Cast Metal Vehicles
The first step prior to painting is the inspection stage. In this stage you are looking for burs and flashing that may get in the way of a good paint job. You will always find burs and flashing on cast models, however some are more noticeable than others. It is part of the production process. The burs are usually found on a thick portion of the model (this is where the material flows in to fill the part in the production stage). The flashing is usually found in the windows or at the edges of the model and is a result of material flowing beyond the boundaries of the parting line of the parts cavity creating an excess of thin unwanted material. Removing a bur or flashing is usually as simple as scraping it away carefully with a hobby knife, blade, or small needle file. Inspect your model and remove any unwanted burs or flashing. After you have completed this, you move on to the next step.
Cleaning is an important step because your model has been handled prior to you getting the kit. From the production stage to being displayed at the hobby shop there are many opportunities for dust and oil to accumulate on the model. Model parts have been cast in rubber molds dusted with talc to help with the flow of metal in to the molds, so cleaning before painting is recommended. Two ways to clean your model that we prefer is either paint thinner or alcohol bath for a couple minutes to remove any mold residue. Mostly, we use alcohol because it dries faster.
Part lines and surface blemishes can be minimized with a good surface filler. We have used CA (Super Glue) to fill in these areas at times. This method leaves a hard, file-able surface that adheres very well to the unpainted model. We also use super glue to adhere one part to another in building the kits. After you have completed this, you move on to the next step.
Choosing the Type of Application and Priming the Surface
There are a few good ways to paint your vehicles. Here are a few of the ways that we have found work well. We usually build the models into sub-assemblies that would be painted the same color. While we find that using an Airbrush for the overall paint job works best for giving adequate coverage without filling up details or detail lines with paint, we will use Testors Flat Black Spray paint for painting wheel and chassis sub-assemblies and White Primer as a base for the other parts. Several primers are available that work well. All primers should be thinly applied to leave a "tooth" for the top color coat of paint to "stick" to. Vallejo White Primer can be brushed on or thinned and applied with airbrush. Other suitable primers are Testors, Armory, and Tamiya brands. If in doubt, always test these before applying to your model.
Then, of course, there is the brush. The brush-on method can be used, but is probably the hardest of all application types to get a smooth surface. A good knowledge of brush types, paint types, and retarders are necessary. Once you have made a choice on what type of application you will use, move on to the next decision.
Time Saving Tip
We find that painting more than one vehicle at a time is a much more effective use of time and energy. Because we prefer an airbrush for painting, we find that it takes 15 to 30 minutes just cleaning up, regardless of how many vehicles are painted. This is why we recommend painting more than one at a time. Also, plan out your final paint scheme and decide which parts could be combined into sub-assemblies that could be painted together. Undercarriage tool boxes and bumpers, etc. could be attached to the main frame if they are all to be painted the same color. Cabs usually take the longest to finish and we do not glue them to the final truck assembly when finished. They can then be removed for further detailing or replaced with a new one.
Besides choosing the color that you want, you will find a couple of other choices to make when it comes time to choose the paint. The first choice is whether you want a water base or a solvent based paint. They both have advantages, although they are not intended to blend together. You can accomplish some unique results by using both on the same project. The second choice is flat paints, semi gloss, or gloss. As you become more familiar with material choices, you will also discover that there is paint additives that can add sheen to dull finishes. By mixing this additive to your paint, you can proportionally raise the level of sheen.
Techniques and Materials for Beginning Airbrush Users
Choosing the best materials for a project can sometimes be like splitting hairs. On the other hand, personal preferences and experience can make a significant difference in the outcome of a project, so if you are already painting with an airbrush you may have developed preferences. For someone starting out, I recommend a flat paint. The flat paints seem to cover better and dry faster. While both water based (acrylic) and enamel based paints can be airbrushed, we prefer not to spray acrylic paints if possible, primarily because they can be more difficult to clean out of the airbrush. On the other hand, acrylic paints are typically easier to apply by hand with a brush and if you are already accomplished at airbrushing with acrylic paints, great effects can be achieved. We tend to use Testors enamels and highly recommend Vallejo acrylic paints. Of course, when painting do so in a well ventilated area.
One thing to keep in mind with any paint work. Light colors do not cover well if applied over dark ones. Plan your painting ahead and apply light colors first and dark colors last. Some of our reference truck cabs are spray painted with a light color enamel and, once this coat has dried, the fenders or cab roof can be painted darker by hand using acrylics.
Keep It Simple
Keep your paint schemes simple the first time. For example paint the chassis black and the body a color of your choice and the bed (if it is a truck) a contrasting color. You can dress it up with decals and stripes to achieve a more colorful appearance. If you keep it simple the first couple of times you are more likely to be successful. Develop your skill and confidence before attempting a multi colored prototype paint job. By the way, if you find that you are not happy with your results, you can strip the paint off and start over.
For many years automobile and truck manufactures have added trim to define and accentuate their vehicles, this is what makes them stand out from the rest and create their identity. If you want to make your vehicles stand out from the rest than you should do the same. Showcase Miniatures vehicles and a few other manufacturers of vehicles have highly detailed bodies that include the trim. Detailing this trim can sometimes be surprisingly simple. Simulating brushed steel and chrome trim - By using the tip of a Xacto blade you can scrape paint from the trim. This method works exceptionally well on soft metal vehicles. By scraping away the paint from the trim you will expose the raw metal which gives you a bright silver color. This scraping method also is very effective at exposing emblems and nameplates.
