The Problem with Panel Line Shading – 1 Year Later

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One year ago today, I hit publish on a rant against pre-shading – specifically pre-shading panel lines.

I also hit some nerves, judging by the storm and fury churned up in the post’s comments, on Facebook, and across various forums.

Good.

This hobby is about relaxation and decompression, sure, but for many of us it’s also a journey of constant improvement. Of new techniques and new understandings. It can be easy to forget that, and to fall into the complacency trap. To follow the same rote modeling cookbook over and over and over. Which is how things like pre-shading become so commonplace.

The rant bowled straight into that complacency. It knocked cobwebs loose. Even, amazingly, among the knee-jerk brigade (and there’s always a knee-jerk brigade).

And amid all the epithets hurled my way, and the admonitions of why couldn’t I have been gentler and more equivocating, something happened.

It made a fucking difference.

Continue reading

Airbrushing – Cleaning the Damn Thing

After my deep dive on airbrushing, I’ve received several requests asking for me to discuss my cleaning process.

I get it. Cleaning sucks and it seems like it’s probably one of the top three stories people throw out about why they don’t like airbrushing.

So what the hell. Let’s talk about cleaning.

First, a story

About six years ago, I was building Zvezda’s 1/48 La-5. Lovely little kit that even my newly-returned idiot self couldn’t fuck up too bad. But in the days before AKAN and Mr Paint, decent World War II VVS colors were hard to come across. I decided to order some White Ensign Colourcoats.

Screw these Humbrol-like tins, by the way

Color-wise, the AMT-4 and AMT-7 were gorgeous. As paints, though, they left a lot to be desired. Purportedly enamels, they thinned pretty much the way that sand thins in water – not at all. Mineral spirits, Testors enamel thinner, lacquer thinner…whatever I tried, the paint would basically swirl around for 30 seconds and then fall out of suspension and gather at the bottom of whatever container it was in.

My dumb ass decided to put this through an Iwata HP-C+.

The result on the kit was okay, but the process was an utter mess – I had to stir and dump small amounts constantly and by the end the needle channel and nozzle were packed with AMT-7 sludge.

Then, after a half-assed clean, my dumb ass decided to pull the needle and nozzle and drop them along with the airbrush body into an ultrasonic cleaner.

Are you wincing yet? You should be. The ultrasonic basically just distributed the White Ensign sludge EVERYWHERE. Including past the paint cup and all around the trigger, the air valve, the needle spring.

Despite more than five following years of strip-and-cleans on that HP-C+, and replacement of nearly every single internal part, the air valve STILL sticks regularly.

The moral of the story? Don’t do stupid shit, and don’t stick whole airbrush bodies into ultrasonic cleaners. If it’s clean enough that you’re confident you won’t have problems, it’s clean enough that it doesn’t need to go into the damn thing to begin with.

The Anatomy of an Airbrush and Where It Gets Dirty

I won’t lie, I’m having a hard time figuring out where to start here. But I guess understanding how paint moves through an airbrush and where it goes and doesn’t go is kinda important. So…this handy cutaway:

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See that o-ring between the trigger and paint cup? Unless we really fuck things up (like, by putting an airbrush body into an ultrasonic cleaner), we shouldn’t have to worry about anything aft of that o-ring at all.

Forward of the o-ring, here’s what happens. You put paint into the paint cup. Gravity (or suction, with side and siphon feeds) pulls the paint into the needle channel. This is the hole in the airbrush where the needle resides. Paint flows along this channel, down the needle to the nozzle.

The nozzle cap sits over the nozzle. It’s job is essentially to channel airflow over the tip of the nozzle, which sets off the venturi effect that pulls paint off the end of the needle and sends it flinging toward whatever you’re aiming at.

Paint can buildup on the needle, of course, from the tip back to the o-ring. It can also pack up inside the nozzle – particularly thicker paints and those with larger-sized pigments. It can also build up, over time, in the needle channel or in front of the o-ring. On side- and siphon feeds, you have the addition of whatever the “transfer tube” mechanism happens to be to worry about.

But basically – that is our universe for the purposes of this post.

Paint – It Fucking Matters

When talking about paint, a lot of modelers (myself included) focus heavily on spray performance, reducability, and other factors. But paint choice matters just as much when it comes to cleaning.

Some paints just clean up a lot easier – both immediately after use and days or even weeks later.

