Weathering Tips

Robert W. Parkin

Any special treatment applied to the surface of a   models basic paint coat is refered to as ' weathering'. Basically, weathering is the enhancement of the paint finish to produce a heightened illusion of reality. In other words, the model is given that last "special treatment" to make it look used, worn, battle damaged, faded, or "in service". As many of the no-weather camp will point out, weathering is out of scale and is excessive- they will say that you can't see most panel lines on an aircraft from most distances, so why enhance them on a model with weathering techniques? The point is that all modeling is "out of scale" if we really get down to nitpicking- the job of the modeler is to represent reality, not duplicate it on a smaller scale (impossible). Like any illusion, the overall effect of the model's parts and enhancements are what tricks the mind into seeing the model as being accurate. The perception of the model is the important part- we all know the model is not real- but our minds can perceive the model as being real There are numerous debates as to whether or not a model should be weathered at all, but generally speaking, most modelers employ weathering to some degree.

In this article we'll look at the basics of weathering from an aircraft modeler's perspective, but any modeler can find helpful techniques. We'll cover Painting Effects, Washes, Drybrushing, and Natural Metal Techniques. I've tried to arrange these techniques in as much the order as they should be applied, but as always, there are exception to the rule. Usually, a modeler will use many different techniques to achieve the desired effects.

Painting Effects

The basis of any good weathering job is the paint job. A good paint job can make a mediocre model look great, and an average model look fantastic. I won't go into all the millions of ways to paint a kit, but it is necessary to seal the paint with a sealer after decals and paint have dried. Use a gloss or matte based on your preference and the final sheen of the aircraft, but a matte or semi-gloss works best for weathering techniques.

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Uneven/Faded paint:

When the kit is painted, decalled, and top-coated, it is ready for the first step of weathering. Use the base color lightened with 10% white and paint individual panels of the aircraft randomly (airbrushes work best as they allow the painter to control a very fine and transparent layer of paint). Mask off various panels with Post-it notes or low tack tape and paint them with the lighter color. Paint fabric control surfaces with an even lighter mix for a dramatic effect. Airbrush the light mixture to replicate uneven fading, bleaching, or old paint. The possibilities are limited only by resourcefulness.

Pastel Chalks

Another way to render uneven paint is to use pastel chalks. These are available at art supply stores, but make sure you get the chalky ones, not the oil based ones.

Pastels add depth to a color. Monochrome aircraft (aircraft with only one color) can be boring and dull, but they don't have to be. Look at a photo of a real aircraft- the large areas of solid color never appear to be solid- there are slight variations in tone and hue that break up the monotony. Our mind sees it as one color, but if you look closely it is many shades of the same color. If we replicate this on our models, the end result will be a very convincing replica indeed. Select pastels that are similar in color to your base color. They don't have to be perfect matches, in fact a bit of variation is best. For example, if you have a standard U.S. Olive Drab aircraft, use a light olive green, a brownish dark green, and maybe a yellow.

Grind three or four different colors into a powder on a piece of sandpaper. Using a short, stiff brush, pick up some of the pastel chalk powder and "scrub" it into the surface of the model in irregular patterns. Subtlety is critical, but keep in mind that the final topcoat applied after weathering is done will make almost all of your pastel work disappear. This causes a dilemma- all models need a final clear-coat of varnish (dull or gloss) to protect the finish, and especially to protect the pastels from fingerprints, but the final clear coat reduces the pastel's effectiveness. There is no easy answer except to experiment. A heavy application of pastels may reduce down to the proper subtle shades, but they may also disappear completely. If so, keep scrubbing and overcoating (light subsequent coats) until you build up a nice tonal variance. Some modelers apply the pastels last and then simply never handle the model. If you mount your model to a base and cover it with a display cover then this is a viable option. Finally, a modeler can scrub various shades and hues of paint into the model's surface with oil paint. The principal is the same used for pastels, but the oil paints will not change or disappear under the final top-coat. They do, however, require that the model be protected by a well cured varnish or acrylic clear coat before you work. The scrubbing action combined with the oil paint's thinner and petroleum based components will eat your model's paint job if you are not careful.

