Metallic paints for scale modeling, Review – Part Two

As promised previously, here goes the second part of metallic paints review. Read the first part by this link. This time we’ll check out Gunze Buffable Metallics, Gunze Super Metallics and Tamiya metallic paints. We also will draw some conclusions about which paints fit best to some of the specific modeling needs.

Like in the previous part of this review, all paints were applied over a black base. In most cases the base was prepared by diluting Gunze Gloss Black (02) with Gunze Leveling Thinner in 30:70 proportion and applied via airbrush.


An insight to the mechanics of metallic paints

Metallic paint is in essence a suspension of tiny metallic particles in a carrier. When the particles hit the surface, they settle upon each other within the carrier layer. As volatile ingredients of the carrier evaporate, the metallic particles lay more tight. When the carrier is dry, particles remain fixed together, forming a more or less microscopically rough surface on top of the base. The roughness is inversely perceived as shininess by the naked eye. The less rough is the paint layer, the more reflective it is. So the goal when aiming for a mirror-like shine is to reduce the roughness (duh!). Let’s look how we can get there in more detail.

While the paint dries, top of the base surface may get dissolved a bit by the carrier in the paint. The base, which might have been ideally gloss before paint application, may become visibly dull as a result. Of course we wouldn’t be able to see that directly since it all happens under a layer of paint we just put there. But the resulting paint can get a bit duller than expected.

To keep that from happening we should make sure the base dries properly before painting. It’s especially true for the base carrier which is less aggressive than that of the metallic paint, e.g. an enamel one. We should also apply metallic paint in layers thin enough so the base does not start to dissolve.

Another reason for roughness is the fact that metallic particles actually have a shape. Sometimes this shape – or the way we apply the paint – prevents the particles from leveling tightly or forming a smooth enough surface. It’s probably most pronounced when particles are shaped like tiny sheets. As the sheets end up on the surface, some of them lay flat while others get piled up upon each other with the edges all over the place. When there is lack of wet carrier around, the particles can’t level out as the paint dries and we end up with a dull finish.

This calls for an opposite requirement – we should apply paint in wet enough layers to let it level out properly. Oh, well.

To work around the issue manufacturers generally use two approaches. One is to make particles ever smaller so the roughness is not perceptible. While obvious to suggest, it’s seems to be a lot harder to do. Nevertheless, Alclad and Spaz Stix do achieve terrific results.

Another approach is to adjust carrier properties so that the paint is dry to touch pretty fast, but complete set down happens somewhat later. This allows for mechanical shaping of the paint, leveling off those sticking out bits with brute force. Well, not that brute, considering we do that with a soft cloth, but hey, just imagine what actually happens there! Time window for buffing is usually measured in minutes. After that the particles can no longer be moved within the carrier and the paint sets.

The approach employed by buffable paints is in fact so effective that the result is often superior to quite shiny non-buffable paints. Let’s see exactly what it looks like.

End of intermission

Buffable Paints

Buffable metallic paints are offered by several manufacturers. The lineup I’m reviewing here is Gunze. This is in part because other brands are harder to get a hand on where I live and in part because I’m getting fond of Gunze supplies. Let’s hope the results are not biased because of the latter.

When shopping for Gunze metallics take care to discern between buffable (Mr. Metal Color) line and super metallics (Mr. Color Super Metallic) line. The super ones are not buffable (and I do review one of those in this installment, so stay tuned).

#8. Primed with 30/70 mix of Mr.Color Gloss Black and Leveling Thinner; painted with Mr. Metal Color 211 (Chrome Silver); buffed
As you can see, the result is pretty shiny. The paint has some visible roughness to it but I can’t trace the origin of that at the moment. Contrary to the name, the paint does not feel like chrome, but quite certainly can be useful to represent polished or sanded steel.

