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April 08, 2021
Guide to Painting Your Model Car

Guide to Painting Your Model Car

Building model cars is a favorite pastime of many people around the world. Seeing your cars on display can bring back happy memories of the past while showcasing your favorite vehicle makes and models. And the best part is that you know you put in the time and effort to build a model car you can be proud of. 

If you want to paint your first model car, there are a few things you should know before beginning. Read on to discover the best model car painting tips for a safe and successful start.

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Skill Level for Model Cars

Before you begin this rewarding hobby, you should understand the different model car skill levels.

The skill levels may differ among model car brands, but here are the most common ones:

  • Level 1: The pieces in these kits snap together. You don't need glue or paint for these models.
  • Level 2: These kits need paint and glue to complete. They have fewer than 100 pieces, usually. 
  • Level 3: You'll find smaller and more detailed parts in these kits. You can expect them to contain 100 pieces or more. 
  • Level 4: For the more advanced modeler, these kits contain over 100 pieces and include many details for you to complete. 
  • Level 5: Expert modelers enjoy the challenge and detail of this skill level. These kits contain several hundred pieces and include moving parts.

Tools You Need to Paint Your Model Car

Tools You Need to Paint Your Model Car

After determining your current skill level, you'll need the right tools to paint your model car. Make sure you gather the following items to keep with your model car paint kit:

  • Glue: You'll need glue for model kits above level 1. If you're working with plastic kits, then you'll need plastic cement in a tube or liquid plastic cement to get the right amount of hold. 
  • Tape: Tape comes in handy for masking off nearby surfaces or parts of your model car. This makes it easier to achieve straight, sharp lines on your model car when you're painting it.
  • Brushes: Make sure you get several sizes of model car paintbrushes. You'll need wider brushes for painting larger areas. Smaller brushes are great for adding small details and custom designs. 
  • Vices: You should have a few vice grips on hand when assembling your model car. Constant pressure is important to get a strong bond when gluing pieces together. With a vice grip, you can create that constant pressure while focusing on the next part of the building and assembly process. 
  • Stand: A stand makes the painting process easier and cleaner. You can avoid holding your model pieces as you paint, reducing the amount of paint on your fingers and fingerprints on your model. 
  • Hobby knife: A hobby knife is an essential tool to have as you begin your model car journey. You should consider getting several sizes of hobby knives to accommodate a variety of situations. You'll use hobby knives to whittle away extra material, cut pieces out of their molds, and even adjust the shape of components to help them fit together better. Every hobbyist should have a few hobby knives on hand. 
  • Drop cloths: It's a good idea to have a few drop cloths as you assemble and paint your model car. This will help protect the surrounding area from damage and messes, especially when painting your model car with spray paint. 

Choose the Right Paint and Color

Choose the Right Paint and Color

It's important to know the kind of paint you want to use before choosing any color or brand that catches your eye. Different paints have varying factors that affect how to use them. Make sure you choose the right kind for your model, skill level and goals. 

You must decide between painting your model car with acrylic paint or enamel paint. Consider the following factors and decide which is the best choice for you:

  • Solvent: All paints contain a solvent that absorbs the pigment and allows you to apply it to various surfaces. Acrylic paint is water-based, while enamel paint is oil-based. Each solvent has different performance factors that could help you determine which to use. 
  • Drying time vs. quality: If you want a fast drying time, you should choose acrylic lacquer paint. It can be dry to the touch within a half-hour of applying and should finish drying within one day. Yet, acrylic paint has a tendency to peel and is less resistant to human touch. Enamel paint takes one to three days to cure but may give longer-lasting, higher-quality results. Enamel paint is resistant to human touch and can keep its rich color for years. Check your paint labels for exact information on drying times. 
  • Cleanup: Acrylic paint is water-based, so you'll only need warm water or some rubbing alcohol to clean your brushes and tools. Because enamel paint is oil-based, you'll need mineral spirits or another paint thinning agent to clean up after a painting session. 
  • Fumes: Acrylic paint cures through water evaporation. This lets you keep your windows and doors closed as you paint since there won't be any harmful toxins floating around in the air. Enamel paint cures through a chemical reaction between the oil and the oxygen in the air. This process does release potentially harmful fumes into the air. You'll need proper ventilation where you're painting to keep yourself, your loved ones and any pets safe. 
  • Application methods: You'll use some of the same application methods for both types of paint. This includes using spray cans, airbrushes and paintbrushes for model cars. Keep in mind that you'll need to thin your paint when painting your model car with an airbrush. Thin acrylic paint with water and enamel paint with mineral spirits or another thinning chemical. 
  • Color options: The type of paint you choose may come down to the color options available to you. Acrylic paint has plenty of color options to keep you busy and fuel your every inspiration. Enamel paint has fewer options to choose from, but its beautiful results could make up for the lack of options. 