Use chalk pastels, not use oil-base pastels. Most people use pastels for weathering and highlighting areas on models. I would recommend obtaining a set of shades of gray, and a set of earth tones. I obtained a set of 12 of each ranging from very light to very dark at a craft store for about $10.00 for each set. You can also obtain many individual colour, like shades of green. I've used these for creating the line camouflage on some German aircraft used in Africa. There are several ways to apply pastels. Here are some tips:

1) Make sure the model has a matte finish. This can either be the bare matte paint, or if the paint is gloss, a matte overcoat.
2) Use fine sandpaper or emery boards to make some chalk dust. At this point different coloured pastels can be mixed.
3) To apply the pastel, use a paintbrush, preferably with somewhat firm, yet soft bristles. Alternately, there are cardboard pencil like applicators that can be obtained at craft stores. Q-tips also make a good applicator, as well as pieces of felt. A very good applicator can be obtained from a cassette head cleaning kit. These kits usually have a small handle and pieces of felt used to clean the head of a cassette player.
4) Don't worry if you apply too much, a damp cloth will clean it right off.
5) Use of a sealer coat is optional. Unless you will be handling the model much, one is not necessary, and looks better.

 

Chipped Paint:

Aircraft get chipped up with normal wear. Some aircraft lose large amounts of paint due to poor adhesion (Japanese aircraft in W.W.II were notorious for shedding). There are several methods that enable chipped paint to be replicated. The easiest is to use grey or silver paint to "pick out" small chips and dings with a tiny brush. use odd shapes, irregular and random so they don't appear like they came off the same brush. Some folks say that silver is too bright for small scales- maybe tone it down with Grey.

Another method is to use a colored pencil (silver, Grey, graphite, etc) and pick out the chips. This method works well for small, almost unnoticeable chips.

The final method is rather drastic, but works quite well. Undercoat the model with a natural metal paint (Testors metalizer, SNJ, Alcad, etc.) and buff it up to a highly smooth shine. When fully cured, paint your model with the top coat. Before the top coat is fully cured (but dry to the touch), use small pieces of high tack cellophane tape to literally peel and chip away the paint. The underlying metal color will be bright, but further weathering and a flat coat will reduce it to a proper sheen. This method is quite convincing.

Smears and Smudges

Aircraft almost always bear the marks of their crews.  Even the best kept aircraft will show signs of human activity. Look at photographs of real aircraft- there's almost always a tell-tale sign that someone has been crawling around on it: boot scuffs, mud, greasy hand prints, scratches, chalk marks, worn metal patches along walkways, hand written weapon inventories, etc. You may want to add just a small touch of this kind of effect, as it can easily be overdone. Too many times a modeler will swath far too much mud on a wing-walk, or wear the wing and cockpit area down to polished metal. When it comes to smears and smudges, a little is usually better than a lot.

Operational Wear & General Grunge

We've all seen the nasty black and brown exhaust stains on the average Vietnam Nam-era Skyraider, or how about the gunpowder burns on the Hurricanes of W.W.II? Oil leaks from nearly every orifice on many aircraft, and expansion vents on modern jets drizzle fuel on extremely hot days. So if they are there on the real thing, why not add a touch or this type of realism to a model?

Exhaust stains are easy- airbrush a sooty blackish brown or deep rusty brown from the exhaust stacks in the direction of airflow. Keep it light at first-just a little can go a long way in convincing the eye. Add more as needed and work in layers. Study pictures as the airflow over the wings usually causes the stain to curve along the fuselage- rarely does a stain flow straight back.

If you don't have an airbrush, use a bit of ground pastel chalk in the same manner as we did our paint discoloration. Just remember to clear-coat the model beforehand so that you can easily wash off the chalk if you mess up.

Other types of operational grunge include oil, fuel and fluid leaks and spills, gun burns, scratches and worn paint, finger/footprints, and field repairs/touch-ups. These can be replicated with a little creativity and experiment.

Fluid leaks are more common than one would imagine- just visit the airport or an air museum for proof. Clean engines leak clean oil- it should have a transparent appearance. Look to your reference photos or a 1:1 scale aircraft to find the appropriate location for oil leaks. A conservative application of gloss or semi-gloss lacquer tinted with a bit of blackish brown (just slightly) should do it. Be sure to replicate the airflow effect on the oil leak. Some people can do this by hand with the same fine tipped brush used to apply the lacquer. I have to use my airbrush to literally blow the lacquer back along the aircraft. This is only for very careful applications- too much lacquer on your model and you'll will blow big, nasty streaks across the model in every direction- practice first!

