Tips on Painting & Finishing Plastic Models

Updated March 23, 2017

Using plastic kits to make models can be a challenging and stimulating hobby. A wide range of plastic modelling kits is available, catering to nearly every age group. For the tiny tot who is fascinated when he puts his first Lego house together, the aviation enthusiast who replicates every intricate detail of his favourite fighter jet and everyone in between, these kits serve as a therapeutic form of education. For someone just starting out, model building may seem daunting. However, a few simple tips can help a beginner get accustomed to the process without wasting time and effort.


There are a few techniques to help the modelling enthusiast avoid soiling his hands while painting the parts of the model. Tweezers is one option for holding the parts while painting them. Another method involves painting each part in two sessions--paint half of the part, then wait for the paint to dry to paint the rest of it. Lastly, use tape on sections that do not need to be painted.

Ensure Paint Adheres Properly

The part must be cleaned thoroughly to achieve the best results while painting. The simplest way to do this is to use warm soapy water and an old toothbrush to get rid of the grease that remains as a result of the manufacturing process. Use primer or fine sandpaper to prepare the surface if washing does not prevent paint from slipping.


Fillers are used to fill the gaps on some plastic models. Gaps usually occur when the model has many parts that are joined together. It is always a good idea to fill these gaps before applying paint. Some fillers are quick drying, so be sure to read the instructions before applying it. Some plastic model enthusiasts mix the plastic filler with a polystyrene cement to make the filler less viscous. This allows you to fill in the gaps easily, and they will dry smoothly.


A topcoat can be applied if the model owner wants one. Usually, a polyurethane topcoat is applied to the model to give it a shiny, clean look. However, some modelers skip this step to give the models a more realistic and "older" appearance. If you decide to apply a topcoat, make sure the paint is completely dry, because polyurethane can mix with wet paint and ruin your model.

Decal Application

Waterslide decals are the most common type used on plastic models. Waterslide decals are placed in water to activate the glue in them, then placed on the model. It is a good idea to put the wet decal on a tissue before sticking it onto the model. This will remove any excess water and ensure that the decal will not slide off. You also can paint a decal solution on the model before applying the decal to help it stick properly.

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About the Author

Steve Johnson is an avid and passionate writer with more than five years of experience. He's written for several industries, including health, dating and Internet marketing, as well as for various websites. He holds a bachelor's degree from the University of Texas.