Paint – What I use and why

Since getting my airbrush I’ve become I’ve had to learn more about paint and how to get the best out of it. I’ve also developed some favourites because I love what effects I can achieve with them.DSC01089I keep the majority of my paint near my airbrush station for easy access. Of course, I’ve got more paints than are on display here and the overflow is on one of my rolling tables next to this shelf. DSC01093 To start, let’s go to the first paint I usually put on a piece – the undercoat or primer. The Alclad primers are excellent. They’re pre-thinned, go on smoothly, dry quickly, are economical, stick well to the plastic and form a great surface for subsequent layers of paint.

For general use I’ll go with the grey. The white is useful for when I want to influence the paint layer above to come out brighter. When filling or doing seam-line-removal on a piece, I’ll use the grey to show me how well I’ve done with the sanding, and also if you spray it on a little thick it can fill in some tiny gaps too.

The gloss black isn’t really a primer for general painting as it’s specifically designed as a gloss base coat for the Alclad metallics. It works great for this purpose and is slower drying than the primers. That also means it works really well as a base coat for Uschi powders too. I’ve also used it as a primer for when I want the above paint layer to come out darker than normal. Because it’s so glossy you need extra care in spraying acrylics over it, so start with a fine misting and slowly build the paint up, putting on only a thin layer at first and letting it dry before adding layers to get to the density you need.DSC01096 I really like the Tamiya acrylics. The colours are nice and strong, and although the jars are quite small, you can thin them right down (usually about 1 part paint, 1 part thinner) and they still provide great coverage. In many cases, you can use them without a primer or undercoat as they stick very well to the underlying plastic. I’ll generally use the Gunmetal this way as even when thinned it will give good coverage in one coat, and if you’re painting inner frames with articulation you’ll not want thick layers of paint to impede motion or scrape off.

I don’t tend to use too many of the Tamiya acrylic solid colours. The Lemon yellow works very well, and in a  Gunpla context, I think it works superbly well for yellow parts and can be sprayed directly onto the plastic without primer. Because yellow is a tricky colour for coverage, yellow paint over yellow plastic (rather than grey primer) can often provide best results.

I don’t tend to spray the black much, but it comes in handy for hand-painted details. I’ve used the Tamiya acrylic purple, various blues, metallic blue and they’ve always worked well. I don’t tend to mix them, but because they come in such a wide range of colours, I’ve not really had to.DSC01095 Perhaps my favourite Tamiya paints are the clear colours and smoke. I use these paints in a number of ways. I like to hand-paint them (generally un-thinned) to add small details to parts. I like how they look, especially over a metallic layer of paint, or perhaps some hand-painted Gundam marker in gold or silver. I very much like the smoke to add depth to a part by working as a thickish wash in recessed areas. Thinned further smoke can even be used as a panel line wash.

When spraying them I’ll thin them down with the Tamiya acrylic thinner, but perhaps not as thin as 1:1. If you’re using them as a candy coat over a metallic base of Alclad chrome or gold say, if the paint is too runny it will flow rather than stay where you sprayed it and that’s not good. Sometimes it works well to do a light coat first and then come back for a heavier coat to finish with. If you have a good light on your work area you can see how the paint builds up to a gloss shine and often I’ll use the clear paints only slightly thinned (just enough so they spray without blocking the airbrush) and build a single thick layer to the shine to go for a very glossy finish in one go.

I’ve experimented thinning the Tamiya clear paints with Future Finish and as long as you use the paint up quickly this can work to give a very glossy finish. Leave the paint too long and the pigment pulls out of the mix, thickens and turns to a mess in the jar – or your airbrush.DSC01087 Tamiya acrylic paints can be thinned with either their acrylic thinner or their lacquer thinner. For general use the acrylic thinner is fine. I like to use the lacquer thinner for the Tamiya gunmetal though because it’s much faster drying, thus allowing me to move more rapidly to assembly or detailing. When thinned with the lacquer thinner the paint dries  tougher too, making it excellent for the areas of articulation like the frame of a Gunpla.

Lacquer thinner stinks, and it’s not good for you to breathe it in. If you’re going to use it, wear a proper respirator mask that has an organic vapour filter and make sure you have good ventilation and fume extraction.DSC01092 The Alclad metallics are really excellent, but they’re a bit tricky to work with and quite expensive. They work best over their gloss base coat, although I do find they can work well over Tamiya gunmetal or Alclad grey primer too (if you don’t need a high-gloss metallic effect). When spraying these drop your pressure. They’re all pre-thinned and flow easily. Go really gentle and almost “mist” them on. If you’re careful you’ll be rewarded with an excellent metallic finish.