The goal is to get definite streaks while at the same time staining the general area. I must stress to look at photos of the real thing- too many models look like they ran through a lube shop rather than simply leaking. Even the worst maintenance crews could keep the most useless hunk of flying scrap-metal relatively free of excessive fluid leaks.

Other fluids can also be treated the same way. Use a different tint or none at all for various kinds of aircraft excretions. A faint reddish amber colored or honey colored lacquer could replicate brake fluid, hydraulic fluid, or even certain fuels. Clear, untainted lacquer is fine for gasoline and jet fuel- but these are not viscous- be sure thin them to the consistency of water to let them freely "absorb" into the surface and discolor the pastels that might be in the area. Fuel evaporates quickly and usually leaves only traces of it presence. Go easy on the fuel.

Of course, there are many other ways to replicate fuel and oil leaks; it seems that every modeler has his own favorite method. As with all types of skills, use your imagination and try out any technique that seems logical.

Scratched paint: Other types of wear and tear on an aircraft are usually simple to replicate. I mentioned scratches- simply go back up to the section on chipped paint and borrow the undercoating technique:

Prime your model in silver or aluminum
Paint as usual
Use a needle or sharp tool, sandpaper or other abrasive, to scratch off paint in predetermined areas.

You'll have instant scratches with convincing metal beneath the paint. As always, use restraint- when was the last time you saw an aircraft with noticeable scratches? These should be used sparingly with forethought as to where they might occur and how.

Worn paint that shows the metal beneath is common in cockpits, along wing walks and footsteps, around cockpit sills and anywhere upon the surface of the aircraft that people and equipment regularly travel. One of the best methods for replicating this is drybrushing (see the section on drybrushing in below for a full description of the technique). Use a stiff brush with most of the paint already brushed out on a piece of scrap plastic, paper, or cloth. Work the brush vigorously into the surface to be worn. several applications should be necessary to make sure the area is an even blend, "fuzzy edged". If you can see brush strokes there is too much paint on your brush. The final effect is achieved after several applications and should have a relatively worn center (depending on how much wear and tear you are replicating) and nice, 'blurry' transitions to paint along the edges. Check around your neighborhood for a metal floor or vehicle that sees a lot of traffic.

For a really nice effect, first drybrush an area with the color of the primer paint that was used on the aircraft. Then, go over that with the metallic paint. This renders the edges of the worn spot primer colored and enhances the effect by suggesting the layers of paint used on the real thing. This is a touch of realism that many aircraft modelers overlook, but good armor modelers nail every time- check the armor models at the next show for some examples.

Field repairs/Touch-ups: Usually in combat situations an aircraft receives paint touch ups and damage is repaired. Some airforces in W.W.II used pre made patch kits! Check your references on how they look. The idea here is to replicate a field repair without being cheesy- so always use the subtlety rule- go light with the patches. Unless an aircraft was incredibly lucky, a fuselage peppered with bullet holes is going down before it can be patched up. Use one or two patches here and there if the aircraft was likely to be a target. Simply paint a square patch of fresh, unfaded paint on top of the weathered paint just before you seal it with a final coat of clear. Some airforces used a different color altogether. Russians were know to use white patches on camouflaged aircraft; primers almost always work. Use small rectangular patches- paint by hand or mask- some patches were crudely done in poor conditions.

The Wash

Many folks have problems with washes. Basically, a wash is an application of highly thinned paint that is allowed to flow into panel lines, corners, joins, and around detail. The point of the wash is to give the illusion of depth and shadow. Most aircraft modelers use a wash in the cockpit to bring out detail, and in panel lines to make them appear darker.

The key to a successful wash is the preparation. Always, and I say always again, make sure to have a base coat of clear varnish on your model before washing it. Use a varnish that is the opposite of the paint you'll be using for the wash- In other words, if you plan on using an oil-based wash thinned with odorless thinner, spray on a protective coat of acrylic clear sealer before beginning the wash. This insures that the paint underneath will not be softened or rubbed off when your wash hits it.