For the sake of comparison (and that’s what a review is about, ain’t it?) I applied the same paint over a polished base. The result is similarly good but what’s interesting, there is noticeably less roughness, as if buffing leveled out tiny imperfections left after polishing. Check out Part One of this review to see what I mean. The look I’d say is a bit more natural steel-like.

#30. Primed with Mr.Surfacer 1500; sanded (4K,6K,8K,12K grit); painted with Mr. Metal Color 211 (Chrome Silver); buffed

Another one of Mr. Metal Color line, 218 Alminume (sic). Looks very good and represents polished aluminium quite well. It wouldn’t look out of place on an early airliner or a cold war jet.

#31. Primed with Mr.Surfacer 1500; sanded (4K,6K,8K,12K grit); painted with Mr. Metal Color 218 (Alminume); buffed
Quite astonishingly, this paint is not very steadfast. While writing this I accidentally touched the spoon with a wet finger and, low and behold, the paint just wore off. Given the force I applied when buffing and months since that moment, this is very unexpected. Gotta be careful.

Next one in the lineup, Mr. Metal Color 213 (Stainless) looks more like a titanium with its distinct grey tint. Can easily find use around engines of modern jet fighters. I couldn’t get a lot of shine out of this paint but this might be because of an error on my side. I’ll get back to it next time I’m painting metallics.

#32. Primed with Mr.Surfacer 1500; sanded (4K,6K,8K,12K grit); painted with Mr. Metal Color 213 (Stainless); buffed
The last, Mr. Metal Color 214 (Dark Iron), is a bit strange one. It may have a dark grey, a tiny bit violet tint of a raw iron, but it’s not a common occurrence to see raw iron polished, is it? May be I shouldn’t have buffed this paint. It looks very convincing as is, representing raw iron or metal areas around engines covered with soot. With a light buffing it might be a good fit for gunmetal.

#33. Primed with Mr.Surfacer 1500; sanded (4K,6K,8K,12K grit); painted with Mr. Metal Color 214 (Dark Iron); buffed
That’s about it on Gunze buffable metallics. Overall I’m quite pleased with their performance and will certainly use them in everyday (I wish) modeling. Now on to something completely different.

Gunze Super Metallics

A Gunze Super Metallic would be more appropriate as, to be honest I tested only a single one of them. The reason for that is price. This paint is quite expensive, rivaling Alclads, so I didn’t want to buy a whole bunch before a test. And test it I did.

Here is a line up of spoons painted with Gunze Super Metallic SM06 Chrome Silver in pursuit of, well, a super metallic look. As you can see I didn’t get one. It’s not shiny enough even when applied in ever thin layers. It doesn’t look natural enough when applied generously. In the latter case it becomes dull but there is no shortage of good-looking dull metallics at half the price. In the lower right corner is Alclad ALC-115 Stainless Steel for comparison. My personal decision is to avoid Gunze Super Metallic line of paints as not worthy.

#9. SM06 thick layer over a still wet base #10. SM06 thin layer over a still wet base #11. SM06 thinned with Gunze Leveling Thinner 1:1, applied in thin layer #12. SM06 thinned with Gunze Leveling Thinner 1:1, applied in a bit thicker layer #13. SM06 applied in thick layer; buffed #14. SM06 applied in a bit thinner layer; buffed #15. SM06 thinned with Gunze Leveling Thinner 1:1, applied in thick layer #19. Primed with 50/50 mix of Mr.Color Gloss Black and Leveling Thinner; painted with Alclad ALC-115 (Stainless Steel)

Tamiya metallics

Tamiya offers at least two metallic paints, XF-16 and XF-56. Both are acrylic and this fact alone should cook up one’s ears. But let’s see how they look first.

#28. Primed with 30/70 mix of Mr.Color Gloss Black and Leveling Thinner; painted with Tamiya XF-16 Flat Aluminium thinned with Tamiya X-20A 1:1

And the XF-56 Metallic Grey…

#29. Primed with Mr.Surfacer 1500; sanded (4K,6K,8K,12K grit); painted with Tamiya XF-56 Metallic Grey thinned with Tamiya X-20A 1:1

In short, these Tamiya metallics do not stand up to any kind of criticism from realistic point of view. The pigment is a size of a finger. The paints are non-buffable and look nothing like a natural metal. There is a major advantage to them though. Being acrylic they are much safer to work with than generally lacquer-based alternatives.

