V-Flats are one of my favorite things in the world! A V-Flat is a large movable piece of foam board used for shaping light or as a backdrop. You can't imagine how useful a dumb piece of black and white foam could be. However, the perfect foam for them is not always easy to come by and never cheap. If you have a hardware store nearby, you can throw together a pair of these pretty quickly with minimal supplies and effort!
I recently challenged myself to create a whole slew of studio gear, including these v-flats, as well as a big 9x12 hand-painted canvas backdrop, and a pair of front and back textured walls. Best of all, I did it on a budget and made everything for less than $400! Have you ever even googled “v-flats” and seen the price?! I’ll wait.
Photo of Steve using one light bounced off of one v-flat and reflect off of another on the opposite side. By Chris Daniels, edited with Mastin Labs Ilford PanF preset
Behind the scenes of the above image. Edited with Mastin Labs Ilford PanF preset
What You Need to Build Your Own V-Flats
- 2 - ½in. 4’x8’ foam insulation boards. I used the Rmax ones.
- 2 - rolls of Duct Tape: one white & one black (note: if you already have white and black gaff tape this is even better).
- Flat white paint (Note: If you’ve been building the other things that I did or intend to, I recommend going ahead and getting a gallon. If you’re only doing the v-flats then 1 quart will be plenty).
- 1 quart of flat black paint.
- Paint roller and accessories
- Plastic Sheeting
How To Build Your Own V-Flats
You need to lay the boards flat on the ground to paint them. Sweep and clean the work area of any dust or debris then layout that plastic sheeting to protect both the V Flats and your workspace.
Step One: Painting your V Flats.
Lay out your first board on the plastic and roll on your white paint. Be sure to cover the entire surface with a nice even coat.
I painted the boards in two half steps, painting an 'M' and then spreading it out. Edited with Mastin Labs Ilford PanF preset
Stand the board up against something to dry and move on to the black one.
You may notice that you can still see through the first coat a bit. If you can, apply a second coat or even a third if needed. By the time you finish the first coat of the last board, your first board will be dry enough to apply the second coat.
Let the first color dry for at least one hour and then go through the process again for the opposite side with the opposite color. You want each board to have a black side and a white side.
White side edited with Mastin Labs Ilford PanF preset
Step Two: Taping your flats into a V shape.
Using the white tape, run a strip all the way around the outside edge of each board. I find it easiest to do this one edge at a time. I run one long strip from one corner to another, letting it stick to the edge, and then go back and, as neatly as I can, fold the tape over the edges. The tape will help protect the edges of your V-flats. Moving them around can bang them up, so protecting the edges will increase the longevity of your V-flats.
Tape Them Together:
Lay the boards flat next to each other, with the same color facing up. Leaving about a half-inch gap between the boards, tape the boards together using the corresponding color tape. This allows the boards to swing freely in both directions. (Take a look at the diagram below.)
Be careful not to leave an imprint on your flat by kneeling on the foam. Lay some thick cardboard on top of the boards so that your weight doesn’t indent the foam.
Lay the boards flat and leave a half inch gap between them.
Run the tape right over the gap that you left open.
Once the center strip of tape is in place run another strip on either side of the first, allowing them to overlap.
The overlapping tape keeps the hinge strong.
Once you have it all nice and neat, flip the boards over and do the same process for the opposite side.
And you’re done!