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How-To: Adding LEDs to 40k Tanks

When I go into my local Games Workshop store, people can’t stop talking about my models. Why? It’s because they light up! And I want to show you how easy adding LEDs to your 40k tanks, vehicles, and terrain can be.

Guest post from Andrew Dart, originally posted on his blog, which he is phasing out. Instead, find him on Instagram as @hobbyvices. This post is helpful for me because I’ve been trying to add LED lighting to my Knight Titan and Stompa as I build them. Shine on!

Adding LEDs to 40k Tanks

My land raider was the first time I’ve ever used LED wiring components in my entire life, and it was ridiculously easy.  Much easier than I anticipated.  I’ve repeated the process on a Rhino transport for my Berserkers to do a step-by-step for anyone curious or scared at the idea of dealing with LEDs.

Ordering the Supplies

All materials for wiring and lighting came from Evans Design.  I find them to be the best quality, and alarmingly straightforward – they come pre-wired! Make sure you match the voltage (there are only two options) with the associated LED.

Assembly is as simple as connecting the wires.  To make the connection, twist black to black, and red to red.  You’re ready to go! In fact, The hardest part is deciding what colors you want!

Pick the Colors

In my example below, I used two 3mm “warm white” LEDs for the headlights and one 5mm Green for my interior lighting, all 3v.  I also used the coin battery with a toggle switch.  My Land Raider used the 5mm LEDs for its headlamps if that gives you any indication on the scale.  You either could work, honestly, so don’t get too worried about matching the size exactly.

Adding LEDs to a Rhino

Without further ado, here’s my Rhino tutorial, but the project can be scaled up and made much more complicated.  This is simply a basic framework from which you can experiment and learn new techniques!

Let’s go!

1. Always dry-fit the pieces

Testing fitting the rhino assembly

Testing fitting the rhino assembly

Dry fitting is especially important for vehicles to make sure there are no problems in later steps.  But a dry-fit also gives you a broad view at where components will be placed and adjust parts as needed. 

In this example, I’ve decided to put the battery and switch in the driver compartment (smooth surface) and the wiring in the track guards.  The track guards on vehicles are usually the best place to route headlamp wires, as it’s out of sight of interior space. 

If you’re one of the guys that glue the rear ramps shut, you have much more room to play with, and can even fit a 9v battery in there for some serious “Christmas Tree” scenarios.

2. Mark the Cuts

Marking the cut lines

Marking the cut lines

Here I’ve taken the Rhino apart again and marked out where I’ll Dremel out a hole on the bottom of the tank.  The square below the driver compartment will be cut away and allow access to replacement batteries and the toggle switch.

Remember to make it large enough for fingers to manipulate the switch or remove a battery! 

The round holes on the sides are where you will feed the wiring to the headlamps.  Not pictured are the top plates of the track guards where I’ve drilled out space for the lights to connect.

Be sure everything lines up and you have enough wire length to reach each of these places!

3. Starting to cut!

Cutting the openings

Cutting the openings

These don’t need to be clean cuts as I will hide the opening in a later step.

I used a Dremel to cut open the armor plates. Be careful with the power tools as they can make a mess of plastic (and fingers) very quickly.

To add some light to the interior, the sonar panel section on the command console was conveniently the same size as the 5mm green light. As a bonus, it becomes disguised when the light is not in use.

4. Dry-fit again!

Headlight holes

Headlight Holes

Again, don’t glue until you are 100% planned out on where things are going and have double checked to be sure you know where wires are going.

If I were to have glued at this stage, I would need to thread the headlamps from inside the cockpit, and out the front holes, which would be damn near impossible.  Do this in separate stages while it’s all unglued. Only once you have installed the LEDs should you fit it together.

5. Threaded and glued!

Threading the Headlights

Threading the Headlights

The careful observer will note that I made a big mistake here.

