Since people have seen me use them on D-Town TV, and in my Kelby Training Classes, I get a lot of questions about where to buy studio V-flats (4’x8′ tall reflectors boards, that are white on one side and black on the other—like the ones shown above), so last week I asked my followers on Twitter and Facebook some help in finding a single resource for buying V-Flats (to create the “V” you take two of these boards–and put a thick piece of gaffer’s tape between them top to bottom so they form a “V.” Then you can use them as reflectors, or fire strobes into them for a large fill, or use them as flags—the list goes on and on. Incredibly handy.

We have two sets that we use in the studio, and most rental studios have them as well, but finding them locally is sometimes really a challenge, so I asked Brad to do some investigating on his own, and here what we’ve come up with so far.

(1) Your best bet is to check with a local sign shop, as many keep these in stock. They may not recognize the term “V-Flats” (which is a photo studio term), so when you call,  just ask for something like “Gatorboard” or “Mounting Board.”

(2) The right thickness is about 1 inch thick. Anything less, and you’ll find it falling over pretty easily, and it won’t be durable enough to last more than just a few shoots (the popular 3/16 of a inch size is way too thin).

(3) You may possibly be able to find these at a local art supply store, but the problem we’ve always run into is size—they don’t have them at 4 foot wide by 8 foot tall (and you need four of them, to create two complete V-flats). Also, if they do have them, they generally don’t have black on one side, and white on the other, which is ideally what you want.

The Kinda Expensive Alternative
If you can’t find a sign shop or graphic arts store that carries v-flats, then here are some other options:

SetShop.com
They’re based in New York, and they have the best price on the real deal: only $45 buck a sheet (so $180 for four, which makes your two flats). I know what you’re thinking. Hey, that doesn’t seem too bad? It isn’t—-if you live in New York and can stop by and pick them up.

Otherwise they have to ship them too you. That changes the math considerably:

> 4 Sheets at $45/sheet ($180)
> Shipping for those sheet ($300 down to Tampa, for example)

That puts you around $480 a set.

ArtSupply.com
> 4 Sheets at $121.96/sheet ($487.84)
> Plus $100 shipping

That puts you at around $600 a set.

Laird Plastics
> 4 Sheets at $90/sheet ($360)
> $90 Freight + $20 delivery from Laird to location

That puts you at around $480 a set.

So, unless you’ve got a local resource for finding V-flats, having them shipped to you (because of their physical size), makes having them expensive, but it’s like I always say: “Who told you being a photographer was going to be a low cost situation?”

Anyway, I hope that helps, and if you’ve found a nationwide (or ideally worldwide) resource you’d like to share (remember; 1-inch thick, black on one side/white on the other, and approx 8 feet tall by 4-feet wide), we’d really love for you to post it as a comment here. :)

That’s it for today. Don’t forget tomorrow is “Guest Blog Wednesday!” :)

About The Author

Scott is the President of KelbyOne, an online educational community for Photographers, Photoshop and Lightroom users. He's editor and publisher of Photoshop User Magazine, Conference Technical Chair for the Photoshop World Conference & Expo, and the author of a string of bestselling Photoshop, Lightroom, and photography books.

74 Comments

  1. I made my own using polystyrene ( I think it’s called Styrofoam in the States) insulation sheets from a builders’ merchant. As Scott says, get the 1inch thick sheets. If needed they can be cut to size using an electric carving knife (and a broom!). You then paint one side black using an emulsion, WATER BASED paint, oil-based will dissolve the sheets. To join two sheets together into a V, I used long hat pins.

  2. What’s wrong with ply or chip board and paint it yourself? Any hardware/builders store should have it.

  3. Hi Guys and Gals,

    saw this post and I have a very simple cheap answer and it’s pretty much what every single studio I have ever used uses.

    The answer is to go to you local builders merchant. The product you are asking for is 8’x4″ insulation board ( or polly board ) . I always go for the 50mm stuff, rigid and light. I just phoned my local store for you and each board retails at aprox £12.00p, so to make a V will cost ya about £25.00p including the tape.

    Hope that helps.

    Matt Brodie

  4. There is another simple alternative which we use with great success.

    Building a simple wooden frame using in a rectangular shape with a diagonal piece, then stapling black or white background paper to it. Add a hinge in between two and you have one white side, one black side and the ability to have them stand up with no issues.

