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January 04, 2022
Guide to Weathering Model Kits
Guide to Weathering Model Kits

Table of Contents

Completing a model kit brings such a satisfying feeling. Model planes, cars, trains, and other varieties look absolutely stunning once the work is done and the final coat of paint has dried. While flawless paint jobs look great, they may not always provide the depth and realism of a true-to-life model. If your model feels a bit dull, it could be that it lacks the characteristics of its authentic, real-life counterparts. 

When you look at life-sized planes, trains, and other automobiles, they are not perfect. Some may have rust while others have chipped or scraped paint. Dirt from the elements, general wear and tear, water streaks, and bare metal are all details that can be featured through weathering. One of the best scale model painting techniques, weathering is often applied to bring about a sense of authenticity to any finished model. Use this guide for tips and tricks on successful and realistic model-building weathering techniques to enhance the appearance of your scale models. 

Model Prep

When you are ready to begin painting weathering on model cars or you are weathering model aircrafts, there are a few important steps to take to ensure realistic and authentic results. 

Start by carefully removing any bits of grease or residue from the surfaces you will be painting. It is important that all flaws are taken care of before painting because once the painting has been done, flaws will be more noticeable and difficult to correct. After that is done, you can move on to painting the pieces with the chosen colors and adding any special decals you have planned. 

For projects that are only getting surface details, such as a layer of dust, pieces should be painted with detail beforehand. However, if you are planning on more in-depth weathering effects, it could be best to paint details as you progress through the project. Always make sure that the initial layers of paint have had a minimum of two days to dry before beginning any weathering painting.  

If weathering is completely new to you, it is advised to practice on old or inexpensive models first. This will allow you to have the opportunity to grasp the different weathering effects without taking the risk of ruining your latest and greatest models. 

Most importantly, be sure that you are working in a safe manner. Some paints, including aerosols, lacquers, and varnishes, give off fumes that can cause health issues when inhaled. Always be sure that you work in a well ventilated area, especially when working indoors. 

Required Materials, Material Comparison

There are a variety of materials that can be used for weathering model tanks or metal model cars. While painting techniques for vintage model cars may be different than that of weathering train cars or naval ships, there are some basic mediums and tools that can be used across all projects, including: 

  • stiff-bristled brushes
  • micro brushes 
  • cotton swabs
  • soft rags or towels
  • flat varnish
  • a silver-colored pencil
  • vellejo matte varnish
  • acrylic paints or other water-based model paint
  • weathering wash
  • pastel chalks
  • airbrush 

Now that you have a list of some materials that can get you well on your way to weathering, explore what some of these materials can do for adding touches of reality to your hobby models. 

Stiff-Bristled Brushes

Stiff Bristled Paint Brushes 

One of the more important tools for model weathering, stiff-bristled brushes will be used for a number of effects. Adding texture, highlights, and more, these tools will help with layering different colors of paints in a subtle manner. Whether you are adding streaks for shine or need to stipple for paint chipping, stiff-bristled brushes will help you achieve the look you desire. When choosing the best brushes, make sure that they are not too large and that the hairs are short. 

Acrylic Paints and Water-Based Model Paints

Although there is nothing wrong with using oil paints for models, acrylics and other water-based paints do come with an advantage. 

While oil paints look great, they also take quite a long time to dry, which can lead to an extensively time consuming project if you are to prevent any mishaps in your work. Acrylic paints not only dry faster, but they also dry harder, meaning your work will last. Furthermore, acrylic paints are resistant to chemicals used in thinners, which means they will not be as easily lifted from the model as oils. 


Weathering Wash

To make details stand out on, model weathering wash is a great medium to use. Found in non-toxic, water-based formulas, it can really help to accentuate certain parts of your model that you want to be noticed. The more noticeable you wish a detail to be, the more concentrated and heavier the wash should be when applied. Excess can easily be taken away with a lint-free towel or rag.

Pastel Chalks

Pastel chalk is versatile when weathering models. You will want to look for soft pastels as opposed to the hard variety. They are ideal for grinding up into a powder and then applying the dust... as dust. Colors that work best when using pastels for dusting models are typically black, burnt umber, burnt sienna, yellow ochre, and white. While the chalk dust is not a permanent medium, it can be set in place by using a clear matter varnish. 

Areas to Focus on

Weathering tanks, cars, planes, and trains can be fun, but they are not all going to have the same weathering effects. As you implement weathering techniques to your models, consider what it is you are trying to finish. An old, well-worked military tank is not going to have the same wear-and-tear as an airplane. Here are some model-specific weathering tips to give your completed model kits the real feel. 


While commercial airplanes receive regular maintenance to keep them looking their best, wartime planes have a very different appearance. Maintenance to keep them running is more important than keeping them pretty. That is why weathering details such as paint chips, oil streaks, sun-bleaching and discoloration are optimal features to add to any wartime aircraft model. 

Simulating old and faded paintwork can be done by breaking down colors with washes of various tones. Scrubbing the area with a stiff-bristled brush with pure paint will allow the base color to show through. Dull the sheen of metal-skinned planes by adding a coat of matte varnish. Apply some brown-grey paint for adding dirt. 

