The Right Tools for Perfect Paint on Hard Plastic
I really enjoy painting injection molded ABS bodies, most often found on Tamiya trucks. I’ve built a lot of them through the years, and quickly discovered that to get the best paint job possible it’s very important that you have the right tools for the job. Since I am currently working on a Tamiya Clod Buster body, this is the perfect time to show you the tools that I use to get that paint job just right.
The body will need to be filled and sanded in different areas to make sure that there are no imperfections that will show up in your paint job. I like to use 600 grit wet/dry sandpaper to do the heavy work then I switch to 1,000 grit wet/dry sandpaper and go over the entire body to remove the marks from the 600 grit and to give it a uniform flat finish. This gives the paint something to hold on to. You can find this type of sandpaper at your local hardware store or automotive store.
Yes, that’s right I use a tooth brush to help get the perfect paint job. When washing the body with soap and water before priming or painting I use the toothbrush to get particles from sanding and so on out of the small details in the body. I purchase new toothbrushes for this, rather than recycling old ones. Old toothbrushes are fine for cleaning shock bodies and other dirty jobs, but clean tools are a must for paint prep.
I like to use two different types of tape when painting bodies. I use standard issue green 3M tape for masking large areas and Tamiya and Parma tape for fine detail. The green tape is available in large widths making it easier to cover more area with one piece. This speeds up the masking process and won’t kill your wallet when using a lot of it. The Tamiya and Parma tape is more expensive but really great for masking fine details and gives a very crisp edge. I also use this tape as my primary edge when doing a two-tone paint job.
When painting fine details on a body it’s very hard to get them masked just right when using tape no matter how great it is. I have recently discovered that Silly Putty is great for masking fine details no matter how complex they are. You simply apply it to the area and use a tooth pick or similar object to push it in place. Once the paint is dry you can easily remove it, ball it up and use it another time.
While it’s possible to get a good finish with rattle-can paints, nothing beats an airbrush for laying down smooth color. In addition to allowing you to thin paints as you prefer and mix custom colors no rattle-can can match, the adjustable paint flow (and airflow if you get a “double action” airbrush) makes it easy to precisely control paint application. With careful masking, you can also use an airbrush for detail work. Cleaning the airbrush after a quick spray isn’t very fun and it’s time consuming but the finish you will get is much better that you can get from any paint brush. We’ll cover airbrushes in a future installment of Kev’s Bench.
You can paint a body outside or in a garage but there are a lot of fine particles floating in the air. You may not notice them when you are standing there painting your body but you will see then once they land in that fresh paint. I paint in a spray booth to keep that from happening. There are ready-to-use spray booths available for scale modeling, but they are a little too small for RC bodies. I built a custom booth that keeps dust particles away from the body. The booth includes a fan that sucks air out through the bottom, and a door that closes the booth to keep dust particles from entering. I will show to you this booth in more detail in another edition of Kev’s Bench.
High-Quality Paint Brushes
I have several types and sizes of paint brushes to help me paint fine details on any body. You don’t need to get expensive artist brushes, but you should avoid the really cheap stuff. And take care of your brushes properly–make sure you clean them as soon as you are done, and store them so the bristles aren’t distorted in any way.
When you are done painting the body and it has a lot of time to properly dry (the longer it dries the better) I use a polishing kit to knock down any orange peel that may be in the paint and give it that mirror shine. If there is very little orange peel I start off with the middle of the pack on the grit (4,000) and go finer from there.
To get that final shine out of my bodies I give them a good rub down with high quality wax. This really makes the body look like it’s wet.
It’s very important that when you apply wax to your body that you do it while using a very soft rag. I like to cut up old T-Shirts or use a cloth that is designed for cleaning glasses. Not only do you want to use a soft rag but you also want to make sure that there is no debris on the cloth. The debris is just like sandpaper and no matter how small it may be it will ruin a good paint job.