Technique: Black Basing


I’ve never been a big fan of the standard pre-shading, where you trace panel lines in black and then try your damnedest to cover the gray primered areas without completely blowing away all that fine airbrush work that went into the preshade lines. It’s a very delicate balance that, for me, usually just leads to a lot of swearing.

Instead, as I got back into modeling, I picked up what I call the Three-Layer Blend technique.

This is still an awesome technique and a lot more controllable than basic pre-shading. But a few things.

  • It’s a crapton of work. Work that may look gorgeous and subtle one moment, but then be completely lost when you start adding additional colors or decals (because adding wildly different colors tends to crush down tonal variation…thanks a lot, eyes).
  • You still have to fight the battle to “cover the gray” of the primer.
  • Did I mention it’s a crapton of work?

Over my past…I don’t know, it’s been several builds now…I’ve been refining a different technique that basically takes the entire concept of pre-shading and flips it. I call it “Black Basing”.

I’ve found Black Basing to be extremely controllable, a LOT faster than the Three-Layer Blend, and very good at introducing tonal variations, even in pretty basic monochrome schemes. And if you look at actual aircraft, that’s often exactly what you want. Yeah there’s some weathering that aligns with panel lines, but a lot of times, it’s a more random variation than that. And with Black Basing, you can still get that nice panel shading if you want it.

The First Rule of Black Basing

The first rule is simple. Use a black base. You can prime the model, and then paint it black, but I find it’s easier to just use a black primer. My go to is Gunze Mr. Finishing Surfacer 1500 Black, but your mileage may vary.

For the purposes of this post, I’m just going to focus on a current bench occupant, Freedom Models’ 1/48 X-47B.

Here’s the black going down…

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And here it is fully primed…

Why Prime in Black?

Two reasons.

First, it makes whatever you’re working on look temporarily extra mean and badass.

Second, it immediately gets rid of the “cover the gray” problem. You don’t have to worry about getting enough coverage to hide the primer, because if you don’t put the paint down as thick, instead of obvious primer peeking through, you get….SHADING!

Adding Color

Now that the black is down, it’s time to add color. And this is where you can really have fun with tonal variation. There are two ways you can go about this, and they can be used together.

The first is paint opacity. The heavier you put on the paint, the more it will cover the black – i.e. the more opaque it will be. Conversely, the thinner you go with the paint, the more black will show through. So just by painting as you normally would on the centers of panels and going lighter over the panel lines, you’re getting basically the same result as panel line pre-shading. But you can also do this all over the surface, for varied, weathered finishes.

The second is color variation. If you’re painting, say, olive drab as a topcoat, you can lay down various browns and greens, heavily thinned, that will subtly change up the color tones of the final coat. Just be sure to thin the olive drab down enough that it doesn’t cover over all that work! And be very mindful of “tonal crush”. A gray jet in low-viz markings will show a lot of tonal variation all the way through, but if you’re adding invasion stripes or brightly colored cowl or fuselage bands or high-viz markings, whatever tonal variation you introduce at this stage will be cut down by as much as half by the time you get to the end of the build.

My X-47 is more an exercise in opacity than color variation, so let’s see how that works in practice.

First, take your paint – in this case Gunze C13 Neutral Gray – and thin it way down. You want to build this effect in layers. Gunze thankfully dries very fast, so all this layer work can be done in a night or two. I typically thin mine about 3:1 thinner-to-paint.

For the first “layer”, I wanted to set up the opacity variation, so I went very small and random. This isn’t particularly difficult since you aren’t trying to get the pattern just so or anything. Actually it’s very good practice for other small-and-subtle jobs like Luftwaffe mottling.

The goal here isn’t to cover the whole thing, but to build in different levels of opacity.

If you were adding some color variation, this is where you would want to do so. Again following the same random distribution (unless you want to represent, say, replaced panels, in which case just focus on those panels, etc).

The Thin Top Coat

Once you have this layer (or layers) in place, using the same very thin paint mix, go wider with your spraying and build up the paint slowly.

If you think about it in opacity terms kind of like the way Photoshop works, an opacity of 0 = black and 100 = whatever your color is. On the first passes, you’re basically ratcheting up very localized opacity. Now you want to bring up overall opacity to something like, say, 70. But work slowly, and with very thin paint, because it is possible to overdo it.

