The Problem with Panel Line Shading


So this is the post where I get to shit all over other people’s builds!

Not really. Or at least, that is not my intent.

My intent is to talk about shading panel lines (mainly pre-shading, but also post-shading), and why – if you’re pursuing a realistic or verisimilitudinous finish, it’s a terrible technique that should be shunned and mocked.

Since there as been some confusion since I first posted this, let me elaborate on a few things.

  • I’m not saying all shading is bad. Far from it. Just the kind that tunnel visions on panel lines.
  • I’m not even saying that panel line shading is bad. If you’re doing it for stylistic reasons, fine. To each his own. I’m talking about pursuing realism or verismilitude, and then shading the hell out of panel lines.
  • I’m also not saying that panel line washes are bad. I use washes on every aircraft that I build. To me the key here is subtlety.
  • Verisimilitude – “lifelikeness”, the appearance of being real

Because Reasons

First, let me say that pre-shading actually does some good. It gets modelers – including yours truly – thinking about paint in varying layers of opacity. For that reason alone, it’s often one of those game-changers that elevates people’s build quality, and I think that may be why so many stick with it so doggedly.

I mean, I get it. It’s contrast. And unrealistic, hyperbolic contrast is better than no contrast, right? Just look at the “house style”  Hasegawa uses to show off their new kits. It’s utterly lacking in contrast or tonal variation. It’s…awful.

Is it plastic, or die cast?

But for all the good panel line shading does, it’s bullshit. Here’s why.

It’s a ton of work. For any kit worth its salt, shading all those panel lines is an exercise in concentration and swearing.



It’s unforgiving. Get a bit too happy with the airbrush and all that work is gone. Play it too cautious and you may have difficulties covering the gray primer or managing the contrast.

Hey, where'd all that shading work go?
Hey, where’d all that shading work go?

Third, it’s just not representative. Yes, the panel lines on some aircraft certainly do get filthy. But look closely. It’s never just the panel lines. And it’s very rarely all of the panel lines. The paint itself gets battered and dirty. Panel line pre-shading (and post-shading) totally misses this, and creates something that looks exaggerated and fake – like one of those overdone HDR images.

Note: I feel I should restate it here: if you’re going after a stylized representation, then by all means go to town. Just don’t make claims to verisimilitude. A Facebook commenter mentioned Monet, and I think that’s a fitting example! Monet was a great painter! But if he made claims impressionism was “realistic”, there would be a lot of laughing.

Look at this Spanish EF-18, for example.


There are lots of visible panel lines…but they are not uniform. And the surfaces of the aircraft itself are filthy, especially around the wingroots.

Or consider this A-6 Intruder from Desert Storm. Plenty of visible panel lines, but they’re all fairly subtle, and there’s a lot else happening on the surface.

What I’m Talking About

Now, I hate to speak ill of others’ work. And that is in no way my intent. But…I have to show examples of what I’m talking about. I’m not commenting at all on the quality of the build or even the rest of the paintwork, which in many of these examples is quite high indeed. I am only showing them to illustrate this technique/style of shading panel lines. If you’re getting upset reading this and want to get all defensive and butthurt about it, that’s okay. One of the examples I’m going to show won at the IPMS Nationals this year, so clearly there is some subjectivity at work.

UPDATE: Before showing others’ builds, I figure it’s only fitting to show my own attempts at panel shading. I was never happy with the look it gave, so I dodged away from it pretty quickly (or tended to go a step too far and cover it up!), but I do have a few examples.

First up, my Revell PV-1 Ventura. The panel shading only really pulled through on the Intermediate Blue fuselage sides.


Next, my Tamiya Dewoitine D.520. Subsequent weathering really saved this one, but this interim step is what really pushed me away from panel shading.


On to some others. I should note that I’ve gone back and revised the images shown to only feature those that have been published, widely publicized, or entered into contests. Those that have already “entered the arena”, to paraphrase Theodore Roosevelt.

First up, we have a very nice 1/32 Su-25 Frogfoot that was on the tables at ModelFiesta in San Antonio back in February.

This Su-25 was beautiful…until you see those panel lines, and then you can’t unsee them. It’s like a checkerboard.

Next, this P-47:

This one not only took Best in Show at ModelFiesta, it also took it at Nationals this summer. It’s a great build, and the engine detail is just phenomenal. But to my eyes if not the judges, the panel shading on the cowl panels and inside the ammo bay doors is just way too pristine. Real aircraft don’t get dirty in such a precise and uniform fashion. They also don’t just get dirty on the painted cowl.

Here are several more examples:



Shepway Mil Model Show 2013 036



ipms_nats_2007 025_jpg







Again, this is just not how actual aircraft weather. It creates an unrealistic contrast that sticks out like a sore thumb, while also introducing TONAL CRUSH to the rest of the paintwork.

That’s not to say a lot of these builds aren’t stunning – I think they are. I mean, just look at that B-1. It’s in primer! And it’s glorious! But the shading between panels is just so exaggerated…not something you would ever see on an aircraft fresh from the factory or at most undergoing initial flight tests.

