Building Tips

Painting Scale Propellers
By; Pat Tritle

With the ever-increasing popularity of small electric powered models, a vast number of very effective propellers have emerged, the most popular and readily available coming from GWS and APC. These propellers perform beautifully in any number of applications, but when it comes to scale modeling, nothing detracts more from the look of a beautiful model then a bright orange or dull gray prop, right out front for the entire world to see.

    Well, there is a solution. It’s as easy as painting the prop in a scale color scheme. Propellers can be painted in color schemes from a simple metal finish to the more complex laminated wood props commonly seen on the early WW-I airplanes and even the light planes of the 40’s and 50’s.

    We’ll cover 3 basic systems for painting and detailing propellers. We’ll start simple and work out way up to the more complex, using a variety of readily available materials.

Metal Propellers

    Metal props are the easiest to paint. It’s as simple as painting the front of the blade silver and the backside black. The colors can either be brushed on, or sprayed using an airbrush. For the front side I like the Model Master Metalizer finishes. They’re formulated for airbrushing, but also brush well.

    The best colors are Aluminum for the front side and Satin Black for anti-glare on the back side of the blades. For airbrushing I prefer enamel colors, but for brushing, the Model Master Acryl paints work best. Once the basic colors are on, the tips can either be painted or color added using peel and stick vinyl.

Simple Wood Propellers

    The easiest method for converting a plastic prop to wood is to add the grain using a Furniture Repair Marker. The ones I use are from the Guardsman, Furniture Touch-Up Kit, purchased at Bed Bath & Beyond. There are 3 colored markers in the kit, including light, medium, and dark brown “Magic Marker” style pens. These pens, particularly the dark brown one work very well on the orange GWS props, as the grain is really enhanced by the orange base color. Letraset makes excellent marking pens in a variety of colors that work well also, and are available from better art supply stores.

    To add the wood grain, it’s as easy as “painting” the prop with the pen. For a realistic grain, the color should be added in long even strokes down the length of the blade. It takes a little practice to get a nice even grain, but once you get the hang of it, it will only take a minute or two to transform plastic into wood.

Going “All the Way” to a Scale Wood Prop

    My main interest in modeling are the 40’s and 50’s era light planes which used laminated wood props with fiber glassed tips and brass leading edge cleats riveted to the prop. Adding that detail will really enhance your scale model and it’s really not hard to do. Before you begin, find a photo for reference as there are several color variances of both wood and the fiber glass tips.

    Start by airbrushing the entire prop a shade of light brown or tan. Let the paint dry till it becomes tacky. The grain will then be added with a darker shade of brown using a “dry brush” technique.

    Dry Brushing is really quite simple, and over time I’ve discovered that enamel paints work best for this process. Start by dipping the brush into the paint, and wipe the brush on a paper towel to remove most of the paint. Lightly stroke the brush on the prop to add subtle wood grain. The technique requires a bit of practice to get just right, so practice on a sample first.

    Once the grain is on, allow the paint to dry completely. Then, mask the tips and spray the fiberglass color on. Most are varying shades of green, but I’ve also seen them in shades of cream and tan as well, so rely on your reference for best results. Allow to dry thoroughly.

    The brass leading edge cleats are painted on next using either brass or bronze paint. They can be either masked and sprayed or brushed on. Then when dry, the rivets can be added using a fine tip marking pen. Though not true to scale, I like the effect of using a black marking pen for the rivets, it gives a “depth” that just wasn’t achieved any other way.

    The separation lines between the layers of wood laminations can be called out using a fine tip marking pen and small French curves, or paper templates can be made to fit the application. Once the details are all in place, the propeller manufacturers label can be added. And finally, a gloss clear coat is added to seal it all in. Be very careful when adding the clear coat though, the marking pens and label inks are often effected by the clear coats, so I find it best to lightly dust 4 or 5 airbrushed coats and let it dry for a few minutes. Then it’ll be safe to add the additional coats to build up the clear.

    And that’s really all there is to it. As with any modeling technique, it takes a bit of practice to really get it down. But in the end it’ll be worth the effort, because a nice scale prop can transform your model from ho-hum to wow, and I guarantee, you’ll get lots more questions about the prop then you will about the model itself.

Label Decals is several types and sizes are available from;

Callie Graphics
P.O. Box95138
Albuquerque NM 87199-5138


Furniture repair marking pens work great for adding simple wood grain to plastic props. Colored marking pens are also available from Art Supply stores as well.

Here are the materials you’ll need to paint wood grain finishes on plastic props. I prefer enamel paints for airbrushing, but find Acryl colors more suitable for brush painting.

Here's an example of a simple wood grain done on a GWS prop using a Furniture Marker

Metal propellers are simulated by spraying or brushing silver on the front side, and satin black antiglare on the back. Manufacturer’s labels and tip color can also be added for additional realism.

Here’s an example of a simple WW-I style wood grain prop using the “dry brushing” technique to add a darker color grain over a lighter base coat.

Detailing the prop begins by spraying or brushing a coat of light tan or brown onto the entire prop.Pr 3- A very simple and convincing wood grain is added to a GWS orange prop using Furniture Repair marking pens.

The next step is to add the wood grain using the “dry brush” technique.

  A compass is used to mark the location for masking and painting on the fiberglass tips.


Detailing a Sensenich wood and fiberglass prop;

I like to use plastic tape to mask the edge of the color separation lines, then toilet tissue and plain masking tape are used to mask the entire prop.

After the tips have been painted, the manufacturers label decals are added. Use your reference photos for proper placement.

The lamination lines are added to the prop with a fine marking pen using French curves and paper patterns.

Finally, the brass leading edges are painted on, and the rivets added using a marking pen. The prop is then given several coats of gloss clear to seal in all the detail.

Building Tips