A Guide to Painting Your Model



Some years ago a good friend of mine and an expert model maker of many years standing gave me a very sound piece of wisdom that has enabled me to complete the models I make to a good standard and which I am happy to show to others. He said ‘A good paint finish can make a poorly made model look great but a poor finish will spoil an excellent model.’

Whether you are young or old, an experienced modeller or new to the hobby the task of painting your model can spell the difference between satisfaction and frustration. This short article is intended to help you to get the most satisfaction from your efforts.

Health and Safety

A dust mask or respirator, although not essential for brush painting, is a wise purchase.

It is also a good idea to buy a box of latex surgical gloves to wear to minimise the transfer of grease from your fingers or possible toxic dust, paint or fluids onto your skin. These are available from your local D-I-Y or tool shop.


As with all good results, time taken at this stage will ensure that the final result is the one intended.

Models, whether they are ready to run, kits or scratch-built need to be prepared well for two main reasons:

  • To de-grease the surfaces after handling
  • To key the surface so that the paint will adhere

These may apply before, during and after assembly. White-metal kits are a special case for which it is advisable to buff each part with a brass suede brush, taking care with the more delicate parts.

Plastics and metals, the most common materials used today, may be cleaned using a cream type bathroom cleaner, a stiff bristle brush (old toothbrush) and a nylon scouring pad.

Once clean and dry the model may be painted immediately or, if not, it should be temporarily stored in a dust free box.

Do not be tempted to paint your model if the temperature or humidity is too high.


The unpainted surfaces should first be primed using an aerosol spray can of grey, red oxide or white primer. These are necessarily thicker than the finishing coats for the following reasons:

  • To cover any slight imperfections in the surface
  • To seal the surface
  • To give an evenly coloured undercoat. The choice of colour of the primer will affect the tone of the topcoat. Use a light coloured primer for light colours and vice versa.

Application of the primer should be just enough to give an even coat without being too thick. I would not advocate brush-painting primer, as it is very difficult to do so without leaving tell tale brush marks.

Aerosol Spray Finishing

Most colours may be had from model shops or car paint suppliers in aerosol can form and in various finishes. Because some paint types are not compatible, e.g. acrylic and cellulose, you will need to check the type of paint in the can. Follow the maker’s instructions and use several thin coats rather than one thick coat. The final finish should be satin or matt, as a glossy model usually looks anything but real.

Brush Painting

A first class finish may be had, but more care is needed to achieve it. I have produced exhibition standard models adhering to the following guidelines:

  • Choose only paints designed for models, they are specially made for this purpose
  • Ensure the paint is not contaminated e.g. with small pieces of grit or old paint particles, dust or hairs
  • Buy the best brushes you can afford, artist quality sable is best followed by fine pony hair
  • Thin the paint with the recommended thinners to the consistency; somewhere between single and double cream. I also use artists’ turpentine, which is oily and allows the paint to flow and settle better than white sprit
  • Aim to apply more than one thin coat, one of my best results was four coats with the paint as thin as single cream
  • Use a larger brush than you think you’ll need, it will hold more paint and is more controllable
  • Lay the paint on with even strokes, dabbing ruins the finish and the brush tip
  • Use white spirit or turpentine substitute only for brush cleaning

Drying and handling

  • Try to complete a whole area at once so that there are no joins in the paint coat.
  • Paint a test piece as well to check that the paint has dried without touching the model.
  • Follow the drying times recommended before applying further coats
  • Avoid handling the model, if possible, for several days or weeks as the finish takes a longer time to harden than to dry

Care of brushes

It is essential to care for your brushes in order to get the best results every time.

For oil based paints

  • Clean a brush by dipping it in brush cleaning fluid (e.g. white spirit) and wiping it on old newspaper, repeating the operation until the majority of the paint has been removed.
  • Give it a final gentle swirl in the cleaning fluid.
  • Take a small amount washing-up liquid or liquid soap and gently work it into the bristles.
  • Rinse under running water and gently squeeze out the excess water between your fingers
  • Tease the bristles back into shape
  • Store in a tube that will protect the brush from damage and contamination

For water based paints, the operation is the same but using water as the cleaning medium

Lettering and final decoration

Pressfix or Methfix transfers, once applied, should be over coated with varnish to fix them permanently in place and prevent damage when the model is handled.

If the model has waterslide transfers, it is best to lay them on a glossy surface to minimise the visibility of the carrier film. To do this either paint the whole model or just the transfer area with gloss apply the transfer (decal) and finish with a satin or matt varnish to fix them in place.

These are just a few of the hints, tips and tricks of the trade that will enable you to get first class results. So stop reading now and get on with your masterpiece and, if you get stuck, ask an experienced model maker to guide you.