Cockpit detail wash: Most model kits today have detailed cockpits, and the resin replacement parts from many aftermarket manufacturers have tons of detail molded in to them. If you simply paint your cockpit and install it, there will be very little detail visible because all of the paint is the same brightness. Using a wash to add some shadows in the detail will help to show off all that detail. I like to use oil paint as the basis of my washes as I can get very fine pigments. Use odorless thinner as your thinning agent as it is less aggressive in damaging the underlying paint. Mix some oil paint into a small amount of thinner (one cola bottle cap full is all I ever need). Go easy on the paint, just a small dab on the tip of your brush to start with. Mix it up and keep adding oil paint until the wash resembles wood stain in clarity. If it looks like dirty motor oil you have too much paint. Use a color that represents shadow- I never us black for shadows as it is not a color found in natural shadows, but instead I use a darker shade of the base color. Load a brush with the wash and just wet down the entire surface of the cockpit. Don't allow too much liquid to pool up in tight areas- the thinner will eat away the paint beneath. Let the wash dry thoroughly. If it is not pronounced enough do the wash again, repeating the process as many times as necessary to get the desired shadows. Once finished, a drybrushing of the cockpit with a light tint of the cockpit color will bring out the detail by adding highlights (See the section on drybrushing below)

Panel lines and exterior detail: The best way to replicate panel lines is to scribe them into the model with a scribing tool or pin vise. Most modern kits have recessed lines to begin with, so half of the work is already done. However, a kit that has had its lines treated with a wash just seems to look better. Some argue that you can't see the panel lines on a real aircraft from 72 or 48 feet (the same as looking at a 1/72 or 1/48 scale aircraft from 1 foot), so why accent them on a model? Again, it all goes back to illusion. We are creating an illusion of scale, not true scale as this is quite beyond the capabilities of most human beings. Since we already know the panel lines are on the real aircraft, and that they appear dark and sometimes dirty when examined, we add them to our models to support the overall realism. Models without panel lines appear toy-like and unfinished.

To use a wash in the panel lines, coat your aircraft with a clear coat and let it dry for several days to fully cure. Use dark grungy colors- I mix up a dark brown, but some modelers use a dark version of the base color. You choose whatever works best for your taste. Mix as per instructions for cockpit washes, though you can go a bit heavier on the paint if you want. Using a small pointed tip brush, touch the tip into a panel line. The thinned paint should wick into the line and travel along inside for a short distance. Repeat this until you have a manageable amount of your model's panel lines filled with wash. Some will get onto the model surface, but that's fine. If you coated your model with a matte or dull varnish you'll notice the wash wicks out of the panel line and absorbs onto the surface area of the model along the line. This is a nice effect that if done properly produces great results. Overdoing it is simply tacky.

Once the wash has had time to set up a little by thickening (not completely dry), get a rag (a piece of old T-shirt works well) and just slightly moisten it with fresh odorless thinner. The amount of thinner should be so little that you almost don't realize the rag is moist. In the direction of airflow, wipe off the excess wash. Use a clean rag, periodically changing to a clean section or new rag as needed. The effect will be that some of the wash has remained in the panel lines, some has stained the paint around the panel line to varying degrees, and excess has been totally wiped off. That's all there is to it! Washes around exterior raised detail (bumps, rivets, etc.) are treated exactly the same.

Work in sections so the wash doesn't dry out completely. A dry wash is sometimes impossible to remove without destroying the paint underneath, even if it has been clearcoated. That's why we use a very carefully moistened rag. Sometimes a bit of residual wash remains in undesirable areas or there may be excessive wash and stains on the model. This is particularly noticeable on matte coated aircraft. The fix is somewhat dangerous to the finish- use a rag with more thinner than usual and gently scrub the area to be cleaned. The danger is that the paint and varnish may eventually come off or begin to thin. This is not always bad, if you first used a primer coat of natural metal or a color that would be a natural primer on the real aircraft. Another method is to simply airbrush some original color over the effected area. Use card masks held above the surface of the model where the panel line is to avoid spraying into the line itself.

More Washes Tips

Typically, the first step on the agenda after painting is to apply what is known as a
"wash", which is simply a very weak solution of paint and the appropriate thinner. The
most important thing here is to think of the wash NOT as thinned down paint, but rather
"dirty thinner". What you want to accomplish is the slight deposit of paint into the
recesses around detail areas to make them stand out with greater depth. This is one of
the more rewarding steps in model weathering because it's where your model will take
the biggest leap from brightly painted plastic toy , toward a realistic scale replica.
Later on we will discuss dry-brushing, which cooperates with the wash for even more depth.