They seem to take a Future Finish top coat reasonably well, but be careful to really let them dry first. The brass will run a little if you’re not careful or go heavy with the gloss coat.

If you’re careful you can mask directly onto the Alclad metallics, but let them thoroughly dry and cure first.

As with all lacquer based paints, be sure to have proper ventilation and wear a respirator with an organic vapour filter.DSC01091I found the Createx acrylic paint line at the art store where I bought my airbrush. The paints are not specifically designed for plamo or Gunpla, but with care they can work well and you can gain the benefit of some of their specialized effects. They come in much larger bottles than typical model paints and are quite affordable.

Createx paint is generally too thick to spray directly.  They can also tend to dry to a more rubbery finish and not stick well to the plastic. All this can be dealt with to get the best of of these paints.

To help the Createx paint stick well to the plastic, use a good primer or undercoat first. I find the Alclad primers work well for this.

You can sometimes get away with using the Createx paint neat, but generally I find thinning them works best. I’ll recycle old Tamiya acrylic jars for this. I fill the jar to just over 1/3 full, then add about 1/3 Future Finish, and then as much Tamiya acrylic thinner as needed to get good airbrush flow. Adding the Future Finish makes the Createx paint work much better in a modelling context, causing the paint to dry harder.

I found that just using Tamiya acrylic thinner on the Createx paint can sort of work, but the properties that Future Finish added to the mix made it worthwhile to make it the primary thinning component of the mix. I did try using 99% isopropanol, but that turned Createx paint to cheese, as did Tamiya lacquer thinner.

I really like the Createx pearl paints. My standard formula for Gundam red armour parts is Createx pearl red followed by a top coat of Tamiya clear red. The pearl red has a lovely metallic finish that’s not too over-the-top, but I just don’t quite like the hue of red. Adding the layer of Tamiya clear red brings the hue to exactly my liking and the glossiness of the clear red just looks wonderful.

I’m happy to use the pearl blue on its own or with a top coat of Tamiya clear blue. I’ve even used masking on the pearl blue to only hit certain areas with the glossy Tamiya clear blue for interesting effect.

I’ve had periods of poor success painting white pieces. White seems such a tricky colour to get right, but I’m now getting reliably good results. I first undercoat with Alclad grey primer, and then use 2 or 3 fine coats of Createx white (thinned with Future Finish and Tamiya acrylic thinner) on top. Also, if I’m after a pearl finish, I’ll just substitute the top layer of paint for Createx pearl white (thinned with Future Finish and Tamiya acrylic thinner) because being semi-transparent it really benefits from the underlying white paint.

The white really works well when you put a final top flat coat on it. I find the result is almost like a paper white and it’s very pleasing to me.

DSC05774Createx also make some other paints that I’ve used to good effect. As well as the pearl paints they also make some iridescent ones. They are similar to the pearl, but finer and come in different hues. DSC05773The fluorescent paints from Createx glow under UV light. They’re a bit thin to hand paint, but if you’re careful and layer up the paint they can achieve enough density, and they airbrush well with just perhaps a little thinning. When airbrushing you have to make sure that the undercoat is a good colour. I found the Alclad grey too dark for them and the Alclad white didn’t hide the plastic colour well enough. What I settled on as a solution was to use the Alclad grey to hide the plastic colour and then to put down a layer of Createx white before the fluorescent paint.DSC01094 For top coating, I’ll use Alclad Klear Kote Flat. You don’t need much so it’s quite economical and I’m just now at the end of my first bottle! It dries quickly too, which is always a benefit for top coats.

Sometimes when you want to weather a piece, the weathering will not work well on a glossy surface, and here the Alclad flat works very well. The Tamiya weathering masters stick well to the flat when they refuse to go onto the gloss coated parts.DSC01088For gloss coating I’ll use Pledge Floor Care, otherwise known as Future Finish. You don’t have to thin it. It sprays well, dries reasonably quickly (as long as you don’t go too heavy) and it’s so cheap.

When you’re laying down decals, a quick coat of Future Finish will hold them in place, dry and protect them so you can layer up decals safely or be sure you’re not going to displace some as you work on the model. And because it’s cheap, you don’t mind spraying a few layers during this process.

