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Choosing Paints

July 4, 2010

My return to modeling is proving chock full of decisions, but probably the single most important one yet has to do with paint.

See, paint is critical to the final product, perhaps every bit as critical as the kit itself. After all, a bad paint job can make the world’s best-engineered kit look like ass, while a great paint job can save even terrible kits.

When I was growing up, I used Testors Model Master enamels pretty much exclusively. These paints were relatively widely available and keyed to Federal Standard paint codes, so the Olive Drab you get in the little half-ounce bottle is the exact same color that crewmen were slathering on the hulls of M4 Shermans in September 1944.

The downside of enamels? They’re oil-based, so they have to be cleaned up with paint thinner, which, if you’ve ever been near it, is some pretty potent stuff.

This time around, rebuilding my paint collection from scratch, I decided to do a few spray tests between the Model Master enamels and a few different brands of water-based acrylics, specifically Tamiya acrylics and Testors’ own Model Master Acryl line.

Overall, the idea of acrylics is very appealing. Water-based, less toxic, cleaned with isopropyl alcohol or Windex…what’s not to like?

Unfortunately, acrylics have a downside: they dry very fast. And once they dry, they’re a nightmare to clean up.

Ultimately, this last kind of made my decision for me. With two young kids, the chances are pretty high I’ll be called inside in the middle of airbrushing on at least a semi-regular basis, and the prospect of paint having time to dry a bit inside the airbrush is pretty decent. Knowing what I’m up against, I think enamels – which can be easily cleaned up with thinner even after ten years – are the better option.

And besides, I don’t think the acrylics airbrush quite as well.

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