Painting Ships for Dummies & Redditors - Part 1. March 06 2016

Painting Ships for Dummies & Redditors - Part 1: Sub Assemblies and Priming.

Good evening my fellow aficionados of plastic and glue!

Today is most auspicious. I have finally got my butt into gear and started work on the guide to basic painting techniques for finishing small scale ship kits which I have been promising to write over at /r/modelmakers for so long. For those of you who are unfamiliar with Reddit, I go under the name /u/Resinseer there, and we have many ship modellers on the modelmakers subreddit both old salts and seasick landsmen freshly pressed into 1/700 scale service.

In this series of blog entries I will be covering as many of the basics as I can regarding painting 1/700 & 1/350 (etc) scale model ship kits, using brushes and spray cans only. Guides for more advanced techniques like airbrushing will come later, but for now there are many on the sub who are beached on the jagged reefs of achieving smooth topcoats and applying that most dreadful of adversaries - splinter camo!!

All this assumes a basic working knowledge of how to assemble plastic kits, by following instructions and cleaning up parts etc.  

For this series I have chosen an appropriate kit on which to demonstrate these techniques. Appropriate meaning "it's a complete t**d." Yes, the Academy 1/800 Tirpitz that we all played with in the bathtub as a kid will serve as our noble vessel on this voyage of modelling discovery. It's a rather diminutive model, the detail is pretty sparse and frankly it's little better than a toy. However, the reason it's perfect is that if one can make a kit like this look presentable Out Of Box, then one will be able to actually get value for money from premium kits with acres of photo-etch and resin parts equal in value to the GDP of a small nation state. If you cannot paint to a good standard, aftermarket parts will only give the dog a shiny coat and a wet nose. It'll still be a dog. This goes for you 1/35 armour modellers every bit as it does for us!!

Now, on to business. Here we have the bits in the box that actually matter. There are some electrical gizmos that we will be leaving in the box, but here is the top and bottom hull and fittings frame. Yes, my mat is filthy. I know.

Our first task is to decide how we can best put the bits together to facilitate easy painting. The rule of thumb here is that if you would struggle to get a brush into a nook or cranny if you fixed a part in place, leave it off as a sub assembly. Because I want to wash into the recesses of many of the decks later, I will leave the various superstructures as sub assemblies along with the gun and ship's boats etc. There are no cast iron rules here, it is better to leave something as a sub assembly when in doubt than to fix it to the main assembly and regret it later when you can't get paint past it. Some small parts are best left on the sprue, you may have to partially free them and then clip that section of the sprue away. As you can see, the number of parts we are left with is not too scary.

Now that we have all our sub assemblies we have to make them easy to handle while moving and painting. At this scale, one may as well have lobster claws for hands - if you try to paint a tiny flak gun by itself, you'll make a complete salad of it and more than likely that salad will be the carpet monster's next meal. The sign on the wall is in plain sight: DO NOT FEED THE CARPET MONSTER.

The best way to deprive him of his next meal is to mount the small parts on cocktail sticks. To do this you will need a small pin vice and drill bit, about 0.5mm size will be fine. Carefully drill a hole in the bottom of each piece you want to mount, usually on a locating stud. The hole needs to be 2mm or so deep. When that's done, trim 1mm ish off the point of the stick, that way when you insert it there should be a good interference fit. There's a bit of trial and error here, but you want a good snug fit that doesn't require glue but won't fall off the stick while you're working with it.

Repeat this for all the small sub assemblies, and put them onto a spare box or piece of foam etc. This makes them much easier to spray with primer later.

Now that all our sub assemblies are put together and easy to handle, we can move on to priming the model. Primer helps give the model a nice even coat, which will help the topcoats adhere and prevent chipping. I would recommend using a quality acrylic modeling primer, I prefer Tamiya as the coverage and fine coat is excellent. But more or less any primer formulated for models will do - just spend a bit and don't cheap out on hardware store primer. That stuff is thick and nasty.

Place the part on a piece of scrap paper that's big enough to turn without getting paint on your fingers, like so:

Now, some care in the spraying really pays off. Remember, at all stages of painting I will be repeating this axiom: multiple thin coats are better than one thick coat. This applies to primer too. Using smooth stead movements holding the can between 6-12" away from the part, hit it with a coat of primer. You only wants a light coat, don't worry if it's a bit patchy. Don't hold the can much further away or you'll get rough dry spray on the model. If should be shiny on the model immediately after you have given it a pass. Now, rotate the part 90 degree and do the same. Do this twice more until all four angles on the model have been covered - you may need to give a pass over the top angle just to cover the upper surfaces. An even coat is all you need, it doesn't need to be flawless.


Repeat this for all the parts, and you should end up with something like this:

You may need to use some double sided tape to fix some parts in place, then flip them over and do the other side.

It's best to let these dry for a good few hours, preferably somewhere free from airborne dust and moisture. When it's all dry, your model will be ready for the main colours and top coats which will be covered in part 2.

See you there!