    When the paper starts getting worn down, simply rip it off and replace with new paper.

  5. I do something very similar to Peter above.

    I’ve gone to a local big box hardware store and have purchased 4’x8′ Rigid Foam Insulation like this:

    http://tinyurl.com/292xb7e

    You can remove the covering to get to the foam core. While you are there you can buy some duct tap (if you don’t have gaffer tape) and some matte black spraypaint or matte black paint and some brushes. Paint one side black.

    An alternative to using pins or tape is to use velcro strips or build stand out of 2×4 studs which you can buy at the hardware store.

  6. I like Peter’s idea. It has the advantage of being light as well as lower priced.

  7. Thanks for the Idea. I’m going to check out my local hardware store I should be able to fine something. If not I will get a sheet of 5/16 plywood and paint it high gloss white

  8. Charrettes was a Boston area art supply store for many many years until a company called Putnam bought them and closed all the local stores last year. I was a member, and was able to purchase 2 white & 2 black 4×8′ 1/4″ foam core sheets for just $15/sheet just before they went belly up. I’ve used them not only as reflectors and flags, but as dressing rooms when needed by forming them into a square.

    • The thick foamcore works GREAT! Been using it for years…I’ve found it at art suppliers, sign shops and framers. I tried the insulation I college when I had NOOO money, but they didn’t last long. The foamcore is heavier (also better for transporting in a pickup bed!) and denser foam that also comes in black on one-side with white on the other.

  9. Thanks for the info!
    The sign boards are also called “Coroplast”.
    I bought 4 sheets of of 4mil, hopefully I can return them as they will not stand up on their own.

  10. Thanks for the descriptions for v-Flats. This is such a useful discussion. I love the soft fill that they provide!

    I have another equipment question, and searches have come up empty. Scott, you showed shooting tethered recently. I want to know about the computer support and how to get one, so that the camera can be raised and lowered.

    Thanks!

  11. If your handy with building you can bild a wood frame ( 1×2 lumber ) hinge inside
    edges and stretch canves over frame paint and you have them.
    Cost is low and supplies at your local building supply. They also last forever just repaint when needed. You do have to use bright white paint any tint will change color balance.

  12. I, too, went to the hardware store and picked up the insulation sheets. I just taped the sides to make the V joint. Mine came with a white (with logo) side, which I painted over, and a silver textured side. I left one silver for a huge reflector, and lightly painted another with black spray paint, which gives me the cool background I used in these shots: http://flic.kr/p/8SeyTs.

  13. I use the silver insulation sheets from Lowe’s. 4×8 and 1 inch thick. Scored down the long end in the middle and taped on the other side to keep the cut from causing a tear. They work like a champ and provide a little reflective fill back onto the subject. Just a couple of bucks for both.

  14. We use bi-fold doors from lowes. Painted one side black & the other white.

  15. we had a box of the 3/16ths and I just did 3 or 4 of those together with spray tack and they work just fine. plus i could do 3 white and one black (black is more expensive so i use less) and have a white/black like you mentioned.

  16. Another suggestion I found on Zack Arias’ tutorial on shooting white seamless was to use bi-fold doors that you can find at Home Depot, Lowes, or other hardware stores.

    The image on this blog reminds me of another topic that you brought up during that shoot – hiring a stylist to work with on a shoot. Perhaps as a future topic, you can let us know your thoughts on how to find a good stylist, MUA, or other people to help collaborate on ideas for a studio shoot.

  17. Wow, I bet Larry Becker is enjoying these replies!

    –John

  18. I will second the bi-fold doors. They are more than durable and can easily be painted. They are heavy. I think you can pick up a set at lowes or home depot , obviously you will need two sets, but that puts it close in price to the other vflats prices above. Something like the below as an example, I don’t have this particular model so look around for quality.

    http://www.lowes.com/pd_10712-42734-10712_4294859730_4294937087_?productId=3037936&Ns=p_product_prd_lis_ord_nbr|0||p_product_quantity_sold|1&pl=1&currentURL=%2Fpl_Interior%2BDoors_4294859730_4294937087_%3FNs%3Dp_product_prd_lis_ord_nbr|0||p_product_quantity_sold|1

  19. If you go to http://www.graphicdisplayusa.com/distributors.html, you can enter a zip and get all the distributors in your area. They can get 48×96 Gator or Fome-Cor sheets if they do carry them in stock already.

