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5 steps to get the smoothest paint finish possible

All it takes is the right preparation and technique
Preparation focuses on achieving the smoothest possible paint surface before applying your finish. The smoother your paint job going in, the easier it will be to create a smooth finish at the end.

And when you’re ready to apply your clear coat, you have many hobby-based choices (see Tim Boyd’s Top 4 Hobby Clear Coats), as well as some automotive options.

I recommend primer for nearly all model projects. If you’re using Testors or Tamiya lacquers, Tamiya Fine Pigment Primer in pink (for red color coats), rust (for dark colors), or gray (for all other colors) is a great starting point. These will protect your parts from “hot” paints that would otherwise eat the styrene and provide some “tooth” for the paint to hold on to.

The smoother the primer, the smoother the finish coats that follow. I use an old, mostly worn out 3200- or 3600-grit polishing pad to buff the primer to a smooth, uniform sheen.

Before each aerosol application of your color coats and your finish clear coats, hold your spray can under a faucet with running warm water for a minute or so. Doing this will help provide constant pressure during application. Use caution: If the water is too hot for you hand, it’s too hot for the paint can.

A well-lit painting area helps you judge the glossiness and smoothness as you apply the paint. Turn your model in the light and you’ll be able to see any differences in sheen. Ideally, you want a light source above the model plus a light source behind and slightly to the side of you (so it doesn’t cast your shadow onto the model).

With practice, you can achieve an extremely glossy appearance straight from the can with hobby clear-coat lacquers. This body was in the paint booth just a couple of minutes prior to this picture, and it appears super glossy.

Bonus tip! As paint dries, it contracts. Even the glossiest, most flawless paint applications will develop a very fine “orange peel” texture. Look carefully at the front edge of the hood and the light reflection and note the slightly textured appearance. It’s not terrible, and you could choose to leave it at that. However, if you want to take your model to the next level, you can remove the orange peel. To do that, you’ll need a rubbing compound. See how to make rubbing compounds work for you here.

One more thing

Car modelers in particular have been known to use two-part automotive urethane clear coats on models. Beyond the skills needed to avoid the “dipped in clear” look that may look great from a distance but is way out of scale for plastic models, there are real health risks to consider.

For instance, did you know that the hardener part for these paints contains a toxic and reactive chemical called isocyanates, and that the clear-coat formulas for these paints have the highest amounts of isocyanates? Or that material safety data sheets (MSDS) show these chemicals can cause respiratory issues like asthma or prolonged use can increase immune system sensitivity? These chemicals can pass through gloves into your skin and absorbed through your eyes. Even if you wear a respirator, latex gloves, and goggles, you do not mee the safety requirements for their use. (To do that, you’d need extended-cuff nitrile gloves, a chemical-resistant shoot suit, a head sock, and a respirator supplied with fresh air.)

Hobbyists who use two-part clears will counter that all auto-based car paints carry some health risks and that the amounts used in modeling are relatively small compared to autobody shop applications. Granted, but I strongly urge you to do some research on the internet about the health risks of automotive two-part urethane clears before deciding if the benefits are worth the risks to you (and your family).

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Essential finishing techniques for scale modelers.
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