Flags – and a great deal more...
COLIN BISHOP visits BECC Model Accessories
 

Colin and Chris Crow in the main production room

Anyone visiting a good UK model shop or exhibition stands at the major modelling shows can hardly fail to notice the colourful BECC displays of flags, vinyl lettering, decals and graphics. These items are invaluable in helping modellers to put the finishing touches to their pride and joy to achieve a really professional appearance, so it was with great interest that I visited BECC’s premises in Croydon to see how their products are made.

As is the case with many of the smaller firms supporting our hobby, BECC came about from its founders Colin and Chris Crow spotting a gap in the market, in this case for high quality model flags. In the twelve years since the company was set up the product range has greatly expanded into other graphic related areas. As one might expect, the production process is based upon CAD/CAM (Computer Aided Design/Manufacturing) and the graphics are set up on computer either by designing from scratch or using a variety of sources including scans and photographs as a basis for the CAD process. Holding everything in digital format means that designs can be produced in many different sizes and scales to meet the needs of almost all boat modellers and other customers. In addition to Colin and Chris, the other full time member of the team is Colin’s sister Marilyn who looks after the paperwork while additional part time help with packing is given by Georgie, a college student.

Flags

The company started by manufacturing flags and there are literally hundreds now available ranging from the common UK White and Red Ensigns to more obscure designs such as the Alaska State Flag. Burgees and other specialist flags also feature including that of the San Francisco Model Boat Club! Sets of signal flags are produced at different scales so you can compose your own messages or even fly ‘England Expects’ from your model of HMS Victory. Flags are printed on to a cotton base and a special manual process allows printing on both sides for better definition of the design. The inks and sealant used are both waterproof and fade resistant.

One problem with model flags, which is often remarked upon by competition judges, is the way they can stand out stiffly from the halyard in a very unrealistic manner. Of course this is due to the fact that while you can scale down the design, you cannot do the same with the weave to anything like the same extent. So your model flag will rarely flutter in the wind just like a real one. However, you can make it look a lot more realistic when the model is viewed statically. The technique with BECC flags is either to ‘scrunch’ the flag up and work it between your fingers for a few minutes to make it more supple or alternatively to warm it up in hot water or with a hairdryer, work it into the shape you want and then cool it down quickly. Both methods will give a much more authentic looking hang to the flag.

Vinyl lettering

A very wide range of colours and sizes are available in standard Arial font. These are useful for a variety of purposes, particularly when applying names to our boats. The vinyl itself is very thin, hardly thicker than a coat of paint, and uses a waterproof exterior adhesive which allows some minor repositioning if lightly applied before being firmly pressed down.

The adhesive reaches full strength in 24 hours or so and can be varnished over, but this is not essential. In addition to the standard lettering, sets of specialist characters are now available including RNLI text and various warship pennant styles which incorporate that otherwise difficult to achieve shadow effect. And for those people who wonder how to get the infill out of closed characters such as ‘R’ and ‘P’ etc., I’m told that a fine pair of tweezers is the most effective method!

Decals and graphics

The range of decals and graphics is the biggest growth area at the moment and takes advantage of the sophisticated capabilities of the company’s plotter/cutters and thermal printers which allow complex multi colour CAD designs to be produced in vinyl. There are several variations in the production process depending upon the subject, but a typical method entails producing separate design templates for each colour. These are cut from coloured thermal transfer foils under computer control and then sequentially aligned and fused to a vinyl substrate using a Gerber Edge thermal transfer printer. A wide range of subjects are available including military and commercial insignia, instrument dials and customizing graphics

Sheets of general purpose graphics are also available including lining and sheets in solid or mirror finish. The material is very tolerant of stretching and the lining can be bent smoothly around quite tight radii. Many flags are also available in vinyl as well.

Special commissions

Although BECC do not normally sell directly to the public they will quote for one off specialist commissions if requested. These include club car stickers and company signage and they are also able to produce some neat nameplates by printing directly onto metal which I thought would be very useful for glass case static models.

The future

As Colin explained to me, the equipment used is so versatile that almost any design can now be tackled, so the problem lies in deciding which areas to develop and gauging the market for them. Items currently in the pipeline include photorealistic vinyl coverings in brick, stone and wood patterns – the latter would be particularly useful to boat modellers when constructing traditional deckhouses where actual wood grain is too open to give a true scale appearance. Extension of existing product ranges is another option with different lettering fonts, even more flag sets and maybe branching out into papers and floors etc. for dolls houses.

Obtaining BECC products

With the exception of specialist one-off commissions the company do not sell direct to the public, but have an extensive network of stockists across the UK and abroad. You can however see their product range, a list of stockists and order a catalogue by visiting their website: www.becc.co.uk

If you are not on the Internet than a cheque for £1.50 made out to BMA Ltd and sent to the address below will bring you a copy of their current catalogue.

BECC Model Accessories Ltd, PO Box 1229 Croydon, United Kingdom. CR9 7GZ

Telephone: +0044 (0) 20 8777 9377. Email: Colin@becc.co.uk