While it is possible to use acrylic paints (water-based), they're not the best choice.
Even when thinned with alcohol, and acrylic paint wash can leave behind a blotchy
appearance that is unnatural looking. While modern acrylic paints such as those by
Polly S or Tamiya may be better suited than the formulas offered years ago, there are
still issues to overcome because of the water content being repelled by surface tension.
I have much better results with mineral based washes. As I mentioned before, when mixing
up your wash, think dirty thinner (+ just a tiny bit more paint). Before beginning, make
sure you have given the paintwork at least 48hrs to set up, plus it's not a bad idea to
spray on a sealing coat of clear flat, matte or gloss to be sure the wash doesn't disturb
the curing paint. While your paint job may feel dry to the touch, be aware that underneath
it can remain "green" or uncured for as long as a few weeks. This sealing coat is most
important when doing a mineral based wash over a mineral based paint. Even with a few
days drying time, the wash can act like a solvent on the paint and lift it up, leaving
unsightly bubbles or ripples.

For this reason, a very popular combination of paintwork/wash is an acrylic paint job,
with a mineral based wash. You get the advantages of safe paint with non-toxic fumes
while airbrushing, plus the very attractive finish of the mineral based wash. You
should not require a clear coat with this combination, and best of all, the wash
should have very little chance of damaging your paintwork. With this in mind, we'll
finish up with a basic run-down of the steps:

1 - Mix up your wash as dirty thinner, starting out with BLACK. Later you can experiment
with dark earth tones.

2 - Apply your "general wash" or all over wash. This is done with the largest hobby brush
you have available. The trick is to quickly give the entire model a once-over by wetting
the entire painted surface. What you don't want to do is stop and start, or leave some of
the wash in a puddle for more than 5-10 seconds, because you can get an uneven finish.
Just be prepared with plenty of wash mix, work with purpose, and keep moving. Work the
wash away from open flat areas, and help it seek out and come to rest in any cracks and
crevices. Here, it will eventually dry, leaving the lowered detail darker, making both
it, and the surrounding area stand out!

3 - Rotate the kit all around, and gently dab away any puddles that remain on non-recessed
areas. Leave this to dry. Even when you come back later and find it dry, resist the
temptation to immediately apply a second round. Give the model plenty of "rest" time so
that there is no chance the solvent in the wash will eat away at the paint or worse, the
glue joints. It's happened before!

4 - Build up layers of washes until you are happy with the look. As with any weathering
process, stop BEFORE you think you should. It is very easy to over-do this stage of the
process, and you can always add more later.

5 - The big finish. While your wash job make look like a dream, there is a bit more you
can do. Try adding some "local" washes. Simply put, take a brush from the other end of
the size scale, perhaps an OO up to a 1, and apply tiny washes, pinpointing areas of
special interest. Perhaps a streak of black, around a known greasy fitting, or around a
wheel or sprocket. Gasoline fillers on cars or AFVs are prime candidates for local washes.
Continue to examine the model for suspect areas, but again, don't over-do it.

6 - Finally, what type of paint to use? Many modelers prefer oil based artist paints. These are
the variety that come in tubes, also highly preferred for tasks such as painting figurines.
The thinner of choice is even a larger topic, and many different varieties are available
throughout the world.

See what your fellow modelers have had luck with, and in the end, always pick quality when
it comes to paints and thinners. There is a difference, and you don't want to skimp now
when you're so close to the completion!

Drybrushing

Drybrushing is simple once you understand the reason it is done. Most modelers use drybrushing to highlight raised detail and to bring out the edges and corners of kit parts. The idea is to give the illusion of dimension. But drybrushing can be much more as many armor modelers can attest to.

The first use of drybrushing for an aircraft project will probably be in the cockpit. All of the raised detail, corners and angles or the instrument panel, seat, consoles, etc., cry out to be noticed. In the dark confines of a closed up cockpit, highlighting the detail (in conjunction with darkening the shadows with a wash as covered above), makes the individual components stand out.

Technique: The basic procedure in drybrushing calls for a good quality soft flat brush. Pick a size appropriate for the job- I use a 1/4" wide sable brush for most drybrushing tasks. You will also need a supply of paper or cloth to work the brush down to minimal paint content. Load the paint on the brush, don't thin it. Any paint will do, but paints with a slower drying time work best. Once the brush is loaded (not overloaded, just a dab of color), "paint" the brush back and forth on the paper or cloth to remove most of the paint. The brush should leave very little trace of paint on the clean paper or cloth. Then, lightly brush the part to be drybrushed. Paint will adhere to the raised detail on the kit but not the rest of the kit. Subtle drybrushing can be built up slowly with repeated application until the desired effect is reached. If you see individual brush strokes, you have far too much paint in the brush- rub it some more on the paper. As with all techniques, practice makes perfect, but there really isn't anything difficult about drybrushing. Just keep it light and use multiple applications to build up the effect.

