Painting Secrets For Car Models
By Mike Poole, Originally Published in the June 2014 Issue of Sprue Examiner
You can achieve a mirror finish on your car model in six steps. Thatís right! Follow the six steps outlined
in this article and you will see results.
- Fill and fine sand all surfaces until very
- Use Tamiya Fine Surface Primer for your
- Decant Tamiya TS color into your airbrush
and spray 2 mist and 2 wet coats.
- Optional: Decant TS-13 clear into your
airbrush and spray 2 mist and 1 wet coat.
- Color sand dried finish with Micro-mesh
emery cloth system.
- Final polish with Tamiya Finish
Stage 1: Fill and fine sand surfaces until
Most modern car kits have
fairly smooth one-piece bodies that just need
some minor cleanup. Itís important to look at
the parts you intend to finish under a strong
concentrated light in a darkened room.
By focusing the light at shallow angles to the
surface the eye can detect even the tiniest
flaws. I got the angled light idea from
astronomy. The best moon viewing is when itís
in crescent. The day/
shows all the surface
details in vivid relief.
Itís important to fix
all flaws now because
telegraphs through a
high gloss paint finish.
I like to scrape down any mold lines with my knife blade to
avoid leaving heavy sanding marks and use thin CA glue to
fill sink holes and depressions because the stuff auto-levels
and sands at the same rate as plastic and resin.
For big sink holes or resin bubbles I spoon a bit of baking
soda into the depression and saturate with CA glue. Avoid
solvent-based putties like Squadron Brand. It never
completely dries and shrinks. Also, try to avoid coarse grit
sandpaper if at all possible.
Sometimes the sanding marks can mysteriously come back
around to haunt an otherwise flawless paint job. I also like
to deepen opening panel lines (doors, trunk, etc.) with the
back of my blade. It makes them look more realistic and
Once you have
leveled go over
the entire thing
sandpaper for a
matte finish. This
will give the body
tooth for your
primer to hang
onto. Many auto parts stores carry 400, 600, and 800 grit
wet-or-dry sandpaper. You may have to do some internet
searches to find the 1000 grit but itís worth having.
Stage 2: Use Tamiya Fine White Surface Primer for your
Ok, all primers are the same right? Why do we
even need primer anyway? What does it do?
Primer is a flat paint with enhanced adhesion properties.
Gloss paint, especially paint with high solvent content like
lacquer, tends to have major surface tension problems and
trouble sticking to plastic that isnít a problem with flat
If you try to shoot runny gloss color onto bare plastic the
paint pulls away from sharp edges and piles up at the inside
corners. No matter how many coats you lay down the bare
white plastic edges will show around every panel and paint
will be noticeably darker around windshield molding and
other raised detail.
If that werenít horrible enough imagine setting up your car
on contest day only to have your fingernail chip a dime-sized
chunk of paint off the hood.
Now that Iíve hopefully convinced you to use primer, why
Tamiya? Simply because itís the best Iíve found and
available virtually everywhere now. Itís very fine texture
and pure white color wonít interfere with your color or
surface finish. Itís also easy to shoot straight out of the can.
Just spray a light coat or two onto your surface in a strongly
lit room. Let it tack up for a few minutes and spray another
After allowing the primer to dry you can go over the surface
with a fine emery cloth to remove any high spots, nibs or
dust. Go easy. Donít sand through to the base material or
youíll have to re-spray it. Recheck the body under strong
light to make absolutely sure all is smooth before proceeding
to the next stage.
(A note for Multi-Media builders out there: If you are
working with white metal body parts or photo-etch panels
you will need to spray them with Tamiya Metal Primer
BEFORE using the Tamiya Fine Surface Primer.)
Stage 3: Decant Tamiya TS color into your airbrush and
spray 2 mist and 2 wet coats.
Now we get to the fun part:
spraying color. Nothing gives me as great a sense of
accomplishment than seeing that first coat of dazzling color
on my nearly completed model.
Itís also a bit nerve-wracking. Will I get a run? Did the
primer stick? Is this the correct color? Is my airbrush
clogging up? There are a lot of things to worry over at this
The first thing you can do to limit mishaps is to use
predictable, high-quality paint. I like the Tamiya TS
synthetic lacquer colors because they are fairly easy to use,
widely available in great colors, and they last a long time if
you decant the paint and spray it with an airbrush.
Using your airbrush also gives you WAY more control. No
matter what paint you use practice on plastic spoons or soda
cans to get used to it. Much like people, every paint formula
has a personality. Some are docile and easygoing. Others
are ornery, temperamental prima donnas. Test!
To decant your paint from the spray can directly into your
airbrushís color cup slip a 3-4Ē length of clean drinking
straw over the nozzle of the can while holding the can with
your other hand. Gently squeeze the valve while directing
the paint into your cup with the straw.
