Airbrush your canopy!
I've seen a lot of people asking how to paint their canopies, and I've also seen some failed attempts. I've decided to post a proper how-to that anyone can do and it doesn't have to cost a lot of money. A little background about me before we begin. I painted my first R/C car body in 1989 while I was in high school. It was a white 57 Chevy body on a Kyosho Ultima that I gave a flame job to. I went on later in life to paint actual cars for a living for a few years. Now I'm back to being just a hobbiest but one of the things I like best about the hobby is painting. Anyone can do it, all you need is a little knowledge and some patience. On to the painting!
I'm starting with a stock Mini Titan E325 canopy. The first thing you should always do is wash it in warm water and mild dish soap. We do this to remove any oils left over from manufacturing. Do not skip this step!
Next, we need to prep the surface of the canopy for paint. A lot of modern paints will adhere to plastics without prep but I find it still helps promote adhesion and it takes care of any surface imperfections. I start with 240 grit sandpaper and knock down any high spots. My canopy had a raised ridge along the center line of the canopy, I'm guessing from when it was joined together from the factory. Next, I hit the entire canopy with 800 grit wet sand paper. Now, the key to wet sanding is don't sand all in one direction like this ||| you need to sand in opposite directions like XXX. If you don't, when you lay down your first paint layer you could see the scratches in the body, even though it is such a fine grit. This step also removes the gloss from the factory and will show you if you have any low spots that need to be filled, if you are worried about that. For this canopy I'm not. When you are satisfied that it is ready, wash it again. From this point on, try to be careful to hold the canopy by the edges to keep getting fingerprints on it.
2. Base Coat
Here are the basic tools we are using. Please keep in mind that even though I'm using an airbrush and compressor, this can all be done with canned air or even spray cans, though it is harder to get a good finish. I'm going to be doing a two tone paint job in red and black. When painting the outside of a canopy, always start with the lighter color first. If you spray the darker colors first it could show through the lighter colors. If you are painting a clear canopy from the inside, spray the darker colors first.
First I'm going to lay down the red on the top half of the canopy. I'm using a body line to seperate the two colors. Fill your paint jar with paint. I like the Parma FasKolor line of paints. They are acrylic paint so they clean up with water but still adhere well to plastics. If you are running an air compressor, turn it up to 40 psi. This paint sprays better at a little higher psi. I have sprayed it with canned air before though, you just need to take more breaks to let the can warm up.
Hold the airbrush 6-8" away from the canopy and start spraying a light coat. I always do the first coat light, I find that if I spray wet on my first I get more problems. Some common problems are fisheyes (little dots where the paint doesn't stick) and paint not sticking. Both can be fixed by washing the canopy better!
Let the first coat get tacky, usually about 5-10 minutes. Then spray wetter coats allowing 10 minutes between coats. You want the coat to be wet enough to be smooth, but don't run it. I find that 3-4 coats are good. Now, set the canopy on a stand of some sort, I use a bent coat hanger, and let it dry. Now, before the next step, you have to let the paint cure completely. Acrylic paint cures by letting all the water in the paint evaporate. Normally it takes several hours at room temperature, but I usually just let it go overnight.
Clean your airbrush! Switch the bottle to water and spray it out until the spray comes out clear. Then bring your airbrush up to the sink and take it apart and clean it properly. Don't hold the small parts over your garbage disposal while cleaning them, don't ask me how I know that.
3. Masking and second color
Now, the secret to a good paint job. Masking. You masking job can make or break your paint job. Over the years, Iíve found the best thing is Bob Divelyís Liquid Mask. This is a think bluish liquid that you spray on the canopy and it dries to a latex like skin. The key to using liquid mask is that you need to spray on two THICK coats. I mean really gob this crap on, it doesnít matter if it runs, that will not affect the mask. Now, since it is so thick, if you are spraying with canned air, you will need to thin it just a bit with water. Ideally you want to run this full strength, but it will work if you have to thin it. Let the mask dry, normally overnight but you can speed it up with a hair dryer. When it dries, it is mostly clear so it is easy to mark where you want to mask. You can write directly on the dried mask with a pen or marker. Now take a brand new knife blade and lightly cut where you want to remove the mask. The sharper the knife, the better. Now, slip the flat of the blade under the mask you want to remove and gently pull it up. It will peel off if a big sheet if you sprayed it on thick enough. When you have the whole area unmasked, paint your second color. I didnít take any pictures of this step, but its pretty much just like laying down your base coat. Let the whole thing get pretty dry, probably several hours before you remove the rest of the masking. If you did it right, it should look something like this.
