How to Brush Paint Scale Models

How to Paint Plastic Models

Three Methods:

A crucial part of building a scale model is the painting, as this is what gives the model the nice finish. Although the painting should be treated as important, the construction of the actual model is more important. Like in baking, icing won't cover up a poor sponge; the same thing applies here. Many would like their painting to be exactly like the picture on the box, but when making these things, you have to be realistic; unless you have alotof experience, it won't be perfect, but with practice, you can improve. There are two main methods people use to paint scale models, painting and spraying/airbrushing.


Getting to Know the Types of Paint Used for Modelling

There are 4 main types of paint used in scale modelling: acrylic paints, enamel paints, lacquered paints and water coloured paints.

  1. Get to know acrylics.Acrylic paints are one of the most popular types of modelling paints, and many hobby stores sell these. There are many brands, such as Humbrol, Revell and Tamiya. Acrylic paints are water-based and are therefore not toxic, so are good for young modellers. They also have lower odour, so can be used in less well ventilated areas, and as they are water-based, they can be cleaned and thinned with water. Acrylics also have a fast curing time of around about an hour.
    • Acrylics also have their disadvantages. Acrylics do not bond well on smooth surfaces, and to combat this, before painting, all the parts should be washed with soapy water, as well as primer being applied before. The short curing time is also a disadvantage, as it can leave brushstroke marks. They are also difficult to blend, and so airbrush effects are hard to achieve, and can only be removed with sandpaper.
  2. Get to know enamel paint.The second and final major type of paint is enamel paint, and these are oil based, and can be toxic, so should only be used in well-ventilated areas. They have a long curing time of approximately 24 hours. They can only be thinned or cleaned with specialist thinners or white spirit, which can also be toxic.
    • Enamel paint sticks well to smooth surfaces, and is hard-wearing. The slow drying time allows the paint to be blended and one can achieve an airbrushed effect. The paint can also be stripped off quite easily with white spirit.
  3. Get to know watercolours.Watercolour paints are used on models for weathering and can be reactivated with water, and watercolour pencils can also be used too. To make watercolour paints permanent, a layer of varnish must be put over the top.
  4. Get to know lacquer paint.Lacquered paints are best applied with an airbrush, and although highly toxic, they dry instantly, and have a glossy sheen. They also need a specialist type of primer otherwise the paint would dissolve the plastic.

Painting With Paintbrushes

  1. Get your equipment ready.Make sure you have the right paintbrushes and paint as well as a cutting mat to prevent any paint getting onto tables or carpets or floors.
  2. Practice your techniques.Once the paint pot has been opened, practice painting on a scrap of card to get an idea of how the delivery of the paint is, and how the brush covers an area.
    • Practice your brush strokes so you apply the right amount of paint, leaving no bare spots or globs of paint.
    • Practice painting with different brushes (broad flat, fine tip and medium round) so you know what results you get with each brush type.
  3. Transfer paint to a small artist's palette using a disposable dropper or straw.
    • Read the instruction sheet and carefully paint each part according to the color chart.
    • Paint small parts while they are still attached onto the sprue, while paint bigger parts after assembly.
    • Place each section gently onto a paper towel after painting each part.
    • Allow each section to dry completely.
    • Paint a second coat on top of the first.
    • Allow the second coat to dry completely.
  4. Paint each section carefully, making sure you do not get paint on an area that will be glued.
    • Paint areas that were attached to plastic holders if they are to be painted.
  5. Clean your brushes using paint cleaner.
    • Pour the cleaner into a small jar.
    • Place the dirty paint brushes in, with the bristles completely immersed in the cleaner.
    • Remove the brushes and clean them with the cleaner and your fingers.
    • Shape the bristles so they are not distorted and set them into the jar, bristles facing up into the air, so they dry completely.

Spray Painting

  1. Prepare your materials.Detach each part from the plastic sprue.
    • Place a face mask over your mouth and nose so you do not inhale paint fumes.
    • Working in an open area, set the parts down on the old newspaper.
  2. Spray each part the color indicated in the directions.
  3. Spray paint the parts evenly.
    • Allow the first coat to completely dry.
  4. Spray the second coat.
    • Allow coat 2 to completely dry.
  5. Cover the spray paint can with the lid and put it away.

Community Q&A

  • Question
    Is there a paint stick or similar thing to paint cockpits to plane models?
    wikiHow Contributor
    Community Answer
    Use a small detail brush. It is also a good idea to paint the cockpit before gluing it into place.
  • Question
    Can I use spray paint on warships?
    wikiHow Contributor
    Community Answer
    Yes, just be sure to use an even coating. Spray paint can be used for an initial base, but fine details are better when done by hand using an acrylic paint.
Unanswered Questions
  • How to air brush a model?
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Quick Summary

To paint plastic models, you should use either acrylic or enamel paint. Acrylics dry fast and are non-toxic, but they can leave brushstroke marks. Enamels can achieve an airbrushed effect, but they are toxic, so they must be used in well-ventilated areas. After you’ve decided on a type of paint, carefully paint small parts while they are still attached to the sprue, and then paint bigger parts after the model has been assembled. Finally, place each part onto a paper towel and allow them to dry completely before applying a second coat.

Did this summary help you?
  • Warm spray paint cans by immersing them in warm water before spraying so the paint flows more freely.
  • Brush painting model parts while they are still attached to the plastic network makes it less likely that you will accidentally put the wrong color of paint on a part.
  • Soap and warm water are sufficient to clean acrylic paint from your paint bristles.


  • Spray paint outside or in a well-ventilated area. The fumes can overcome you and make you ill.

Video: How to: Paint a Scale Model with Spray cans Part 1: Prep and Prime

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