I’ve found that many water-vinyl acrylics – Vallejo and similar – may seem like they clean up easily, but can actually leave a lot of little deposity crud deep in the recesses of your airbrush – packing into the nozzle in particular.

Many metallics are similar – especially Alclads. While they seem to clean up fairly easily, it seems like you’re never quite done. Fill the cup with thinner a fifth time and there’s still little metallic bits floating around in it, like when you wipe and wipe and wipe and realize your journey is still not at an end.

Most lacquers that I’ve used, though, they clean up very quickly and easily and rarely pack up in the dark places.

Thin is Good

Do you like strip-cleaning your airbrush? I don’t. It blows. It’s tedious, it risks damage to tiny, delicate parts that can be easy to drop (looking at you, HP-C+ nozzle), and it takes away from more enjoyable bench activities.

Good news is, you can reduce the frequency of those strip cleans by thinning your paint. I tend to spray very small and very thin – 2:1 thinner to paint is my starting ratio for Tamiya and Gunze – and I’m frequently playing closer to 3:1 or even 4:1. When I clean and flush at the end of a session, well, think of how much easier it is to flush diarrhea than, uh, chunky style. Same principle.

Lacquer Thinner is the Honey Badger of Airbrush Cleaning

Lacquer thinner doesn’t give a shit. Vallejo? Ammo? Model Master? Tamiya? Lacquer thinner will destroy it and send it flying out of your airbrush.

Yeah, with acrylics that whole “water cleanup” thing is nice, but it only goes so far. And some paints that say that have a bad tendency to skin over in the cleanup process.

Want to stick with water or Vallejo Airbrush Cleaner or whatever? Cool. You do you. Nobody is twisting your arm.

But if you wind up with stubborn bits, introduce them to your friend Mr. Lacquer Thinner.

Clean with the Well Liquor

I’m a big advocate of thinning your paints with quality thinner. It’s not the place to skimp with potentially harsh, potentially inconsistent hardware store thinner, much less your cat’s fermented piss or whatever other homebrew solutions get tossed about.

“But Mr. Leveling Thinner is expensive!”

And a bottle, properly tended and cared for, will last you for a good long while. I just cracked a new one – my last lasted me better than a year.

But for cleanup? Bring out the bargain shit.

How I Clean My Airbrushes

So. Let’s say I’ve just finished an airbrush session at it’s time to clean up. The paint on display here isn’t even paint – it’s Mr. Finishing Surfacer 1500. A very tiny bit more of a challenge than Mr. Paint or heavily thinned Gunze.

Step 1 – Remove the excess paint. Either dump it back into the mixing container or, if it’s Mr. Paint that I didn’t have to thin, return to its bottle. This way you have a lower volume of paint to clean up.

 

Step 2 – Add a small amount of lacquer thinner. Just enough to cover the needle, basically. Crank up the air pressure. Direct the airbrush into your cleaning pot or the eyes or nasal passages of your enemies and let fly. This flushes out the low-hanging fruit of the paint still in the needle channel and nozzle.

 

Step 3 – Fill the paint cup most of the way with lacquer thinner. With a q-tip, scrub out the paint cup. It should be obvious what this does. If your paint is smeared all over or being an asshole, rinse and repeat.

 

Step 4 – Fill the paint cup about halfway with lacquer thinner. Q-tips are great at “wiping the bowl” but they suck at doing any kind of cleaning work up under the needle and into the needle channel. So get a trusty old paintbrush – I have a flat brush expressly for this task – and scrub around under the needle. When you’re done with that, very gently clean around the needle/nozzle tip. Flush.

 

Step 5 – Feeling frisky? Remove the needle, wipe it down with a q-tip soaked in lacquer thinner, dry it off and replace. But honestly I rarely do this and will usually pull and wipe down the needle at the START of a spraying session instead. With Tamiya, sometimes skipping this step will mean that the needle will stick and need a tiny bit of effort to remove. With Gunze and Mr. Paint, that’s not an issue I’ve ever had.

You’re a Damned Barbarian!

What? I don’t strip and clean my airbrushes down to their component parts after every color, or every session?

Fuck no. It’s overkill. It’d be like changing the oil in your car after every day’s commute.

But I’ll fully admit that spraying thin and using paint that is extremely cleanup friendly are two things that make my downright Visigothic cleaning regimen possible. In the last year, I’ve performed probably two deep strip-cleans.