Door and body panel separation lines - You will find cracks, crevasses, and lines all over an automobile or truck. These are usually the separating perimeters of body panel, components or doors. These details can be highlighted with a soft lead pencil. It is important that you use soft lead and light pressure when marking. To help the pencil lead guide itself while you carefully draw it around the body line, file the end of the pencil lead into a taper. The pencil lead fits more easily into the grooves if you do this. It will also follow protruding bodylines better.
Wheels, Tires, and Hub Caps
To make the wheels stand out, try centering an appropriate size circle template to the wheel and lightly spray paint into the circle. Use very light coats of paint when using this method. Too heavy of a coat could cause the paint to run or bleed beyond the desired coverage area. Another method that works very well is by using a micro brush dipped into solvent. Take the solvent moistened micro brush and rub the inside wheel portion. The outside ring or rim of the wheel acts as a natural border keeping the solvent from removing the paint outside of the wheel. The solvent will soften the paint and cause it to stick to the micro brush. Wipe the unwanted paint off the micro brush by rubbing the brush across a dry paper towel. You may need to re-dip and clean the micro brush in solvent a few times before you reach the desired look.
Decals, Stripes and Two Tones
There are striping decals available from Microscale decals. They are available in many different colors and widths. Using these stripes can really create a neat vehicle. The real wide stripes can be used to create a two-tone paint job. This can work exceptionally well on N scale vehicles. Be sure to follow the instructions that come with the decals. There is a solution available from Microscale that goes on the decals that help it conform to all the protrusions and cracks. You can also create your own custom stripes by spray painting a piece of decal paper - either white or clear - to create a custom color. Once dry, this painted decal paper can be cut into strips and applied just like other decals.
Some of our kits include decals that we have produced. These included decals are not pre-cut and must be cut as close to the edge of the graphic as possible. Soak 30-45 seconds, face up, floating on surface of room temperature water.
Head-lights and Tail-lights
Brake lights and turn signals are, in most cases, a three-step process. (1) Paint the light silver including the surrounding bezel. (2) Using the smallest brush you can find, paint only the center of the light with orange or red paint - depending on whether it is a front or rear signal light or warning light - leaving the surrounding bezel silver. (3) Once the paint has completely dried, use a toothpick or short length of wire to apply a tiny drop of Clear Gloss to the light - you can apply this more than once, covering both the bezel and the red light to give a convex or rounded look to the light itself.
For headlights, the best looking method is to drill out the center globe area of the light to a depth of 1/32" or so. The revealed metal inside the drilled out cavity will be a shiny chrome. Fill this cavity with Clear Gloss as above, using several applications to give a rounded surface. You could also use this same technique for the tail lights and turn signals (above) and paint the drilled out cavity red (or orange) instead.
Permanent markers also work well for coloring Tail lights on lighter colored vehicles. I like the permanent marker because it is rigid. Unfortunately the permanent inks do not work well with dark colored vehicles. Regular model paint works best for dark colors. Like a permanent marker, a toothpick provides a very direct way of applying paint because it doesn't flex like a paintbrush. On the other hand, if you are confident with a paintbrush, brushing provides a more smooth transfer of the paint.
Windows and Window Glazing
To fill in the windows and windshields of my vehicles I use Microscale Kristal Klear. Kristal Klear comes with instructions on how to apply it specifically for the use of window glazing. We sell Kristal Klear here on our website. We have started to include vacuum formed windshields in some of our kits. Fit the clear canopy part over the included metal mandrel and using a sharp hobby knife, cut around the edges of the windshield. Use a canopy glue to attach to the cab last after assembly and painting is completed. Our Freightliner cabs do not have metal mandrel, so just cut out freehand.
Weathering adds realism to your models. While, in some cases, a "show-room finish" is desired, more commonly seen are subjects that have had some (or a lot) of use. To simulate this can require several different methods and techniques. One of the most effective is the use of earth tone pastels applied with a brush to the finished paint work. White pastels on horizontal surfaces can show signs of sun bleaching and black pastels on and around wheels, exhausts, etc. can show everyday grime. Other earth tone pastel colors can show an accumulation of dirt and dust over time on horizontal surfaces as well. Dry brushing (brushing the surface of a model with a brush that has very little paint on it) can highlight details that would normally be hidden. White or silver usually works best for dry brushing and can also simulate signs of wear. This effect needs to be done before using the pastels.
Protecting Your Work
It is always good practice to put a clear coat or matte finish when you are done. This protects your work by sealing all the decals and detail work you have performed.
In a Worse Case Scenario
If the model you paint does not come out as well as you want, you can strip the parts with a paint remover and start over. If for some reason you cannot find some items or products mentioned here please let us know. Many of the tools and materials mentioned are available from our website here or a model hobby supply shop.
Painting Tips for Structures
The instructions included in the kit should be what you need to assemble the parts. Many people use a thick CA type glue (super glue) for assembly but we prefer carpenter's wood glue for the laser-cut wood buidings. I put a big drop of it on a note pad and use a toothpick to place it on the edges to be joined. This glue dries fairly quickly but not as quickly as the CA glue which helps in getting the parts aligned correctly. The laser-cut board used for the sides of the models is very accepting to many types of paint but I would recommend a couple (or more) coats of a lacquer based primer (like Tamiya) before applying the decals since they are a watersilde type. For kits with resin, plastic, pewter or etched brass parts, CA glue is best. Again, I place a drop of the Super Glue on a non-porous surface and use a short length of piano wire or brass wire to place tiny amounts on the surfaces to be joined. For joints that may need some gap filling, I use JB Quick Weld mixed per the instructions. This epoxy glue dries quickly (almost too quickly sometimes) and can be filed and sanded when cured. This adhesive can be used on all kit materials. Also, I would recommend "dry fitting" all the parts before applying glue. I would be glad to answer any more questions that come up so please don't hesitate to contact us.