See how the wires come out the front plate section (where the windshield would go)?  That’s intended.  However, I accidentally threaded two of the wires from below the cockpit (you can see it running under the vehicle) to the interior green light (where the mash of greenstuff is).

I have two sources of wire coming into the center, looped to a battery (out of frame), there is no way to get the entire assembly inside the vehicle!  This meant I had to re-wire the connections, a very tedious (but doable) step that could have been avoided had I checked myself.

Planning is everything!

Take these steps slow, and be methodical, you’ll be happy in the end.

6. Try it out

Testing the headlights out

Testing the headlights out

The wiring was corrected as per the previous step and then tested to ensure connections. You should not see any flickering or dimming when you jostle the wires. 

Always check to be sure the connections are solid before gluing everything together.  If a wire comes loose after it’s built and painted, you’re probably not getting inside the track guards. 

I twist and bend my connections. In hindsight, a better recommendation would be to use electrical tape to make sure its secure. I wouldn’t recommend super glue as it will likely break the circuit connection.

7. Add the Switch

Add the switch inside the hull

Add the switch inside the hull

The switch is fixed into the bulkhead with superglue to give leverage when pressed – which is something I neglected on my Land Raider.

On the Land Raider, I have to pinch the unit by holding the back and pressing the toggle. Hindsight is a powerful ally here, you’ll certainly make mistakes, but learn from them!

Leave the battery free, however, as there’s almost no way to get a disc battery out without gripping the top and bottom.  You’ll want the wires a little loose to pull out of the opening as well, to make it easy.

8. Add Magnets (Optional)

Magnets to cover the hole

Magnets to cover the hole

Magnets on the bottom will be used to secure a plate to keep the free-floating battery unit from falling out.  It has enough friction and wires tangled up in there to not randomly fall out, but I wanted to be extra safe, as I did with the Land Raider.

I eventually used a spare armor plate that came with the Rhino (the one to make it a Predator turret instead of a top hatch).  While it isn’t as clean and well-hidden as the Land Raider (the rear power plant on the Land Raider is practically begging to be magnetized), it serves the same purpose.

9.  All Done

Finished and primed

Finished and primed

The lighting has been completed at this point – now it’s on to painting!

Tape your lights with a small amount of painter’s or masking tape.  I spray my vehicles red. If you do all this work just to spray over it, you’re not going to be happy.

Scraping the paint off of tiny LED bulbs isn’t fun – but it’s possible, should you forget.  If you painted the interiors, be sure to tape closed the ramp, so you don’t get any spillover into a potentially finished interior.

10. Interior Lights

LEDs for the Rhino Interior

Rear shot of interior light, and functional ramp

I strongly recommend painting interiors before assembling or lighting.  I did this on my Land Raider and was very pleased.  The Land Raider has several functional doors and an elaborate interior, so that was a given to paint it carefully.

For this Rhino, I just gave it a quick once-over and was satisfied.  I’ll do some detail work later if it strikes my fancy.

Nice little tip: shave down the top of the rounded LED so it’s a flat surface diffuses the light. I’ve done this for all my interior lights, and it appears to work.  Otherwise, you get a circle of light projected straight out, something that isn’t conducive to an interior light!

11. Finish the Model

Finished Model

Finished Model

For my tanks, I do some freehand designs, a couple of washes, and selective edge highlighting. Later I weather the model and finish the details.

Wrap Up

There you have it!

A finished Rhino illuminated with LEDs in under two hours.  With the pre-wired kits from this website, I cannot stress how simple and effective it is to add a little something extra to your kits.

The possibilities are endless!  They have LEDs the size of a pencil point!  You could do Daemon’s eyes, individual cockpit indicators in a Valkyrie, terrain illumination – anything!

The above method is simply a basic how-to, there can be a broad range of uses, so get to thinking!

Give it a try, and let me know what you think below!  If you have pictures of your own, please share them, or join the Google+ Warhammer 40k community and let everyone there know!