Here’s what the final result looks like:

Overall, I find this to be the best, simplest, most controllable method I’ve found for adding in this variation at the painting stage. If you haven’t tried it – give it a shot!






en·er·va·tion: a feeling of being drained of energy or vitality; fatigue

For the past few weeks, I just haven’t been feeling…”it”. I don’t even know what to call “it”. The desire to blog, or to post to the Facebook page. Even to participate in the few forums I participate in. Something has been lacking.

Maybe it’s the combination of a busy few weeks at work, the stresses of summertime and no school and three kids, and the encroaching summer heat. Maybe it’s the kits I’m working on. Hell, maybe it’s for no reason at all.

But whatever is – or isn’t – causing “it”, there you go. I’m not shutting things down. Not by any means. But my production will likely be at a lower level here for the next few weeks. Of course – I say that now, which no doubt means I will end up pushing out five blog posts over the next week!

Outside of not posting, here’s a quick update on the state of the bench and my way-too-many WIPs.

  • Freedom Models X-47B – Stalled out waiting for some last bits of paint and then gloss coat. Honestly, the slightly rough texture of the plastic, which has persisted through the paint, has killed a lot of my enthusiasm for the build, since I just know I’m going to get to enjoy decals silvering left and right now.
  • Eduard/Academy F-4B Phantom II – Stalled out waiting for some XMM seamless intakes, which I want to test out since I’m not entirely happy with Alley Cat’s (fit is not as good as advertised). Good news is that the XMM intakes came today. Bad news is that I feel like I’ve lost the thread on this one for now.
  • Hobby Boss A-6E Intruder – Also stalled waiting on XMM intakes. Which also came today. Look for this one to revive again soon.
  • Trumpeter LAV-AT – Still a’building.
  • Tamiya F4U-1 Birdcage Corsair – Cockpit is getting close to being finished.
  • Mystery Jet Project – On top of all of these damn builds, I’ve got another going on. More a combination of a fortuitous decal sheet find and the desire for a quick and fun jet build. Nearly done with the cockpit and about to start on the intakes and exhaust.


Just Buy a Damn Airbrush, Already


Spend time around any kind of modeling community anywhere on the internet, and sooner or later you’ll run into a variation of these:

“Help! I need some tips for German mottle camoflage!”

“How do you shade panel lines?”

“Tips for painting white?”

Some questions seem to crop up more often than others, but whatever, right? This is the internet – perhaps the single greatest thing to happen to scale modeling in my lifetime. It’s helped me immeasurably, and so I, for one, like to try to give back when I can.

Then the original poster comes back with…

“Oh lol I don’t have an airbrush”

Okay…then don’t ask how to paint German mottle camoflage!

Once upon a time, I was rather into offroading. It’s possible to do some amazing things and have a hell of a lot of fun offroading only a moderately capable vehicle. But inevitably we’d always have some overeager tool join our club trying to offroad his Toyota RAV-4 or what-have-you. And it would inevitably get stuck climbing over the curb to get to the actual offroading.

Moral of the story? Sometimes yes, you need a bare minimum of equipment to do something.

Are there modelers out there who can wield a brush to amazing effect that puts most airbrushers to shame? Yes. And those people are the lucky few freaks of nature who can pull that off. If you’re asking questions on a Facebook group, or a forum somewhere, about how to paint white, you’re not one of that elite cadre.

The way I see it – if you’re serious about this hobby at all, buy an airbrush.

  • If you’re worried about fumes and painting inside, use water-based acrylics like Lifecolor, Vallejo, AK Interactive or AMMO.
  • If you’re worried about space…an airbrush is the size of a pen! You can find small compressors that are about the size of a paperback book!
  • If you’re worried about overspray…don’t be. If you’re getting paint on things eight inches away from your model, you’re using the airbrush all wrong.
  • If you’re worried about price…go cheap for a starter brush. There’s no need to start with a Harder & Steenbeck Infinity or Iwata Custom Micron! sells a wide selection of knock-off airbrushes and compressors for dirt cheap. I’ve tried several of their airbrushes and they are actually rather good – particularly for the price. For around $66, you can score a dual-action airbrush AND a compressor. That’s cheaper than many 1/48 aircraft these days.