Want to Stop Being Shady?

I used to pre-shade, until I came to see that all it was doing was swinging the pendulum too far to the other extreme.

Since that time, I’ve found several ways to still get good amounts of tonal variation – only across the entire surface, not just the panels.

Here are a few techniques I’ve come to favor (for now):

Prime in Black. Black-basing solves the contrast problem of pre-shading just the panel lines. With it, you control shading as you paint, and can introduce it into the overall surface of the aircraft.

Shade in different colors. A few years ago when I was tackling Trumpeter’s P-47, I ran out of my preferred black primer, so instead I primed and then shaded with a whole lot of different dark grays, greens, browns and so on. The panel lines were very slightly darker, but nowhere near as contrasty as black-and-gray.

Combined with various weathering techniques, it gave me a wonderful surface finish where the rivets and panel lines were subtly called out, but not overpowering.

Use less-contrasty panel line washes. Not everything has to be black or dark brown. Sometimes a slightly darker gray, or a green-brown that matches well with Olive Drab make more sense. This is part of why I’ve become such a huge dork for Ammo’s panel line washes (that and how easy they are to use).

Let’s go back to that A-4F Skyhawk:

Before panel line washes
After panel line washes. Even these, I think, could have been toned down on the wings, but hey, I was still getting the hang of them.

Same principle with Kitty Hawk’s AH-1Z Viper

Wrapping Up

In short, my issue with all the panel shading nonsense is that it only pays attention to a specific feature of the aircraft’s surface, at the expense of the rest. As nice as the rest of the work may be, it’s a distracting and ultimately detracting element. Pay attention to the whole of the aircraft, and how all of its elements come together in a cohesive fashion.

78 Comments Add yours

  1. Brad says:

    Would you be willing to make some videos and post them on your site? I think your work is great!! but would like to watch you do it.
    I would very much like to learn this.
    Thanks and keep up the great work!

    1. Doogs says:

      I’d love to, but video production takes a lot of time, which I don’t really have

  2. Howard Kilburn says:

    The black basing is an excellent technique, which I,ve yet to try but will be doing.
    As ever Doogs, lovely work

    1. Larry Landis says:

      I enjoyed your tutorial and plan to incorporate it on my next build. A number of years ago I read an article where the author used a technique where instead of black basing the entire aircraft, he used black on the lowest portion of the aircraft and progressively lighter colors on the structure, the higher up he went. Being that the subject was a US Navy jet, the lighter colors were predominantly grays.
      Thank you for your perspective.

      1. ntopalov says:

        I believe it is called “virtual light” method, at least I call it so. You choose an imaginary light direction and hit the model with tinted base color wherever that light would be most prominent on the model. Or pre lighten those areas before the base coat.

        I picked that up from Mike Rinaldi who uses the method on armour.


    2. Chad Fessenden says:

      I have to admit that when I saw the title of the article I was taken aback and was a bit skeptical. I mean, pre and post shading, especially the panel lines, revolutionized my finishes when I first learned about it. But your article confirmed what my eyes were already suspecting–while panel line shading initially looks pleasing to the eye if you are attempting to make a realistic model it can, instead, come off and gaudy. Tonal variation is what I think we are really going for. Sometimes this might be centered on a panel line and sometimes it is the middle of the panel. Other times it crosses all panel boundaries. It’s easy to constrain oneself to a easy to follow set of painting “rules” but realistic art observes what nature and lighting provides and attempts to copy that. As always, check your references and pay attention to tonal variations in the paint. This can be achieved by panel line shading, but I doubt it could ever be achieved with that exclusively. More likely it will be a combination of several elements ( panel line shading , pre-shading, post shading, skillful weathering, etc.). Become a student of what your subject looks like in real life and use those modeling skills to replicate it.

      All in a, bravo on an excellent article.

      1. ntopalov says:

        Hi guys,

        I agree completely about color modulation being arbitrary in real life and that is what I think adds to the character and visual interest even more.
        Pre/post shading of panel lines here and there is perfectly OK, but what is usually seen is a uniform grid of pre/post shaded panel lines which just doesn’t seem right to me. Plus there is often high contrast between shaded and unshaded areas in which case that grid is even more pronounced.

        Keep up the good work Doogs!


      2. Larry Landis says:

        I have to agree that the effect should not be the a heavy application of one trick pony. It should reflect the totality of what creates the effect in reality. Now I would have to say up front here that I have been watching and admiring these models for years, but have not attempted it yet.

  3. Kevin Futter says:

    I couldn’t agree more, Matt. I largely no longer pre-shade myself, and in fact, taking your cue, have been experimenting with ‘black basing’ myself. Nothing looks more contrived, in my opinion, than heavy-handed pre-shading or excessively-highlighted panel lines.

  4. Mister J says:

    I as well, agree with what you say Matt. With my experience in Proto:87 modeling, I returned to LSP and was amazed at the leveling of modeling skill I saw. But, it was unusual to see the amount of work “preshading” was and why anyone would do it.