Bet he didn't strip, either

Bet he didn’t strip, either

So – with the right paint and high thinning ratios, you probably don’t need to worry about spending a half hour after every paint session cleaning your airbrush. There – that’s one less excuse not to pull it out.

Airbrushing – A Deep Dive

This is a post I’ve been meaning to write for a long time. After all, airbrushing is probably my favorite single aspect of modeling. And, with all the airbrushing talk that’s been swirling about the interwebs lately, it seems like the time is right.

So what is this? It’s a deep – I hesitate to say exhaustive – dive into many, many facets of airbrushing, from airbrush selection to paint selection to mixing paints to spray discipline.

Here are some in-post links if you want to skip ahead:

Part I: Choose Your Weapon

A – Do I even need an airbrush?

In my opinion, yes. It’s possible to limp along in this hobby with paintbrushes and rattlecans, and even thrive in certain genres like figures, but the atomization, precision, and layering capabilities of an airbrush simply cannot be matched by other means.

B – I’m just going to buy a cheap knockoff. High-end airbrushes aren’t worth the money.

Uh, hold on there, chief.

Think of airbrushing like driving, and airbrushes like cars.

If all you’re doing is driving to and from work each day in traffic, you’re not pushing the performance envelope of any car at all. You can get by just fine in any random shitbox. The same goes for airbrushing. If you’re going to setup at standoff distance and just hit a model with a single color of paint, yeah, pretty much any airbrush will do. A nicer airbrush is kinda like a nicer car. It’s a hell of a lot more pleasant to sit in traffic in a Mercedes than an early 90s Kia, but nothing about the drive will really change.

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The difference comes with specialty work.

To keep the driving analogy going, let’s pretend that broad work – laying down primers and clear coats for example – is the equivalent of hauling a trailer. And fine, detailed work is like carving corners on a winding country road.

An early 90s Kia is going to suck ass at either of those specialized tasks. For towing, you’d want a truck with the power and gearing to haul the appropriate load. For cornering, you’d want something small and nimble with a finely tuned suspension and excellent steering feel.

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If you’re learning or seeking out something of a more general purpose airbrush, a knockoff will probably work just fine. But as you start to push against its performance limitations, that’s when you want to consider investing in something higher end. Continue reading

Bench Maneuvers

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Benchtime is usually pretty sedentary, right? We sit. We maybe raise or lower our seat to get a better angle on certain tasks (I frequently lower my chair as far as it’ll go when I’m dealing with landing gear alignment fun-time).

Well, last night, I found that wasn’t working.

I’ve been taking my sweet time with Trumpeter’s SBD-5 Dauntless, and last night it was time to mask off the recently-painted walkways so I can get on with the rest of the painting.

Sitting while trying to get my hands into position without bumping the horizontal stabilizers and getting the tape lined up properly just wasn’t working.

So I stood up. That small change – standing, looming over the aircraft – made the taping a total breeze.

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And it got me thinking about the other times I engage in weird bench maneuvers to tackle random tasks:

  • Rigging. I will frequently tackle rigging of all kinds while standing (or sometimes straddling my chair in reverse).
  • Buffing. If I’m using the Dremel and a buffing wheel, I’ll usually wander away from the bench while I do. Those cloth wheels fling shit everywhere.
  • Masking prop tips. I don’t know why, but I do this better on my feet.
  • Fill-and-Dump Intake Painting. This necessitates standing, since I use a vise on the farthest end of my bench to hold the intakes.

What about you? Any weird bench maneuvers or habits you find yourself doing?

Not counting crawling around on the floor, swearing and looking for that tiny little part that you can swear fell right by your fucking foot but now it’s apparently vanished into another dimension…

“It’s the modeler at his bench…”

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Topics tend to come back around in the modeling community. And for the past month or so, it seems like the crosshairs have landed on airbrushes.

Please allow me to contain my boundless enthusiasm.

See…discussions about airbrushes…or any other tool or material (or hell…any kit) will inevitably result in someone wandering in and dropping this gem:

“It’s not the quality of the tool, but the modeler at his bench”

First of all

Fuck. Could these words possibly be rearranged to sound any more pretentious? It sounds like some pablum that a fedora-wearing, Ayn Rand-worshiping college freshman would write.

Quality of the tool, indeed.

Second

As with other modeling catchphrases that make my right eyelid twitch – “it’s just a hobby”, et al – “the modeler at the bench” is an un-argument.

