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Basic Radio Control Car Airbrushing Tutorial

Basic Radio Control
Car Airbrushing Tutorial

For Pirate RC By Leon
(leon) Cook


From the very basic
“can jobs” to the more complicated fully airbrushed bodies, the basic techniques
are all the same.

Firstly, let me just
state that I am not a professional airbrush artist. This is a hobby for me as
much as the RC hobby itself. I don’t claim to be an expert but I know what I
have tried and what works for me.

What I want to do in
this tutorial is show you from start to finish how I prepare and spray a shell,
the equipment I use and some different painting tricks you can learn that will
make your shells stand out a little bit more.

Equipment & Work

This is my essential
equipment, there are some additional items that I will cover later on but these
are the basics of what you will need.


Airbrush –I use an Iwata HP-C Plus


Air Supply – A Good quality Airbrush Compressor


Scalpel – I use a Swann Morton 5A with various different blades but
generally use Swann Morton 10A Blades


Bob Dively Liquid Mask


Self Healing Cutting Board


3M Fineline Tape – Available in various widths


Permanent Marker  -  I use TDK CD Marker Pens


Nail varnish remover


Paper towel/kitchen roll


Paint – I use Faskolor water based acrylics


Paint Brushes – From the smallest artist brushes to the larger 2 inch DIY
Paint brushes


Hair Dryer - Stolen from the wife, but I did have to buy her a new one!


Lexxan Scissors

An additional item
that I tend to use a lot is a Dremel with various attachments. Although not
necessary it can be extremely useful for the RC hobby anyway.

Another essential for
me, although not a piece of equipment as such, is a good sized work area where
you can keep all the equipment around you.  Good lighting in the area is a must
as is ventilation for the times that you may want or need to use spirit based
paints such as Pactra or Testors (not all colours/combinations are available in
the Faskolor range for example, high gloss chrome).

Due to the nature of
water based acrylics, they are low odour and do not give off any nasty fumes.
Although ventilation is still a must, it is not necessary to purchase a spray
booth with extractor fan as you would if you were spraying spirit based paints.


Most shell
manufacturers will give you instructions on how to prepare the shell ready for

The best way I have
found depends on whether the shell is for you or for someone else.

If it’s for you, I
find that cutting out the shell fully and fitting it to the RC car before you
spray it is the easiest. If it’s for someone else, this is not always possible,
even if you have the same RC, people have different engines, mount the aerial in
different place, have varying length exhausts etc. What I do in this case is a
basic outside cut along the manufacturers cut lines (with the exception of the
exhaust exit).  This can then be fitted to the particular RC after it has been

I find cutting out the
shell is easiest with a good sharp pair of Lexxan scissors  and finishing off
with a Dremel and small sanding attachment for the difficult areas (for example
on a 1:8 nitro buggy around the front shock tower).

Once you have cut the
shell out, it is necessary to completely de-grease the inside of the shell. This
is easiest with hot soapy water and a partly worn sponge pan cleaner. Don’t rub
too hard and be careful not to use the harsh side on windows. The reason for the
pan cleaner is to slightly scratch the inside of the shell so that the paint
will adhere itself to the shell better. Don’t panic, the small hairline
scratches will not be visible once the shell is painted (with the exception of
chrome paint. Only use the pan scrubber on areas you intend to chrome if you
want a brushed chrome look, otherwise, treat the same as windows).

Once you have fully
cleaned the inside of the body with soapy water, rinse it off thoroughly and
then dry it with paper towel and/or a hair dryer.


There are many ways to
mask a body from blank sheets of masking film, pre cut mask, masking tape and
fine line tape to liquid masking.

I prefer liquid
masking and I would say that  99% of shells I  spray are done this way.

Bob Dively is my
preferred liquid mask but it can be hard to obtain as it is only available from
America from either Bob Dively directly or Tower Hobbies. There are alternatives
that can be obtained in the UK from your local model shop or online retailer

Bob Dively can be
sprayed on to the shell with your airbrush but I prefer to use a 2” good quality
DIY paint brush. Other people prefer sponge brushes but I find that more coats
are necessary.  As a rule, 3 coats of liquid mask are required and should be
applied all over the inside of the body shell in even coats. The first and
second coat can be dried partially with a hair dryer but the third coat needs at
least 4 hours drying, preferably over night. It is important to clean the brush
between coats and Bob Dively is water soluble all the time it is wet and the
brush can easily be rinsed out in the sink with cold water.


This is where you need
to be creative.

At some time or
another, every design has been done on a body. Flames, arrows, stripes, zigzags,
etc. you name it, it’s been done.

The way to look at the
design is trying to find a design/colour combination that works well together.

I have a folder on my
pc with not only other peoples designs to take reference from but also pictures
of custom bowling balls, tattoos, car detailing centres (the full sized ones)
and many other pictures I have come across over a number of years. You do not
want to make exact copies of other peoples work but it never hurts to have
something that will give you ideas to create your own design.

Transferring The
Design To The Shell

Almost all shell
manufacturers will cover the outer shell with an overspray film. This not only
helps to do what its name suggests but is also extremely handy to draw your
design onto with permanent marker/cd pen. There is no standard method for this,
just draw your design on in as much detail as you can, including the windows.
This is where the nail varnish remover and paper towel come in handy, any
mistakes and be remover with a piece of paper towel with a little nail varnish
remover on, it dries within seconds and you can re-draw the corrected design
back over it again.

For the very rare
cases where the shell does not have an overspray film, I actually liquid mask
the whole shell, both inside and outside and again the draw your design on the
outside with no worries that you won’t be able to remove the permanent marker
once the shell is finished.

