Modeling Basics Part II - Basic Painting by Doug Chaltry
2 March 2002 email: doug(at)
Painting small scale AFV's really is not much different than painting larger models. In fact, the techniques I use to paint my models were taught to me by a 1/35th scale armor modeler many years ago. The main difference is just a smaller tolerance for error. In larger scales, a small slip of the brush can easily be missed, or handily covered up. In our smaller scales, such slips become more obvious, especially when photographing the model, since we have to use close-up photography, which magnifies the entire image, mistakes included. Numerous times I have finished a model, thinking that it turned out pretty good. Only to take some photos for posting on this site, and the photos show numerous flubs and mistakes which need correcting.

The most important tip I can give for painting models is this: use an airbrush. The smooth finish provided by airbrushing is extremely difficult to replicate with hand brushing. Some camouflage schemes, and small details obviously must still be hand painted, but for the base colors, and for the painting technique I describe below, the best way to accomplish them is with an airbrush.

Painting a Model, Step-by-Step

I will use a very simple resin kit to demonstrate my painting methods. The model is a Polish TKS Tankette, manufactured by Al.By. Refer to its construction Review for more photos of the completed model.

Step 1. The initial step is the preparation of the model for painting. For plastic kits, obviously the construction needs to be fairly complete, with all seams filled and sanded smooth. Resin kits need to have all air bubbles filled and smoothed, all flash removed, and again, all construction complete up to the painting stage. Wash the model in soapy water to clean off any dust, fingerprints, and oily residue. (Fingerprints, in particular, show up remarkably well under the paint.)
Step 2. Paint the base color. In this instance, I used Panzer Green, which has an olive tint to it. I don't have access to Polish paint standards, so this is as close as I can come to paintings I have seen of Polish vehicles. Not shown in the scans are the wheel/track assemblies, which I also painted green. The late-war German three-color paint scheme, although very similar to this early Polish scheme, used the yellow (tan) as the base color, with green and brown applied over the top of the base color. The Polish vehicles used green as the base color, and additional camouflage colors applied over the green.
Step 3. Paint the camouflage colors. I have seen paintings of Polish vehicles with a neat geometric pattern of camouflage, so I wanted to replicate it on this kit. I used a dark Panzer Brown (not the Panzer Red-Brown; but more of a chocolate brown), and U.S. Desert Storm Tan. Again, I know these are not authentic, but they are very close to paintings I have seen. Notice where the brown paint has splattered and run a bit. This will be fixed with the highlight coat of paint.

Color Selection

I am not a hard-core purist when it comes to color selection of paints I use, for several reasons. First, does anybody truly know what the actual colors were 60 years ago? I'm sure that some people will argue "yes" and I agree that more and more information is being discovered every year for various paint standards of different nationalities. But there are so many exceptions to rules. Second, can model paint manufacturers ever exactly duplicate the original colors? I doubt it. Third, most people are aware that paint fades over time, but what is not often mentioned in model manuals is that it also discolors. Just adding white to a base color to fade it may not be enough. Some green colors fade to a very bluish-tone. Tans can fade to something with a distinct yellow cast. So I don't care if the color I used doesn't exactly match the Federal Standard number, or other such nonsense. Striving to make your model as exact of a replica as possible is a laudable goal, but we each must draw our own line between what we consider "reasonable effort towards perfection" and "not worth the time".

That being said however, I do try to follow general guidelines. For example, the colors used by the German Afrika Korps [apparently] had a very yellowish tint to it, although not as yellow as the Panzer Yellow color used in Europe. So I look for a tan or sand-colored paint with a yellowish cast. You know what I found works well for Afrika Korps? The British Gulf War Desert Tan by Testors Acryl. It has a very yellow tone to it but yet is still obviously a tan color, not yellow. So my "reasonable effort towards perfection" is tending to stick to general color descriptions. If a certain color is described as being an olive-green, for example, then I will likely use any green which has an olive tone to it, without worrying about an exact match to the Official Government Standards.

Step 4. Apply the wash. As mentioned on the airbrush page, I can do this immediately after painting the base color. Usually, by the time I finish cleaning the airbrush from spraying the base color, the paint is dry enough to proceed directly to the wash. These first two photos show the model right after the wash was applied, and is still wet.
These two photos show the model after the wash has dried, which takes a couple of hours at most.
Step 5. The highlight paint. Notice how I have taken care of the brown splatters, and covered up the unwanted wash stains.
Step 6. Drybrushing. I used a light gray for the drybrushing, as it seems to go well with all three of the camouflage colors. This step always seems to me to be the most impressive procedure, because it sort of brings everything together. It blends the camouflage colors, compliments the effects of the wash to add dimension to the model, and also adds weathering, all in the same step.
Step 7. Finished. I have glued on the tracks and machine gun. The gun and shovel balde were painted dark gray, given a black wash, and then rubbed with metalizer residue. The wheels were painted the same as the hull, and the tracks were done the same as the machine gun, with an additional light rust wash. I am not entirely plased with the tracks, which appear too highly polished. I will likely add more brown and black washes, and also some chalk to weather them some more. The muffler was painted dark gray, given a black wash, buffed with metalizer, and then given a couple of rust washes.

To prepare the vehicle for storage, or display, I use a flat clear coat. After I wash, and highlight, I apply the decals if any. Then I spray on the dullcote to seal in the decals. Putting on the chalk after the decals is an excellent way of making the markings blend into the overall "grungy" appearance of the vehicle. As for which dullcote to use, I find it difficult to control the spray cans of Testors Dullcote. I tried airbrushing the same product, but with dismal results. I've tried every brand of clear flat that I could find, including some intended for model railroading. I've found that once again, Polly Scale (or AeroMaster Warbird Acrylics) Clear Flat gives the best, and "dullest" results. Most of the others come out with a semi-gloss or satiny appearance. A warning: do NOT use Tamiya Flat Base. This is not a clear flat coating, but rather an additive that you put in other colors to make them flat. I didn't know that when I bought it. I sprayed a 1/72nd Ki-44 Shoki with it, and the whole thing turned pure white, like frost. I was able to rub most of it off with a towel, but I couldn't get it out of all the crevices and panel lines. It actually makes the plane look very dusty, like it's operating from a desert airfield.It also makes a pretty good winter whitewash.

And that's all there is too it. Granted, this was a simple kit, so construction was easy, but that's also what made this article easy to write. More complicated kits are obviously done in the same manner, but the timing of events may vary depending on the construction sequence (i.e., before or after attaching the wheels and tracks, etc.)

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