How to Airbrush for Model Planes & Cars

Written by dustin pitan
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How to Airbrush for Model Planes & Cars
Airbrushing your model car can be fun and rewarding if you do it right. (model car. hobby, collection image by Ana Vasileva from

Building a plane or car out of a model kit can be a relaxing and rewarding pastime. Building something with your own two hands from inception to completion takes skill and patience. While many people can build a plastic model with glue, making it look realistic with its painting is another matter entirely. Airbrushing is the most effective way to achieve this goal, as it can apply realistic looking paint coatings with both the fine detail and the broader weathering and effects. Airbrushing takes time and effort to practice and perfect.

Skill level:

Things you need

  • Sharp hobby knife
  • Paper clip
  • Sandpaper
  • Microfiber cloth
  • Masking tape
  • Paper or plastic sheets
  • Primer
  • Airbrush
  • Airbrush paint

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  1. 1

    Determine your paint scheme before assembling your model kit. This is important, as it will determine what paint colours you need.

  2. 2

    Find the piece you want to paint and lightly sand its surface with 300-grit sandpaper. This will give it a rough exterior allowing for easier bonding to the primer and paint. Wipe it down with a microfiber rag to eliminate any plastic dust that may have been formed by the sanding.

  3. 3

    Tape a plastic or paper covering over all the other pieces on your skeleton. This will help to prevent unwanted paint on those pieces.

  4. 4

    Load your primer into your airbrush and paint a very thin, light coating onto your model piece. Use quick, short strokes of your airbrush to achieve this look. Allow the primer to dry and apply a second coat. Once the primer is dry (an hour or two should be sufficient), sand off the top of the primer, leaving a similar rough exterior as in Step 2. Don't sand off the primer, just score it a bit. Wipe it down with your rag again.

  5. 5

    Load the proper paint into your airbrush. This will be the colour that you want to paint your model piece. Spray it in light, even coats onto your piece. Use quick, soft strokes, creating a thin layer. Once it's dry (one to two hours), apply a second coat and allow that to dry as well.

  6. 6

    Cut and remove the piece from your plastic skeleton once the paint is dry. If done properly, you should only have two or three small areas on your piece that are not painted (because they were the areas of your piece that were connected to the skeleton). Sand these down so they are smooth and flat in relation to the rest of your piece.

  7. 7

    Spray two coats of light paint onto the areas of your piece that isn't covered with paint already. Allow these newly painted parts to dry.

  8. 8

    Sand the paint off of the areas of your piece where you plan to apply modelling glue. Modelling glue will act as a solvent to your paint, wetting it again if you're not careful and smearing it around. Sanding off the paint before applying the glue eliminates this problem. Sand the paint off, apply small amounts of glue and attach it to another painted piece of your vehicle. Assemble the entire vehicle in this same fashion.

  9. 9

    Touch up your model once the vehicle is completely assembled. Use the same techniques of masking and applying multiple coats as above. Allow everything to dry before attempting to handle it.

Tips and warnings

  • It is a matter of preference on which order you want to paint your pieces in. For instance, you can cut out the model pieces before painting them so you can paint all sides evenly. Or leave the the pieces on the plastic ribbing/skeleton to help with handling smaller pieces. Then after allowing the paint to dry, cut out the pieces and apply a second coat, covering all the areas (including the previously unpainted area that was just now cut from the skeleton).

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