    You can get 1″, or you can get 1 that’s 1/2 inch and one that’s 3/16 inch and sandwich those together (white on one side and black on the other). 1″ thick in total (instead of 2″) should be plenty.

    But I find it nice to just have two v’s–one that’s white on both sides and one that’s black on both sides. That way, I can grab what I need and not have to worry about which side. If you tape them right, they will V in either direction.

  20. Replies are going ‘Cheap Shots’ direction. Q, Larry. :-)
    Why not DIY these out of plastic plumbing pipes? Light and collapsible.
    Recipe for one side:
    – 2 long ones
    – 2 short
    – 4 elbows
    Don’t glue together so it can be dismantled for those with little space.
    – 1 white (silk) sheet oversized with hems sewn in where pipes go in (serves as big light diffuser too)
    – 1 black cloth for black side or to be used as full or partial back to the silk
    – some A-clamps to hold two of them together as V-flats and others to hold black cloth.
    No idea what this will cost I’m afraid.
    Seen this demonstrated by a photographer already.

    • Look for a pdf called Tinker Tubes that shows you how to build lots of PVC light modifiers. The clamp for the panels is in the first chapter, it hold two panels together or the fabric on. There is a free one available that is slightly lower res. There is also a printable version for sale at Software Cinema.

      The panels are called LightForms and they were used extensively by Dean Collins. They can be used as scrims, reflectors, flags, V-flats, and even made into a giant softbox for shooting a motorcycle (this one is on youtube from Software Cinema)

  21. I have an engineer working on it now.

  22. Wrong place for this post, but cannot find the proper place for it. I did not receive my coupon code for The Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 3 Book for Digital Photographers. I was a walk leader in Santa Monica. Thanks.

  23. You can buy the gator (mounting) board at Hobby Lobby, and I’ve seen it at 1/4″, 1/2″ and 1″ thickness. Great news. It comes in black and white, and it’s flat! I’ve also had great success making panels using PVC pipe. I’ve gone to a local fabric store (checking ahead to make sure they have what I need) and bought bright white poly silk for one side and duvetyne (also called ninja fabric) for the other. I take the fabric to a seamtress and have them sew it together with baffle material in the middle to prevent light bleed. The results are great and it’s cheap. I make 4×6 panels for under $150.00. I’ll also say that if you’ve never used duvetyne fabric for flagging, light absorption, etc, you must give it a try. Soaks up light like a sponge!

  24. I see I’m going to have to build my own using the insulation idea!! If you thought the shipping to Tampa was bad – I live in interrior Alaska. Don’t get me going about shipping costs!!!

  25. Scott
    I’ve heard you guys are working on a kelbytraing.com app, I would also love to see an app for photoshopuser.com or at least be able to watch the tutorials on my Ipad from the site.

    KT

  26. Great info shared in this post! Thanks!

  27. Pull a Dean Collins and go buy some PVC and fabric, make any size you want, any fabric you want. White, Black, Gold, etc. I think Photoflex may still have those plastic clips that attach PVC frames to each other in a V. I used this system when first starting out to save money.

  28. what I did was buy 1.5 inch thick Styrofoam insulation in 4X8 sheets… I then cut them at the 5.5 foot mark and use wooden dowels to peg them back together… if you are careful it works perfectly, and they are so much easier to transport to a location shoot. I attached them using some plastic mesh as a hinge (it is used in plastering for seams) that I glued on… flexible and strong. the outside of the V is covered with fabric that I glued on… this setup has lasted me a year now, and I take it on location… only cost about 50 bucks to build…

  29. Look for a Jerry’s Art A Rama. They carry the larger 4X8 sheets in white and black. I bought white and flat black paint. Plus if you can pick them up locally you avoid the shipping fee for oversize stuff.

  30. Bi-fold doors consist of a hardwood frame shell, with 1/8″ luan plywood facing, and don’t come in 4×8 sizes. 1/8″ luan ply is very cheap, as are 1×2 strips of hardwood – pine or poplar. Poplar is denser, less likely to warp.

