Primer, sand, primer, sand…PAINT!
It’s time to finish off our FMS RC P-51 “Lady Alice” Transformation! In this installment we’re doing our paint prep and painting. Last time we covered filling in all of the oversized panel lines, smoothing the airframe out and sealing it all in with multiple coats of polycrylic to provide a protective finish. You can catch that post here; also, you can catch my assembly review and paint stripping methods here. There’s much to cover, so let’s get to it!
Primer, sand, repeat…
This seems all too familiar given our filler process, but the first step in preparing this airframe for paint is to lightly sand the polycrylic’d surfaces with some 180 grit sand paper. This is mostly to even out the finish as there are some stroke marks that do appear. That being said, it’s not a rigorous sanding at all, just a light dusting before we apply the primer.
Once sanded, we apply the primer over the whole airframe. When dry, using 180 grit sand paper, the primer is sanded down to the surface and this process is repeated 2-4 times. This allows the primer to fill the smaller imperfections and even out fully over the surfaces. This is similar to what I do to fill in the fiberglass weave of fiberglassed surfaces. For primer I use Evercote lacquer primer which works excellent; it covers well and sands beautifully. I was a little concerned at first using a lacquer based primer on EPO foam (main concern was the foam possibly melting), but those concerns were unfounded. After testing it directly on the foam and polycrylic, the primer covered beautifully without any reactions whatsoever. So, with that confirmation it was all in!
One thing to note, since the lacquer primer worked so well, this also allowed me to use my other finishing materials. For small imperfections in the surfaces I used 3M glazing putty to fill. There weren’t too many, but it helped in filling the imperfections that were just deep enough that the primer couldn’t fill fully.
With the primer and sand process done and the airframe smoothed and evened out to our liking, we can get it ready for paint. This is done by wet sanding the entire airframe with 600 grit wet/dry sand paper. The primer sprays on dull and so can cause some textural build up. Wet sanding knocks all of that down and smooths everything out while also helping with the paint adhesion. Note that lacquer primer is an excellent base for paint to adhere to (most everything sprays over it without issues). So, with everything wet sanded, it’s time to paint the airframe!
PAINTING “LADY ALICE”
Let’s Talk About Paint For a Minute
As much as I’d love to say that all paints are created equal…they’re not and usually you get what you pay for. For my large competition scale builds, my go-to medium is nitro-cellulose lacquer paint. It is excellent paint that sprays easily from a paint gun and goes on light and is very durable. However, for a quick and dirty paint job like on this P-51, I always look to spray paints and plastic model paints that I can airbrush. My preferred spray paints are the Tamiya AS spray cans. As a plastic model builder growing up, I’ve used a lot of spray paints (sometimes, I just didn’t want to clean the airbrush…what can I say?) and this stuff is hands down THE BEST spray paint I’ve come across. It really is that good! It sprays on easily, covers well and self levels creating a beautifully smooth finish. For colors not available in the AS series, I turn to Testors Model Master (MM) enamel paints. I opt for the bottles as I can get a better finish airbrushing the colors than with the spray cans usually. Both of these paints play well together meaning that they spray over each other and adhere very well. This is important when doing a lot of masking. In all cases, the paints come in a nice assortment of military Federal Standard colors which, for a scale geek like me, is a must! I would recommend straying away from the more generic household paints if possible. From experience, adhesion can be more of an issue with these paints. For our “Lady Alice,” here’s the list of colors that I used:
Silver – AS-12 Bare-Metal Silver
Green – AS-12 Green (USAF)
Insignia White – AS-20 Insignia White (US Navy)
Black – MM Flat Black (FS 37038)
Insignia Red – MM Insignia Red (FS 31136)
Insignia Yellow – MM Insignia Yellow (FS 33538)
The Painting Process
Though it can be time consuming, I enjoy painting quite a bit. It’s where the rubber meets the road and where you see all of the hard work and preparation come to fruition on a project. It doesn’t have to be difficult and it isn’t with the right tools on hand.
The Right Stuff
We’ve talked about the right paints, but you also need the right tape. Most all of the separation lines on “Lady Alice” are taped non-feathered edges. For taping and obtaining that perfect hard separation line, 3M fine line tape is the only way to go in my book (I like the 1/16″ and 3/16″ or 1/4″ widths). The key is that once it’s pressed down, the tape be burnished lightly to seal it. You can visibly see the seal as the tape will change color (gets darker) with a good seal. For other masking for protecting painted surfaces from overspray, I’m using the orange label painters tape; it’s the lightest tack so that we don’t run into the difficulty of possibly pulling up our polycrylic’d surface. Lastly, in the case of the checkerboard nose, I cut vinyl squares (I have a vinyl cutter for making paint masks) for masking so I could ensure they were all the same size.