There will be
paint so go
slowly, a bit at
a time, allowing
the gas to
boil out of the
sure the paint
is the consistency
milk. If too
thick add a
drop or two of lacquer thinner to thin it the right consistency.
Spray the first mist coat. We are not trying to cover the
model completely on the first pass. Give priority to those
hard to reach areas (wheel wells, underside of spoilers, etc.).
Next, spray another mist coat so that all the surfaces are
about the same color and shade of pigment. Itís ok if the
surface is still a bit rough at this stage.
come to the
We want to
paint that the
move on. A
strong light in your paint area really helps at this stage.
Set the model in a dust free area for 15 minutes before applying
the next wet coat. If you are happy with the depth of
color and plan to apply a clear coat you may decide the
model doesnít need another wet coat. I personally prefer
having more material than less.
The paint still contains a lot of solvent that will evaporate
leaving a much thinner surface than what is currently on the
If you have a small flaw at this stage itís easier to correct if
you have some material to work with. If you plan to colorsand
the color coat you will be removing material and NEED
two or even three more coats of color.
fully dried in
a day or two
and you can
smooth as it was when you first airbrushed it down wet. Itís
normal for dried paint to develop fine waves and bumps in
the surface. Thatís why there is color sanding.
Stage 4: Optional: Decant TS-13 Clear into your airbrush
and spray 2 mist and 1 wet coat.
If you donít plan to
clear coat move on to the next stage. For clear coats there
are three basic varieties based on their chemistry: acrylic,
lacquer, and 2-part urethane. Urethane is a professional
automotive product that gets great results but is exotic and
beyond the scope of this tutorial.
Lacquer (Tamiya TS-13 for example) is easy to use and dries
quickly and sprays just like the other TS colors. But, and itís
a big BUT, it can harm decals if they are exposed to the solvents
Some people have had no problems simply by spraying light
mist coats to cover the decals followed by slightly heavier
If you use TS-
13 over decals
test it on spare
decals to see
they can take.
If the clear
edges start to
lift or curl, they are starting to burn!
easy to use. I
Future but have
takes forever to
dry and will
fingerprints days after airbrushing. Perhaps a food
dehydrator can speed drying time?
Airbrushing clear is the same process as color: two mist
coast and two wet coats. Make sure you have sufficient
material to color sand without cutting through to the color.
Itís also critical that the clear coat be thoroughly dried before
proceeding to the next stage.
Stage 5: Color sand dried finish with Micromesh emery
What is the difference between a glossy finish and an
eggshell or flat finish? It all has to do with surface
roughness. A perfectly flat surface like a mirror causes all
the light rays to reflect off the surface at exactly the same
angle maintaining an exact but backward image.
Conversely, the light rays that reflect off a rough surface
bounce away randomly in all directions destroying any
Our job at this
stage is to
until all the
tiny imperfections are gone. I like to use Micromesh emery
papers by Model Master. There are a total of 6 grits
included: 3200, 3600, 4000, 6000, 8000, and 12000.
You start with a small piece of the coarsest grit (3200) and a
few drops of water. Make slow even circles about an inch in
diameter. The coarser the grit the faster material is removed.
Be careful around high spots like fender edges or you might
burn through the topcoat and start sanding into the color
coat. Stop after about 10 circles and wipe the surface dry
with a clean cloth. You should see a few dark spots of paint
on a lighter colored background. The dark spots are areas
that are too low for the abrasive to reach, which is normal.
Go over the entire painted surface with the 3200 grit in one
inch circles. Next, repeat the same process with a piece of
the 3600 grit emery cloth. The dark spots should be getting
smaller and the surface will begin to become more reflective.
If youíre tired
can safely stop
at 6000 but for
gloss go all the
way to 12000.
At this stage
should be gone
and the surface
should look fairly shiny.
Stage 6: Final polish with Tamiya Finish Compound.
final stage is fairly simple for anyone that has waxed a real
car but makes a dazzling difference and is quite exciting to
I use Tamiya Finish Compound or
Novus can be used in a pinch.
Basically, squirt a small dab on a
clean white cloth like an old t-shirt or
a cotton ball. Slowly apply the
polish in 1 inch circles just like you
did in the color sanding stage. As the
polish dries and gets picked up in the
cloth you should see a dazzling shine
emerge on the surface. If not, do it
again until the shine pops.
Remember that polish is sandpaper in
liquid form. While youíre not removing as much material as
you did color sanding you can still burn through edges, door
handles, etc. It would be a shame to ruin your paint job after
all this work, so be careful.
After the entire body is polished the only thing left to do is
clean any excess polish out of the panel lines and
congratulate yourself on achieving a mirror paint
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