Model Tank Gallery

Six steps of painting model

by Bogus³aw Olech

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Step I - Primer

This step consists of covering an entire vehicle with the base color and weathering using the airbrush. According to myself, the number of base colors is limited to eight:

Germany (before 1943)
Germany (after 1943)
USA, Poland
USA (Marine Corps)
Winter Camouflage
Desert Camouflage
- #67 (Tank Grey)
- #29 (Dark earth)
- #66 (Olive drab)
- #161(USMC green)
- #91 (Black green)
- #75 (Brown green)
- #64 (Light grey)
- #29 lub #121 (Pale Stone)

It is important that the model is put together into sections allowing easy painting. Although, details like machine guns, tools etc should be mounted before painting with the base color. Before painting everything should be washed in water with dishwashing detergent. In order to speed up the drying process, I also wash everything with isopropyl alcohol. Paint should be mixed with thinner for oil base paints in ratio 1:1. Paint means consistence of the can. Although, enamel oil paints quickly go bad after mixing. (Under any reason paints with "foam" or those with thicker consistency should not be used.) I don't mix paints in order to prolong paint's life. I simply remove the pigment using the toothpick and dispose it in the container and mix it with thinner according to my own judgement. Paint with good consistency should easily drip off the toothpick, although after a moment there should be a drop at the end of it. After few times there is no problem with getting right consistency. Painting should be done with an airbrush from a distance so that the paint will quickly dry. This can be repeated numerous times but it will prevent dust particles from sticking to the wet area and creates "raw" finish which will be very important later on. After painting an entire model with the base color, we paint the external wheel areas, tracks and chassis with the mixture of #29 (dark earth) 80% and #33 (black) 20%, using the airbrush. Ratio is not that important, but it is important that those parts look "dirty" compare to the hull. Next step is to carefully spray ends of the fenders, rear and front of the vehicle along with external wheel areas using the same mixture.

Step II - Shading using the airbrush

First step left us with a model painted in the base color and dirty-looking suspension. It looks elegant but dull, steril and unreal and it has to be changed. In order to do so we can spray using the airbrush with Fine tip lighter colors "here and there". Although "here and there" method has its rules but about it later on. Here is a list of lighter colors equivalent to base colors used in the first step:

German (before 1943)
German (after 1943)
Germany and others - as above desert
Chassis / Suspension
- grey/light grey #64
- dark earth/desert yellow #94 or ochre #83
- dark earth/desert yellow #94 or ochre #83
- olive drab/light olive #86 or French Artillery green #179
- black green/dark green #30 or russian green #114
- Polish olive drab/light olive #86
- bronze green/light olive #86 or #117
- light grey/white #34
- dark earth+black/dark earth #29

The rules of shading are as follows.  Spraying has to be done using lower pressure than that of a base color (users of single use spray cans have no choice) using little more diluted paint as in Step I.  Nozzle should be almost closed because less paint is not harmful (it can be repeated in the same place), although more paint is harmful (the area has to be repainted with the darker base and once again shaded).   The paint should be sprayed on areas that are visible in the daylight (simply spraying from the top).  We try not to paint hollow parts and spaces between plates.
Larger areas should be lighter in the middle and darker towards edges. The most important thing not to do is to have a equally painted model but in the lighter color. After this step, model should be shaded.  This step is a hard one and practice can be replaced by words.  You have to try and work out your own technique.  Next step is even more important.

Step III - Matowienie

The main point of this step is not to flat the paint, which is already dull but to cover the model with protective layer before the next and most dangerous step.   To flat the paint we choose medium based on thinner different than base paint.  Using enamel oil Humbrol paint, I use dull medium (Dullcote) by Testors, which can be diluted with rubbing alcohol.
Please don't use salicyl spirit.
Medium is to be carefully mixed in its original bottle. We pour some to a separate container and dilute it with alcohol in 1 to 1 ratio. Next we pour it to the airbrush container through your wife's panties (all paints before painting with airbrush must filter this way).
Covering with dull medium it is important to remember about two things:
First, don't paint too long without a break or with low air pressure or during the rain.  Those mediums when in contact with condensed steam, create milky white deposit.
Secondly, the area has to be covered numerous times but almost dry, meaning medium has to dry right after the contact with the painted surface (just like paint).

Until now we were playing with the airbrush, what should result in nice and clean model.  Some think that it is sufficient and in this moment consider the model finished.  Some but not us. Now we will destroy this nice and clean model making it uglier and dirtier.  From this moment on we will be mainly using the paintbrush.

Step IV - Shading

It is fast although frustrating step.  It basically consists of painting the entire model with dirty paint thinner.  Not diluted paint but thinner thickened with little paint (9:1).
The best paint for this purpose is the oil based paint in tube used by artists and thinner used for Humbrol paints. Only three colors are required – black, burnt sienna and raw umber. 
I personally  "paint" suspension with a mix of raw umber and black, while superstructure using mix of burnt sienna and black.  The best way to test the level of density is to use piece of white paper.   Correctly thickened thinner should give us only dirty translucent streak not paint the paper.
Remember it is better to use less paint than too much paint.
Also remember that with volatile thinner used for Humbrol paints, pigment quickly falls to the bottom.  Before each painting with a brush we must mix the dirty thinner.  "Flooding" the model with thinner is not recommended. It is recommended to paint the surface so that is uniformly covered but without excessive concentration in enclosed areas.
.  After painting with thinner it is required to wait a little and then start drying the surface by softly touching (not shinning) using a rag, which does not leave any particles (I personally use pampers).   It is required to dry only visible surfaces and not enclosed areas.  The result of this step are dark shades in enclosed areas along with combining of base color with lighter color used to shade in Step III.  This step is easy although frustrating because it is required to paint area after area so that there is time to dry before thinner dries by itself.
If thinner dries by itself or if it is too concentrated in enclosed areas then the effects are ugly weeping which are hard to remove and because of that it is better to use less than too much.
After this step model must dry for at least 24hr and then it is ready for the most important step – drybrushing.