And the winners are…

Well, the winners are many. There is no one and true approach to anything in scale modeling and this goes to metallic paints as well. Most of the paints reviewed here can easily find their use. If not on the wings and fuselage, then on engines, landing gear struts and such. My personal question, as some of you may remember from the Part One of this review was what is the best paints for overall natural metal finish. I got my answer, and I present it to you:

The most realistic dull aluminium finish: Rub-n-Buff

The most realistic polished aluminium finish: Alclad ALC-119 Airframe Aluminium

The most reflective metallic: Spaz Stix SZX10000

As much as I hoped to make this review conclusive, it is not. There are some newer metallic paints like MR.PAINT brand and Uschi’s polishing powders and older ones like Testor’s Model Master which I haven’t yet got my hands on. Not to forget the hardcore technique of metal foil plating, too.

So can the high shine paints compare with the actual metal? Lets see…

…and the answer is yes, certainly. Which is a joy, ain’t it?


Now read Metallic paints for scale modeling, Review – Part Three.

8 Responses to “ Metallic paints for scale modeling, Review – Part Two ”

  1. Hi Nic.

    Read your test article with great interest as I focus on metallic (NMF) aircraft models both for the challenge and the fact that NMF portrays aircraft in their basic finish.

    Over the years (too many to admit to) I have tried everything you have mentioned to obtain that “just right” level of tone, sheen and reflectivity, I am an aircraft photographer and know what an NMF finish should look like in my mind’s eye.

    Things have progressed from Humbrol to SNJ to Alclad and more recently gone crazy with Eastern and far Eastern manufacturers offering “perfect” metal finish solutions- most of which have some level of challenge.

    As your very thorough article points out clearly, it is as important to spend as much time on the primer/undercoat, air pressure and application skills as it is to select what is believed to be the right media, just bunging any paint into an airbrush and blasting it onto your Mustang or Sabre won’t give the desired effect.

    One thing I did experiment with which you haven’t mentioned is to use Cigarette lighter fuel (Ronsonol etc) as a thinner for Humbrol Silver No 11 and also Rub n Buff.

    I came across this option by accident as I thinned some raw Umber oil paint with Ronsonol to add weathering to a NMF P51D that I had sprayed with Humbroll.

    The mixture took the base finish off very effectively!

    I tried the solution in an airbrush as a test and it worked great, even without a base primer, giving a good dull aluminium finish and sheen, perfect for replicating anodised aluminium, but it was fragile and susceptible to finger pressure from handling.

    I also used Ronsonol as a thinning agent on Rub n Buff, mixed in a palette and sprayed the Rub n Buff!…it worked fantastically well and after a decent time drying was polishable and again gave a great anodised Aluminium finish that is a bit smoother and thinner than applying by finger/cloth.

    I thought I’d drop you a note to add these experiences to your already excellent reviews.

    Here in the UK/Europe there are tons of new metallic paints and pastes etc being promoted by so many manufacturers it’s difficult to keep up, so well done and let’s look forward to part four when you receive some of the newer products.

    Thanks for some great insight.


    • Hey David,

      Thanks for the feedback! I must admit, using lighter fluid for thinning paints never occurred to me before. It does make sense though. I’m not a chemist, but given the lighter fluid’s main ingredient is gasoline, it should act similar to white spirit which is its close relative. As gasoline is more fluid than white spirit, it could probably be used to get thinner mixes with oils and paste metallics.

