Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Self-adhesive labels and double-sided adhesive sheets.

Glue has been an essential component of making my cameras but it puts some people off and it does have some disadvantages. The most obvious is that you have to wait for it to dry but there is also the necessity for lots of clamps, dangers in overwetting parts and keeping stray glue from sealing your shutter shut.

The Fantasy Factory Cube was made with double-faced adhesive carpet tape from the local hardware store. It worked but had a few negative properties. It’s kind of thick and gummed up the blades of the scissors. A cut edge with several layers of the adhesive was sticky and had to be scraped clean. It only had one side with a release layer so there was always a sticky, instantly-bonding surface when cutting and handling it.

I looked for alternatives.

To replace gluing the template to the card stock, I had them printed by a local digital press on permanent self-adhesive labels. Twenty-seven pages cost less than $5.00 USD.

To replace the glue and carpet tape, I searched the internet and found letter-size ArtStar Polar Sheets with release layers on both sides. Twenty-Five sheets are $22.95. It took just under two sheets to make the two cameras above.


You know these labels are permanent if you’ve ever tried to peel one off a mailing package. They’re made of thicker paper which contributes to the strength of the camera.

The labels are very nice to work with. They have slits in the release layer so it’s very easy to peel larger parts. With the release layer only removed from part of the template, it’s simple to align parts where you want them, press down where the adhesive is revealed, and then peel off the release layer for the rest of the part.

With smaller parts you have to sort of worry an edge with the point of a craft knife to separate them but you develop a skill after a few tries. 

In addition to the adhesive properties, it’s a really good dense print from the digital press. As good a print as this is, it’s not completely lightproof in the full sun. I only used one layer of card and the template on the back of the 35mm camera. The dark package printing and the template seemed enough, but the name Guinness, which is white on the back of the camera is imprinted on all the negatives where the camera spent time in the sun.

On the 120 camera, with a lot of white on the packaging, I used two layers of the template on the camera back. That and the backing paper of the film should be enough. I hope.

When assembling the camera, it’s easy to trace the part you’re working with on the adhesive sheets and cut it out with scissors.

Peeling the release layer from the adhesive is another learned skill. When it comes away it’s kind of a 50/50 chance that the adhesive will stick to the side you’re prying on with the Xacto knife or it will stay on the piece on the bottom. It’s pretty easy to feel once you have them separated. All the places where parts are attached are horizontally symmetrical so once you determine where the adhesive is, it can be flopped to attach it to the appropriate part.

 I seemed to always cut the adhesive a little bigger than necessary. The edges can be trimmed exactly with an Xacto knife.


It’s quite easy to peel away the release layer once attached to the cardboard. The glue is visible in case you lose your place.

It’s best to rehearse what you’re going to do once you have wet or dry glue on something. These sheets bond on contact. You’ve got one shot. I did peel one set apart immediately after sticking it together, and that did damage one side. Otherwise, it was no trouble getting things lined up and adhered. 

In several steps with glue, parts have to be separated with wax paper to keep them from accidentally sticking. It was really nice not to have to do that.

In a few places I held parts temporarily with clothes pins or tape to keep them aligned while attaching another part.

Another advantage, with both the labels and the adhesive is that it doesn’t matter if the surface is glossy printing or plain card. No need for roughening surfaces, which contributes to a more finished look. 

With glue, double layers have a tendency to curl. With these they stay perfectly flat.

Because the layer is so uniform the edges are a little more finished.

The adhesion is quite strong. I broke off the shutter handle on the little Populist taking it off the bike rack (and ruined a frame of film), but it was the cardboard that had delaminated and not the glue letting go.

There is a specific order some parts have to be made. The adhesive has to be attached and trimmed on both sides of the interior channel of the shutter or you’re likely to glue the shutter into immobility. Of course the release layer on one side can remain while you adhere the other.

One accessory that’s indispensable is a waste basket. There seems to be thousands of pieces of that release paper exactly the same size as the piece of template you’re looking for.

With glue there are so many built-in pauses to wait for it to dry, it’s easy to overlook how long you actually worked on making it. With the labels and adhesive sheets, you can go continually. It turns out it’s about seven hours including the winder and pinhole. It’s not hard, but it’s careful work. Do you think that workshop participants would put up with that?

I’ve only run film through the 35mm camera. It performed exactly as specified. It did get dropped several times, by itself and when the tripod fell over. It still looks OK. What can I say? It's a Populist. I hand-drilled a .17mm pinhole. Only three frames didn't get the Guiness imprinted on them.

An example of why a privet hedge is so hard to deal with.

Some leaves in a ditch.

One of the historic fishing huts on the Fox.

The 120 camera has a few unique features and I'll do another post on that.

That print order included templates for another 120 Populist at 45mm, an Evil Cube, and the 4x5 Pinhole Lab camera. Stay tuned.

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