Building Tips

Painting Film Covered Models
By; Pat Tritle

    With the new generation of lightweight electric Park Flyer’s, most color schemes are limited to the number of colors available in iron-on films. But for those of us who like a finish that’s maybe just a little out of the ordinary, the only real option is to paint our models. If you feel like you’re in that group, there’s an easy way to do this, and get some terrific results using common hobby paints. After experimenting with different paints and techniques I’ve come up with a method that will allow you to paint your Warbirds in authentic colors, and even get a couple of natural weathering effects in the process.

Here’s how it works

There are two kinds of paint that can be used; acrylics and enamels. I’ve used both in different applications with excellent results, though the best results are from using flat or satin colors. My personal favorite is Model Master Enamels, water based Model Master Acryl will do nicely as well, though the adhesion isn’t as good as with the enamels. Another advantage to enamel is that the military colors offer no UV (Ultra-Violet) protection, and will fade nicely in the sun over time offering a very scale weathered look. Acryl colors, on the other hand, hold up nicely, so that natural weathering process won’t occur. Then on models where the paint doesn’t cover the film completely, Krylon Satin Clear is used to dull down the exposed film giving a more scale-like finish.

Cleaning the Surface

The first and most important part of the process is in the surface preparation. If you’re re-finishing an ARF, you can stick with the original cover, or strip it and recover using either Coverite Microlite or Doculam. Doculam is a clear iron-on film used for protecting documents, and works great for covering small to medium sized models as well. When I use Microlite as a base, I prefer silver since when the paint chips it will look like the underlying metal on Warbirds, or the silver dope used on fabric covered components. Once the cover is applied, the next step will be to clean the surface.

For the paint to stick, the surface must be squeaky clean. Step one is a good rubdown with lacquer thinner or acetone to remove the oily residue left by the manufacturing process. The first cleaning will leave a frosty looking residue behind, which is then removed using white vinegar. At this point, the surface is absolutely clean, and should not be handled with your bare hands; I use either cotton or latex gloves to avoid the oily fingerprints that will show in the finish, and adversely affect the paint adhesion.

Applying the Colors

The process is really quite simple, and can be accomplished by brushing, with aerosol colors, or the paint being applied using an airbrush or small automotive trim gun. Now, the downside to painting film is that paint adhesion is marginal at best, but for Warbirds that’s not all bad. Remember, Warbirds lived a hard life, and the paint was prone to chipping in the high ware areas anyway.

If you’re not set up with spray painting equipment, Model Master Enamel’s in aerosol cans comes in a variety of military colors, and work well in most applications. I prefer airbrushing since the selection of colors is much greater, and much more intricate color schemes can be applied. For those who prefer to brush paint, Model Master Acryl colors are far and away the best choice.

Masking the Colors

For soft edge camouflage, no masking is required, but for hard edges, you’ll need to separate the colors using very low tack tape; remember, the paint adhesions to the film isn’t all that great, so what I do is to take the low tack tape and stick it to my pants, pull it off, and then apply it to the model with only light pressure. Apply the paint with several very light coats so that it doesn’t puddle up and crawl under the tape leaving an ugly jagged line. Then when the paint has dried, carefully remove the tape. If it looks like you’re going to get a lot of “chipping”, wet the masking tape with water to help reduce the tack as you remove the tape. If some chipping occurs, touch it up with a brush after the mask has been removed.

An Added Bonus

Now that the model is painted, the mask removed and the chipping touched up the finish can be “aged” by adding a bit of shading, or fading. An easy way to apply shading is to add a few drops of black or dark gray to the original color and spray it with the airbrush around the outer edges of the panels to force a depth into the finish. Fading is done the same way using white or light gray to lighten the color and spraying it onto the center area of the panel.

For old linen covered airplanes, the cover can also be shaded using same techniques by a darker shade of the buff colored film, applied over visible structure to indicate the “yellowing” common to those old airplanes.

And finally, if you want to add some “scale paint chipping”, simply touch a piece of high tack tape to the area where chipping is desired and actually pull the paint off, exposing the bare film cover beneath.

And with that, you’ll have a very nice scale finish on your film covered model. And remember, practice makes perfect, and as you learn the basic techniques your models will begin to take on a very scale-like appearance with only a small amount of effort.


Microlite is available from Tower Hobby at

Doculam is available by the foot from Manzano Laser Works at 

Doculam in bulk is available from The Laminator Warehouse at

The tools used to paint Litefilm begins with Lacquer Thinner and Vinegar to clean the surface, and a variety of paint guns and airbrushes used to apply the paint on the model.

I use 3 airbrushes depending on the job at hand. The Pashe H1 (top left) is used for general spraying. The Iwata gravity feed, double action internal mix airbrush (center) is used for spraying delicate patterns with enamel paints. And finally, the Aztek double action internal mix brush (bottom right) is especially designed with Teflon tips for spraying delicate patterns using Acryl paints.

For spraying color over large areas, the Central Tool detail gun is used. This particular gun has a fine spray tip which is larger then an airbrush, but smaller then a conventional paint gun and will cover large areas with a small amount of paint.

A variety of paint brushes are used to apply Acryl paint finishes, and to touch up the paint chips that will appear when pulling up the masking tape.

Model Master paints are available in both enamel and Acryl colors. Both are available in a rainbow of pastel and military colors suitable for just about any project.

To kill the “wet shine” that iron-on Mylar films are known for, Krylon Satin Clear coat is dusted on the entire model after the colors are applied in applications like the highlights added to natural linen finishes, or camouflage squiggle patterns applied over a Litefilm base color.

Scale chipping is done on Warbirds by sticking tape onto the surface and pulling up the color, exposing the Litefilm below.

The L-4 was covered with silver Litefilm, and then painted with Model Master Enamels. The painted surface was then “mottled” with a light dusting of Grimy Black to “dirty up” the model to add an air of realism to the finish.

The “squiggle” pattern was applied to the Storch over white Litefilm using Model Master Enamel. After the graphics were applied, a light dusting of Krylon Satin Clear was used to dull down the shiny finish produced by the Litefilm. The bottom color was sprayed with Model Master Enamel using the Pache H1 airbrush on the fuselage and stabilizer, and the Central Tool detail gun was used to apply the color to the bottom of the wing.

Highlights were added to the natural linen finish where the cover contacts the internal structure giving the model an aged look. After the highlights were applied, a light dusting of Krylon Satin Clear was applied to tone down the shine, giving the model a more natural scale appearance.

The entire camouflage paint finish was applied using a ½” brush and Model Master Acryl colors. The paints produce a nice satin finish that closely resembles the dope finish on the full scale airplane.

After 10 years, the finish on the B-17 has taken on a very “aged” appearance. With the addition of a few “sheet metal patches” and the natural fading of the enamel paint the finish just keeps getting more realistic over time.

Building Tips