Colors? Now that the technique has been mastered, what color should be used? In cockpits and on the surface, a lighter tint of the base color should be used. If you are working with a very dry brush and building up the color, suprisingly light paint can be used. For instance, if I was drybrushing over RLM 66 in a German cockpit, I could get away with light gull grey or similar. The brush would have to be VERY dry to produce a convincing effect. Too much gull grey would look unconvincing and fake. If you prefer a slightly faster method, and especially on dark colors, use the base color lightened with 30% white. Experimentation is the only sure way to know what you prefer for a desired effect.

What to Drybrush: In the cockpit, everything should be highlighted by drybrushing, especially in dark cockpits. Instrument panels with raised detail, ejection seats, consoles, pedals, ribs and formers, and any angles, corners and edges. Using drybrushing, you can also "scrub" faded or worn paint areas like we did on the surface of the model in the text above. This is especially handy in larger scales, on the floor of the cockpit where scuffing and wear is common, inside wheel wells, and inside fuselages where stringers and ribs are present. Colors inside the aircraft need variation and tonal changes just like the outside, especially large areas as inside the fuselage of a B-17 or large transport- a solid, monochrome wall is boring, the wash and drybrushing will add dimension and believability. Cloth seat covers and cushions, parachute packs, and cloth covered consoles can also be given some color variation by drybrushing- use various shades of the base color for a nice effect.

Outside the cockpit, look for any raised detail- aileron actuators, blisters and fairings, corners, landing gear, wheel hubs, fabric surfaces, etc. Anything with raised detail can be highlighted. The impression is convincing if the drybrushing is subtle. Make sure you drybrush AFTER the wash is applied, or you will remove all of you drybrushing effort with the excess wash.

Natural Metal

The finish most feared by modelers is natural metal. It takes effort to get a fine finish in metal, but it's not rocket science! One point to take to heart is that a bare metal surface will show off every single flaw in the model's surface, even minor ones. Preparation is the key. There are several methods to achieve a realistic bare metal surface, we'll look at a few.

With any metal finish, seams and fills should be properly smooth. All surface scratches and signs of sanding should be polished out. To do this, use a medium/fine grit sandpaper and give the model a good sanding in the areas that were roughed up by general building- seams, filled sinkholes and ejector pin marks, scribed panel lines, etc. Use a finer grade of sandpaper on the next pass and smooth out the previous sanding marks. Continue reducing the grit of sandpaper with each additional round of sanding until the plastic is nearly shining (Fine sandpaper can be purchased at hobby shops in packages of multiple grades). The final grades of sandpaper will seem to be smooth, but the microscopic abrasive is actually polishing the plastic to a high sheen. The final step is to use a plastic polish (also available in hobby shops or plastic supply houses). Rub and buff the model with the polish until it shines like glass. Laborious? Yes. Worthwhile? Definitely. If you want a shortcut, and who doesn't, airbrush a fine primer like Gunze's Mr. Surfacer onto the model when the sanding is nearly finished, but this stuff reacts with some metal finishes- experiment first. Another shortcut is to use a shellac to seal the model. Use several light coats and build up a hard, glass smooth surface. The downside of this method is that it takes excessive drying time and fills in any panel lines you may have worked so hard to preserve. Fine Scale Modeler featured an article about a more in-depth and effective variation of this method several years ago that is quite helpful for those who wish to define panel lines by using different shades of metal only.

Once the model has been prepared, different methods can be used to achieve a good bare metal finish. Most of the methods employ a rub-and-buff lacquer. Go to a hobby shop and browse the paint area- you'll see many different types in a well stocked shop- Model Master Metalizer is one common one. Other brands include Gunze Mr. Metal, SNJ Spray metal and buffing powder, and Alcad. There are others, but these are ones that I have used and can speak of with experience.

