GUNPLA tools part 4: Airbrush

March 28, 2020 at 16:12 | Posted in How-to | Leave a comment
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I’ve been using spray cans for quite some time before I switched to airbrushing. My first setup was a cheap airbrush-compressor combo by Meteo. It was usable, but the compressor was loud and the air pressure wasn’t consistent. I sold it off and settled for these:

Airbrush handpiece:

Tamiya Spraywork Basic airbrush:

Trigger-type airbrush with 0.3mm nozzle and 17ml cup. I use it for spraying primer and clear topcoat.

 

Tamiya Spraywork HG Super Fine:

Dual action airbrush with 0.2mm nozzle and 3ml cup. Mostly used for painting small parts like HG kits or for finer painting, like preshading lines or camo patterns.

 

Tamiya SX 74801:

Dual action airbrush with 0.3mm nozzle and 7ml cup. Used for painting larger things like MG kits.

 

Air compressor:


Mr. Linear Compressor L5. What I like about it is that it’s quite small and relatively quiet.

 

In addition to the airbrush and compressor, some additional accessories are needed for airbrushing:
Spray booth:


For airbrushing (and spray cans), a spray booth is necessary. I’m using Mr Super Booth compact, with a single fan and a hose to direct airflow outside.

Mask:


Another essential item when airbrushing, and even with spray cans. A simple face mask won’t suffice, a proper one with filters is recommended. I’m using this 3M mask with organic vapor cartridge. With it, you won’t breathe in the thinner & paint aerosols.

Spatula:


For transferring and mixing paints in the bottle.

Pipette:


To transfer paint thinner.

Paint mixer:


Even though a spatula can do the same job, this battery-powered tool can do a faster and more thorough job.

Mixing tray:


To mix paints and thinner before transferring to the airbrush cup.

Spare bottles:


I keep a few empty glass bottles around in case I have too much leftover paint.

Alligator clips:


They’re metal clips attached to wooden skewers. The purpose is to hold Gunpla parts during painting.

You can stab them onto polystyrene blocks or use these Paint Stations:

Airbrush tool wash:


After painting is done, this solvent is used to clean the insides of the airbrush. Again there’s different brands available, but I find Gaianotes Mild Tool Wash slightly less smelly than Mr Tool Wash. I pour some into a squirt bottle for easier access.

Miscellaneous:
If you don’t want your hands to be covered in paint, a pair of disposable gloves are also recommended. For cleaning, a box of tissues or kitchen towels would suffice.

 

Conclusion:
So if you’re still contemplating on whether to use spray cans or airbrush, here’s some points to consider:

So if you have a lot of plamo/gunpla kits and you like painting custom colors, then getting an airbrush is a no-brainer. Although initially daunting, I never regretted the move. I would also recommend saving up money until you can afford a proper airbrush-compressor set; forget about those cheap airbrush-compressor combos.

GUNPLA tools part 3: Paints

March 22, 2020 at 21:36 | Posted in How-to | Leave a comment
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The way I painted gunpla has changed over the years. I started with paint brushing, moved on to spray cans, and now my current setup is the airbrush. I still hand paint and use spray cans or markers from time to time, depending on the situation. Here I’ll introduce the types of paint & related materials that I’ve used so far:

Primers / surfacers:

Before painting, I apply a layer of primer on the gunpla. The merits for doing this are already discussed here. They’re available in spray can form, which is ready to use:

or in bottled form which you need to dilute with lacquer thinners (see below) and spray using an airbrush.

They’re mostly grey in color, but black, white and other colors are also available.

Then there’s the Mechanical Surfacer series by Gaianotes. They’re primers available different shades of gray: Super Heavy is dark gray, Heavy is gray, and Light is, well.. light gray. These grey tones go well with joint colors and inner frames of MG kits. The benefit using these primers is that priming & painting of these parts (joints, inner frames) can be done in a single step.

 

Paints

Markers:
I’ve used Gundam markers to completely paint a model kit before, and the result wasn’t pretty. Nowadays I use the fine tip Gundam Markers for painting very small pieces, weathering or just labeling parts.