  31. I didn’t see it in the comments when I wrote this, but I like tile board. It comes in 4×8 sheets and it’s tile, so I’ll use it for the floor in an infinite white set up too. Let them eat cake on it – it wipes up because it’s tile. It’s also a great reflexive surface – better than a flat white too. The sheets are about $10 at Home Depot.

  32. A word of warning using the Polystyrene flats (Styrofoam). DON’T let a studio light get too near one… They melt very easily :)

  33. Any idea where I can get something to build a v-flat in germany? I don’t even know what (and where) I should ask for!

  34. i say make it out of cinder blocks and just shoot exclusively that way :)

  35. I have 4 sets of 4X8 foam board V-Flats in my studio, 2 white 2 black , couldn’t love them MORE ! I got them in my local Pearl Art Supply store. I don’t really remember the exact price of each, but I do recall that shipping was very expensive. So I shared a rental U-Haul van with a friend for a few hours, got the boards, stopped at Ikea and picked up some chairs and an oversized mirror for my friend, and the transportation for everything was under $100.

  36. Have been following this post for a while – our company (3A Composites) manufacturers most of the material classes discussed in ths blog for V-Flats:

    Gatorfoam: Heavy-duty Foam Board
    Fome-Cor: Paper-faced Foam Board
    Sintra: Expanded PVC

    Any of these materials can be picked up at one of our distributors, you can find a list of our distributors by visiting: http://www.graphicdisplayusa.com/distributors.html.

    Alternatively, you can request a sample piece of the material you are considering as a VIP by visiting: http://www.graphicdisplayusa.com/vip.html.

    Hope this helps!

  37. Hi
    Maybe this is something for Larry’s ‘Cheap Shots’. How about two wooden (lumber) frames conneceted with door hinges and covered with card or paper and painted. It was done on a larger scale for painting backdrops for plays when I was at school.
    Phil

  38. Man, I was gonna mention the styrofoam but so many beat me to the punch.

    An alternative, buy a roll of white and black thick construction paper and some spray contact cement. Stick it to each side and away you go!

  39. Here’s some additional information an Tinker Tubes mentioned above.

    Tinker Tubes is a 27 page handbook by Dean Collins that describes how to build all kinds of useful studio lighting accessories for very little cost using schedule 30 PVC. It used to be free to anyone who wanted it but now you have to buy a copy which you can do at http://www.software-cinema.com/training/photography/dean-collins/82/tinker-tubes-studio-sketchbook-download.

    Go to page 13 and build two light panel frames without the free standing support stand then go back to page 4 and make two double clips. Use the clips to hold the two frames together in a free standing V-formation. You can buy everything you need at Lowe’s and/or Home Depot. These are the frames only.

    You cover the frames with various kinds of fabric to use them as either a reflector, a gobo or a shoot through diffuser. There’s no reason you could not attach gatorboard or a large styrofoam sheet or that thin silver insulation material to accomplish the same thing.

    Personally, I’d just tape together 2 styrofoam sheets because it’s quick & cheap.

    I’ve also cut up old stove & refrigerator boxes from a local appliance store and appied paint or aluminum foil for the same purpose. This takes a little longer but it’s still very cheap.

  40. I found the 1″ thick GatorFoam locally for $102.55 for 1 4′ x 8′ sheet. OUCH!

    I think I’m going with the 3/16″ thick stuff ($15 a sheet) mounted to a sheet of the foam from the home repair center.

    Waaay cheaper.

  41. I’m honored that I was mentioned a few times here when the conversation got a bit cheap. ;)

    I did a post today (11-22-10) on my blog about a slightly smaller version of the v-flat using Coroplast and why I like them. There are trade-offs with the somewhat smaller size, but it’s perfect for my home studio and smaller budget. I looked at things like shutters and special hinges, but the Coroplast is light weight and durable. I love that stuff.

    http://larryscheapshots.com/raw-materials/diy-larrys-answer-to-the-v-flat-question

    For the record, if I just had to build a BIG 8’x8′ (two 4’x8′ pieces with a hinge) they would need to be more rigid than a Coroplast 4×8, so I’d make a sandwich of Coroplast and foam insulation sheets using construction adhesive, with a matching color duct tape hinge.

  42. I found this and………..like you guys said…SHIPPING IS EXPENSIVE!!!

  43. http://www.foamboardsource.com/

    like you guys said……….SHIPPING IS EXPENSIVE!!!