Basic How-to: Metalizers are almost always applied by airbrush. Small parts may be dipped if you practice. The thin liquid evaporates very rapidly and leaves behind the metallic flakes (very fine, finer than any paint grain). These adhere to the model but can be buffed when dried to cause all the microscopic flakes to "lay flat" and reflect light all in the same plane. This gives a realistic metal finish beyond the capabilities of any paint. The more you buff, the shinier the metal. I have seen some metalizers buffed to near-mirror quality. The trick is to spray a light even coat, if it runs, wipe it off with metalizer thinner and start over. Once dry, simply buff it with a soft rag (again, an old T-shirt is perfect). Some brands are easily marred by fingers, so once you put them on you must not touch them. This is a bad situation, so some companies offer a sealer for their metalizer- I don't recommend sealers as they tone down the finish so much that you may as well not have buffed it.

The best metalizers stand up to some handling- SNJ spray metal and Alcad are tough and resistant to fingers, so they don't need an overcoat. If you do happen to get some fingerprints, a quick buffing will take them out. I have reviewed the characteristics of a few brands below for your convenience.

Shaded Panels: Natural metal aircraft aren't all one shade of metal. That's simply because they are made of many types of metal. Even the same material looks different if applied in different directions with respect to the grain of the metal, or the direction in which it was rolled or milled during manufacture. Our task as modelers is to find a way to mask off the individual panels on this hard-to-handle metalizer so we can spray on different shades of metalizer. On the brands that are fingerprint-prone, use the old wet newspaper trick. The wet strips will conform to the aircraft but will not damage or mark the underlying metalizer. Another trick is to spray the panels that will eventually be the dull, less shiny ones first, and spray a clear coat over them. Then you can proceed with the shinier, more delicate shades using Post-It notes or low tack tape as a mask.

For metalizers that have more durability, use the previously mentioned Post-It notes or low tack tape, but don't burnish them down or use pressure to get them to stick, be very gentle.

Once you've masked the panels you want to spray with a different shade, add a drop of black, yellow or orange (or whatever gives the impression of the metal you are replicating) or lacquer to the metalizer. Some manufacturers have different shades pre-made. Spray the metalizer and buff with the masks still in place. This insures none of the tinted or colored metalizer is buffed into the underlying shade, unless you desire the effect. Remove the masks and give it a very light buffing overall, then proceed with the next shade. Keep an eye on references- some metal panels were drastically different in color and sheen, some were very slight. Titanium looks a lot different than aluminum, and steel has a different look than stainless steel. Use references extensively.

Buff those panels separately: Another idea that makes realistic metal finishes is to buff some panels more than others. Not only will the shades of metal be different from panel to panel, but so will the shine. Mix the shades and shine of panels up with as many different subtle changes as you can stand, but maintain a close eye on reference pictures. A natural metal F-100 has a distinct pattern of metals, and the tail end is almost always discolored and burned in a very specific manner. You'll want to be accurate.

Decals and paint: When finished, decal as usual, but use decals high quality decals and a good setting solution to reduce the film's tendency to show. Some modelers use dry transfers, but only rub the area where the insignia is as to avoid getting glue from the backing sheet on the model. A neat trick for decaling is to spray a clear decal sheet with metalizer, buff it, apply decals to the sheet, then apply the decal sheet and overcoat with a clear topcoat (light so as to not dull the finish too much). Then, trim out the decal sheet to the size of the panel it will be applied to. Once in place, there will be little, if any. decal edges and film showing.

A note about aircraft that have painted features such as anti-glare panels, radomes, colored markings and insignia, or large areas of the aircraft that need to be painted: Some folks prefer to paint these areas first, masking them off so that no paint will end up under the metal finish. They then mask the painted area and proceed with the metal finish. If you use a tough metalizer, you can mask the areas for painting on top of the metalizer with low-stick mask or wet newspaper. BE CAREFUL!

There are other ways to achieve a fine natural metal finish. Though I prefer the lacquer based metalizers above, sometimes there just isn't the time or desire to go through all that labor. A convincing metal finish can be achieved with these methods as well:

Enamels: Testors Model Master enamels include a color called "Chrome". This paint can be successfully used to duplicate natural metal, though I believe it is less realistic than the traditional methods. Sand the model smooth and remove as many of the scratches and scuffs as possible. It is not necessary to get the plastic polished like the methods above, but a consistently smooth surface is mandatory for good results. Spray the model with chrome enamel and let it dry thoroughly. It will appear very bright, but we'll take care of that later. Mix a drop or two of black, brown, orange or yellow into a small amount of chrome paint to get different shades of metal. Mask each panel off individually with low tack tape or Post-It notes and spray on the various shades. I've even used metalizer on top of the chrome paint. Once you are satisfied that the panels vary in shade enough to be convincing, hit the model with a semi-gloss or gloss coat and decal an finish as usual. A dull coat on top of the model will give the effect of an older, weathered aircraft, and a glossy coat will look newer. Though not as realistic as other methods, this method allows for more mistakes and is less demanding.

