Natural Metal Finish The Easy Way

Written by Tom Norrbohm

Perhaps the biggest fear a modeler can face is trying to duplicate a natural metal finish on his model. I know, I have been there myself. We end up doing a camo scheme and fend off the natural metal monster until next time. Well, here is an easy way to do it.

The biggest problem we faced with a metal finish was not in applying the paint or even the color, but masking over it later to add different colored panels or other colors. We would invariably pull off the silver paint to some degree when we removed our masking. This would happen even with the low tack tapes on the market. An answer had to be found! Then I read an early article in Fine Scale Modeler about a guy who used a model railroad paint by Floquil and buffed out his paint with toothpaste! This was worth looking into.

The paint is Floquil's R.R. paint Old Silver. The color next to it is Bright Silver, and this can be used also depending on the shade of metal you want to achieve. I use the Old Silver. The new formulas out now will allow you to thin with lacquer thinner. In the past you had to use Dio-Sol which was potent stuff. So let's begin!

Prepping the Model: You can go one of two ways with this. You can either prime the model or not prime. The decision will effect the appearance of the Old Silver once applied. If you choose not to prime, you must buff/polish out all sanding and surface scratches. You can do this with varying grades of sandpaper, Brasso, or paste. As I found out this is not an easy task! Once you apply ANY metallic type paint, it will highlite any scratches you might have missed. This method of applying Old Silver onto bare plastic however makes the color look real good. This is due to applying the paint to a very smooth almost glossy surface that bare plastic provides.

However, I chose to go the other route and prime my model. By priming, I could find the problem areas that the priming would reveal before applying the Old Silver. Airbrushing the primer coat is the best way. You can use gloss or flat paint. I use flat white. By airbrushing you get a very smooth finish on the model and this is more acceptable surface for applying the Old Silver. Applying Old Silver to a primed surface will alter the appearance somewhat. I find it is not that big a deal. When applying the Old Silver, thin the paint sparingly. Much will depend on the type of airbrush you have. Practice on some scrap plastic before you commit to a built up model.

After the paint has dried at least overnight, you can now mask to your hearts content! Even the strongest tape will not pull off this paint. As long as the model was properly cleaned and prepped before hand, you should not have any problems. For the different shades of metal, you can use anything you wish to use, any brand of paint. I use the Testors Modelmaster Metalizer paints, mostly the Steel color. In the past, after all the painting was done, I would apply my clear flat finish to prep the model for ease of applying pencil panel lines. However, the flat coat really changes the appearance of the Old Silver. If you want a dulled look to the finish, this method works. After applying the panel lines,the model is gloss-coated and decals applied, with a final coat of flat finish applied.


This shows the 'flat finish' I am talking about.

If you want a more glossy appearance, then we do things differently. Once the model is all painted, I apply Testors Modelmaster Semi-Gloss clear lacquer finish. Now for me, I use pencil for panel lines, and pencil does not take well to a glossy surface. To overcome this, I use a 2B soft lead in a mechanical pencil. Since the lines can smear easily, you can wear a cotton glove to minimize the risk, or work in sections and put a semi-gloss coat over the finished section to seize the panel lines. When done, apply decals, and finish coat with semi-gloss again.


Both methods work and look well. I personally like the semi-gloss method. I hope this gives you the courage to attempt that scheme you've wanted to do for years. This is truly an easy way to do it!