Airbrush your canopy! - RC Groups
Thread Tools
Jan 10, 2008, 02:19 PM
Hail to the King, baby!
Dragonfish's Avatar

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!

1. Prep

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. Your 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 thick 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.

4. Details

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.

5. Clearcoat

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.
Last edited by Dragonfish; Jan 10, 2008 at 08:46 PM.
Sign up now
to remove ads between posts
Jan 10, 2008, 02:25 PM
R/C Junkie
Sonex128's Avatar
Sweet! Thanks I have been wanting to give airbrushing a shot. I guess I just need to try it.

Jan 10, 2008, 02:31 PM
Heli Addict....
Ecaf's Avatar
What is your part number for the clear coat?
Jan 10, 2008, 02:36 PM
US Support / 107 Certified
blade strike's Avatar
very cool man... thx
Latest blog entry: Mavic CrystalSky Mount
Jan 10, 2008, 03:01 PM
Inverted is where it's at
MiniCwik's Avatar
Definitely cool, thank you ... I will have to look into getting Testor Decal sheets myself.
Jan 10, 2008, 03:07 PM
LaurenceGough's Avatar
Awesome tutorial, I'm really thinking about the Testor paints, neon orange please!

Testor Decal sheets, just what I need!

Best place to order these items? I haven't really looked into it much!

Jan 10, 2008, 03:07 PM
Registered User
Yea, question about the airbrush setup. I need something cheap but not garbage. I'm thinking about using soda bottle or plastic containers as air source. Just fill it with my bike pump and hook them up to the air brush. Since we don't need that much air, these bottle will be enough. I hear HVLP work better than regular airbrushes. Any recommendations on this?

Nice paint job.
Jan 10, 2008, 03:09 PM
LaurenceGough's Avatar
Soda bottle wouldn't supply 40 psi for that long, they run dry very fast.

2L might hold up for a while. 2-4 mins or so I would say.
Jan 10, 2008, 03:22 PM
Hail to the King, baby!
Dragonfish's Avatar
Here is my setup, you can see I use a cheap airbrush. I used to use this brush with canned air, which would last me an entire canopy. Now I have the Badger compressor below.
Jan 10, 2008, 03:48 PM
Registered User
Nice post Dragonfish ...

Sticky please !
Jan 10, 2008, 03:52 PM
Registered User
Nice! Thanks!

BTW Where have you been two months ago when I did my first painted canopy?

Also - I used transparent ink-jet stickers for decal. They are a bit ticker but they can be printed in colour. Be careful to add them before last, clear, coat of paint. Inkjet paint doesn't like water unless you like smudge effects. (Same applies - do not ask me how do I know )
Jan 10, 2008, 05:04 PM
RC4Life not just 4 xmas
p4ddy's Avatar
I have a Devilbis airbrush & compressor. I got the Air brush brand new from the devilbis factory. I got a cracking on off deal by phoning them & was told to pop in. A guy there got a load of bits from the QA put them together, chucked in a new case, gave me a demo of how good HE/ it was for £20. That would of cost me well over a ton at the time but because their products have to be 100% flawless the one i got was to be binned (because of an almost invisible blemish on the pait bowl). I've only used it once to paint a stonned phsycopathic smiley face on the back of an old crash helmet. Sorry about my rambling on.
Jan 10, 2008, 06:35 PM
Registered User

paint job

how did you get the carbon fiber. i like that look. is that some thing that can be used on any windsheild? thanks. mike
Jan 10, 2008, 06:51 PM
R/C Junkie
Sonex128's Avatar
The Mini Titan canopy comes with it.

Jan 10, 2008, 08:31 PM
Registered User
II thought I would weigh in on this discussion.

First, this is a Very good how to article.... Kudos!
I thought I would throw in my experience, but not my advice.. you guys choose.

I just finished this canopy last week (that's why its not busted yet) and thought I would post it and my technique.

I do not recommend this method, its just an example of what I did.

I have owned a Badger 150 for almost 20 years now and have never used it before to do this kind of work, I bought it to spray Aerogloss dope for a project 18 some odd years ago and it has been sitting in a box since then. I now have a shop with a 100 gallon compressor, so air pressure is not an issue, I just have to do it in the shop which is poorly climate controlled and that is an issue.

I started with a Trex 450XL fiberglass canopy which is white with the windscreen painted on it. It is the same as the V2 canopy, except unpainted (mostly) and sells for 20 clams. Locally, I had selection issues as to what paint to use and its suitability.

The main issue I had was the clear top coat. Since it seems that the Testors clear is no longer clear but yellowish, I chose Krylon Crystal clear. All other paints were selected based on this decision.

