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Long story short, there's a small indent surrounding this registration plate I need to model in. bus with registration plate

The first time I did it, it worked and looked alright, but the faces were absolutely everywhere. I did it by extruding, then moving along the Y axis. model in blender

So how would I go about doing this without mucking up the faces to oblivion?

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I don't pretend this is the best way, but that can be something like this:

enter image description here

The idea is to loop over the indent and "protect" the external part with an additional edge loop which allow also to reduce the vertex count progressively to the external parts.

But what you concretely need to do may be very dependent on your model as it is for now.

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