Recommendations from experience


  • Paint

    • enamel vs. acrylic

      It's a matter of preference and the material you're painting.  For plastic modeling I prefer enamel because it binds better to the plastic and the colors intermix better (apply one coat, then apply another - they mix very well).  On the other hand, enamels are probably the most messy thing I may have ever dealt with, including fingerpaints!  You need to identify the best paint for your medium first, then establish preference.

    • working with enamel

      Wear a filtering mask over your face if you airbrush enamels - the dusty debris goes farther then you think, I promise!  I considered it just a pain in the @ss until I found dried orange paint particulate on the side of the trashcan in the kitchen.  If you don't want to sneeze different colors for a week (not to mention the other negative effects), do this.


      Don't forget your latex (and I mean latex!) gloves before you even open the bottle of paint, you'll wanna wear them from here on out.  Have your paint droppers ready, don't cross-contaminate your bottles and keep a paint dropper specifically for the paint thinner.  There is no set ratio for thinning the paint in preparation for airbrush or paint brush, you just get to play with it and experiment (though for airbrush I'd offer 25-30% thinner as a starting point).


      To clean up, keep a wide-mouth jar of soapy water and a wide mouth bottle containing odorless mineral spirits.  Soapy water : I'd recommend putting a tablespoon (yeah, that much!) of concentrated dishwashing soap at the bottom, gently pour in hot water and swish it around.  When it's mixed, put in warm water and fill to 1/2 - 3/4.  At this point, put your parts (bottles, airbrush tip, etc) in the thinner and get 'em clean, then put them in the soapy water.  Rinse them exceptionally well, then let them completely dry before next use.


      When your paint thinner gets unusable (or otherwise just too murky), you can now  pour the mineral spirits into the jar of soapy water until it's almost full, then pour them back and forth until they're very well mixed.  You need to get soap bubbles on top before you can pour it down the drain - add enough soap as necessary to break it down and get those bubbles, then you can dump the concoction down the drain with a hot water chaser.

    • airbrushes

      There's a general debate as to whether a modeler needs an airbrush.  People have posted on the 'Net that they would never give up their tried and true hand brush.


      I vote "Screw it - you need this!".  With skill and practice, I firmly believe you will get results with an airbrush that you simply can't get with a handbrush.  Think about it - you're dealing with atomized paint, which by nature has a finer end resolution, if you will, then the tip of any paintbrush.  On top of this, you can mix colors and get hues and drop shadows you otherwise can't attain.


      When I first started this thing I purchased the cheapest airbrush I could find, figuring that it would serve me well.  Fact is, airbrush quality matters a great deal - I recommend you don't even bother unless you have at least a midrange airbrush because you will probably mess up your paint job thinking that your airbrush should work as advertised - if it's cheap, it won't.  Reference 09/29/02 and 10/16/02 for more information.


      Also, if you intend to use an airbrush get a compressor, straight up.  Bottled air is too expensive, in retrospect I should have gotten one first thing.  If you insist on using bottled air, don't mess with Testor's (it's disgusting, under pressured and inconsistent) - use Badger.

    • airbrush vs brush

      Keeping the above in mind, the hand brush has its place of course.  There were a number of situations where I needed to hand brush (sensor panels being the best example), but the Model Master 'Sand' paint was extremely problematic with a hand brush, so even for a tiny square I needed to use the airbrush.  What does it boil down to?  You need both, my friend - practice and learn what tool is best for the job at hand.

  • Plastic

Hard in some situations and soft in others, the plastic your model is made of will have different properties from other models.  I was very surprised to find the plastic on the Enterprise-D responded differently to different glues and paint combinations then the plastic the Voyager was comprised of (reference 8/23/01, I tested this on the Enterprise-D and it worked just fine!).  Use the parts sprue for experimentation.


Use glue sparingly, especially the plastic-fusing glue as it really doesn't take much.  Try to orient and shape your parts to have a seam that would conduct the glue instantaneously from one end of the seam to another (capillarity) - this works extremely well, and can be used to get the glue in the otherwise hard to reach places.

  • Sanding

A trick I used was to get the foam makeup triangles and use rubber cement to glue the sandpaper to the triangles.  After a part of the sandpaper was exhausted, I just cut that off with scissors.  This is flexible, yet firm enough to be positioned easily.


To get a mirror polish on fiber optic ends as well as correcting surface mistakes on the plastic, gradually go from rough sandpaper to soft, and then just use a piece of cardboard that's been roughed up for the finishing touch.

  • Lighting

Producing a lit model is a huge deal.  If you cross reference the instructions I was given for model construction and my web log, you'll see that all I did (essentially), is understand how they wanted me to build it, then toss the instructions out the window and figure out the rest!


