In this article, we are going to go over the main types of paints you can use for your kits: acrylic, enamel, and lacquer, as well as certain basic concepts you need to know such as mixing ratios for airbrushing and the difference between drying and curing.
Acrylic paints are in my opinion the starting type of paint any modeler should use. They are easy to handle, can be thinned with water and are relatively less toxic than enamel and lacquer paints.
In my experience, though I have noticed that acrylic paint is very susceptible to scratches, hence the importance of top coating your work once you are done. They also take longer to dry compared to lacquer paints. I wait usually 24 hours to handle painted pieces. If I can afford it then I give them a solid 48 hours to be on the safe side.
Enamel paints are quite interesting to work with. They are more toxic than acrylic paints but aren’t as bad as lacquer paints. Most, possibly all enamel paints are self-leveling, making hand painting easier as the strokes marks will not be visible if applied correctly. Enamel takes a long time to dry and cure.
I have read somewhere that they can take up to a week! Therefore you must plan accordingly if you plan on using enamel paint to meet deadlines, aka competitions. The slower drying times are ideal for advanced techniques such as reverse washing. Enamel paint is also a good alternative to fine tip Gundam markers to color your panel lines.
You have a broad range of colors at your disposal, therefore you are not limited to black to add detailing. Your possibilities are pretty much endless.
Lacquer paints are what I call “bulletproof”. Lacquer is the most toxic of all three paint types mentioned in this article. Make sure that you are in a well-ventilated area as well as using a mask when handling lacquer. Lacquer dries really hard and really fast. I am talking a matter of minutes here.
For my 2017 GBWC entry, I have decided to do an all lacquer build. I had a lot of unfortunate events happen near the end of my build and if it wasn’t for the particularity of lacquer to dry really fast and to be scratch resistant I would not have made it on time. Lacquer can damage the plastic that your kits are made out of.
Make sure to use a primer beforehand to prevent that. If you plan on handling your kit often to show off different poses I would strongly suggest lacquer paint.
Now that you have selected the paint type that you want to use, you need to understand how to mix it properly for your airbrush. Usually, the paint to thinner ratio is 1:2. Now that being said, depending on the type and brand you are using it will differ. I have seen 1:1.5, 1:2, 1:2.5 and even 1:4! I cannot tell you what you should be using as those ratios will differ for everyone. 1:2 means that in a mixing bottle you put 1 part paint and 2 parts thinner.
For example, if you are planning to use 0.5 ml of Tamiya acrylic red paint, you would need to add 1.0 ml of Tamiya acrylic thinner in the bottle, mix it thoroughly and then pour it in the airbrush. Your goal is to achieve a milk consistency. Depending on when you are painting throughout the year, the weather and atmospheric pressure will be different and so will your ratios.
Some of the paint types can be mixed with thinners made for other types of paints while others can only use thinners made specifically for them. However, I would not recommend that until you get familiar with the different types of paints that exist and how they react under different conditions.
As you research the appropriate ratios for your paints, you will come across 2 recurrent terms. Drying and curing.
Dry Paint: The paint is dry to the touch but the molecules in the compound are still unstable.
Cured Paint: The paint is dry to the touch and the molecules in the compound are stable.
Depending on the effect that you want to create knowing the difference between the two can be crucial.
I hope this article was helpful.