It’s one thing if you’re just starting out and trying to figure out if this is the hobby for you. Or if you’re a kid or stuck in some situation where having an airbrush is simply verboten like, I don’t know, prison maybe. But if you’ve been around this hobby enough to join groups and forums and build several kits and start to acquire an actual stash and ask about techniques that essentially require an airbrush to pull off…buy an airbrush.



Double Trouble!


A few days ago, I thought I had my upcoming build lineup pretty well set.

Then I stopped by King’s Hobby yesterday, and they had this in stock…

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Well…hell. The Intruder is one of my favorite aircraft, and the Hobby Boss representations are the bees’ knees.

The only thing that has kept Hobby Boss’ A-6A Intruder off my bench so far is the lack of aftermarket GRU-5 ejection seats. The A-6E? It packed GRU-7 seats, which are widely available from Aires, True Details, Wolfpack and so on.

The question quickly became…F-4B Phantom II, or A-6E Intruder. I was so torn that I actually created a poll. But, as Jon Bybee of The Combat Workshop put it:

“Based on the poll results so far it doesn’t look like we’ll be much help in your decision!”

No joke! After more than 100 votes, the two builds are essentially tied at 50/50.


This reflects almost exactly my torn state of mind. I want to build the F-4. I also – very badly – want to build the Intruder.

So I’m embracing the simple solution of building both!

Stay tuned…

Lead Sled or Iron Tadpole?

I’m torn. I’ve been gearing up to tackle Eduard’s boxing of the Academy F-4B Phantom II…and then Hobby Boss goes and drops their beautiful A-6E Intruder…

Which one should I go with? Vote below!

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Batter Up! (or…what’s next on the bench)


With the Trumpeter MiG-21F-13 and T-80BV off the bench and safely in the display cabinet, and the Hobby Boss T-26 well into the painting and weathering process, it’s time to start getting some new projects off the ground!

Two weeks ago, I had no idea what I was going to chase my Russian trio with…then things kind of…coalesced.

First up…

1/48 Eduard McDonnell Douglas F-4B Phantom II

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I’ve been itching to do a Phantom for a while now, and no time like the present, right? This is Eduard’s limited edition “Good Morning Da Nang!” boxing of the Academy F-4B, packed with photo etch, Brassin goodies, and a decal sheet by Furball Aero-Design.

It’s, uh, got a few parts.

As for markings, I’ll be doing the included VMFA-323 “Death Rattlers” ship.

I’m drawn to this one because the F-4s of 323 were pressed into service as close air support, meaning they got down low and dirty, resulting in some more interesting weathering than you see on a lot of Vietnam-era carrier-based F-4s.

Alas…this is the best picture I can find of a Death Rattler F-4B…and I can’t run down a higher resolution. Note the weathering on the radome and the off-color panels on the fuselage.

1/48 Freedom Model Northrop Grumman X-47B UCAS

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The X-47B is an unmanned strike aircraft being developed for the Navy. You may have seen it recently completing the first unmanned cat shots and landings aboard a carrier at sea. Currently its doing some trials to demonstrate how well it can operate when manned aircraft and the usual carrier deck chaos are swirling around it.

Don’t know why I’m drawn to this one…drones aren’t my thing. But there’s something just super futuristic about this one. That and…no canopy to mask!

It should be added that this thing is an absolute beast. Here’s the main fuselage next to the Eduard F-4…and keep in mind that the F-4 is a monster in its own right.

1/35 Trumpeter LAV-AT

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After the 1000+ parts of the Trumpeter T-80BV, I’ve been contemplating something vastly different for my next armor build, and the LAV-AT is it. Much simpler design, far fewer parts, and no tracks!

I’ll be doing this as a USMC LAV-AT serving in Operation Desert Storm. While a lot of vehicles got slapped with some hasty Desert Sand paint for the conflict, this particular LAV-AT still wore its green/brown/black scheme…like the example below.

A LAV (Light Armored Vehicle) TOW (Tube Launched Optically sighted Wire guided) anti-armor variant, provides anti armor support for Marines from India Company, 3rd Battalion, 2d Marines as they begin their assault on the MOUT (Military Operations in Urban Terrain) facility, Camp Lejeune.  This rehearsal was for a demonstration that would be given the following day as part of the REVISED CAPABILITIES Exercise.

The specific one I’m doing has “DUDE” written in tape on the TOW Hammerhead launcher, and what looks like might be desert-painted wheels.

So there you have it. The next three. Stay tuned!