11 Steps to Paint Your Model Car

11 Steps to Paint Your Model Car

You can paint your model after it's fully assembled, or you can paint the parts individually before assembly. The choice is yours, and these steps can help you achieve the results you want:

  1. Gather your tools: Be sure to have all the tools you'll need ready to go before you start painting. Painting is a time-sensitive activity, so you should avoid a situation where you're missing something after you've already started applying paint. Stopping midway through painting could give you lackluster results. When you gather your tools beforehand, you can enjoy a stress-free painting experience with a better result. 
  2. Sand surfaces: Using high grit sandpaper to sand your model car's surface and give it a little more texture can help your paint adhere to your model car and give you a better outcome. This is especially important when using acrylic paint since it has a harder time clinging to smooth surfaces than enamel paint. 
  3. Clean each part: Clean your model car before applying paint. This is important after sanding since particles of plastic will cling to the components. This can reduce the finished quality of your paint job. After sanding, wash plastic components with warm water. Then you can begin painting knowing you're working with a clean surface. 
  4. Prime your model when painting with acrylic: Some model car enthusiasts recommend priming your model for every painting session. Others skip the priming step and go right to paint application. It's up to you, but you should at least consider priming when using acrylic paint. The acrylic will have an easier time binding to the surface of your model with a coat of primer first. Use sandpaper to scuff up the primer after it has dried for even better results. 
  5. Consider thinning your paint: The paint you use may be thicker than you want it to be for your purposes, but you can always thin your paint to get it to the consistency you want. Get a small container, add your desired paint and mix it with the proper thinning agent. You'll need water for acrylic paint and mineral spirits for enamel paint. Start with a little and add from there to get the right ratio, using a stirring stick to mix the solution as you go. 
  6. Clean your paintbrushes before use: Before applying paint to your model car, you should clean your paintbrushes with the proper paint thinner, whether that's water or mineral spirits. This will make sure no dust or other obstructions are in the bristles so you can achieve a clean brushstroke. It also helps prevent paint from clinging to and clumping in the bristles. This can help you achieve a better model car paint finish and make cleanup easier when you're done. 
  7. Apply the paint to the model: Start by dipping your paintbrush in your paint of choice. Be sure to cover the bristles halfway to avoid applying too much paint at once. Start with small brush strokes and use a slow back-and-forth motion. It might be difficult to paint the model car after you assemble it, so consider painting each piece separately for a clean, crisp result. 
  8. Let the paint dry between coats: You may need to apply several coats to achieve your desired appearance. Make sure you wait for each coat to dry before adding another. Your paint's packaging should provide the recommended wait time between coats. Adding another coat of paint too early could smear the previous coat, causing clumping and poor coverage. 
  9. Clean your tools: When you're finished painting, clean your tools right away. This will ensure you can use them again for future painting sessions. Letting paint dry on your tools could ruin them, and you'll have to buy more for next time. You should get several uses out of your brushes and other tools with proper cleaning. 
  10. Let the paint cure: After painting, the next step is to wait. Acrylic paint should finish curing after a day or so, while enamel paint will need several days to cure. 
  11. Protect your hard work: As a bonus step, you can add a clear coat and wax your model car to ensure long-lasting quality. Choose the sheen of your clear coat, from matte to high-gloss, to achieve the level of shininess you desire. Once that dries, wet-sand the surface with high-grit sandpaper. Follow that with automotive polishing compounds and wax from your local hardware or automotive store. The result will be a reflective, beautiful model car for your display shelf. 

How to Fix Paint Imperfections

With detailed work like painting, you're bound to find some imperfections, but you can take some precautions before painting to avoid them later on. However, you can still use certain model car painting techniques to fix blemishes later as well.

To limit paint imperfections, make sure you sand each component before priming and painting. This will level out any gouges or scratches on the surface of your model car. You should also use a model car filler, or a putty that works with plastic, to fill in any gaps or deep pits. 

When you finish painting, check for brush stroke lines or uneven sections of paint. Try to find these imperfections before adding any clear coats or polishing compounds. This will give you a chance to make corrections before putting the finishing touches on your model car.

Use high-grit sandpaper to buff out the uneven sections and remove paint lines. This gives you the opportunity to paint that area again, making sure to use the correct amount of paint. Adding too much paint in one area may result in visible brush strokes or an uneven, blotchy final product. Remember to only dip your brush's bristles halfway into the paint to avoid applying too much at a time. You can also consider using enamel paint over acrylic, as enamel paint has some self-leveling qualities that reduce these imperfections. 

Once you've buffed out the imperfections with sandpaper, remove any particles from the model car with compressed air or a tack cloth. Then you're free to recoat. Once you've waited the recommended amount of time for that coat to dry, you can apply your clear coat and move on to polishing and waxing. 

How to Store Your Paint

If you want to save your leftover paint until next time, then you need a storage location. Store your paint in a dry area with moderate temperatures to keep it from freezing in the winter. You'll also want to make sure the paint doesn't get too hot, which can be equally destructive. Keep all your paint in one location to make the process easier when you're ready to paint your next model car. Plus, you'll know which colors you have on hand.

Paint can expire, but with the right conditions, you can keep your acrylic and enamel paint for a few years without worrying about a major reduction in quality. Some settling in your paint may occur, but when you're ready for your next painting project, just stir your oil-based paint and shake your water-based paint to unify the components.

Check on your paint periodically and make sure you're meeting the proper conditions to ensure your paint lasts. You can also contact your paint manufacturer to learn your paint's ideal storage temperatures and lifespan information to make sure you follow the correct procedures.

Start Your New Model Car Hobby by Shopping Online at Auto World Store

Start Your New Model Car Hobby by Shopping Online at Auto World Store

A lot of time and effort goes into painting your model car, but this hobby offers rewarding results. As you look at your finished work, you'll experience a sense of pride and nostalgia. Your model car is a display of all your hard work. Plus, you get to look at your favorite vehicle makes and models whenever you want. 

Auto World has everything you need to begin your journey into model cars. Shop our inventory of models online and choose from our paint kits for model cars. Contact us today to learn more about how we can be your source for all your model car needs!