Stains are also commonly seen on authentic wartime planes. Oil and hydraulic fluid stains can be achieved by applying generous amounts of turpentine to an area and adding diluted brown-black paint. Allowing it to flow from the applied areas will give it an authentic, streaky appearance. 

Tanks and Other Military Vehicles

There is no doubt that military tanks, jeeps, and other vehicles take a lot of wear and tear. Choosing the coloration of your model military vehicles is the first important step of successfully creating an authentic look. Washes of white, burnt umber and pale yellows can be added to the base colors to give the effect of the vehicles being discolored and dirty. Have fun with lightening and darkening colors as you like. Water splashes and mud can be added with pale streaks of white and watered-down shades of brown. 

Model Tank

Rust can be easily simulated by applying chromatic orange colors in grooves and channels where water would pool, such as where metal sheets and rivets are connected. The most important part of creating authentic-looking rust is to be very careful in the areas you choose to place it. You want the rust to make sense and not look random. 

Giving the look of exposed bare metal is also a great weathering technique for weathering model tanks. Consider using this look on track guards, turrets, wheels, and tracks (areas that are typically most exposed to the elements). Apply and feather a light wash of metallic steel paint and allow it to dry. If you feel that steel colors will be too bright, graphite can also be used to simulate bare metal and can be applied over any color.

To use graphite, scrape some off a soft lead pencil and grind it into a powder. Dip your finger in the powder and rub it on the model to enhance pitting in the molding and add a realistic, yet not too bright, sheen. 


Authentic model trains look the best with weathering techniques. The beauty of trains is that so many different kinds of effects can be applied. Whether you want a layer of dust from traveling or wish to make an old freight car look discolored and rusted, the possibilities are seemingly endless. 

While you are weathering your train, remember that some things should match. For example, the chassis and wheels of every model train should look the same when it is all said and done. It is also important that you remember to clean away paint from the wheels so that it can run properly on its electrical track. 


There are many different techniques that can be done to successfully weather any model. From dust and dirt to rust and faded paint, certain materials and tools can be combined for excellent and authentic results. 


Rust helps to add a lot of visual character and age to a model, however, selective placement is key to authenticity. It can really help to refer to images on the internet of vehicles similar to the one you are creating to accurately determine the areas that should have a rusted look. 

One method to achieving a successful rusted appearance is to take a Dremel and wear the plastic of the model away where the rust is going to be. As the plastic thins, it will bubble, giving it the effect of rusting metal. You can then pop holes with a toothpick. Masker fluid can then be used to cover the holes, but be sure to paint anywhere you want rust with a rust-colored paint before applying the masker fluid. After that, spray your model with your chosen color. 

You will then be able to remove the masking fluid for some incredibly realistic rust spots. 

Paint Chips

Yellow Model VW Bug with Chipping Paint

Paint chips can be easily applied by flicking a brush with stiff bristles loaded with the desired color of paint onto the surface. Be cautious to not have too much paint on the brush, otherwise you will end up with large spots and globs. Minimal amounts will work best until you get the desired look. 

In addition to using a stiff-bristled brush and paint, paint chips can also be simulated by using salt. Coarse salt can be used for larger projects while regular salt granules should be used for smaller models. 

After painting your model and allowing it proper time to dry, apply water with a brush where the paint chips are meant to appear. Sprinkle salt on the wet areas and use your fingers or a soft-bristled brush to gently move the salt into the places where the paint should appear to be worn away. Allow the wet areas with the salt to dry and then apply a top coat with an airbrush. Once the top coat has dried, brush off the salt to reveal the chipped paint results. 

Mud and Dust

Sprayed mud that would simulate a vehicle that had gone through puddles can be achieved by dragging brown paint along the lower edges of the model with a stiff-bristled brush. Once dried, apply tiny quantities of white paint to the areas that could use some highlighting. 

A vehicle that has gotten covered in dust can be portrayed by using an airbrush. Apply a light coat, concentrating along the bottom of the vehicle, and allow overspray to dust up the sides. You can also use the pastel chalk dust method, as mentioned earlier. 

Cleanup and Material Storage

Taking proper care of your tools and materials, especially your paints, is just as important as the project itself. When you are finished working, follow these guidelines for keeping your paints ready for the next project.

  • Ensure that your acrylic paints are stored in an environment with a temperature of between 65 degrees and 75 degrees and that they have been properly sealed from air and moisture. 
  • Consider storing your paints and cans upside down. If there are any leaks, the paint will dry, providing a seal for the rest of the paint to stay fresh. 
  • Add marbles or small glass beads to reduce the volume of air in jars and bottles.
  • Shake the paint containers every so often to keep the paint from separating.

Weatherize Your Model Kits with Auto World Store

If you are looking to add more detail and authenticity to your model vehicles, you have come to the right place! Auto World Store was founded in 1958 and has been dedicated to providing superior products for model enthusiasts. Offering die-cast vehicles, model kits, slot cars, race sets, and accessories, you will never run out of projects. 

Your models can go from dull to authentic with our selection of weathering materials. We also have a wide range of acrylics, lacquers, and enamels available. Contact us today with any questions. We will be happy to help! 

Weatherize Your Model Kits with Auto World Store