Your best friends for a lit model are thin-gauge wire, reflective Mylar adhesive paper and onion skin paper (to diffuse the light) and super glue.  Caulk is also extremely handy for preventing light leakage - I used this to prevent leakage in the impulse engines (1/6/02).


Aside from running the wires and the physical mechanics of putting lights in your model where they need to be, the other factor here is paint and putty to control light leakage.  Put putty (I used Model Master red) in strategic places, and ensure all externally-facing seams are totally sealed. 


The Voyager hull has multiple layers of paint intended to mirror the light and keep the light inside the model.  The inside of the entire hull was painted silver, then the hull was primed with silver, then all the windows (or anywhere else where light would probably leak) was painted black.  Reference 8/7/02.


To keep the bussard collectors red and the warp coils blue on a single nacelle, I used silly putty in between the two sections.  Reference 11/23/01 and 1/4/02.

  • using LEDs instead of lamps

After a long thought process, I opted to use LEDs entirely.  This seemed a more energy efficient approach, as well as the fact that it allows for more controlled lighting than just about anything else.


Something that occurred to me in this thought process was the fact that incandescent bulbs generate heat, which in the confined space of a model will cause overheating, thus causing decal peeling, changing of paint color as well as burning out your bulb which can't be easily replaced.


White LED's are more expensive, but are better overall.  Note that as of the time of this Project, white LEDs are relatively new and their color is inconsistent.  Get your LEDs in groups, then identify the hue and brightness of each unit and put them where you think it's appropriate.  On the Voyager there are white LEDs that have a bluish tint - these were put in symmetrical positions making the slight color difference look intentional.

  • fiber optics

I used fiber for just about everything in this model.  Thin diameter for the windows and large diameter for external indicator lights as well as the insignia light (8/18/01).


When using large diameter fibers, always polish the ends perfectly with increasing grades of sandpaper and finally roughed-up cardboard.  Anything else will either cause yellowing of the light or extreme light loss.


Super glue works best when dealing with fibers.


You can use small diameter shrink tubing (NOT shrunk, unless you need the stiffness to guide the fiber) to protect the fibers internally, as well as prevent light leakage.


Large diameter fiber can be bent at angles by holding an end with needle-nosed pliers (protecting the end from the heat) and gently heating it over the back of a soldering iron.  The sharper the angle, the higher percentage of light loss.


There's just too much information for the use of fiber optics in modeling - you'll probably just need to review the Web Log to get it all.

  • Decals

All I can say about decals is practice, practice..!  These things require a phenomenal amount of dexterity and attention to detail.  I already documented all I could in the Web Log, 8/10/01.  Hope it helps!


Come to think of it, I can add one more thing - experiment with your flat enamel after final decal application just to make damn sure your decals don't haze over like mine did!  A last coat of enamel is important, but select which one you use carefully.

  • repairing decals

It's very likely that you'll damage at least one of the decals in the course of their application or when otherwise working with the model.  While frustrating, I've learned that it's not unrecoverable as long as you keep the decal parts wet and are extremely patient during the repair.  Make careful use of your decal solvent - it helps bind decals to the plastic, but also makes them staggeringly fragile.


In case of emergency, you can mix 75% warm water to 25% Elmer's while glue.  Put this in the area of the decal and reassemble the pieces.

  • Covering mistakes

I've found there are two methods - "I Meant To Do That" and actually performing a repair...

  • I Meant To Do That

Personally I think this is where most "Battle Damaged" starship models come from, because it's damn hard to do a repair and make it look perfect.


If you reduce the scale of your perspective, even a perfect ship can be hiding mistakes.  The best way to learn is by example and being creative.  For example, my stucco paint job (9/29/02) wasn't completely erasable as if you look at the bay windows they're a little rough.  But, if you make it the same all over the ship and symmetrical in other places, it looks intentional.


In painting the base for the model, I attached masking film to the silver part before it was dry, totally trashing the results.  I used a wide paint brush and copious amounts of paint and brushed the paint all in the same direction - worked out just fine.


On the underside of the shuttle landing area I made a mistake when using the airbrush to highlight - I just made sure I made the exact mistake on the other side. (Wink)


You get the idea.

  • Actual Repair

This is actually a lot more complicated because it requires putting the plastic (or paint, decal, whatever) back to its state before damage, then doing what you wanted to do with it in the first place.  Other than patience, experience and comfort with your tools, there's nothing to recommend.  Good luck!


Reference 8/26/01 for one of my experiences here with a 5x magnification of the result at port_fore_3.jpg.