  44. Try searching for   “2lb polystyrene”  I found it locally, in more than one place, for $33 for 2 inch x 8 feet x 4 feet. And it’s white already.   Search also for companies that provide polystyrene hot tub covers. 

    • Sorry, I have to jump in here a little, forgive me.

      I bought the stuff from Lowes – the damn brand name stuck on would not come off, it just tore. Also, the silver reflective side gives a much harsher light than I personally like. So I wanted white both sides. This stuff requires that you paint your white side. 

      I have, however, been messing around with this and came up with a solution that I absolutely LOVE!

      First, find a place locally that sells foam, like for cushions, sofas, etc. Search for 2lb polystyrene if you have trouble. You should be able to get it in 1″ and 2″ thicknesses.  I can now get it for $14 and $22.  (8×4 sheets) Pure white both sides!

      I walked into an Enterprise car hire, and they said a van would be $30 for the day. I said I could get a Home Depot truck for $20 – they matched it!. So, transportation was only $20 in the end.

      Here is what I have:  Several 1″ sheets, painted different colors on each side. The paint was $10 a gallon at Home Depot (America’s Finest)  They can color match to lots of the Behr colors.

      I started by using a hand saw to cut the sheets down to 7′ 6″ as I have 8″ ceilings, and it was too tight. I used a roller and coated each side in about 5 minutes, not too thick. Then I gave a second coat an hour later – some colors did not need it.  Presto – I now have a selection of colored backgrounds which I lean against the wall en masse to the right of camera,  pulling the one I want to the left side to shoot on.

      The 2″ sheets I use for reflectors, as they are more rigid. I made a simple set of stands that they slip into, tall or wide, and they slide around my wood floor with ease. No propping up. You can see this in the second image. I can tell you guys this – the quality of light bounced off of this stuff is really nice. 

      My next plan is to paint black to one side of a couple of 2″ boards. 

      So, the first image is the result of my first shoot with this stuff – the second is an iPhone snap! (Sorry!!!)

      Hugh

  45. I hope that helps,and more information:http://www.ytfoam.com

  46. I had thesame shippment issue when I first wanted to order some books. Thanks for all the infomation and of course the DVD and books are something else.I was able to escape the ship with the help of a brother Visiting last month.

  47. what lighting stand is that holding the beauty dish?

  48. Thank you for this information. I live in the UK so my option will be to try the local sign shop first. After retiring from teaching  I retrained as a photographer and have several of your photographic books which have been helpful.

  49. Lowes and Home Depot. Instead of shipping cost, rent their truck for few $ to transport it your studio/home. Both sides are white, but one side you can easily paint in black with non expencive wall paint.
    Mili

  50. Some more options in the UK. I found these in Wickes and they were the cheapest in South London with delivery at £25.

    Polystyrene insulation panels from Wickes: 50mmx600x2.4m priced at £8.62 (I bought three sets to offset the delivery cost).

    You can also get panels that are 1200mm wide but you really need the space for those.

    The insulation polystyrene is quite coarse grained and I found the 25mm (1-inch) panels a bit thin and floppy. The 50mm ones are perfect and stands up nicely by themselves and is more robust around the studio. But they cost twice as much :)

    Note that the polystyrene isn’t pure white but comes with random silvery / grey speckles. These aren’t dense enough to impact the reflectivity of the panels. I think I’ll paint mine white anyway just to make them a bit more solid.

    How to protect the edges is anyone’s guess. I suspect that gluing a card or a thick paper rim to at least the bottom edge will seriously improve their longevity. The thickest grade of masking tape would be a quick fix but might cost more than the panels.

    Another alternative is MDF board, which comes in more sizes and is a lot more robust and is not much more expensive than polystyrene. It’s a lot heavier so you need to consider a proper support system and it will need a couple of coats of white paint to get it to white. The 6 and 9 mm thick varieties will both stand up vertically when bought in 2.4 metre sheets.

  51. If you’re in San Francisco or the Bay Area, JCX Expendables sells 4 x 8 sheets Black/White BLK/BLK or WHT/WHT at 3/16 or 1/2 inch — they have a freight service that will deliver as well http://jcxex.com/exp_foam_core_card_cloth_rope_line_cord.htm

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