Bare Metal Foil (the most common brand of several) is a product that has saved many a modeler from the tedious task of traditional metalizing. Basically, the thin adhesive-backed foil comes on a sheet of paper much like stickers or frisket mask. The dull aluminum variety is good for replicating natural metal since it IS natural metal. Simply peel the stuff off and apply to the model in sections, burnishing the foil down firmly with a rubber or soft plastic utensil or wooded spoon. Work the foil around raised detail and into recesses, burnishing out all the wrinkles. Using pieces of foil cut slightly larger than the approximate shape of a panel (or several), you can cover large areas at once, trimming the excess along panel lines with a NEW hobby blade.

Decals seem to stick well too, but be careful when masking for painting on top of the foil- it lifts easily if there happened to be finger oil, sanding dust, or dirt underneath. Be sure to clean the model first in warm soapy water. The foil sticks best too a smooth surface, but it doesn't have to be polished plastic. A good idea is to spray the model in silver enamel or use one of the metalizers and sealers for a basecoat. This allows you to skip certain and to reach or difficult areas of your model. The silver paint will act as another shade of natural metal.

As good as it is, the drawbacks of the foil method should be understood. With a limited amount of colors, the modeler must use the foil in different directions to get differing shades of metal. Change up the grain direction of the foil (the grain will be apparent), and buff individual panels with an old T-shirt or a small square of typing paper to give various sheen's. Also, beware of the foil's tendency to lift up under repeated handling and abuse as described above.

I have seen fine results using this method. Though I prefer the lacquer based approach over foils, the real metal idea has merit and is worth considering. I have not yet tried to overcoat a foil covered model with sealer or tried to weather it, it may be possible, but the extra handling may prove too much for the adhesive holding it to the model. Proceed with care if you plan to weather a foil covered model.

Once you've had the chance to really weather an aircraft with skill, you'll be hooked. The illusion is much more convincing and will enhance the model tremendously. Don't be afraid to mess up, as experimentation and experience are the keys to success. If you are displaying your model on a diorama base or in an environmental base, keep in mind that the weathering should match the environment- black gumbo mud doesn't look right on an aircraft in North Africa, and so on. Have fun, be bold, and weather those models!

Paint Brush Care

Probably a modeler's most delicate tool is the paintbrush.
Unfortunately, it happens to be one of the most expensive as well!
The two biggest enemies of your paintbrushes are haphazard cleaning
and improper storage. Take the time to properly clean and store your
brushes, and they'll last a long time. Don't be tempted to buy cheap
brushes so you can skip a few steps. Your modeling is worth doing
well. What's the point in spending many hours on a kit or figure,
only to give it a marginal finish with a cheap plastic brush? Just
like model paints, buy the best brushes available.

Here are a few pointers:

- Immediately after your painting session, clean your brush(es).
Use warm soapy water for acrylic paints, and the appropriate turps
or spirits for oil and lacquer paints.

- If the paint is stubborn and resists repeated flushing or soaking,
use a retired soft toothbrush to comb through the paint brush. Do
this one way only, toward the bristle ends.

- Once you have cleaned and dried the paintbrush with a soft towel,
slightly wet the bristle-ends with two fingers and form a tight
point at the end. This will help the brush retain its intended,
natural state. (obviously this doesn't apply to wide, flat brushes)

- Do not keep your brushes in a drawer with your other tools, or even
in a way that they lay on their side. Get a brush caddy or an empty
drinking glass and store them upright. For the smaller 00 - 4 size
brushes, cut 2-3" lengths from a drinking straw and slip them over
the bristles. This will protect them very well. If you find the
right diameter straw, it will slip over the bristles and wedge nicely
onto the grip.

- If some emergency prevents you from immediately cleaning your
brushes, wrap the bristles up in plastic wrap and toss them in the
freezer. You'll stand a much better chance of getting the paint
out when you get back to them.

 

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