    Build, Paint, weather and show off the visible effort you have put into your masterpiece.


  5. Pat Brown says:

    So, how much hate mail have you gotten yet for daring to call out peoples’ builds?

    I agree completely about pre-shading. Post shading is the way to go, which is essentially what black-basing is; you are just post shading the entire top coat color (if that makes sense). I tried pre-shading exactly twice. Both times I went to pains to go uber slowly using thin, translucent coats and all at once – poof! all that pre-shading just disappeared. Post shading lends itself much more to paying attention to the entire vehicle (aircraft AND armor) and you have complete control if you overdo it. A quick pass with the base color covers a multitude of sins.

    I am curious though… when black basing aircraft, if you over do it and apply too much base coat do you go back and reapply the black base coat? It seems like it might be easy to hit a point of no return. Just curious. I’ve been black basing armor for years and it works wonders but haven’t tried it on a flying machine yet.

    1. Doogs says:

      Thanks for the comment, Pat!

      When I black base, I’m typically working with very thin paint on top of it. It takes a while to build up and so I rarely have an “oops” of covering too much. I don’t feel like I’ve had a point yet where I’ve overdone it…but if I did I imagine the process could be done in reverse (small random black “marbling”, then add a blend coat).

  6. Ethan says:

    Absolutely! You were the first black base I saw and it totally changed the way I finish models. It really highlighted to me the semi-opacity of Gunze Sangyo paints that I use. The thinned paint gives me much greater control of the final “dirtiness” of the project.

  7. I am another modeller who doesn’t preshade anymore as well. I get much better results using variations of basic colours (by add a few drops of lighter or darker colour) and creative use of artists oils. Truth is, that if the paint’s gonna fade, it’s gonna fade from the panel line towards the center, which is totally opposite to the preshading effect.

  8. Scott says:

    I agree with most of the article, but have one question. Isn’t black-basing actually harder than pre-shading?

    The idea with pre-shading was that you could airbrush evenly over the pre-shaded panels and the effect would result, but with a black base, aren’t you reliant on being able to spray lots of individual small areas to get a similar effect? In other words, you’re no longer using the oft-taught method of sweeping back and forth across a large area when you spray. For those of us with less-than-stellar airbrushing skills, how do you overcome that?

    1. Doogs says:

      Scott – I highly recommend checking out my black basing post that’s linked in the article. Yes, it requires “spraying small”, but in a looser and more randomized fashion. Personally, these days I only use sweeping sprays for clear coats or something like dust effects on tank side skirts.

    2. Dave G says:

      I paint miniatures, not models, but you’re absolutely right – I never recommend starting with black primer to beginners. First, they need to learn how paint layers before they can try to properly cover a dark black base coat.

      Also.. as primer, it’s totally another form of “pre” shading.

  9. TJ Rohyans says:

    I love your work, and your philosophies about painting/shading models. I was a Crew Chief in the USAF at one time in my life and I think you’re understanding shading and weathering of aircraft better than most. I wish I could devote myself to just one hobby (photography, R/C airplanes, motorcycling, HO trains, 1/48 planes) long enough to master it as you have. Keep up the terrific work!

  10. Insightful. I’m guilty of preshading myself but I’ve tried to make the end result more subtle in the past than we see on your examples. I also use and like the black primer route. Now it’s quite some time since I painted a plane, haven’t built much at all this year. But I’ve more or less decided to leave 1:72 as my major scale and step up to 1:48 and even 1:32. But I still have kits in 1:72 that I’d hate to sell. But my reson for a change of scale is that I’m getting more and more sick with AMS and then I can move up in scale and get even more sick with AMS. But a move up in scale will demand a lot more when it comes to the paintworks and black primer will save a lot of time compared to going crazy with preshading on a larger scale. It’ll be fun and besides all that, I’ve always primed my armour black since I started airbrushing so it’s not new to me.

    Back to your pot stirring. I say keep at it as there’s so many die hard know-it-all modellers out there that need to have their pot stirred from time to time.

  11. Ken says:

    I agree with you totally on this topic. I’ve tried your black-basing technique on a build recently, and I have to say I really like it. My go-to black primer being Mr. Surfacer 1500.
    Another technique I think puts too much emphasis on surface features is spraying a darker shade over tape strip masks to highlight rib detail on fabric control surfaces/wings. It often looks over done to me, but I’m not sure what the best way to represent them would be.

  12. tcinla says:

    I have been looking for something like black-basing for a long time. I got dragged kicking and screaming into pre-shading, then as an artist liked it (but absolutely not the “Spanish Style” which looks like a cartoon) and have always used the artistic rule of “less is more”. I think this is really interesting and I have a model coming along that will see this used. But I think one thing should be pointed out: this is also not The One Big Answer. I can think of another model that, due to the method of construction of the original, pre-shading will be the way to go over the airframe, while black-base will be good around the engines.

    But definitely, thanks for that and….

    “I’ll be back.”

