Alton Model Railway Group

A Guide to Painting Your Model

By Steve Cook



Some years ago a good friend of mine and an expert model maker of many years standing gave me a very sound piece of wisdom that has enabled me to complete the models I make to a good standard and which I am happy to show to others. He said ‘A good paint finish can make a poorly made model look great but a poor finish will spoil an excellent model.’

Whether you are young or old, an experienced modeller or new to the hobby the task of painting your model can spell the difference between satisfaction and frustration. This short article is intended to help you to get the most satisfaction from your efforts.

Health and Safety

A dust mask or respirator, although not essential for brush painting, is a wise purchase.

It is also a good idea to buy a box of latex surgical gloves to wear to minimise the transfer of grease from your fingers or possible toxic dust, paint or fluids onto your skin. These are available from your local D-I-Y or tool shop.


As with all good results, time taken at this stage will ensure that the final result is the one intended.

Models, whether they are ready to run, kits or scratch-built need to be prepared well for two main reasons:

These may apply before, during and after assembly. White-metal kits are a special case for which it is advisable to buff each part with a brass suede brush, taking care with the more delicate parts.

Plastics and metals, the most common materials used today, may be cleaned using a cream type bathroom cleaner, a stiff bristle brush (old toothbrush) and a nylon scouring pad.

Once clean and dry the model may be painted immediately or, if not, it should be temporarily stored in a dust free box.

Do not be tempted to paint your model if the temperature or humidity is too high.


The unpainted surfaces should first be primed using an aerosol spray can of grey, red oxide or white primer. These are necessarily thicker than the finishing coats for the following reasons:

Application of the primer should be just enough to give an even coat without being too thick. I would not advocate brush-painting primer, as it is very difficult to do so without leaving tell tale brush marks.

Aerosol Spray Finishing

Most colours may be had from model shops or car paint suppliers in aerosol can form and in various finishes. Because some paint types are not compatible, e.g. acrylic and cellulose, you will need to check the type of paint in the can. Follow the maker’s instructions and use several thin coats rather than one thick coat. The final finish should be satin or matt, as a glossy model usually looks anything but real.

Brush Painting

A first class finish may be had, but more care is needed to achieve it. I have produced exhibition standard models adhering to the following guidelines:

Drying and handling

Care of brushes

It is essential to care for your brushes in order to get the best results every time.

For oil based paints

For water based paints, the operation is the same but using water as the cleaning medium

Lettering and final decoration

Pressfix or Methfix transfers, once applied, should be over coated with varnish to fix them permanently in place and prevent damage when the model is handled.

If the model has waterslide transfers, it is best to lay them on a glossy surface to minimise the visibility of the carrier film. To do this either paint the whole model or just the transfer area with gloss apply the transfer (decal) and finish with a satin or matt varnish to fix them in place.

These are just a few of the hints, tips and tricks of the trade that will enable you to get first class results. So stop reading now and get on with your masterpiece and, if you get stuck, ask an experienced model maker to guide you.