Walmart caries Krylon paints in spray cans for about 3 bucks a can, cheaper I thought at the time, than mixing my own bottles and no compatibility issues (more on this later).
That was probably a mistake. As a footnote, I called Krylon about half way through this project to ask about drying time and they told me that this paint (indoor/outdoor) is an Acrylic lacquer although it says nothing about this on the can.

Getting paint ready to spray involved spraying directly into a glass jar to collect paint for the airbrush, then storing in badger jars for later use. The yellow was produced by mixing yellow and white to get a brighter yellow.
There was not a suitable "hot" orange or red color in the Krylon selection and mixing attempts led to a muddy mess, so I was forced to use Testors Enamel "bright red" from a spray can. I collected it for airbrush use the same way I did it for the Krylon colors. I also tested it for compatibility, but was apparently in a hurry because I missed some issues I will discuss later.

I really liked the Canomod brand "grandprix" canopy, but it's 70 bucks and I'm gonna bust it anyway and it really is only a V1 canopy that will fit a V2 (which is what I own), it's just a tight fit and harder to install, or so I've read. Based on this and my wife saying.." whats the problem, you have the stuff, all you need is time, right?" I decided to give it a try.

After some thought, heres how I did this.

The canopy was prepped for paint (sanded and cleaned) and the (black) windscreen was carefully masked off with 3M fineline tape to get a sharp edge. The whole canopy was shot with yellow until it was wet and flowed out and then while the paint was still tacky (5-10 minutes), the nose was shot carefully with Testors Bright red at around 20-25 PSI gradually building up the paint slowly to achieve a fade.
This was allowed to dry overnight.

I then took a photo of the canopy and loaded it Photoshop and played around with the pen tool to sketch out a pattern on the side that I liked. I then printed this pattern onto a piece of paper. I took a piece of wax paper and taped it to a work surface (poster board), I then covered that with some Scotch blue painters tape made for sensitive surfaces (8 bucks a roll). I taped the paper over that and proceeded to cut out the middle, leaving the outer outline and islands in place. I peeled this off of the waxed paper and carefully layed it out on the canopy. I then masked the rest of the canopy, leaving only the cheeks exposed. This I shot with white at about 20-25 PSI and allowed it to dry overnight.

I then covered the cheeks completely with more tape and cut a checked pattern on the cheeks with a sharp exacto knife and removed every other square.

Heres a painters masking trick that hasn't been mentioned.. I then shot a tacky coat of clear and let is set. This seals the seems of the tape and prevents bleed under the edges. You can use base coat, but I wanted to be sure I did not get white or black bleed anywhere on the red or yellow.
I then shot it with black at around 20 psi. The black covers so well that a slightly dry coat is OK, so low - mid pressure.

I got into a hurry here and that's when I discovered the compatibility issue. I tried, after about an hour, to remove the top layer of masking. I found that the white had not bonded to the Testors paint well and was coming up with the tape. I had to cut the paint from the tape at the edge to get it to lift cleanly. If I had waited 24 hours, it would probably not been a problem.

I removed, when dry, the tape I had masked the checks with and sanded lightly the paint edges left by the masking. I then reduced the airbrush pressure to around 10-15 PSI and filled in the black shadows in the checked scheme. When dry (same lifting issue) I removed all of the masking. I then took Testors Sky Blue and a cut down brush and covered all of the edges with a light tapered brush stroke. This was allowed about 6 hours drying time before proceeding.
TIP: Lots of coffee is a hindrance here.

All was good up til now. My shop has radiant electric heaters in the ceiling and it was 45F in the shop. My mistake was not using the airbrush to apply the clear. I warmed up the canopy under the heater and had my rattle can of Krylon clear at the ready, from inside the house (70F) and proceeded to shoot... without a tack coat. I got no runs in the finish, but the solvents caused the underlying incompatible paints to dissolve and drift on one side and bunch up a little, creating a stipple effect. The result is pleasing, sort of, but not the perfection I had hoped for. If I had applied a tack coat, this would have worked.

Just my thoughts. Images of the good side and the bad side are posted below.

This took the better part of a week FYI, and probably cost as much as the Canomod, but it was fun and the next one will be cheaper...I tell myself

BTW, thew canopy looks much better in person than in these photos (too grainy)
Last edited by michael503; Jan 11, 2008 at 08:46 AM.

Thread Tools

Similar Threads
Category Thread Thread Starter Forum Replies Last Post
Cool How cool is your canopy? Psyko-lefse Micro Helis 18 Aug 28, 2014 05:10 AM
Got Airbrush?... post your canopy pics here Trexmad Micro Helis 17 Aug 21, 2014 07:33 PM
Discussion Check this out! And you thought your canopy was cool StrangeRanger Mini Helis 21 Oct 17, 2007 11:15 AM
Do you fly with your canopy on or off ? Why ? OzzieFlyer Micro Helis 11 May 01, 2004 10:15 PM