  13. Paul Berry says:

    For those unsure about black undercoating, many miniature painters use black undercoat exclusively. Occasionally I use a darker gray, but it is rare that. I pull out the tamiya grey. Undercoat. Too light!

  14. ShutterAce says:

    I’ll agree that panel line shading can be overdone. It can also be very effective if done well. Personally I think it is most useful on monotone subjects such as most modern military aircraft or even the plethora of sand colored armor out there. That said, almost any panel line shading tends to look horrible on any NMF subject.

    There are different schools of thought about what exactly we are trying to accomplish as modellers. Some believe we are to attempt total technical accuracy and others that we are attempting to create a representation that is as emotionally appealing as it is physically. One side favoring the builder who sees a black and white world and the other favoring those frolicking artist types. Most of us probably lie somewhere in between the two.

    One thing we often forget is that there are people out there that are making a living doing this. Those people have an audience to appease. If you are building for a particular audience then you have to build to their liking.The battle between paying the bills and doing it how we wish is the heartache of every artist be they a painter, photographer, or even a modeller. If you’re playing in that world then you need to appease the masses, or at least the person with the checkbook.

    Personally I think each technique has its place. I have pre-shaded, post-shaded, black based, and even multi-color based kits. It all depends on what I want my end result to be. They all have there merits and they can all be done to a varying degree of success. At the end of the day any technique can be overdone.

    1. Dave G says:

      This is exactly IT. As painters, we’re creating art and it’s important to break out of what is commonplace – but we also find plenty of situations where we have to paint unrealistic to create something pleasing to the eyes.I think if we ignore all the little details, then it looks like we’re lazy and missed stuff. Instead, we can treat these as opportunities to add something to the model – OK, maybe not super-noticeable, but that’s its own art style too.

      Also, while I prefer priming with black, which is the same as pre-shading, I never suggest it for beginners since this can be difficult to paint over.

  15. Porfiry says:

    I fully agree about the uniform and exaggerated panel line shading. People fallow this trend because it’s easier to just watch some online tutorials and learn “the only right method” instead of discovering your own way by practicing. But hey, I don’t blame them, most people don’t have time for experiments.

    It’s very nice of you Doogs to show your way and emphasize the need for realism (of course keeping in mind this is just plastic painted too look like the real thing 🙂 Your remarks on “black-basing” has helped me on my journey towards reacquainting with a childhoods hobby.

    Recently I came across this other “shading” method called “black & white shading”. It’s been described in the The Modeling News article:

    It looks like more work (you have to add the white highlights layer before colours), but I think the outcome looks well. Contrasty, yet not exaggerated. What do you think?

    1. Doogs says:

      So I gave “black and white shading” a try on a 1/72 Sherman earlier this year and it came out a total mess. I don’t know, maybe I don’t have the eye for it, or maybe olive drab is a bad color to experiment with. I do think it’s a very interesting technique, especially when done well. I want to play with it more, but finding a good build to do so has been a challenge!

      1. Porfiry says:

        My guess is that 1/72 is just too small for that.

      2. Doogs says:

        Definitely a possibility!

      3. Porfiry says:

        To continue this digression…

        I’ve found a very elaborate tutorial on the “black & white shading” method:

        No doubt this work is stunning, very creative and visually pleasing but also very laborious. Up until part IV I would even say it’s very realistic (or at least gives that impression), but somewhere around when the author applies oils and dirt, it went (for me) over the edge. The Tiger from nice worn panzer grey turned to “sewage grey”.

        I’m curious, what’s your and others who seek “plausible realism” opinion on this.

      4. Porfiry says:

        I need to narrow my question. I’m interested to hear if this could be considered real or rather an impression? The author (Jose Luis Lopez Ruiz) is a renowned modeler and in fact considered to be the pioneer of b&w shading, so without doubt the work is worthy (marvelous even, it’s in 1/48 scale !!!).

      5. Doogs says:

        Yeah, I’ve seen the B&W Tiger. It’s a fascinating technique but one that I just don’t seem to have the eye for (again – tried it on a little Sherman and it was a total failure). Honestly, the weathering in Part IV doesn’t really “break” it for me. The work is stunning throughout, but to my tastes (and I guess to realism) it seems blown out, like someone’s gotten too frisky with Photoshop adjustments, cranked the contrast here, the saturation there, etc.

        To tell the truth, though, I feel that way about most light-modulated armor builds I see.

  16. atcDave says:

    I really agree with this. Not that it doesn’t LOOK good, it often makes for some very dramatic and striking models. But its almost more like impressionism than reality.
    Its an exaggerated style that ultimately makes the subject look more animated and less real. I can easily believe that many modelers want that look exactly. And no doubt, I often make “unrealistic” decisions too; like making invasion stripes “perfect” because, well, I just can’t bring myself not to.
    And I do use some post shading myself. But I think the current style is somewhat overplayed.