Future Finish is also useful to protect paint for masking, and for building up a piece to a really glossy finish. If you just do a light layer of Future Finish you can achieve more of a satin finish, but it’s quite easy to over spray it and get too glossy!




White armour: Alclad grey undercoat, Createx white paint thinned with Future Finish and Tamiya acrylic thinner, top coated with Alclad flat. Weathering done with Tamiya Weathering Master sets.

Dark Armour: Tamiya gunmetal, Tamiya smoke.

A005_C021_10236E_001Body armour: Createx iridescent crimson, Createx iridescent hot red, and Createx fluorescent purple, all thinned with Future Finish and Tamiya acrylic thinner. Top coat is Future Finish.

Feet: Alclad grey primer, Future Finish.

A003_C005_0925JA_001Dark red armour:  Alclad gloss black, Createx pearl red, Tamiya clear red.

Medium red armour: Alclad gloss black, Alclad chrome, Tamiya clear red.

Bright red: Alclad gloss black, Alclad pale gold, Tamiya clear red.

Fuel Tanks: Tamiya gunmetal, Tamiya smoke. Tamiya gunmetal, Alclad pale gold, Tamiya smoke.

A001_C008_0911OJ_001Frame: Alclad gloss black, Alclad chrome.

Frame (dark): Alclad gloss black, Alclad chrome, Tamiya smoke.

Thrusters inner: Alclad gloss black, Alclad pale gold.

TGN_9530Dark red armour:  Alclad grey primer, Alclad gloss black, Createx pearl red, Tamiya clear red.

Light red armour details: Alclad grey primer, Createx pearl red, Tamiya clear red.

TGN_1987Hands and gun detail: Tamiya gunmetal.

All armour pieces were undercoated with Alclad grey primer.

Dark blue armour: Createx pearl blue.

Light blue armour: Createx pearl blue, Createx pearl white.

Red armour: Createx pearl red, Tamiya clear red.

Yellow armour: Createx pearl yellow, Tamiya clear yellow, Tamiya clear orange.

White armour: Createx white.

TGN_1349Thrusters: Alclad grey primer, Alclad chrome, Tamiya clear orange.

Soles: Alclad grey primer, Createx black, Createx black / white mix.

16 thoughts on “Paint – What I use and why”

  1. Great tips. Thanks for sharing. Been always wondering how you mix the paints for ur models. Won’t the Tamiya acrylics be too thick if it is used un-thinned for brush work?

  2. Yes, if you’re hand painting whole pieces or larger flat surfaces, un-thinned Tamiya acrylics would not work very well. However, I use hand-painting for small details and often it’s vital the paint does not run, and because the details are often tiny, you don’t want to be doing multiple coats with each coat increasing the chance of making a mistake. That’s why I generally hand-paint the Tamiya acrylics either un-thinned straight from the bottle or mildly thinned. The exception would be the Tamiya smoke which I’m using more as a wash, or to flow into recessed areas for which it really needs thinning right down.

  3. Does this only apply to acrylics? I tried to paint the flesh color for pilots using unthinned paint and it came out too thick. Think the paint was enamel by Mr hobby

  4. I think it’s task specific. I’m generally painting the Tamiya clear colours over chrome and I find un-thinned or a little bit of thinning works best for me. For your situation, it could very well be that a thinner paint works much better.

  5. Okay. I tried un-thinned and it came out too thick. Will try thinning it for the next figure. Thanks for the reply. Really appreciate how you take your time to interact with your readers

  6. Fantastic, this post is great. You have one of the best paint job i have ever seen and i want to learn something from you. But sadly in my country i cannot seems to find the future floor finish or any other floorcare.

  7. I find the Future Finish useful to allow me to get the best out of the Createx paints in the context of using them for painting plastic models. They give me a particular solution to various paint effects I want to achieve and are available locally to me. In your case, I think you’ll have to hunt down what different paint types are available locally to you, and see how to get the best out of them. I’ve done a fair bit of experimenting with the paints I have available, and when I see new paints I’ll get a few, try them, and see how they work.

    If I was back living in the UK for instance, I’d be experimenting more with Humbrol Enamel paints because they’re easily available. Here in Canada, I don’t often see them, although I can get them if I want. I’ve tried the Vallejo paints and had some reasonable results with them. I’d like to try more lacquer paints as they dry smooth, fast and hard, but again, they’re not the ones I see most often around here. I just make do with what I have available.

  8. Do you use a seperate airbrush for your alclad lacquers and your acrylics. I have had trouble with switching back and forth. what is your process for that?