The Paint Application Process
Note that as we go into the painting portion, this is an extensive subject that I’ve abbreviated a bit here. I intend on providing much more detailed painting articles and videos in the future discussing all aspects of painting and weathering.
As a general rule when painting, start with the light colors and move to the darker ones. This is because lighter colors just simply don’t cover well over dark colors. Approaching painting in this way assures that there won’t be any issues in the long run with heavy coats of paint to get the desired coverage and color. There are however some colors that seem to be rather universal. One of those is silver; it will usually cover anything and can be covered by most anything. Also, the AS sprays have decent pigment to them and so in many cases lighter colors will in fact cover darker ones without too much hassle, but don’t ever assume that will be the case.
The key to a good paint job is not just a result of the act of painting, but rather the combination of the preparation, quality of the paint and application technique. Proper preparation is paramount to a quality paint finish. Also, I can’t stress enough about using quality paints. Regarding the technique, the key to applying the paint is laying it down in long smooth passes across the surface. It doesn’t have to go on terribly wet, in fact if it does go on too wet you’ll likely end up with horrible paint runs. Take time in the spraying process. Also, when airbrushing, the paint needs to be thinned sufficiently; the consistency of the paint dictates how well it sprays. Too thick (not enough thinner) and it will spray on dry and rough whereas if it’s too thin, it will run and not have sufficient coverage. It takes a little practice, so test spray on something else before spraying the model.
Spraying the Base Color
So, with all this in mind and approaching painting our P-51, I started with the silver as a base. It was applied on the underside of the wings as well as the lower 3/4 of the fuselage. Note that to cover up the exposed servos on the wings, I cut vinyl patches and placed them over prior to the heavy painting.
Checkerboard Nose and Striped Spinner
With the silver down, I moved onto the nose and spinner. For the nose, the process consisted of masking off the painted area for the checkerboards and painting that whole area white. With the white down, the area was painted yellow (this color must go over white for proper hue). At the same time I painted the yellow, I also masked and painted the yellow rudder (again, spraying white first).
From there, the areas that remain yellow were masked off using vinyl squares cut on my vinyl cutter (they can easily be cut using masking tape, or frisket paper, etc.). With the yellow protected, the exposed areas were then painted red. Once dried, all of the tape was removed and the lovely checkerboards were revealed (one of my favorite features!).
The same process was performed for the spinner, however I used a white tamiya primer (formulated for plastic models) on the plastic spinner. This gave really good adhesion of the paint to the spinner. Also, since the primer was white, I was able to spray the yellow directly over it and then the red once the yellow was masked off appropriately.
The invasion stripes were painted by masking off the entire area first on the underside of the wings and fuselage using fine line tape for the edges and the blue painters tape to protect everything else. Once masked, the entire area was painted white. Once dry, the white was masked off and the black was painted. It’s important to take care in measuring to ensure that all of the edges remain parallel. It’s easy to end up with not so parallel lines otherwise. Note that when I sprayed the white on the underside, I also sprayed white on the upper wing (there’s a white stripe on the upper inboard wing panel).
And Green to Finish it off
With all of the lighter colors applied, we can wrap it all up by masking for and painting the green on the top of the fuselage and wings. It is simply a matter of masking off all of the areas that aren’t green to protect them and then applying the green. The care taken in the masking process will translate into sharp, clean paint lines. It’s amazing how much applying the final color really transformed the model!
To finish off the paint, the last item of business was to paint the exhaust area and glue in the exhaust stacks. This area on the airplane is natural metal on the full size airplane so I turned to my trusty Alclad II Dark Aluminum paint. Alclad is perfrect for a quick and easy metallic/aluminium finish as it provides a very convincing natural metal finish (better than most) and it’s a lacquer, so it is very durable as well. To paint the area, it was simply masked off and airbrushed (Alclad is airbrush only).