  17. Cassandra Branch says:

    I sort of agree. Your example of a filthy dirty EF-18 is an extreme. In Real Airplanes, you don’t see most of the panel lines. It’s true that modern non-reflective paint is a dirt-magnet, but at least in the USAF the planes are washed every 1-2 weeks (via a drive-through wash station). During WW2, washing & polishing could add 20 – 40 kn to your airspeed — maybe the difference between living & dying.
    Sitting in the sun fades paint (less color saturation), which also makes panel lines disappear.
    It has always peeved me that model competitions require rivet & panel line saturation in order to be noticed by the judges.
    Weathering uniformity is another aspect of the problem (perhaps especially on ships): great flat expanses are left bright shiny & new, while the engine & exhaust areas are black with soot and oil. Heavy weathering anywhere on a model means that the whole model should be weathered.

    1. Doogs says:

      Agreed that the EF-18 is an extreme…but it also shows that even on really dirty aircraft you don’t see bands of raccoon makeup around the panels. Some panels are dark due to grime or whatnot, but it’s definitely not uniform.

      Overall – and it’s something I’m still very much trying to work on myself – I think the key is in varying the entire surface of the aircraft. Even if they’re clean, active-duty aircraft do have paint wear. They do have touch-ups. Some areas do attract grease or foot traffic. When I was at the Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola last summer, there was an S-3 Viking there that, while clean, was just beat to hell. Touchups were visible, and in some areas the paint was so worn down you could see what looked like chromate primer peeking through.

  18. Brent Sauer says:

    I completely agree with your post. Pre-shading is also being overdone in the armor community. I have used your “black basing” technique on armor one time and was not happy with the results. Having said that, I will try it many more times before I dismiss it as part of my tool box.

    1. Doogs says:

      What kind of armor? One thing I’ve found more and more with the black basing is that it helps to lighten the paint. That’s what I’ve done on the Leopard C2 I’m working on now and it’s going a lot better than the Challenger I built last year without lightening my mix all that much.

      Here it is post-paint, pre-decals:

      1. Brent Sauer says:

        Its a Tamiya 1/35th Gama Goat Ambulance….not exactly the best vehicle to try the technique on either. The surface space is pretty small.

  19. Matthew Goodman says:

    I agree and disagree.
    I still have problems filling seams so I am by no means anywhere close to a master builder.
    This is all art. Being art, it is all subjective. It’s supposed to be fun as well.
    To me less is more, but the models are tiny and to see some detail you need to exagerate. I’m not saying that’s right, I’m just saying whatever floats your boat.
    I don’t have patience or time and I’m certainly not anal enough to worry that the rudder is too large for scale.
    I’m still building Monogram planes with raised panel lines and rivets. Most of the surface detail is goneare due sanding so my P38 looks like it has acne and patches of smooth skin.
    I forgot where I was going….oh yeah.
    Too each his own.
    I do love your work.

  20. Todd says:

    I would tend to agree, and as you have stated, the examples are stunning models in their own right, but far from realistic. I would be interest to see how you would adapt your black basing technique to bare metal finishes.

  21. Michael JN says:

    I have used the black basing technique on a 1/48 Typhoon as a first-up trial, pleased with the subtle final effect and will certainly use it again. As an artist you need an appreciation for light, shade, worn areas and I tried to achieve the same effect with the model. I’ve used black basing /dry brush aluminium for bare metal undercarriages for a few years now.

  22. pickledwings says:

    When I still had an airbrush, I experimented with pre shading, but never really cared for the effect. I thought it was just me needing practice, but the more time I spent looking at the models of those much more experienced in the method, the less I liked it there too.

    I reverted to traditional paint brushes and also spend a great deal more time looking at how the weathering on the real things manifests itself and noticed that a lot of the panel junctions on real aircraft are not sharply defined by accumulated gunk in them, but often subtly indicated by a slight colour shift in their vicinity, such as touch up paint or spot cleaning might give.

    If I do decide to run a dark wash into a line; it will never be black paint, rather a darker value of the surrounding paint to avoid too stark a contrast. I also don’t fuss about getting the line totally filled, there should be some gaps and inconsistencies in the line.

  23. Jose Luis Gonzalez says:

    IMHO, what we are facing here is an artistic trend not much different of what digitalization has done to photography: people are using special effects to enhance an image.

    In the case of models, some people would argue that shadows and highlights are needed to bring out the detail, that color modulation will give a 3D volume effect…to a 3D model! Dot filters and washes that break the monotony of a single color.

    All of these under the mighty words of the “experts”and “judges”: -“Your model is too clean…”, -“this model is too monochromatic…”

    I’ve seen tanks and ships so dark painted, that now I call these times “the dark ages of scale modeling”, and modelers that have crossed to the “Dark Side”.

    At the end it all boils down to a couple of things:

    1) Build for yourself; do what you want with your model and maybe you wont win many contests (if that is your goal of modeling) but you will win personal satisfaction.(unless you build for $)

    2) Be respectful; each modelers has his right to his own ideas and likes and we are not anyone to demerit anyone’s work…scale modeling is an art with different perspectives, not a science of the right and wrong.

