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Paint advice

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  • Member since
    April 2009
  • From: wisconsin
Paint advice
Posted by trapper on Sunday, February 9, 2020 8:27 AM

Hello all, I'm asking for some advice on paint. I will be buying my first airbrush very soon. What do you recommend? Lawyer, enamel, with so many paints out there it's hard to decide. Any help would be great!!

  • Member since
    January 2011
  • From: long island, new york
Posted by chucky on Sunday, February 9, 2020 2:42 PM

I'm sure there a lot of recommendations out there, but here are my observations from my experience with airbrushing models. My brother used to do a lot of figures and military stuff and sometimes would use acrylics, but mostly military flat enamels like Model Master. I have used both lacquer and enamel on my car models. I find that the slower drying characteristics of enamel allow for a glossy finish as sprayed in tight areas like fender undersides and street rod frames. Lacquer tends to flash-off quickly and sometimes leaves a "sandy" finish in those tight areas. Both spray well when reduced to a milk-like consistency, with lacquers liking to be a little extra-thin. You can decant lacquers from rattle cans and spray as is. I like Dupli-Color Perfect- Match base coat colors and clear. I even mix them to get the colors I want. The sky is the limit. Just start off with a good airbrush setup and practice on old soda bottles and the like. The test spray-out on plastic spoons is important prior to applying your color to your model, "just in case". Good luck and remember to dismantle and clean your airbrush meticulously for years of trouble-free service. 


  • Member since
    April 2009
  • From: wisconsin
Posted by trapper on Tuesday, February 11, 2020 7:34 AM
Thank you
  • Member since
    December 2003
  • From: Nova Scotia
Posted by Bainford on Tuesday, February 11, 2020 11:30 AM

Chucky has some great advice.

The choice of acrylic, enamel, or lacquer (or other variants) is largely a personal one. They all have their particular characteristics, but they all do a great job of applying colour to a model. Only through experimentation can you determine what works best for you, or for a particular painting job.

If you are just getting started out with airbrushing, I would recomment sticking with hobby specific paints until you get the hang of it. Most 'non-hobby' lacquers are quite hot (meainng their base solvents are quite strong) and can craze unprotected styrene plastic (crazing is when the plastic surface is turned to a rough, grainy surface). Primer alone is not always enough to protect the plastic surface. Hobby lacquers are usually mild enough that this is not a problem. Also, when starting out, I would recommend keeping with the same type of paint throughout the paint process, as there can be compatibility issues when intermixing paint types. For example, applying lacquer over enamel sometimes can cause the paint to wrinkle up horribly. There are many exceptions, of course, and a common one I will mention to you is to thin your enamel paints with cheap, hardware store lacquer thinner. It works well, dries faster, is cheap.

Generally speaking, it seems the main reason for people choosing acrylic paint is that it is less toxic, thins with water or alcohol or even windshield washer fluid, and it has less smell. I have only painted a couple of car bodies with acrylic and had a number of problems, so I'm done painting car bodies with acrylic as long as there are other choices. However, I still use acrylics a lot for interior and chassis, etc. In fact, one of my most used paints is Tamiya semi-gloss black acrylic, a great multi purpose paint. Acrylics do dry fairly quickly.

Lacquer is probably the most used paint type by top builders. The colour choice is unlimited when you factor in the availability of automotive paints and touch-up paints, not to mention the numerous outfits selling automotive lacquer in small quantities for the hobbiest (such as Gravity, Zero, MCW, Scale Finishes, Splash, etc.). It is the most toxic of the hobby paints (though automotive based polyeurethanes are the worst in terms of harmful, so avoid them until you have learned how to handle them and have the proper PPE in place, or better yet, just avoid them). Aside from colour choice, the next best thing about lacquers is that they dry very quickly. I've been using lacquer more and more lately. They spray out well, apply thinly and are drip/run resistant.

I probably use hobby enamels most of all, largely due to availability, and because I'm stubborn old school. The enamels spray nice and provide the best shine, but are by far the slowest to dry, especially Humbrol and some Testors paints. A food dehydrator is very useful for speeding up drying times (regardless of paint type). My last enamel paint job was Humbrol paint, and it took four weeks to cure, half that time spent in a food dehydrator, but usually a week or so is require for a full cure. Enamels work best and dry a little faster when thinned with lacquer thinner. It's perfect for cleaning the airbrush, too.

When chosing a paint for painting a car body, the choice of type of paint I use comes down to whatever type of paint the desired colour comes in. Get yourself a good respirator to protect your lungs and central nervous system from solvent fumes. I use my 3M respirator when spraying all types of paints, but is a must for lacquers and enamels, especially when thinned with lacquer thinner. I also make sure to use disposal latex (or better yet, nitrile) examination gloves when handling lacquer or enamel thinner, such as when cleaning the airbrush, as the bad stuff can be absorbed through the skin, though it will wreck the latex gloves. I also recommend getting a cheap food dehydrator, and keep it just for model use, to help speed up drying times (much has been written about this, so a forum search shoulf provide more info).

Apologies for all the words. This is my experience, but YMMV. I hope some of this helps more than it confuses. Feel free to ask specific questions.

"It would be unusual, if the unusual didn't occur."

- Steamboat Gariepy


  • Member since
    February 2020
Posted by Ricmod on Tuesday, February 11, 2020 2:02 PM

if you're using lacquers you should definitely use a spray booth. There are a couple on the market. You can find one advertised in this months Scale Auto magazine. I have this spray booth myself and I know it is lacquer safe (The motor won't set the fumes aflame). 
  You can spray enamels or water based acrylics over dry lacquer but you can't spray lacquer over enamels. the lacquer will eat into these paints and craze the finish. You don't need primer with lacquer on styrene. Again it will slightly eat into the styrene and hold but I do recommend primer first to assess any body imperfections. Enamel has a nice finish but if you really want that mirror like paint job you must use lacquer and go through the labor intensive process of wet sanding down to a 1600 grit sandpaper finish and buffing it down with polishing compound. If using enamel, try to avoid painting on humid days or you will get an uneven shine called blushing.


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