FINISHING UP “LADY ALICE”
Being a serious scale guy, I’m very particular when it comes to markings. Mostly, it’s my goal to have them appear as much like paint as possible. As a result I usually make all of my own markings (I actually find it fun). I plan to do a more in depth write-up on this process, but quickly the tools I use to draw my markings are a combination of CAD, Corel Draw and Photoshop. To apply, I use a combination of paint masks (cut on my vinyl cutter) and water slide decals (using laser decal paper).
For “Lady Alice” I wanted something that was quick and effective, so I focused moreso on using the vinyl for the lettering itself rather than paint masks. I painted the vinyl as necessary (after scuffing with a scotch brite pad) and applied them for all of the lettering. This included the lettering on the fuselage and rudder. Note that I painted the lettering to the desired color before applying.
For the rest of the markings, I used waterslide decals with a laser printer. The one drawback to printing your own decals is that unless you have a special printer, you can’t print white and so the decals are translucent. This requires that the decals be placed over a light background to get the proper hue (there is white backed decal paper, but that has its own set of problems). As a result, I’ve had to figure out workarounds so that the decals appear correctly. To do this for our “Lady Alice,” I used painted vinyl as a backing to go behind all of the decals I applied (stars and bars and “Lady Alice” lettering).
For the stars and bars, the vinyl backing was cut to the exact shape of the full star and bar decal (not just the white areas). This was so that when the decal was placed over it, the entire decal (both blue and white areas) were the correct color. The vinyl backing was painted insignia white, placed down in the appropriate locations on the airplane and then the waterslide decal was applied over it. It’s important to allow the decals to soak properly, otherwise if you force them off the backing too heavily, they may stretch. To set the decal I used Micro Set and then once placed and dried off with a paper towel, I brushed Micro Sol over it to soften the decal and pull it down hard onto the surface. Both of these are essential for obtaining clean water transfer decals with minimal “silvering” underneath. Also, the finish the decals are applied to is best to be semi-gloss at a minimum.
The “Lady Alice” lettering was achieved in a similar manner by cutting the lettering in vinyl, painting it yellow and placing it onto the airplane. The decal was the placed over the yellow lettering which completed the characteristic red outline and black shadow.
To seal it all up, I sprayed a non-yellowing lacquer clear coat over the entire airframe. A clear coat is a must whenever we’re painting as it evens out the finish which adds realism. I can’t stress enough the use of a non-yellowing clear. I’ve used the model master clear coats and though they work decently for electric models they yellow very quickly which if you have to make any repairs at some point makes paint matching difficult.
Though Ken’s “Lady Alice” is about as clean as you can get for a full size Mustang, there is some exhaust staining that does occur (the airplane is flown every weekend). So, to simulate that I airbrushed some exhaust residue using very thinned out black paint (thinned to the point it’s like dirty thinner). I really wanted to use a dark brown color, but didn’t have anything in my stash of paints and opted not to make a run to the hobby store. Regardless of color, the process is the same and the consistency of the paint is important. It’s easier to add more using a very thin paint than to have to try to take away paint when it comes to this type of weathering which is why I choose to thin the paint down so much.
Lastly to button it all up, the prop needed to be chromed as this is a defining characteristic of “Lady Alice.” To do that, I simply used chrome monokote trim sheet and applied it to the front of the prop blades. I used a monokote iron on low heat to seal up the edges and then trimmed the excess with a sharp razor blade. For that final polish, some Meguiar’s Gold Class Liquid Car Wax was used to put a final polish on all of the blades once the trim sheet was down. The Meguiar’s is good stuff, I’ve even restored scratched canopies with it!
“LADY ALICE” AT LAST!
With all of the pieces completed, the final assembly was performed with much pomp and circumstance and…At last we have finished our “Lady Alice” transformation and she is ready to fly! I hope the process I’ve explained here inspires you to give it a try on one of your own models. It’s not difficult and the extra effort is always worth it. Though the airplane looked good before we started this process, it looks so much better and more realistic after a refinish like this. One thing to note that being EPO, it does have a tendency to “popcorn” in direct sunlight (especially on hot days). So, keep that beauty in the shade when you’re not tearing up the skies! 🙂
For reference here are a few shots of the real deal. 🙂 These were taken the day I took that amazing ride with Ken in the airplane. “Lady Alice” is an immaculately restored P-51 that is absolutely gorgeous!
Next time we’ll have a full flight review of the airplane (with video if all goes well of course!) along with some setup tips as well. Until then, dust off those projects and get building. See you at the field!