. I never had a need to try before and just figured it would be a melted disaster or something.

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