Garage Kit 101: Paints

Welcome guys again for another long delayed episode of Garage Kits 101. It’s more than a month since I last posted something about this supposedly “weekly” blog series so I hope I can fill you in more about garage kits, especially those who were curious or wanted to try this hobby out.

Paints. I received a few questions about this a lot, especially from curious, fellow collectors. I personally use Tamiya acrylics, Tamiya Enamels and Bosny spray paints for my work. This week, I’ll try discussing the different types of paints and how they help you create masterpieces from dull, plain plastics.

Paint Types

Knowing the type of paint you’re using is very important. It will save you time, effort and resources by doing it right and not by repairing/repainting your kit because you used the wrong choice of paints. You can use any paint type; you just need to know when and how. There are three main paint types used by modelers: Lacquer, Acrylic and Enamel. The properties in green text indicate the “pros” while the red are the “cons”


Image courtesy of:

  • Quick drying and curing*
  • Adheres to most surfaces excellently
  • Forms a tough layer once cured.
  • Recommended for air brushing
  • Not recommended for hand painting (unless mixed with leveling thinner)
  • Very toxic
  • More expensive


Image courtesy of:

These are hobby acrylics, not to be confused by artist acrylics which painters use for their paintings. Artist acrylics require water to be thinned, doesn’t adhere well and takes a long while to dry and cure. Hobby acrylics are the paints made specifically for painting plastic models.

  • Non-toxic (though you should still avoid inhaling too much fume)
  • Quick drying*
  • Adheres to most surfaces
  • Readily available
  • Cheap
  • Good for airbrushing
  • Scratches off easily (unless top coated)
  • Long curing* time (minimum of 24 hours)
  • Not recommended for hand brushing


Image courtesy of:

These oil based paints are perfect for touch up jobs, detailing and minor repairs. Also a perfect choice for “washing”.

  • Good for hand-painting
  • Tough surface once cured
  • Beautiful, gloss finish
  • Toxic
  • Long curing time (takes a minimum of 2 days)
  • Long drying time

*Remember the terms drying and curing? Drying is how fast the paint dries on the surface. Meaning it is safe for soft touches and won’t cause stains anymore. Curing is a chemical process when the paint “settles in” and completely adheres to the surface. If you touched a newly painted surface and confirmed it is dry, don’t be fooled. It may be dry on the surface but underneath that coat is the uncured paint layer. If you try masking or pushing the surface, it will wrinkle and leave nasty finger prints. It is a must to let the paint cure before doing something on it, especially if you need to mask or handle the other parts of the same surface.

Another rule of thumb: Lacquers > Enamels > Acrylics

Lacquer is the strongest type and it will dissolve or “eat” the paint underneath if you paint it over enamels or acrylics. Acrylics and enamels however, can be layered either way. So what good does it do? Well, playing with paint types will enable you to become more flexible with colors and will make it easier to clean up something when you mess up. I’ll site some examples below:

1/6 (Volks) – Chelsea Arcot

For Chelsea’s sword, the white and gold are both painted in acrylic then top-coated with flat clear. Once cured, I fully painted the part I want to highlight with blue enamel. Since the two don’t react to each other, I carefully stripped the blue overcoat, leaving the perfect details underneath. I’ve used the same technique to produce results below:

Saber Lily (Infernal Black Custom)


Thinners go along with paints. They make your sticky, thick paint more manageable and brush/ airbrush friendly. They are also used for cleaning your tools after you’re done with them. The obvious rule is to use the correct thinner for the specific paint type. Use enamel thinners for enamel and lacquer thinners for lacquers. But this is not strictly the case.

For example, you can use Lighter Fluid to thin and clean enamels. They won’t harm your lacquer or acrylic paint should you decide to use it for washing. You can also use lacquer thinners (commonly sold by hardware stores) for cleaning and stripping acrylics. I still use branded enamel and acrylic thinners when mixing paint and applying them to get the best results.

Image source:

The basic ratio for mixing paint is 1:1 – one part thinner and one part paint. However, you can change that depending on the density of the your paint. The general rule is achieving the “milk-like consistency”, especially if you’re air-brushing. If you’re hand painting, you don’t need to thin or use a lot of paint at a time so apply some lighter fluid using droppers.


Alright, so you have your paint and your thinner. Does that mean you’re geared up and ready to go? Not quite. You still need to use primer. This is a very important component in painting plastics and garage kits.

Imagine painting a plastic kit directly and come few days or weeks, the paint starts to peel off for no apparent reason. This wouldn’t have happened if you primed the surface first before happily applying your colored paints. Primers serve as intermediary between the smooth non-porous plastic surface and your paint. They ensure that the paint you apply will adhere and won’t come off easily. I personally use Bosny Primer Grey, which is readily available from almost all hardware stores. It’s cheap, dries fast and leaves a perfectly smooth surface (provided that it was prepped before hand). A can is good for at least 3-4 kits. Some primers are also used to fill in minor scratches, bubble holes and other imperfections, allowing you to smooth them.


Again, I’ll clarify that I am not a “pro”. There are a lot of other modelers out there who can make my work look like children’s toys – no kidding :D. Take this as a fellow amateur’s point of view. I don’t have answers to every questions that may arise for this article so I encourage you to use Google.

So that’s what I have for this week. Next time, we will discuss about workspaces. Or anything related to that.

Recommended references:

Gamera Baenre Tutorials

Cody’s Coop FAQs

M_Candy’s Tutorial Videos

Swanny’s Models

This entry was posted in Garage Kits, Tips and Tutorials and tagged by vhayste. Bookmark the permalink.

About vhayste

Vhayste is a Filipino game walkthrough writer who's a fan of RPG games, shooters, strategy and adventure games. His works can be found on major gaming sites such as IGN, Supercheats, Gamefaqs, Neoseeker, etc. He is also an amateur garage kit modeler and a fond collector of PVC figures. He's into mechs (though he shied away from building gunplas), cars, fighter planes, history, astronomy, paleontology, general science, dogs, pasta, rootbeer and of course, chicks.

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