[Episode 8] Creating Carbon Fibre decals

In this post I am going to describe my process for making custom carbon fibre decals. When I first wrote this post I was working on the decals for carbon fibre parts in Section 3, which deals with the front suspension and radiator. Here is an excerpt of the instrucitons showing the parts in question (theyre marked as being painted in ‘SPlain’ – Semi-gloss plain weave carbon fiber):

First I will create a simple example, which is part M32, which is a wing mounted above the front radiator.

Design and Measure

Based on the shape of the part and reference material, I decide that M32 will be covered in plain weave, with the pattern aligned with the edges of the part. The part can be covered in two rectangular shapes. The rear of the part has two little projections in the corners; I will make cutouts in the decals to go around these.

I am using a digital vernier caliper to measure up the part, it reads to 0.01mm increments, although I only record the measurements to the nearest 0.1mm. The wing surfaces are curved (in just one direction – phew!) so I use a bit of masking tape placed on the surfaces to get the correct height of the rectangular shapes. Here are my notes:

Draw Cutting Patterns

I am using Microsoft Visio to draw my patterns. I find Visio reliable in creating accurate full-scale drawings. Visio also has good drawing features like the ability to combine and split shapes. And, Visio is reasonably accessible to the public. The plan is to export from Visio into the software I am using in my cutting machine (more on this later). In the following video you can see and hear me creating these simple patterns in Visio:

My cutting machine is the Cricut Explore Air 2. Cricut use a proprietary software called Design Space. in this next video, I import the patterns into Design Space.

Test Cut

I cut out the shapes, just in plain paper for now, and place them against the part to check them. The patterns are a tiny bit too long and too wide. The cutouts on the rear are a good shape so I will remove some width from the middle of this pattern.

In the this next video, I edit the two patterns to improve the fit based on the above notes.

More Complex Examples

A more complex example is two mirrored parts M84/M85. Because their faces are so complex, I have scanned one side of them, and taken a few key measurements. The approach here is to use the scan and measurements together to trace/create the patterns in MS Visio. Here is the scan and notes:

And here is an image of the scan, underneath the patterns (prior to test fit), from MS Visio. Note that the circular cut-outs have been left as seperate shapes, so I can move them around if they dont quite line up with the part. The shapes are exported from Visio/imported into Design Space, and rotated slightly just before cutting them out, to get the alignment of the carbon fibre pattern (which runs parallel to the edges of the decal paper).

I should mention that the patterns for M84/M85 have since been modified – not least because only one of these parts has the little cutout on the side. The updated patterns look like this now:

Even more complex is part RE15, which has multiple faces with edges at funny angles, including some curved edges. I used a combination of scanning and measuring, as above, and making patterns in masking tape and scanning them. Here are some images of the scanned material under the completed patterns in MS Visio.

The full set of patterns for RE15 looks like this (in both MS Visio and Design Space)

With the patterns in Design Space, the carbon fiber sheets are ready to cut up into individual pieces, each one of which will become a decal on a specific face of a specific part. I can move the patterns around in Design Space to optimise the space they use, and get them to fit on a few sheets of carbon fiber decal paper.


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