What kind of paint do you use on plastic models?

The majority of paints designed to be used on plastic models fall in to two categories, Enamels and Acrylics. Both types have their own advantages and disadvantages, but most modellers tend to have a preference based on what they are trying to achieve and how they intended to apply the paint.



Water based acrylics tend to dry quickly, have little odour and are easily blended with water. Water can also be used to clean brushes as well as removing a topcoat of paint to create chipping effects. The fast drying allows many more coats of paint to be applied in a modelling session which can greatly speed up the building of areas such as cockpits and figures where many different paints may be needed in a small area.

A large range of companies, such as Xtracrylix and Vallejo are now starting to produce acrylic paints in ranges of colours designed to replicate real life paints used by the RAF, USAF and many other countries from throughout history. This makes it very easy to produce a range of models with consistent paint finishes and accurate paint schemes.

Some manufactures now also produce acrylic paints that are pre-thinned for use in airbrushes such as Model Air from Vallejo. Airbrushing acrylics appeals to many modellers as the paints are relatively safe to use indoors and with very little odour, they are less likely to upset anyone else in the house!


With their faster drying times acrylics need some extra care to avoid brush marks in the finished scheme. This can be achieved by applying multiple thin coats or the use of levelling thinners or drying retarders. These can also be used when airbrushing acrylics as the paint has a tendency to dry out either in the airbrush itself or in the air on the way to the model.

The final finish achieved with acrylic paint is quite fragile and although unlikely to be damaged with occasional handling it will not stand up to repeated use.  As such it would be more unsuitable for applications such as railway modelling where rolling stock is frequently picked up and set down unless a good top coat of clear varnish is used.

Some brands of acrylic paint can be alcohol based which gives the paint an almost sweet odour and this can cause issues when brush painting as a second coat can interfere with the first. Occasionally the second coat can lift the first in places although this can be avoided by either allowing the first coat to properly dry over night or applying a thicker first coat to avoid the need for a second layer.



Solvent based enamel paints take much longer to dry than acrylics and this can be an advantage when it comes to achieving a really smooth or high gloss finish. This can be achieved by applying many thin coats of the paint until the desired results are achieved.

Enamel paints are also well suited to models that are going to be handled frequently such as railway rolling stock. As the paints are waterproof the are also perfect for outdoor use such as remote-control boats, touching up bicycles, house numbers or even garden gnomes.

They are also easier to airbrush as the increased drying time prevents premature drying of the paint.


Due to their solvent base, enamel paints do have a noticeable odour and special precautions should be used when airbrushing to avoid potential health problems.

The increased drying time should also be noted as it can be several days before the paint has fully cured. This is important to note especially when over coating as the paint will still be releasing vapour after it has become touch dry.


There are no comments

Add a comment