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Choosing Model Kit Paint

Article by Paul Nortness

Let's talk about paints. There are two types of paints primarily used by hobbyists for their model kits: acrylics and enamel. In this article, I will discuss the pros and cons so when it comes time to choose paint for your next project you will be prepared to make the right choice.

Acrylic Paint

First, let's discuss acrylic paints. Acrylic is a water based paint. Being water based, they are easy to clean. Running a brush under tap water will typically clean it, though I prefer using an acrylic based thinner. Acrylic paint can be thinned with water, but when dry is not affected by water. It is very fast drying, so it is perfect for painting small parts that you need to handle. Another great thing with acrylics is it is virtually mistake proof. If you mess up on your paint job, simply spray some Windex on your model and wipe the paint away. Purple Power cleaner works great too.

Cleaning airbrushes after acrylics is also an easy process. Just fill up the paint cup with water and spray it into a jar. I keep an empty peanut jar on my work bench I use just for acrylic airbrush cleaning. After spraying water through the brush, I remove the spray nozzle and wash it and the paint cup in the sink. Acrylics do suffer from pigment separation, but a good shake prior to use will solve the problem quickly.

acrylic model kit paint

But, acrylics are not without flaws. With its fast drying properties, acrylic paint often clogs airbrushes because the paint will dry in the tip. One way to prevent this is to add a drying retarder agent. This is an additive that will slow the drying time of acrylic. The other downside with acrylic is it comes up easy. It is not uncommon to pull up some acrylic paint while removing masking tape. When using acrylics with other types of paints, it is important to not put oil based paints over acrylics. It will cause the paint to "bubble" and will ruin your paint. Popular brands that offer acrylic paints are Tamiya, Model Master and Humbrol.

Enamel Paint

Enamel paint is an oil based paint. It dries slower than acrylic, but is much tougher. Enamel paints are the most common paints used in model kit building simply by virtue of being sold just about everywhere. Whenever you see a drug store or craft shop selling model kits, they are always accompanied by the little square bottles of Testors enamel paints. So because they are the paints that most beginners use they tend to stick with what they know throughout their model building. To help combat pigment separation, I drop a couple copper BBs in the bottle. Then, when it is time to paint I give the jar a good shake and the BBs stir around inside, much like the ball in a rattle can of spray paint (Do NOT use BBs in acrylic. The water in acrylics will rust the BBs and ruin the paint).

Brushing enamels can be a bit of a trick as they are a bit on the thick side. When using enamels, I drop a little thinner in the paint to give it a thinner consistency. I find it brushes much better that way. Enamel also goes through an airbrush very well, though clean up is more difficult than its water based cousin. To clean an airbrush after spraying enamel, fill the paint cup with enamel thinner and spray the entire cup into a "trap". The thinner going through the airbrush will clean out all the paint while the trap will help keep the nasty vapors of paint thinner out of your work space. A good trap will also have a filter that the thinner will run through and pick up the paint particles so you can run the thinner through the brush again.

enamel model kit paint

Enamel paint can be removed with Easy Off oven cleaner. This product is very caustic and extreme caution should be used when working with Easy Off. Do NOT use Easy Off on clear parts, as they will permanently haze and be ruined. Spray Easy off on the model you want to strip, leave for about 30 minutes and scrub with an old tooth brush. It is very important to wear rubber gloves with Easy Off as it will burn you! Ouch. Common brands of enamel are Testors, Humbrol, and Floquil (a testors product).

Whatever paint you choose, remember to use a piece of scrap to "test". Model kits almost always include some spare parts. It is a great way to test the paint and make sure it will achieve the desired effect prior to putting it on your model. Hopefully you have found this article helpful.

Have fun and happy modeling!

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