    1. Well said Jose. I agree.

  24. Marc D. (Ulvdemon) says:

    I’ve had the chance to read this post and the replies from it. Definitely something to keep in mind when you are building. While I have yet to even try pre/post shading on a build, I can see who the uniformity of it make a build unrealistic.
    Yet I will pose this question if possible. I can see the argument for how pre/post shading on every panel line can make a build look unrealistic. Since, a plane/helo would not weather evenly as time goes. How would you handle a build in which the panel lines are raised? I’ve seen a technique in which you sand down the top color to show the base color underneath (usually the primer and or the bare metal) Would this not lend itself to same issues as pre/post shading?

    1. Doogs says:

      Wish I could help you more, Marc…my MO with raised line kits is to not build them…but I would focus more on variation in the paintwork itself, working in layers that way. The challenge is that any kind of wash on raised lines will just provide shading on both sides of the line and that looks horrendous. Not a fan of sanding, either, since to me it gets too stark too quickly.

      I LOVE raised details where appropriate – when I do my Trumpeter Dauntless I’m planning to replace all the recessed rivets with actual raised ones – but will be treating them the same as the rest of the surface.

  25. Borg R3mc0 says:

    I tend to agree on the principle that I do not like exaggerated effects. But this is not limited to pre of post shading. There are a lot of other techniques that carry that risk. Like shiny NMF on operational aircraft or improper dull or flat coats.

    And biplanes without rigging. If you do not like rigging, do not build planes that had rigging.

  26. Alan says:

    Just a Liitle note on the p47 that won the nationals … that model did NOT won the best of the show on Model Fiesta, The winner was a Ferrari transporter.

    1. Doogs says:

      Thanks Alan! My memory of the final awards is a bit hazy – I do seem to remember it making off with something above and beyond best aircraft though.

      1. Alan says:

        That aircraft is a piece of art.. I dont know why it didnt won best of the show 😦
        I attended the model fiesta for the first time this year and i had a blast. Greattings from Mexico City

      2. Doogs says:

        Outside of my issues with the shading, agreed. The craftsmanship was just staggering.

    2. Larry Landis says:

      Hi Nikola,
      I have seen authors use a similar method on figure painting to establish the direction from which the light is striking the subject, in an effort to determine shadows on the subject. My goal is to produce as real a representation as possible. That is probably the goal of all of us. Thank you for sharing.
      Larry Landis

  27. Tom Huxley says:

    Good grief. Black basing, pre-shading, post-shading, it’s all so much unrealistic bullshit. Especially if you’re building a scale airplane.

    I grew up around aircraft, and I fly them. Please, someone, show me a photograph taken at 1:48 or 1:32 scale distance and show me plainly perceptible “panel lines” on any aircraft that’s not dirty. (Yes, I saw the F-18, it’s an anomaly.) Anyone who understands aircraft knows that airplanes are clean. The panels on even well-used aircraft, when seen at scale distance, are almost imperceptible unless the light is just right.

    The obsession for showing off “panel lines” is ridiculous and unrealistic. The time taken to highlight them is time wasted to depict something that doesn’t exist in nature.

    Stop it. Please.

    1. Bruce says:

      I’d like to agree with you but I can’t. I have a picture of a Thunderbirds F-16 from the top and I was amazed at how stark every single panel line was. And if you look at most pictures of the t-birds you can see the panel lines pretty well. Pretty hard to say they are dirty planes. Clearly it’s not stark black lines, but if the light is right the panel lines are very visible.

      I think the issue is one of intensity, not method. Clearly in Doogs examples there are some that are too much, but that is the opposite of “nothing at all” which I think is worse and as pointed out makes the model look like a toy.

      The problem is an issue of size which is different than scale. A 1/16 inch gap in panels on a full size aircraft shows an obvious shadow that can be seen in a photograph no matter how small you make that photograph (within reason). That same gap on a model would disappear if scaled correctly (which would look stupid and toy like) so panel lines are added. Even the finest panel lines would scale out to 1/2 inch gaps on a real plane but are necessary to make the model look “real”. But a 1/100″ grove on a model is not going to show a shadow like the real plane does so it requires something like pre-shading or black basing to make it show up in a realistic manner. Execution of either method is the key, not necessarily one method over another.

      My main point is this – if you took a real plane, and shrank it down to 1/32 scale – it would look terrible. All of the fine detail and shadow you see on pictures of the real thing would literally disappear. There needs to be some artistic work done on a scale model to make it look “real”. And if you think planes are bad, try building well weathered ship models and see what kind of flack you get from the “experts”.

      IMO both methods can yield great results if done well. For me the greatest benefit of black basing is adding shadows in recessed areas.

      OK, my rant that is a year too late is over 🙂

  28. If a warbird were reduced to a 1/48/ 1/32 scale the panel lines would be very,very faint indeed. Ican understand from an artists perspective that something should be seen . Once again, its your model so go for it, whatever that means. To shade or not to shade, that is the question. Anybody out there have a so lution?

