Welcome to the fifth instalment in TLCB’s Pro Series;
How to Become a Lego Professional
In this series we’re interviewing builders who have taken their hobby to the next level, and who are now earning an income* from their Lego building, either via a full time career, or via side projects such a commissioned creations or book publication. If you’re interested in a career working with Lego, these builders can help you, because they’ve made it happen. Let’s get started…
Pro No.5 | SaperPL
The single most common comment we receive here at the Lego Car Blog (besides “Buy cheap cialis here”) is “Can I have building instructions?’
In some cases it’s a yes, but most of the time the answer is no. They’re tricky, and it can be seen as a bit of a dark art. However the very talented SaperPL is here to explain how you can do it! Over to Saper…
How I started making instructions:
Two years ago I decided to build a Sd.Kfz 251 halftrack model from two sets (the LEGO 42079 Heavy Duty Forklift & 42094 Tracked Loader) that I got as Christmas gifts after years of not building LEGO Technic. The halftrack came out pretty neat for an alternative model, and I wanted to preserve it in some way before taking it apart, so I stumbled upon Bricklink Studio and I immediately got pulled into virtual LEGO Technic building and instruction making. Here are my top ten tips for how you can do it too!
Instruction Making (in Bricklink Studio) – Top 10 Tips
No.1: Think of who you are making instructions for when deciding on instructions quality
If you plan to sell instructions you should show the users they are paying for quality content. If you are making free instructions to promote your YouTube channel, you want them to stand out from the thousands of other free instructions. But if the instructions are just for yourself or a small community or friends, is setting the quality bar high worth the effort for you? Sometimes it’s better to finish something simple rather than aiming too high and not finishing at all.
Finally, do you need to make instructions with just one or two parts in each step to be friendly to someone new to LEGO Technic, or are you aiming at experienced Technic builders?
LEGO Technic 42131 instructions includes multiple steps with only a single piece added to aid new user friendliness
No.2: Be organised from the start – Use Submodels and steps when building in studio
Studio uses the term submodel when it comes to organising assembly of small parts of the model. You can stumble upon it in a context menu in the viewport, but you may not necessarily figure out that you should use it.
Submodels allow you to keep track of separate parts of the model, which is important for bigger designs. It is easier to jump into a specific submodel and prepare steps for instructions when there are fewer parts in the viewport and less steps on the list.
They also allow for steps to be easier for the user to assemble, as adding everything to the main model means some connections will be hard to see and understand with a complex background, and some elements or structures will be difficult to connect.
The added value is that they help you to tackle some problems with snapping when setting up a custom position or angle for a part. Getting into the context of submodel makes it so that your part won’t be trying to snap to everything around that you don’t want it to connect to, and also if you want to rotate the whole part, you can pull the whole submodel aside, rotate it out of context and put in place, when the snapping wouldn’t let you to do it in place.
Making steps while building virtual models forces you to think about how the model or subassembly will be assembled, so you’re less likely to stumble upon a mechanical issue when building your physical model, and when you are making instructions, you don’t need to go through whole model sorting bricks and figuring out each step.
No.3: Aim for a modular / compartmentalized build
If you can make a car that has separate chassis, interior and bodywork, your model can be built partially with fewer pieces, with alternate chassis, interior or bodywork. Keep focus on a specific submodel for as long as possible and try not to jump around adding pieces all over the place.
If you can communicate this to the viewer on the Rebrickable (or other store) page, this may attract people looking to build something with what they have, but more importantly, it gives off a vibe of a well thought through and professionally designed model.
No.4: Make sure your model will work before making instructions (or warn the user)
Because we can make virtual models without building them physically, there is a temptation to make something virtual only, but even if it is just an axle or suspension design, there is always room for failure with mechanisms.
If you want to make instructions and build a model, even just for yourself, build a prototype or at least test the mechanical principles of each mechanism. It would be a bummer to figure out you made some critical mistake after you get all the parts for it and after you have completed writing your instructions.
If you do make instructions for a concept mechanism – or maybe just an alternate take on your model that is using an RC system that you don’t own – make sure to state that the design wasn’t fully tested, so someone deciding to buy parts using your instructions will be aware and cautious about it.
No.5: Learn to use Part Designer
Studio does not have every brick that is made by LEGO in its library, especially the most recent parts, so adding them with Part Designer for an alternate model of a freshly released set is a good idea. You can make a model of the part on your own and import it through Part Designer or you can look for the part model in the community libraries such as ldraw.
For some specific tasks it makes sense to customise parts. For example linear actuators, shock absorbers and pneumatic cylinders may require to be set to match a specific length.
In some situations you may also want to use a part in a different way than intended and thus change its connectivity methods (‘illegal’ connections!).