  9. Well I know exactly what you mean! If you don’t get all the acrylic cleaned out the lacquer will often turn what’s left to cheese and clog the brush right up.

    So… Before using the Alclad I do a good clean with Alclad airbrush cleaner and that seems to do the trick. If I’m painting acrylics I try to use the normal acrylic cleaners, but even then I don’t do too many changes before I’ll want to use the Alclad cleaner as it’s so strong and effective.

  10. Hi.

    I extremely love the paint job on your Sazabi Ver Ka because evrything is beautifully done. I will buy this kit today and paint after seeing this.

    However I have a few problems and I hope expert like you can give me advice because if I cannot solve these problems then I am not dare to paint on an expensive kit like this.

    1. Paint scratch. I ddint topcoat on my Hg exia dark matter thus when I assemble they scratch when pieces touch each other, and some parts are too tight after lainted and scratch. What should I do?

    2. I see you paint the innerframe of the Sazabi with 2- 3 layers of different paint. Wont this affect the movement and articulation of the franes thus scratch when you pose the final product after painted?

    3. How do you get a glossy black coat on your kit using enamel paint for alclad highshine? I cannot be consistent where some areas are glossy and some arent. One problem is after I do wet coat it looks glossy but after a minute or so the paint dries and the glossyness is gone and becomes flat. This is so frustrating cause I cannot get a nice chrome finish with Alclad Chrome. Please help.

    4. Do you prime the inner frame? Because more paint layers will make them thicker and harder to move. Should i use acrylic or lacquer for inner frame and should I use primer as well? Please gove some advice.

    I hope you can share your expereince and help me improve.

    Thank you.


  11. 1. A few ways to deal with paint scratching:
    a) tougher paint: using Tamiya thinned with their lacquer thinner is much tougher than normal acrylic for instance.
    b) wait longer: waiting until the paint has fully cured and hardened can help
    c) thinner paint: will help stop paints rubbing on articulation.
    d) top coating: for outer pieces, a good top coat can help.
    None of those are perfect and you can still scratch a piece while assembling or articulating and it’s painful! I’ve had it happen a number of times and all you can really do is hide it with weathering or re-paint the piece.

    2. I generally use Tamiya gunmetal (with Tamiya lacquer thinner) for painting frames. This paint goes on thin and tough and thus works very well for frames. I’ve not had bother with it being too thick to impede articulation or scratching off. Also, the Alclad metallics go on thin and tough and thus don’t build up a paint thickness that could be problematic.

    3. Alclad chrome is a very tricky paint! The first thing you do is to use their gloss black base to prime the piece. Do that directly onto the plastic with no undercoat. Let it dry but not too dry.

    Now you’re going to use the Alclad Chrome. Drop the pressure on your airbrush right down. Pull back gently on the trigger to just “mist” the paint onto the black gloss base. Keep the airbrush moving so you don’t get a build up of paint and think thin and slow. Misting the chrome on is the only way to make it really work well. If you spray too vigorously you can see where the airbrush has been with a mark or discolouration and yes, a dullness. If that happens, let the piece dry and try misting more chrome gently over the top.

    But here’s an idea I’ve been using a lot on my PG Unicorn: Use a base coat of Tamiya gunmetal (thinned with Tamiya lacquer thinner) and then use Alclad polished aluminium on top. It’s much easier to use than their chrome and the results look quite shiny and seem more stable and touch resistant.

    4. No, I don’t prime inner frames. Use a paint that sticks well to the plastic and is tough – I suggest Tamiya gunmetal thinned with lacquer thinner. Just get a fresh bottle of the paint and add as much of the lacquer thinner as you can to the bottle leaving just enough air-gap at the top that you can give the paint a good shake (getting that lid on tight first as the lacquer thinner is very thin and will seep out if the lid is not tight enough)! Be sure to use a respirator with lacquer thinned paint! This paint has very good coverage and sticks to the plastic just great so that you really don’t need a primer. It goes on well in just a single coat, and dries really rapidly too so you can keep your building speed up. Also, as I found recently, it also makes a great base coat for Alclad metallics.

    Hope that helps!

  12. I’m finally researching airbrushing kits so I can build my backlog of HMM Zoids, and this guide was a great help! I especially appreciate the paint brand recommendations. Thank you very much!

  13. Hey great info here! About using those standard acrylics. How about using Tamiya lacquer thinner on those? Do you think they would flow nicely through the airbrush and dry tough?

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