Step V - Drybrushing.

This step consists of painting the carefully airbrushed model using the brush. It will be done not once but few times. This step is made up of parts, each part being drybrushing of a model or part of it using a different color. Before I will describe this painting technique, few words about tools and accessories. The most important tool is a good brush, preferably from Golden Sobol ,which is expensive and becomes used up quickly. Brush has to be flat and its size depends on the size of the model - from #4 to #8. For this step, I only use Humbrol paints. Good brushes, paints and paper towels are all you need to make a good model. In addition, some practice comes in handy. First I will describe the drybrushing technique and then I will give example of color order. We begin with removal of paint pigment from the container (without much thinner). We remove the pigment using the brush (it has to be completely dry and not after being washed with thinner) and press it against the paper towel leaving the shade of the color. Then we use the brush to lightly press against the model, starting with corners and parts sticking out. If the brush is drier then harder, we can press. We can then move to larger and flat areas. We pressed in different directions moving the brush in circular motion. On larger, flat and rounded surfaces (e.g. barrel) we press with the tip rather than press with the entire brush. We do so in order to get the large areas lighter in the middle and darker towards the edges (corners, joints etc.). Above steps should give us the result of shades of the color used. First rule is not to do over do it. Second is to create smooth transition between lighter and darker shades. It is better to repeat the step rather than do it once and cover the original paint. It is important since additional lighter colors will be used in the same manner to add detail and 3D effect to the model.

Color order is as follows:
1. Humbrol no.29 (dark earth). Without consideration of the base color, entire model should be drybrushed using this color.
2. No.29 + 34, only suspension and little on the front and rear, where dust and dirt settles.
3. Color used to add lighter shade as in step II. For example if model should be panzer grey, then we use no.64 (light grey). Entire hull and external suspension areas.
4. Color as in 3, but mixed 50/50 with Humbrol no.94. Entire hull, especially horizontal and upper areas of horizontal area, but without suspension.
5. Colors as in 4 but with addition of white. Only edges and part sticking out (e.g. bolts, hinges etc.).
6. No.94. Very lightly entire model with suspension.

Without following what can be read in the modelling literature, do not lighten the base color using only white or end drybrusing using whites (model ends up looking unnatural). Intensive drybrushing can lead to the point, where model' surface becomes polished and does not collect any pigment from the brush. In such case drybrushing has to be stopped and entire model or its part has to be covered with flat medium so that the surface becomes rough and can collect the pigment.

Step VI - Painting of Details

This step is just a pleasure. It is important to remember to do according to the rules. First, I will point out the rules and then we can start the practical part of detail painting. Rules are based on the idea that elements of the model (vehicle, equipment, and tracks) should form harmony of color on it. It is not achieved by painting the shovel silver or attaching black tires to the finished model.

In order to do so we must follow certain steps:

1. All small elements should be glued before painting, unless elements will be unreachable after painting. This allows to harmony of color e.g. handles go through all steps as the rest of the vehicle. Hardcore modelers begin painting even after attaching wheels and tracks! I personally, break this rule and paint wheels and tracks separately, eventhough sometimes wheels did not match the vehicle and had to be repainted. I still believe that wheels should be painted separately so that both sides and rubber bands can be easily painted. Although, wheels should attached before drybrushing. Depending on the model, it may be necessary to paint in sub-assemblies through all steps.

2. Never should any elements be painted using only one color e.g. silver shovel or black tires. The only exceptions are wooden elements. The color of wood is impossible to be reproduced using paints. Wooden parts can be then painted using one color (some shade of brown) and give it a rest. Exceptions are wooden elements of weaponry, which look good painted brown in "burnt sienna" shade. If I want something to look as if it was made of wood (e.g. German jack blocks), I simply make copies of it using balsa wood and shade them using diluted paint.

Now the practical part:
1. Tracks
Humbrol No.173+33 or 29+33 as a base, then drybrushing using No.29 and then chroming using mixture of No.11 with oil raw umber paint.
2. Tires and rubber bands
No.29+33 or 33/64 as a base, then drybrusing using 33 if has to be a clean tire or 29+64 in different proportions if has to be a dirty tire.
3. Mufflers
No.173 as a base and then drybrushing using No.82.
4. Metal elements (tools, weapons etc.)
No.33 with addition of 64 (very dark grey) as a base and then chroming using mixture as above.
5. Leather elements
Only two kinds of leather were used - black and brown. In both cases use No.33/29. Black leather - drybrushing using grey oil based paint. Brown leather - drybrushing using oil based burnt sienna paint. Oil based paint gives that "leather" shine and those elements should be added after final coat of flat paint.
6. Headlights / Lights
First I drill out the lamps as in the real thing. I paint the inside with No.34 with a drop of 65. Then I add a drop of epoxy glue into the lamp. The problem is that I did not find epoxy that did not get yellow with age.
7. Residue on the muzzle break and exhaust pipe
To do so I use minced artistic black (coal) chalk.

I hope that I did not discourage you completely from modeling.