That is to say, it contributes exactly nothing to the discussion.

Third

Here’s why it adds nothing.

YES, a modeler’s talents and experience and so on matter a great deal. Of course they do, and nobody is suggesting otherwise.

You can’t go throw down on a 1/32 Tamiya Corsair, an Iwata Custom Micron and *poof*, suddenly become an amazing modeler.

BUT, this idiotic saying contends that the quality of tools, materials and kits doesn’t play any kind of a role. Which is just staggeringly incorrect.

Here’s the deal. Lots of things matter. And lots of things come together to make a model.

  • A Modeler’s Skill – I would define skill in this instance as the product of 1) raw talent and 2) experience/knowledge.
  • Kit Quality (or “Medium” Quality) – The quality of the kit in question. Yes, there are kits that are objectively better than others.
  • Materials Quality – The paint and glue and pigments and whatever else gets thrown at a build. Yes, there are objectively better materials. Gunze or Tamiya or Mr. Paint are objectively better – in terms of modeling – than craft acrylics. They have better spray properties, they don’t lift if you look at them funny, and so on.
  • Tool Quality – Again, there are objectively better tools, be they sprue cutters or airbrushes or paint brushes.

Are these all equal? Not really. If I were to break them out on a 100 point scale, I’d say:

  • Skills = 55%
  • Kit = 10%
  • Materials = 20%
  • Tools = 15%

Now, these numbers are mostly there to keep the math easy, so no need to get all bent out of shape. We’re just illustrating a point here, after all.

A truly expert modeler coming in with all 55 Skills Points will have a distinct leg up on a modeler with 15 or 20 SP. If a 15 SP modeler had top-of-the-line everything to throw at a project, their upper bound would still be a total of 60 points.

What tools, materials, kits etc do is extend the upper bound.

 

 

Opinion Time

There’s another thing that quality tools, materials and kits do. They make it easier to access and hone skills.

A good pair of sprue cutters gives you cleaner cuts, leaves you spending less time cleaning up parts, and can often mean less chance of breaking delicate parts.

A good airbrush – that feels good in your hand – can let you focus more on applying paint than on getting things dialed in.

Good cement – a solvent welder like Tamiya Extra Thin or MEK – lets you be more precise in your construction, and not as reliant on clamps and rubber bands and other goofy contraptions to hold a part just so.

The modeler matters. Skills matter. But so does the quality of what you’re working with.

Slow Down, Speed Racer

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Want to step up your modeling game?

Here’s an idea – slow the fuck down.

What’s brought this about?

Over the past few weeks, I’ve seen a spate of builds that have gone by in the blink of an eye. One of them began with the proud purchase of a rather marginal kit this past weekend, followed by pics of the completed build maybe a day or so ago. So…six days max from cracking the box to completion.

Now, it’s only the most extreme example I’ve seen lately, but it’s far from the only one. There have been kits – large kits, too, not just some five piece 1/72 thing – taken to completion in the span of 10 days, two weeks, that kind of timeframe. They come out the other side littered with shortcomings. Visible gaps in the leading edges of the wings. Shiny tires. Silvered decals. Sloppily brush-painted canopy frames. Weathering that looks like they were dunked in a bucket of dirty water.

“Some people like to build like that”

Well, I don’t. And not everyone does. And even some who do might – gasp – be interested in upping their game.

Crazy, right?

One of the things I found I had when I came back to this hobby that I lacked as a kid was patience. The willingness to take time to get something right. Or at least to get it further along the path to right.

When you race through a build like that, you miss things. You cut corners. You fall back on basic techniques.

And it shows.

The Benefits of Slow

When you go slow, you can focus more on intent.

Just what are you going for? What are you trying to do?

What’s the best way to pull it off?

And is there a better way than that way?

Going fast leads to technique lock. I’m convinced it’s why we see so many aircraft pre-shaded so they look like quilts. Or why every build from certain prolific builders looks more or less the same, even across wildly disparate subjects. Churn them out, and you’re, well, churning them out. It becomes an assembly line.

And for what? Outside of the occasional masochistic group build or article deadline, ours is not a timed hobby.

When you slow down, the build stops being just…boxes to check off. It becomes a journey. An exploration, even.

I’m going through this very thing right now with my 1/32 Dauntless build. I could whip out a tricolor camo scheme in the span of a night or two. But I’m going slow, taking my time, questioning my approaches and, where necessary, doing little side experiments to better understand how certain aspects work so I can incorporate them (or not) later on.