Now it looks pretty good. You could clear it now and it would look just fine. You could also mask it off again and add additional paint layers by following step 3 again. For my purposes I like the colors, but I think it needs some detail to finish it off. I considered doing some kind of flaming skull but decided on something a bit more subtle. I created a simple graphic of the word TITAN by downloading a free tribal font off the internet and played with the size and spacing until I got something I was happy with. I then printed the image onto Testors decal paper.
Just in case you donít know how to apply decals, Iíll go over it really quick. Trim the decal close to the image. Dip the decal in warm water for about 20 seconds, then let it sit OUT of water for about a minute until the decal slides off it backing easily. Next position the decal on the canopy and smooth out the bubbles. When it is where you want it, blot it dry with a paper towel and allow it to dry completely. You do not want any water in it when you clear or it could cause an issue. If you donít have the resources to make you own graphics there are many different graphics you can pick up at your LHS or your favorite online e-tailer.
Now, you may have noticed that this paint does not have any sheen by itself. Parma Faskolor is designed to be sprayed from the inside of a clear body, so the lexan plastic is what gives this paint its shine. On this body, we need to apply our own clearcoat. Iíve found that Dupli-color automotive clearcoat works great and does not attack this paint. By ďattackĒ I mean if you spray it on the paint under the clear will start to react and crackle, ruining your paint job. If you use any other type of paint, make sure you test the paint and clear on a scrap of plastic before you use it on your canopy. The painting method is much like airbrushing the base except that you are using a spray can instead. The first coat should be a very LIGHT dusting, this keeps the paint and decals below from possibly running or smearing. Let the paint get tacky, between 15-30 minutes before applying a second coat. The second coat should be wet, but be careful not to let it run! Let that get tacky and apply a third coat. You can apply as many coats as you want, it will add depth to you finish but will make the body stiffer so I find that 3 coats is good. When you are done, if all went well you will have something like this.
Well, I hope you learned something today! If you have any questions feel free to ask here or you can PM me. Also, if you donít think you can do this yourself the canopy you saw painted here today is for sale for $40 or I can do custom work on pretty much any canopy you want. Just drop me a PM and weíll work something out.
very nice dragon.....thanks for a good "how to" post. peace, randy.
Is that pattern on the top of the canopy painted or self adhesive? If it's painted how did you get that small pattern to look so sharp?
Actually it came like that but you can achieve a similar effect using shelf liner as a mask.
What a great little tutorial!
I'm saving it for future use.
Thanks again... :)
It looks like you do not thin or strain the paint. Is that correct? Any problems with paint flow though the air brush?
No, FasKolor is made to be used straight in an airbrush.
I learned a lot by your "how to".
Why not make it "sticky" ?
I know I'm going to need it once I get an airbrush.
I need a question answered with regard to "nozzle size".
I'm looking at a "Mini HVLP spray gun" with the following specs..
0.8 mm nozzle
operating pressure 30/90psi
paint capacity 3.5oz
average air consumption 3.5cfm @ 90psi
continuous air consumption 6cfm @90psi
weight 1 lb.
Since I have an adjustable compressor, I was wondering if this spray gun would be suitable
for painting models or is it considered too large..?
any and all comments welcome,
Based on the info you provide, the gun sounds like it will work fine for large areas that need one color. I use a similar gun for my primer coats, base coats, or if the model is one color.
HVLP DETAIL SPRAY GUN
Just the thing for covering small areas and touch-up work. HVLP means less overspray, greater material savings. Interchangeable nozzles let you shoot any type of paint.
Stainless steel nozzle and needle
5.3 oz. gravity feed cup
Minimum transfer efficiency: 65%; Operating air pressure: 43 PSI; Air consumption: 3.7 CFM; Flow rate: 40cc per minute; Cap pressure: 10 PSI; Air inlet: 1/4''; Fluid nozzle: 1mm (.039")
Hope this helpedÖ
Thanks Mike....would you have a link for the gun you show..? It looks like a nice one for models.
I have found that Harbor Freight is a great place to pick up air tools. If you watch for sales you can get a decent spray gun for around $15-$25 dollars. With that said, just remember itís a $15 dollar spray gun and you get what you pay for.
I have several spray guns from there, and all have worked very well for painting my planes and other small projects. If your interested checkout my post on how I paint my planes. If you want to see how the proís do-it check J Morganís thread.
My way Post #44: http://www.rcgroups.com/forums/showt...=715220&page=3
J Morgan: http://www.rcgroups.com/forums/showt...hreadid=161218
Harbor Freight link: http://www.harborfreight.com/
Hey guys, what would be the best way to repair my painted canopy?
A dog bit it today and it's got a few holes on and a bit of cracked paint. Shall I sand the holes very lightly and apply some more paint, I think the primer is still on there.
Thanks for the how-to tips. I have some experience with air brushing. My first attempts were not good though...the acrylics kept clogging my air brush so I had to try different things.
What air brush paint do you reccomend for painting a fiberglass canopy
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