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.

 

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