And I’m wholeheartedly convinced it’s making me a better modeler. Because even though I’m elitist, condescending and occasionally dickish, I don’t pretend that I have it all figured out – there’s always more to learn, with every build. If only you slow down enough to learn and apply it.

 

Review: 1/48 Kinetic F/A-18C Hornet

Hornet

Welcome to the second entry in the Contributor-Funded Kit Review series! This time out, the subject is Kinetic’s new-tool 1/48 F/A-18C Hornet.

Curious about contributor-funded thing, or want to see past reviews? HIT THE REVIEWS PAGE FOR MORE.

Round Two Go

While there was some early contention in the Round Two voting, with the Hasegawa 1/32 A6M5c Zero and 1/48 Bronco P-40 putting in strong showings, Kinetic’s legacy Hornet soon drew away from the pack, indicating a high degree of interest.

I have to confess – this one interested me as well. I have a fondness for the legacy Hornet, and a new-tool challenger in 1/48 is worth sitting up and taking notice.

HornetReview (111 of 135)

Going into this review, I had two big questions beyond the usual detail/fit/etc:

1 – Is it good enough to overcome the old Hasegawa kits?

2 – Does it live up to the hyped expectations Kinetic has set for it?

If you want to get straight to the answers, hop on down to the final video. I’ve kept it under three minutes for those with short attention spans.

Otherwise, this review proceeds mostly on video. But I’ve added a bit of setup along the way below.

INTRODUCTION

A look at what Kinetic gives us to work with, and some initial thoughts. Overall, the plastic looks quite good, with the exception of the provided stores, which seem like they were ported over from other, older kits.

The instructions look good at first glance, but they aren’t. Treat them as an unreliable source and they’re easy enough to overcome, however.

The decals – they are a thing of beauty. Designed by Fightertown, printed by Cartograf, and showing a lot of effort in creative ways to minimize carrier film.

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The only thing I’d say against them is that all of the schemes are quite recent – the oldest is the Finnish option, which dates from 2006. Everything else is 2009 or newer. Considering that the F/A-18C has been flying for nearly 30 years, it seems an odd choice to limit the options to only the last decade, completely skipping Operation Desert Storm, Iraqi Freedom and other actions. Fortunately, there are aftermarket decals galore for the -C model in 1/48 scale.

Part 1 – The Cockpit

It’s a cockpit. It’s a good cockpit at that, and with the way it fits so well into the fuselage, I’d be really hesitant to opt for a resin cockpit unless it was specifically designed as a drop-fit.

I would, however, recommend a resin ejection seat, and seeing what aftermarket companies decide to do about the not-great rear deck.

Part 2 – The Internals

The main gear bay is an amazing example of going beyond drop-fit to press-fit. It’s a bit janky getting it into the fuselage, but once you do, it locates almost magnetically.

I wish I could say the same about the intakes. They’re very definitely, uh, “inspired” by the 1/32 Academy Hornets, which is better than cribbing the 1/48 Hasegawa I guess, but leads to a dicey fit between the intake faces and the intake trunks.

I would wait – and hope – that someone comes along and does a set of seamless intakes for this kit. They would be rather welcome.

As for the intake faces – fortunately there’s no need to worry overmuch about alignment on the outside – as pics of the real thing show there is no panel line of any kind anywhere near them.

Part 3 – The Nose

Another tricky subassembly is the nose.

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It’s a dicey bit of engineering – as the fit demonstrates. There may be a better way, though, which is discussed in the video.

Part 4 – Wings and Fuselage

The stuff dreams are made of. Kinetic really nails this aspect of the build.

Part 5 – Control Surfaces

Up or down, Kinetic handles these nicely. Just be sure, if you’re folding the wings, to fold them at the proper angles. I’d even go so far as to suggest adding the control surfaces FIRST to help mitigate any interference.

Part 6 – Landing Gear

Ugh.

Part 7 – Pylons

From ugh back to great. The pylons build up easily and fit nicely. Hard to go wrong here.

Part 8 – Tails & Canopy

The fit of the windscreen leaves things to be desired – but this relates back to the nose.

Part 9 – Ordnance

The ordnance, as mentioned higher up, is a mixed bag. The Sidewinders are worth keeping, but if you can swing it, go resin for the other explodey things.