I also have these metallic markers by 4Artist. They’re enamel-based so they’re (probably) fine on bare plastic, or models painted with lacquer paints. The silver marker is good for painting verniers & thrusters.

 

Enamel paints:
They’re in these tiny bottles by Tamiya. I use them for weathering (enamel-wash), panel lining, and sometimes for paint brushing small details. Requires enamel thinner. Generally they take longer time to dry and cure compared to aqueous or lacquer paints.


A bit of advice, try to avoid applying enamel paints to fragile parts, pegs & sockets, or movable parts. The enamel paint (or maybe the thinner) can make plastic a bit weak and brittle.

Acrylic paints:
I have never used them, but from what I’ve read they’re less toxic and smell less than lacquer paints. Because they’re water-based, it’s theoretically possible to use water or alcohol for dilution or washing. But it’s recommended to use the paint & thinner combo made by the respective companies.
The downside is that acrylic paints do not have a strong finish, meaning the paint is prone to scratch marks compared to lacquer. It also takes slightly longer to dry and cure, but not as long as enamel paints.

Spray cans:
My main method of painting before I bought the airbrush. These spray cans by Mr Hobby and Tamiya are lacquer paints. Although there’s a huge selection of available colors, you can’t mix different colors for custom painting. One can costs approximately 700 yen, probably enough for 1 or 2 MG kits.

Spray can tips:

  • Thoroughly shake the spray can before spraying. If it’s a cold day, dipping the spray can in warm (not boiling) water for a few minutes can “activate” the gas particles inside.
  • Avoid spraying directly onto the target. Instead, make several left-to-right or right-to-left movements as you press the spray can nozzle. This creates a paint mist, instead of a heavy splotch.
  • When spraying, try to keep a distance of approximately 15-30cm between the spray can and the target.
  • Because lacquer paints are somewhat toxic, use a good mask when spraying and do it in a well ventilated area. Or use a spray booth.
  • Be careful when the spray can is almost empty (it rattles the most). The output will be inconsistent; sometimes nothing comes out, sometimes it’s a big splotch.
  • Seemingly empty cans surprisingly have quite a significant amount left inside. Use a can opener to open the can (poke a hole to let the gas out first). Salvage the remaining contents to an empty paint bottle. It can be used directly for airbrushing or paint brushing.

Laquer paints:
For airbrushing, I use lacquer paints, mostly by Mr Hobby or Gaianotes. There’s a wide variety of colors to choose from, and you can mix your own custom colors. There’s also a choice of solid colors, clear colors or metallic.


I tend to dilute these paints to 1:2 dilution; i.e. 1 part paint mixed with 1 part thinner. For metallic paints, I dilute them a bit more.

Lacquer thinner:
Used for thinning lacquer paints, and bottle-type primers & topcoats. There’s many different brands available, but my favorite one is Moderate Thinner by Gaianotes. It’s less smelly and contains some retarder, making the paint dry a bit slower. Good for gloss paints or even paint brushing.

There’s also specialized thinners, for example Gaianotes Metallic Master. Unlike the moderate thinner above, this one dries fairly quickly, which is a desirable trait when airbrushing metallic paints, matte paints or topcoats (see below).

Then there’s the Gaianotes Pro Use thinner, intended for the Mechanical Surfacer series (see above), but can be used for topcoats & paints also. Supposedly dissolves the plastic a little bit, resulting in a more scratch-resistant finish.

 

Clear topcoats

And finally, after painting, it’s best to protect the paint layer with clear topcoat. Like primers and paints, they’re also available in spray cans or bottled forms.


The short, blue-colored spray can is the aqueous-based Mr Topcoat. It’s less invasive, meaning it doesn’t disrupt the paint layer underneath. It’s good for bare plastic or models painted in aqueous-based or enamel-based paints. It has less smell, but the coating is not so strong (less resistant to scratches).

Mr Super Clear (grey-labeled cans) is a lacquer-based topcoat, so naturally it’s for model kits painted with lacquer-based paint. It dries fairly quickly and is more resistant (but not immune) to scratches. Unfortunately it has an unpleasant smell, so a proper mask & good ventilation are again needed.