  29. bonsaikas says:

    I actually love the “house-style” of the big Japanese brands. I like the clean pure look of the models in their catalogs, for me it is a goal to strife towards. Building it like that is quite hard, good realistic weathering is hard too, but it’s also something used to hide blemishes. I do have to say Tamiya does it better than Hasegawa in my opinion.

    I’m curious if this style comes from a different culture of modelling, Japanese liking things tidy etc, or these Japanese brands just prefer to show off their models as pristine as possible.

  30. Randy says:

    I like this site. I appreciate the common sense approach which I find lacking in this hobby at times. But your comments on pre-shading reasonable loud and clear with me. I was a contest judge for 7 years within my local IPMS chapter (I no longer am a member because of job constraints). My thoughts on pre-shading were well known within the club. I have always found this technique to be unrealistic; nothing more than artistic license at its worst. When judging an aircraft category I would dock points for an unrealistic finish and any model that was pre-shaded moved down my list. I’ve seen some beautiful builds ruined because of this technique. I have an artist’s background and I will admit that pre or post shading when done properly is a talent. But it doesn’t belong in scale model building. If realism is the final goal, pre-shading is a road best left untraveled.

  31. David Clark says:

    Thank you! Some very good advice! Have not painted any model kits for a few years and want to return to the hobby. Have been practicing with an airbrush and am looking forward to trying some of your techniques. I really do like the pre-shading but in a lighter tone, too. Best regards, D.C.

  32. OK, now I can see the difference now and I understand. Good article and well written. I will attempt priming in black now. BTW, the Skyhawk looks fantastic!

  33. modeler62 says:

    Ok Pre Shading…WHO Invented or is Responsible for the technique? When look at a model from 8 feet away on a table and my eyes go to OVERDONE Panelines First!? The model may be an Stellar piece.
    The paint, decals,contruction first class! Only to be Messed up by Pre Shading and Over Weathering.
    The Model You Build and show to people PROVIDE a PHOTO of the REAL aircraft showing the the SAME PANELINES and WEATHERING! It’s that Easy! Show Proof that the aircraft in theater exsisted
    as You built it. For myself I airbrush the basic colors on the aircraft. Then lighten each color and spray from the center of each panel to Almost the edge. So I have the base colors down then Lightened the colors and Pre Shaded the panels.. Then Blend in with the original base colors.
    The Whole effect is that you have a model that is not in the “Darkness”. Clearcoat Decals Clearcoat weathering Flat Coat… Yes I Pre Shade going the other way to the lighter side. Yes WE All have our ways we build..But One thing I Arm myself with is Photographic Proof of the aircraft I’ve built. Then there is NO
    Argument as to Why Panelines are so Dark and Over Weathering. On Models it’s a VERY Delicate matter. Let me say For Armor and Military vehicles……PRE SHADE AND WEATHER YOUR BRAINS OUT! Because That’s where Over Egaggeration of panelines and weathering belong…FYI….

  34. patrick nyquist says:

    I can say first hand any “new” plane or any aircraft leaving post dock from depot maintenance will have zero panel lines visible. Such as the B-1b pictured above. Any aircraft leaving the factory in primer, will go straight to paint and have no visible “panel lines” showing. It makes for a cool model but not realistic.

  35. patrick nyquist says:

    Nor would the egress hatches be open. Those would be closed and sealed before priming. Again a cool model but not realistic.

  36. Boy, a nearly 3 year old topic…but spot on in conversation. Aircraft are over weathered just as everyone has commented on. I do believe there needs to be some “proof” of artistic license when weathering any aircraft. I donlt know where the trend started, but I think I know the usual suspect. Mig Jimenez has applied much of this rationale over the years all the while critiquing others. His artistic license as well as many of his “groupies” are over the top. But, it is a brilliant business model….I have to give him that much credit for sure. And boy does he reap the the coin for his products, especially all of his washes, filters, books and the like. Most which can be made by anyone with a quality oil paint and odorless thinner. Sorry, I digress. Great conversation for us. I just hope that we do not fall into the precipice of over use of technique.

    1. Doogs says:

      Eh. I would actually argue that most aircraft are not “overweathered” but improperly weathered. Nice, clean paint and goth phase panel lines are just not representative of how things actually happen in the real world. IMO too much attention gets paid to the panel lines, and not enough to the subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) variations going on across the entire surface.

  37. sarvippilot says:

    I’ve seen this post since a few months it was published, it was like you take words/ideas out of my mind about this topic and you wrote it down in a brilliant way. So, i shared this post since then with some modellers friends (followers of the others spanish guys) but their reactions was “everyone builds its models like they want” and confusing about subjectivity/objectivity thing. I reshared with some others modellers, same reaction, if no words could be noted as reject of yours ideas.
    For me, i can read again and again this article because is “so satisfying” know out there are modellers who think as same manner of you