I used “rigid” bars to represent pneumatic hoses in the model for Samolot’s 8462 Tow Truck Reincarnation instructions. The valves and T-bars have modified connectivity to accept rigid bar connection, but it wasn’t enough so I ended up using a lot of ½ pins to guide “hoses”
Keep track of custom parts in your model though, as they will most likely not get imported to the parts list on Rebrickable (or other sites), so you’ll need to add them manually.
You can also use Part Designer to import 3D models of the vehicle for shape reference
No.6: Be as ready with steps as possible when starting Page Design
If you make layouts, set-up custom step views, add notes and arrows to the pages, and then make changes to some steps before, you may be surprised with Studio messing up all that work by shifting steps from page to page and misplacing your custom work on these steps.
Because of how time consuming and discouraging it is to fix already made Page Design, the best way is to avoid such a situation by being as ready as possible with the steps before starting.
No.7: Page Layouts and Styles matter
Using a default page layout with a single step on each page for the whole instructions pdf is a bad practice. It may be okay for a small build with a dozen parts, but a 200 bricks build with 150 pages makes it so it’s easy to lose track of where you are in the instructions, especially if you’re flipping the pages on the computer. File size grows with pages as well.
My rule of thumb is to start with two steps per page, but make a single step page whenever you need to show the whole model/submodel for some reason, and make three or four steps per page for smaller submodels or when steps don’t need to show the whole model.
Using opposite colour for outlines allows distinguishing newly attached parts. Page from semi trailer instructions for my MiniRC European Semi Truck
The colours are important as well. Looking at white background on a PC screen may not be comfortable, so toning it down to grey helps. Generally imitating original LEGO instructions’ styling is a good idea.
Outlines for new parts should also be contrasting between them and the rest of the model – the default red may not be a good choice if red is a dominating colour in your car’s body or when you want to add a new red piece onto it.
No.8: If it feels stupid but works, it ain’t stupid
Sometimes you need to insert a 3L pin or an axle into a submodel first before this submodel is attached to the rest of the model when said pin or axle are used for locking it. Studio’s Buffer Exchange feature is made to shift parts’ and submodels’ positions to show how to attach them, but only for the parts that are added in the current step.
You can’t shift the pin in the actual step where it’s supposed to be pushed in to lock the submodel, but you can shift it back with Buffer Exchange in the initial step, hide it, and add the arrow in the step where it’s supposed to be pushed in. This trick will work if the pin is not visible between those steps. If you can’t hide it, you should make a note about it.
Example of the pin issue – note the 3L pin needs to be inserted fist during submodel building. Page from semi tractor instructions for my MiniRC European Semi Truck
The point of instruction is for the users to understand what they are supposed to do, so it’s better to communicate it in any way that works, even if it feels stupid to do it in other than the tool’s intended way. Alternately, you can render the page with such a step where the piece is in one position to place it on top of the instruction, to handle such situations.
No.9: Make sure to show ‘the after’ view for a complicated step
When using Buffer Exchange to show the uniting of two submodels it is good to also show how the model should look after the step is done. It may not be clear which pins go where even if we try to mark all of them with arrows and point to their corresponding pin holes. It’s always good to show the desired effect of such a complex step. Sometimes you need to add an empty step showing what is the effect of the previous step, but usually just make sure that in the next step the outcome of the previous one is visible.
No.10: A photo says more than 1000 steps
Sometimes it is hard to explain what the user needs to do with just words and steps made with a virtual model. Sometimes it would be too expensive/time consuming to do so.
Photo showing peculiar rubber band attachment in my Mini Mobile Crane
Adding a photo for additional context when required can save you a lot of time as long as you can keep its presentation up to the quality level you set for the rendered instructions.
Photo insert showing the twine attachment in Samolot’s TC20 8462 Tow Truck Reincarnation
For example you can show the layout of PF/PU cables or pneumatic hoses with photos instead of handling them in Studio, and it can still look professionally made if the photo is made with good lighting and is presented in a way that matches the overall instructions style (coloured frame with rounded corners, photo background colour etc).
Photo insert showing the PoweredUP cable orientation in my MiniRC European Semi Truck
You can encounter instructions showing off a render of transparent model with a solid coloured drivetrain or just a render of the drivetrain on its own for promotional purposes, but sometimes it may even be necessary to show how a mechanism is supposed to be assembled, for example with pneumatics to have a reference of the hose layout.
Composite render explaining pneumatics in Samolot’s TC20 8462 Tow Truck Reincarnation
And there you have it; the top ten tips for creating building instructions in Bricklink Studio, allowing other builders to recreate your designs, and maybe even earning you some income too. Remember though that here at TLCB we are not here to promote the sale of building instructions, so please don’t ask us!
If this page has given you the confidence to start creating building instructions, click this link to visit Bricklink’s Studio download page, and best of luck!
*Except SaperPL, who has made all of his building instructions available for free. Because he’s awesome. You can check out Saper’s work on Rebrickable, at his YouTube channel, and via TLCB’s search function, where many of his creations reside in our Archives.