      Your results seem to support that. The more fluid is the carrier, the better paint conforms to the surface and levels out. On the other hand, the carrier has to bear enough binding power for the dried paint to be durable. That could be a problem with both gasoline and white spirit if the mix is too thin. Still, given better fluidity of gasoline, it could be possible to arrive to a mixing ratio where there would still be enough binder but the mix would be more liquid than with the white spirit.

      I never tried to thin Rub-n-Buff but you make an excellent point. I know it is thinnable with white spirit similarly to AK’s True Metal range paints, so it could be airbrushed as well. Good to know it stays buffable, too. I will certainly give it a shot in the next installment.

      Thanks for the great pointers!


  2. Hello Nic!

    Your final picture in this blog post, with the four completely chrome spoons and an airbrush for comparison, whats that picture referencing? I can’t find anything in your reviews related to the picture! It is without a doubt the best looking chrome.

  3. Francisco Javier Gil Vidal

    Dear sir, both your articles on metal paint are extremely interesting; I personally like to cover my natural metal models in cooking aluminium foil, but I learnt a lot from your writings and will have a go at putting them into practice. However, right now I’d like to ask you: how would you go about painting silver doped fabric or plywood surfaces? I contemplate making a lovely Estonian Avro Anson, which was all silver, but the aircraft’s only large metal parts seem to be the cylinder covers on the engine cowlings. Wings were largely plywood, tailplanes and most of the fuselage were fabric-covered, the portion ahead of the cockpit pre-formed plywood again. What procedure would you suggest, in view of the fact that a “metallic” finish would be highly unrealistic? Thaks for your attention!

    Francisco Javier Gil Vidal. Spain

    • Hi Francisco,

      Sorry for the late reply. The question about representing metallic-painted areas is a good one. Not only fabric and wooden surfaces were subject to being painted in metallics, but sometimes surfaces made from an actual metal as well. One example is P-51D Mustang which is often seen in all silver, but in fact its wings are painted with a metallic paint instead of being raw metal like its fuselage. Here is an example of that. The difference is not very apparent without looking closer.

      Avro Anson is an interesting plane and from the look of it on the photos I’d say its painted surfaces are not different from the those of other planes. This (modern) tail section of Tiger Moth is probably a pretty good example on how a painted fabric looks on a real aircraft. For representing it on a model I’d suggest using a not very reflective metallic paint such as Alclad’s ALC-106 White Aluminium. More importantly, the underlying surface should not be extremely smooth. A regular fine primer such as Mr. Sufracer 1500 with a bit of light polishing just to get rid of the surface dust should do pretty well. This alone I think would give a pretty good result. If you feel like going extra mile, mixing some grey in the metallic paint might be a promising option too.

      Alternatively, a thin layer of grey can be applied on top of the metallic to dull down the shine. I’m not sure if this is something that would work for your model, but the technique worth a mention. This is the approach Bera Károly took with his Mig-21 and it yielded a very realistic result. Although in that case the airplane itself is in raw (heavily oxidised) metal, so the technique might not be a best fit for your project.

      Here is what a high-shine paint looks like on a rough primer surface. Here the surface is arguably more rough that would be desirable, but overall feel is close. I believe the right look can be achieved by adjusting the surface smoothness.

      Also, there are not two but three parts to these series, you might want to check the remaining one here.

  4. Rub n buff is beast, I’m graphic designer and sometimes create traditional painting and sculpting. After tried dozens of brand to create metalic effect, and failed, I found Rub n Buff. The result is very realistic for vintage effect, it feels like my sculpting is made by real metal material. And the best part is super easy to apply, don’t need to think about paint and thinner ratio, no trial and error, and it’s waterproof.

    The only down side is there’s only one seller who sell it in Indonesia, sometimes their stock is sold out. If I purchase it from ebay or art store in US, the shipping cost is very expensive, it can be $50-$100.

    Thank you for this post, I want to try Tamiya metallic, but after saw the result, not really good. Spaz Stix is looks awesome but nobody sell it, even on ebay the seller doesn’t ship to my country. I wish I live in America, super easy to find awesome stuff. lol

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