  38. Darrell Killingsworth says:

    I go to You Tube and watch an individual do a Wonderful job gluing the cockpit parts and doing All the putty work….Only to see them TAKE BLACK PAINT and paint the Entire model including the cockpit
    BLACK!!!!????? Then they go back with the cockpit color and the outside paints and paint over the
    BLACK!!!!!????? Which in turn LEAVES this DARK PALL of DARK!!!!!!???? I realize beauty is in the Eye of the Beholder…..Painting A MODEL airplane in 1/100th or 1/72 or 1/48 or 1/32 or 1/24 is A Delicate
    matter…We Are Artists that produce a plane or helicopter that flew in the Past or Present…The Models
    are Three Dimensional Art…With that said We “Artists” have Artistic License…If you go to a model
    contest and enter your model….Be Prepared!!! I’m a recovering model airplane judge..Your model
    is first looked at for Uniformity, If you OVER Weather it….To you it looks great! A judge sees the Over
    Weathering. Your parts are straight, clear parts crystal! You spent Hundreds of Hours on the model!
    You don’t place or anything…WHAT!!! So first build for FUN and Yourself! If you like your aircraft
    looking like Flying Armor…Great!!!! There is No right or wrong in modeling….Just Alot of Opinions..

  39. ntopalov says:

    Hi, I just started following you after seeing some of your work and thoughts about the hobby in general. Very interesting post on panel line shading and pre-shading/black basing. I like your style and mostly agree with what you said above. I just got back to modelling few months ago after a 20 year break, and I still got a lot to learn. 🙂

    Since I read your post on the above subject of pre-shading I would like to share with you (and ask for opinion) a method which came to my mind recently and which I first used on a recently finished A6M2 (on the exterior only). I took it form my experience with painting and I call it Complementary Pre-Shading Method, where I pre-shade the base color with it’s complementary. It is more of an artistic than realistic approach to painting models, but I like to be somewhere in between. 🙂 This method can be even taken further and be used in “virtual light” source method. Warm base colors can be shaded with cold shadows in places where shadows would naturally occur, and vice versa, cold base shaded with warm shadows. This is done in painting.

    If you are interested, bellow is the link to the work in progress on A6M2 build where the method can be seen (I used dark yellow primer, purple pre-shading followed by IJN Ash Gay base):

    And a link to the finished model:

    Since it gave an interesting result in my opinion, I am using the same method on my current build, Revell 1/48 P61 Black Widow, both on the interior and the exterior. Since the base color is olive drab/green, the pre-shading is red and dark red (and some purple for the underside). Bellow is the link to work in progress:

    I am really interested in you opinion since I like your work and style.

    Thank you in advance.


  40. Paul Moore says:

    Great information. As a former Navy pilot I couldn’t agree more! I see the photos of your technique, but I’m having trouble actually doing it. Any chance you might attach a video to this? I think a lot of people would like to see it. Thanks.

  41. Charles LeDoux says:

    As a former USAF Nav/RN, I never ever witnessed enhanced panel lines . I have witnessed multi hues of panels . I flew a B-52 with dark great all over and a single white FLIR pod that when rotated closed looked like a single tooth. My point, maintenance was alway s painting, repainting and sometimes using different panels from other sources as well as walking on and handling different panels with varying degrees of oily/greasy shoes and hands/gloves. That’s where the patchwork comes in (IMO).

  42. Robert says:

    Great article, it makes a lot of sense. I will be trying your suggestions on my next aircraft build.

  43. Scott Murphy says:

    I have never been a fan of pre-shading. There are many fads or “flavors of the month” when it comes to modeling. A few modelers see something on someone’s model and think it’s great and then everyone does it.

    I am a former A-6 pilot and am no stranger to dirty airplanes and “patchwork quilt” paint jobs after 45 day corrosion inspections. Although I can see in some cases where pre-shading areas might be good, pre-shading an entire model usually makes it look dumb.

  44. Tim says:

    I totally agree,i never have preshaded because it’s alot of work and having worked in naval aviation on RH-53Ds,they got very randomly dirty.

  45. Chris Ballard says:

    Ok. Firstly I am returning to modelling after a long (nearly 30 year) lay off, so things have moved on a pace. I agree. I bumped into this wondering how or why I would pre shade a Chipmunk. It’s a bright little thing in red and white. I looked at the real one in the hangar. Sure, it has some dirt and wear, but if it got as bad as some models charges would be raised. I find the black primer idea interesting IF you can airbrush well (my gear is in the post, my first double action brush…says a lot) but you know, I know our aircraft (and in fact the 3 CBAS Lynx helicopter you use as an example) and they just don’t look like that. The Lynx in particular gets sooty in specific places but the panel lines never showed that well, in fact, as 2 of these aircraft prepare to fly again in private hands, they still don’t, and due to a design error, all, leaked copious quantities of oil from their exhaust and down their sides. Finally, few models ever have a slight sheen. Many of our aircraft started Matt IRR, but years of oil spray and wiping down left them with a sheen. This would revert to a streaky mess after cleaning with Ardox (alkaline detergent to remove oil and soot). So as you say….very subjective and a bit like phots where the photograph/illustration bounds blurry or even die. Could I match the above? No. Fantastic work but accurate? Hmmmm. Thanks for the insight/inspiration

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