Airbrushing Acrylics, Introduction

By Matt Bittner

Background

As most know, I've been planning a series of articles on how to use acrylics to airbrush. Unfortunately health problems have kept me from writing these articles. Now that I'm on the mend, I thought I would at least write an introduction on what paints to definitely expect, as well as the initial process I follow prior to painting.

The Paints

Currently, I plan on presenting articles on the following paints (but not all articles will be written by me):

  • Vallejo
  • Mister Kit
  • Model Master Acryl
  • Polly Scale
  • Tamiya
  • Xtracrylix

The first paint I hope to write on will be Xtracrylix. I've used this paint on the Olimp Curtiss P-1A, and found that when used with their thinner, the paints flow extremely well from the airbrush and are very strong. But more on that next month.

Since I've acquired an accurate measuring device, I hope to give better advice on thinning than "thin to the consistency of milk". I'm going to try to show just how much thinner to use in ratio to the paint. No doubt it will be different for each paint brand.

Prep Work

One piece of advice I received before starting on this endeavor was to list out what chemicals each item I use consists of. This is for the people who don't have access to the name brands I mention, since not all countries carry the same brands. This way where the name brand isn't available, those interested in tracking down the same material can find a suitable alternative. This list of chemicals (and related web sites) can be found at the end of this article. One noteworthy example is the acrylic floor wax, "Future". In some parts of the world this brand goes by the name "Kleer" – it could be different in the country that you reside.

Using acrylics for airbrushing – I've found – requires quite a strict approach even prior to starting the build. When I decide to build a kit, I will wash that kit prior to removing any parts from the sprue, pour block or vacuform sheet. In addition, I will wash the kit again, after major construction is finished, prior to starting to paint.

For the first step, I use a dish soap called "Dawn" as it's known in the United States. After rinsing all the parts in water, I squeeze a little bit of Dawn onto an old toothbrush. Then, using this toothbrush I scrub as good as possible each and every part. No doubt you'll want to be careful with the smaller parts, since they're easily broken. Be sure to not only scrub the exterior of all parts, but the interior as well (especially since I use acrylics practically throughout the entire build, which includes the interior of the fuselage).

There are some kits where dish soap is not strong enough to clean the parts. One manufacturer that comes to mind is the old ICM company (not to be confused with the newer ICM company, "ICM Holding"). They tended to include a lot of mold-release residue which was difficult to remove using just dish soap. In this case, using an oven cleaner was the best bet, prior to construction. Unfortunately I no longer have oven cleaner, as I haven't run across this problem since ICM restructured and became ICM Holding. This is a good thing, as oven cleaner – at least in the US – is extremely caustic and not recommended for prolonged use. I only bring it up because, in the past, it was needed to properly clean some kits.

Post-Prep

Once the major construction is finished and it's time to start airbrushing, I again clean the model, which helps remove oils from handling the model, etc. This time I use a different product, called Polly S Plastic Prep (again, check the end of the article for a list of chemicals in all products mentioned). It has a little more to it than dish soap and helps in the removal of body oils. Since it's more of a liquid than Dawn, I dip the toothbrush into the bottle instead of pouring the liquid onto the toothbrush (and losing more than I use).

Thinners

I hope to show a number of different means of thinning acrylics. Naturally I'll use whatever product the manufacturer sells, but I'll also use "windshield washer fluid" (which I've successfully used to thin all acrylics that I have used) as well as Future. Some may not know that Future is good for acrylic thinning. Not only does it thin the paint, but it also provides a much stronger finish. Future is necessary – I feel – when thinning Model Master Acryl, as I've found Acryl to be a very "weak" finish, chipping, rubbing off and pulling up (when taped) consistently. (More on that when I publish the article on Acryls.).

Conclusion

As I mentioned in my opener, I wanted to present the steps I take prior to not only airbrushing a model, but also prior to actually starting construction. I've found that if I skip any of these steps, then I run the risk of pulling up paint when I remove any masking I may have on the model. Yes, I know these issues don't exist when using a solvent-based paint, but as I like a clean environment in my home (since I spray indoors) I will use acrylics the majority of the time.

Chemicals Used

Dawn

Polly S Plastic Prep

Future

Windshield Washer Fluid

  • Unfortunately the only thing I can find on its label is that it contains Methanol, and is considered poisonous
  • Material Safety Data Sheet

Roll Models

Sandle Hobbies

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