|Painting Scale Propellers
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 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
Label Decals is several types and sizes are available from;
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
|Here's an example of a simple wood grain done on a GWS
prop using a Furniture Marker. A very simple and convincing
wood grain is added to the GWS orange prop using Furniture
Repair marking pens.
|Metal propellers are simulated by spraying or brushing silver
on the front side, and satin black anti-glare on the back.
Manufacturer’s labels and tip color can also be added for
|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.
|The next step is to add the wood grain using the “dry brush”
|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
|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.