Masking and spraying camouflage patterns using a cheap and cheerful airbrush

Several people were interested in hearing how I airbrushed the rather complicated camouflage scheme on my Heinkel He 46, so here is an illustrated walk through. There are other ways of doing this, and with a more sophisticated airbrush far less masking would have been needed, however I like the simplicity and ease of cleaning of a single action, external mix airbrush. When my trusty Badger 350 finally wore out, I replaced it with a cheap Clarke Air model which looked practically identical, but cost less than 10. Time will tell how reliable it is, but so far, so good.

The first stage to to enlarge the colour view I was using to the same size as the model. Obviously it doesn't have to now be in colour, but you need to be able to see where the colour boundaries are. I drew these in with a black marker pen so they were clearly visible. The first bits that needed painting were the white triangles for the markings, and all the yellow portions, as yellow looks much better sprayed over a white undercoat. So the copies were cut to the shape of the wing outline, and the borders for the markings were cut with a scalpel and steel rule. The back of the paper patterns was coated with restickable glue stick and they were placed in position onto the model wing.The paper pieces were carefully butted up to each other at the wing marking positions. The glue stick softens the paper slightly and so helps it conform to the curve of the wing uppersurface.

Now the triangles covering the markings can be removed, revealing the areas that are to be painted white.

A similar treatment given to the wing underside. Note the wing tips are left uncovered as they are to be yellow and need a white undercoat.

I'm not going to illustrate the actual spraying procedure here, but would refer you here instead. When using paper masks like this, be careful not to get the paint too thick or wet at the masked edges or you will get paint running under the edges. Increase colour density to the required level by misting on thin coats

Here is the result after spraying the gloss white and removing all the masking. The rear fuselage, which will be yellow, was also masked and painted white, as were the cowling, fin and tailplane, though they didn't need masking.

Once the white paint was fully set, the white bits were covered with masks as shown. Those on the wings were notepaper stuck on with restickable glue stick, and the rear fuselage was masked with a strip of normal paper masking tape about 2.5 mm wide wrapped round the fuselage, then backed up with paper wrapped round the fuselage rear. Contact area between the tape and painted fuselage was kept to a minimum, so the paper wrap was taped to the masking tape rather than the fuselage itself.

First proper colour to go on is the light blue. I didn't bother masking the lower fuselage - too lazy, and decided to live with the slight extra weight of the overspray.

A quick peep under the mask to see if any light blue had leaked underneath the paper mask.

After letting the blue paint dry overnight, the lower fuselage was masked off using a series of narrow paper masking tape strips. Apart from the strips at the border which needed to be very well stuck down, I reduced the tackiness of the rest of the strips by rubbing between my fingers a few times before applying to the model.

The first colour to be sprayed on the upper surfaces was the light grey, so these areas were cut out of the paper patterns, and the rest returned to the wing. Note that the masks covering the triangular wing markings will now stay in place until all the colours have been applied.

The grey was just sprayed freehand on the fuselage, but only through the holes in the masking on the wings. Here the wing masks have been removed, apart from those triangles.

After leaving overnight again, the next colour to do is sand. On the fuselage the light grey area has been masked using a combination of notepaper/Restickable glue stick pieces at the sides, and bits of masking tape to join the two sides at the top. The wing masks have been reapplied, this time cutting out the sand coloured regions, and covering up the grey bits. You can see odd bits of paper stuck on with glue stick to cover any small gaps that might let the paint through. Note how some of the masks have lifted a touch at the edges, but this is not a big deal for a camouflage scheme like this. I can live with a bit of fuzziness at the borders between colours.

The photo above shows the model after the sand has been sprayed (freehand on the fuselage again) but before any masking has been removed.

And here after the masks have been removed from the wing.

You will be getting the hang of this now. Next the grey and sand areas are covered up and areas to be brown removed from the camouflage pattern. I had a couple of copies of the camouflage pattern to use as masks which was useful as it saved you piecing too many bits back together every time. The ones used here have only had the brown regions cut out. You can see the mixture of paper/gluestick masks and masking tape I used on the fuselage. Wherever possible the tape was only stuck to other bits of paper or tape, and not directly to the paintwork. I got into a bit of a routine while painting this model - over a week I did a colour per evening. The masking took much longer than the actual airbrushing.

The model after painting

And after the masking removed. Just one more camouflage colour to go.

So for the last time we cover up what we have painted leaving just the gaps in the scheme to be painted green.

The moment of truth - here she is after all the masks have been removed. Do this slowly, as even restickable glue stick adhesive can pull off the odd bit of paint if you go too fast. With the thin masking tape strips, pull these off very slowly with the end you are pulling folded back against the surface i.e. a 180 degree pull off angle. This helps to reduce the risk of paint pulling off or tissue joins coming apart. There was a little touching up to be done (there always is) but I was pleased with the way the camouflage came out.

Just the yellow to do now - a very simple masking job compared to what has gone before.

Everything now looks rather more colourful, I think you'll agree. You don't need much yellow paint over a white undercoat to get a nice bright colour. This is Humbrol trainer yellow.

You may notice the red stripes on one of the wing markings - these are cut from painted decal film and applied to the gloss white surface. The gloss finish guarantees good adhesion. For fiddly stuff like this I much prefer using pieces of painted decal trather than trying to trying to mask and paint them.

The markings are pretty simple on this model (unlike the colour scheme). I created artwork for the fuselage code in a graphics program (Paint Shop Pro) and printed two copies to the correct size. Then using a new scalpel blade I cut out the individual charactors.

The resulting mask was coated with non-stickable glue stick on the back, and placed on the model (sorry for fuzzy photo).

Some extra bits of paper were added to catch any overspray.

And matt black enamel was airbrushed on.

This is what it looked like on the finished model (well, nearly finished - I still haven't got round to painting those tyres)

A top view showing the finished Hungarian wing markings. As well as the red strips, the green triangle was also cut from painted decal sheet. Before inking in the aileron outlines, the wing markings were brush painted with matt acrylic varnish to blend them in with the matt camouflage.

Underside view showing wing markings and yellow tips.

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