Painting Tutorial Submission Makes Spray Painting Easy

One of our readers has had much better experience at painting and following his tutorial will result in a much better job than I experienced. It is worth taking some notes or better still, printing this article for future reference.

Airbrush Preparation Tips Get You Ready

By Mark Nickelson

Some thoughts about model painting:

1. It is possible to make a mess and ruin a model at the painting stage, whether you're airbrushing, hand painting with brushes, or spritzing aerosols. It is also possible to do a nice job using all three techniques. Painting is a core process in modelmaking. It should be mastered and enjoyed, not dreaded.

2. Is your paint any good? Is it the right stuff for the job? Generally I use paint for hobbies, and most of my spraying is through an airbrush, but I have worked on an exhibit in a Smithsonian-affiliated museum painted with the cheapest flat black aerosol I could find at K-mart. The aerosol can was used up while it was still fresh, and this could be significant to the good results.

3. The other day I had a slow cure and ultimately a ruined finish out of a can of Testors gloss white. This can was nearly empty. I believe the remaining paint was mis-proportioned as to binder, vehicle, etc, resulting in the bad cure. Probably, had that can been used up on one large project, the paint would have performed consistently well. Moral: be suspicious of old paint. True economy and happiness result from throwing it out.

4. My airbrushing thinner and paintbrush cleaner these days is a 50-50 mix of mineral spirits with lacquer thinner. I use this indiscriminately with Floquil, Testors and Humbrol, with consistently good results. There are a plethora of errors you can make when painting with an airbrush and I've made them all, but they are generally not the fault of the equipment or of a fresh, correctly mixed paint.

5. Things to avoid:

a. Pactra paints for scale models. Though they can be airbrushed with decent results, Pactra enamels (if you can still find any) tend to streak and not color fully on the first coat. Then, the second coat dissolves the first coat. b. Hardware store enamels: In my younger days, I reasoned that the unit cost justified buying things like silver, gloss red, and flat black in 2-oz cans at the hardware store. The silver never cured. The flat black would rub off. The red was okay, but it didn't perform as well as Testors. Occasionally, in a carefully-managed airbrush finish, I use hardware store enamels, and get nice results. I like the forest green and walnut brown from Fixall. Floquil contends that these paints are not milled finely enough for miniature work. I would not consider them for a hand painted ship hull.

6. There is a conscious technique to laying on a proper spray coat, and one of the better discussions of it is in the instruction sheets of Testors kits, appropriately enough.a. The first step to a successful spray finish may be a primer coat. Priming is not just a matter of color. The primer coat prevents flow of your finish coat into grooves and away from high places in the surface detail. For white and other light colors up to an including red, Floquil Old Silver makes an ideal primer coat.b. But wait! The truly essential first step is, start with a clean model. Oils that may be present from the molding process, and other that certainly result from handling by the modeler, must be washed off with an ordinary dish detergent and water wash before shooting. The cleaning will also chase away sawdust and other particulates that you don't want to paint onto your model.c. And then, when you're laying on the paint, whether from a can or an airbrush, make a first pass from far away, allowing a light mist of paint to fall on your subject. Follow immediately with closer passes until the coat is complete. The dusting pass creates a base for the adhesion and correct flow of the filling passes.d. Finally, stop before you go to far. The dreaded orange-peel effect and plain old-fashioned runs result from laying on too much paint. Two thin coats do better than one too-thick coat. This advice has appeared in everything ever published about spray painting.

7. Normally, a cheap brake fluid you'd never put in your car makes an ideal paint stripper and does not hurt the plastic. Of course, when the unwanted paint is gone, the parts get a thorough scrubbing.

8. Hand painting a finish coat over a large area of a model: I have revisited hand painting, realizing that years of airbrushing had eroded my skills. I get very satisfactory results using Humbrol and Testors (both flats and glossies), attributable to good fresh paint and decent brushes, as much as proper technique. Ditto for an experiment with Gunze-Sangyo acrylics.

9. Did I mention flow? Flow is the near-miraculous process that causes all the droplets in a spray coat to form a smooth finish, or the grooves to disappear in a second after a brush coat is applied. Flow works for you, unless you interfere with it. If the fourth or fifth stroke over the same surface ruins the finish, it wasn't the fault of the paint or the brush or the model.

10. Are we committed to using high quality fresh paint? One more thing: stir thoroughly. Stir and stir and stir. A brief shake will not mix the paint. Testors was emphatic about this, in the brochure that accompanied the debut of Model Master. If you've ever gotten gloss black paint out of a flat black bottle, it was because you didn't stir the stuff enough. My stirrers are made of coathanger wire.

11. I'm just about to get into water-based paints as a main source for modeling. I'll get back to you with all my lessons learned in another 40 years.

Mark Nickelson is ILS Coordinator for Jered LLC, 103 Shipyard Drive, Brunswick, Georgia 31521.

If you have questions for him, please use my Contact Form (Button in left navigation bar) and I will relay them to his personal email address. You may also reach him by phone at: (912) 262-2000, x274 or FAX to (912) 262-2053.

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