One of the most confusing things that got me when I first started building models was the different types of paints. Learning the hard way, different types of paints do not play well with one another and an attempt to mix paints of different types ended up with a gloppy mess of wasted paint. There are three main paint types offered at the local hobby shops: Lacquer/Solvent based, Acrylic/Alcohol/Water based, and Enamel/Oil based paints.

Lacquer Paints

These are strong paints and probably the most hazardous to your health. But they are amazing paints. The pigments in lacquer paints are very fine and some of the most vibrant model paint colors are found through this type of paint. Brands include Mr Color, Mr Surfacer, Alclad II, Tamiya spray cans, Model Masters Lacquer, Finisher’s, and Gaia Notes. I have used Mr Color thinner for thinning Mr Color, Finisher’s and Gaia Notes paints. On some bottles of Mr Color, it will say “Solvent based Acrylic” paint. This just means that the paint pigments are acrylic, but the carrier solution that the pigments are dissolved in is lacquer.

These paints dry VERY fast, and are formulated for airbrushing. Depending on the humidity, some retarder is necessary to slow down the drying process. These paints are not recommended for hand brushing. Always wear a painters mask when airbrushing these types of paints.

Alclad II paints are already prethinned so there is no need to thin those types of paints. These are excellent metallic paints.

Acrylic Paints

These are the weakest and the least hazardous types of paint. The pigments are usually not as fine as enamel and lacquer paints and are dissolved in either alcohol or water. The main brands of paints are Tamiya Acrylic, Model Masters Acrylics, Mr Hobby Aqueous, and Vallejo acrylic paints. Thinning solutions will depend on the brand of paints as most work well with 91% isopropanol alcohol. Modelers have used windex and water to thin acrylic paints. These paints dry very quickly, but do not fully cure for several days to a full week. The curing process is when the paint chemically settles and bonds to the surface. It is because of the delicate nature of the painted surface that I stopped using acrylic paints.

Tamiya acrylics and most other model formulated acrylic paints are intended for use in airbrushes. They dry too fast for hand brushing purposes. I started and learned to airbrush with these paints. In my opinion, they are very difficult paints to work with as there is a very tight allowance for thinning and it is very easy to over thin and under thin the paints. Due to their difficulty, I believe that these are the best paints to learn airbrushing. They are readily available at most hobby shops.

Vallejo acrylic paints are water soluble and can be thinned with water and are great paints for hand brushing. They still dry fairly fast, but these paints are formulated for hand painting.

Since acrylic paints are so weak, stronger paints when sprayed over an acrylic layer, will eat away at the paint. A prime example of this is spraying a lacquer based clear paint over an acrylic paint. This can be done successfully, but a great amount of care is needed. It is very easy to destroy the acrylic paints with a lacquer paint.

Enamel Paints

Enamel paints are oil based paints. These take a very long time to dry. But once dry, the paint is very strong. Enamel paints are the most non reactive paints and can be applied over acrylics and lacquers. Brands of this paint include tamiya enamels, model master enamels, and humbrol just to name a few. These paints are best for hand painting and are usually a bit too think for airbrush applications. However, they can be thinned and airbrushed. These paints are easily found at most hobby shops.

Because they dry so slowly, they work nicely for hand painting and blending techniques. I mostly use enamels for panel line washes as well as weathering techniques such as fades and filters.

Each paint type has it’s place in my workbench as their different properties make them useful in very specific situations. There are so many painting techniques that can be explored using the different paint types. A huge myriad of effects can be created.