For both the aqueous-based and a lacquer-based topcoats, there’s 3 types to choose from: gloss, semi-gloss, or flat, depending on the final look you’re after.

Although some opinions may differ, I prefer to spray the topcoat on each segment (e.g. head, arms, torso) separately, and make the final assembly after the topcoat has dried. This is just to ensure all parts get an even coat. However the topcoat layer can make the joints a bit stiff, so I usually cover holes and pegs with masking tape before spraying the topcoat.

 

GUNPLA tools part 2: Specialized tools

March 9, 2020 at 00:15 | Posted in How-to | 1 Comment
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So after introducing some basic tools in a previous post, this time I’d like to introduce some rather exotic tools that I have. These specialized tools are not essential, but if you like to modify your kits, they can make your gunpla life pretty easy.

Ultrasonic cutter:


It’s like a hobby blade on steroids. Cuts through plastic like a hot knife through butter.
Pros: Cuts through gunpla very quickly and easily. Good for someone who kitbashes a lot.
Cons: The blade vibration generates heat, leaving melted plastic around the cut area. Not recommended if a neat & clean cut is required. Also not cheap.

 

Amazing cutter:


It’s like a hobby nipper on steroids. This cutter by Godhand makes very clean cuts on fairly thick (up to 2mm) plaplate or plastic rods. It uses typical box-cutter blades, so the maximum length it can cut is 80mm. Also pretty expensive but if you need to cut a lot of plaplate for scratch building or mods, then it’s a God(sent).

 

Cordless polisher:


Sanding manually can be tedious, especially when sanding excess basic putty. That’s why I bought this battery operated polisher.

It’s like an electric toothbrush, but with a sanding sponge at the tip. The pre-cut circular sanding sponges are available at various grits:

 

Vernier caliper:


Sometimes I need some precise measurements. That’s where the caliper comes in handy.

 

Chisels:
I have a few of these, ranging in width from 1mm to 3mm. I use these to gouge out bits of plastic to make indentations and grooves on the surface of gunpla. The ones here are by Wave & Hasegawa.

 

Scriber:
The main purpose of this tool is to scribe new panel lines, and to make existing ones deeper. I have a pointy type by Hasegawa:

And a couple of BMC Tagane scribers. Unlike the pointy scriber, the tip of the BMC Tagane is square, like a chisel. It comes in various widths: the 0.15mm wide is mostly for 1/144 scale and the 0.3mm fits 1/100 scale gunpla.

 

BMC Danmo:
This specialized tool is used to carve grooves perpendicular to the edge of gunpla parts. See this guide on how to use it.

 

Spin blades:


Attached to a pin vise, these spin blades by GodHand are used to create flat-surfaced holes on gunpla surfaces. Can also be used as a chisel.

Starting from the top-left, drill a hole with a normal drill bit. The use the same diameter Spin Blade to spin around the drilled hole, and the result is a flat bottomed hole (top-right).

Hobby router:


I got this from a 100yen shop. It’s battery operated and I use it to make holes and gashes to simulate battle damage.

 

Chamfering tool:


This piece of metal is used to scrape the edge of the gunpla part, creating a chamfer. Here’s a photo of it in action:

There’s also a rounded version, called R-Boko:

It’s specifically for smoothening rounded surfaces. Sorry for the Japanese text, but the bottom-left figure shows the benefit of this tool, as opposed to using a flat file in the top-left. I use it to remove melted plastic from seam-lines on parts like a bazooka or rifle barrel.

 

Workstation:


This is a totally non-essential item, but what I like about it is the grill holes that allow small bits of plastic to be collected on the tray below. It also comes with a small cutting mat and nipper holder on the side.

An empty Gunpla box can basically do the same thing, though.

 

Summary:

So that’s what I have so far. I might add to this list if I found any new tools. Like I said in the beginning, these tools are totally non-essential and some are pretty expensive & hard to find. But they do make like easier if you like kitbashing, scratch-building and detailing.

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