Cutting Out The

Now you need your
scalpel. I use a new blade for every shell as the blades to tend to go dull
quite quickly. If you buy the blades in ones or twos this can be expensive but
there are quite a few online shops that sell the blades in bulk. I normally pay
around £10 for 100 blades. The blades I use the most are Swann Morton 10A blades
as I find that they are the right shape and length for most of my requirements.

When cutting your
design out you need to apply enough pressure to cut through the liquid mask but
not too much that you start to cut into the shell. Follow the drawn design as
closely as possible taking note of where lines overlap. You need to make sure
that you overcut overlaps by approximately .5mm so that the cuts join and do not
leave an uncut section of liquid mask, this can be a real pain when it comes to
removing the sections as you spray.


For Faskolor paints I 
tend to set my compressor to supply around 40-45psi. You can thin the paint
slightly with water and it should be the consistency of double cream but no
thicker. The joy with Faskolor, its water based, so any cleanup can be done at
the sink with plain cold water.

When spraying your
design, be aware that you will need to spray the darker colours first. A lot of
the Faskolor range requires backing with a light colour such as white or silver
for the colour to stand out especially the Fasflourescent and Faslucent colours.

Use the scalpel to
remove the first sections of your design by peeling off the liquid mask. Then
using your airbrush, spray an even coat of paint on the section you have peeled
off. Only apply thin coats as it will enable the paint to dry quicker. I suggest
the use of a hairdryer between coats as this will quarter the time before you
can spray the next coat. Apply at least 3 thin coats before you move onto the
next section.

Generally, the lighter
colours like yellow, green, orange etc. Will need backing with white before you
move on to the next section. Other specialised colours such as Chrome or some of
the Faschange colours require backing with dark colours/black.

Also always remember
that when spraying a body shell, you are basically spraying in reverse. Any
highlighting, shading etc. will need to be done before spraying the main colour
so bear this in mind when you are planning your design.

Finishing The Job

Once all of the design
has been complete,  I like to overspray the whole design with white which will
make everything stand out that little bit more. Once this is done, remove the
remaining liquid mask normally the windows and any sections you wish to remain

I  suggest you now
allow this to dry overnight.

Once completely dry
you can protect the paint job with one of the many “lacquers” that are available
such as Custom Colours Nitro Block.

A good alternative I
have found is external grade waterproof PVA glue, brushed on (not over the clear
areas though).

Again leave this to
dry and then remove the overspray film revealing your sparkly new paint job.


It can be extremely
costly to try a new design or painting technique on a new shell. One way I found
when I first started was a 2 litre cola bottle cut down the centre lengthways.
This gives you an ideal medium to practice on and will give you a good idea of
what will and will not work.

Painting Techniques



This is one of the easiest techniques to learn. 

Start by marking 2 lines on the outside of the shell where
you want each colour end. Now sp
ray by
pushing down on the trigger of your airbrush and pull back to spray a heavy coat
of paint. Slowly move your brush up to the line and as you reach the line, move
your hand slowly away from the shell at the same time as moving the airbrush
forward to the next line. Do this until you have the colour covering the area
you want up to the first line with full colour and with the middle section
(between the 2 lines) slowly fading away. Now change the colour in your airbrush
and repeat in the opposite direction with the other colour.



On the outside of the body, mark where you want the

With a fine artist brush, dip the tip into some
Faswhite paint. Now slowly pull the brush in an uneven stroke along where you
want the lightning. Don’t forget to add forks to the lightning (almost like a
tree branch). You want the line slightly jagged so as to mimic real lightening.

Once dry, slowly highlight the painted on lines
with a fine mist of white through the airbrush. Once completed this will make
the white lines stand out more.

Now back with a dark colour such as black or dark


Rag Effect

This is another simple technique that is easy to
master and will make large areas of the same colour more interesting. All  you
need for this is a couple of plastic carrier bags.

The technique works best with similar colour paints
(red/orange) or the same colour paints but different shades. It can also look
effective which chrome rag effect backed with black or vice versa.

Simply, scrunch the bag up and dip into a small
amount of paint, dab the excess off onto a scrap of paper and then dab the bag
onto the body where you want the effect. Carry on doing this until you have
blodges of paint all over the area you want and then allow to dry. Now back with
the other colour.

I have found that black rag effect with metallic
dark blue work extremely well as does maroon rag effect with bright red backing.


Carbon Fibre

I had some trouble finding the ideal masking for
making this effect. I eventually came across some anti  slip matting in
Morrison’s supermarket of all places that has the ideal mesh pattern to do this

The basic colours for this are silver and black but
variations can be used including chrome (instead of silver) metallic black,
metallic graphite etc. Basically any light and dark colour can be used in

Select the area you want the carbon fibre effect.
Place the matting on the area, making sure that the mesh pattern is straight and
how you want it. Now apply a thin coat of the light colour (normally silver)
over the top of the mesh. Remove the mesh, trying to lift it straight off the
body so as not to smudge the silver. Allow to dry and then back with you dark
colour (normally black) – instant carbon fibre.


This is a very basic painting guide. I will be
adding  more detail as I get time with the intention of covering more
techniques, various specialised paints, equipment and also a guide on how to
maintain your equipment.

Richard of Pirate RC will be putting up a gallery
section as I complete more shells. Please by all means use these pictures to
come up with your own designs and perhaps email your pictures to Pirate RC so
that we can see some of your work, you never know it may even be published.

If you have any questions or want to order a shell, you
can contact me either on here through the pm system or via the Novarossi
Raceway/Essex Monster & Off Road Forum at
. My username is
leon on both websites.

In the mean time have fun with painting shells, try
some different things and the more you practice the better you will get.

You can check out the
Airbrush Gallery Here


Added:  Thursday, February 15, 2007
Reviewer:  Site Admin
hits: 5800


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