Model Masking Materials and Mediums

(…or Mquadrupled)

Sunday, May 4th, 2003

(Masks, masks and more masks)

In this article I want to talk about some of the different materials that can be used to mask off a model. Over the past 5 or so years I've used a variety of materials for model masking. I've also learned about others from articles that I've read and discussions that I've had with fellow modelers.


When you are applying a mask to your model, what do you use? In addition, what purposes do you have for masking off a model?



(The two main reasons for masking a model)

Before I start talking about masking materials and mediums, it would be helpful to first list the two different reasons (that I know of) that exist for applying a mask to a model. The first is the obvious one: for painting.


It may be necessary to apply a multi-colored pattern or paint scheme onto a model. When the need for a sharp demarcation (or separation) line exists, the only way to accomplish this is by either hand painting the pattern on, (which usually results in a less than desired result). Or, one can paint an initial color on, apply some sort of mask over this area and airbrush or spray paint a second color over it. This step can be repeated over and over in order to apply additional colors onto your model.


By carefully cutting out patterns from your masking material, templates can be created and used to apply a multitude of designs to your model. By applying additional masks over previously masked off areas, some pretty spectacular painting results can be achieved.


Fine, pin stripes (like those found on automobiles) and other types of patterns can be created by sandwiching an area between two sections of a masking material and painting a second (third, fourth and so on) color on.


The second purpose for applying a mask to your model is for scribing or rescribing panel lines. Often, vehicular kits may come with raised panel lines, which may be inaccurate. Or, the modeler may just want to have these lines be recessed instead.


Although the process of removing the existing raised panel lines, accurately drawing them back in with a pencil and rescribing them can be a timely one, the results are often worth it to many, especially since it is much easier to weather panel lines that are recessed and not raised.



(Masks used in painting  - Tapes, Papers, Liquids, Putties and Gels)

The types of materials that can be used to mask a model off fall into the diverse categories that include tapes, specialized types of paper, regular paper, liquids, putties and gels. Ironically, most of these materials were not originally intended to be used to mask off a model.





This type of material is probably the most commonly used to mask off a model for painting. With the great variety of tapes that exist, many options are available here. The tapes vary according to thickness, tackiness (stickiness) and widths.


Tapes are best used for masking off the edges or small sections of models that are smooth in nature, (like vehicles). Additional pieces of tape can be overlapped over the initial section, to cover the rest of a model's area that may need to be protected from additional applications of paint. 



(Clear Tapes - Scotch Magic Tape)

First here are clear tapes. Scotch's Magic Tape is frequently used to mask off a model. Due to its low tackiness, it is an ideal choice for masking off straight patterns. In addition, by cutting curves into the edge of the tape a wavy pattern can be created.


This tape is cloudy in appearance. You know that it has been properly pressed down when the tape's cloudiness disappears and the model's surface becomes clear to view.


Scotch tape can be purchased from a variety of stores, including office supply stores like Staples and Office Max.




(Masking Tapes)

These tapes have traditionally been found in a beige color. Now however, 3M makes a blue colored masking tape.


Masking tapes are a bit more thick and stickier than clear tapes. In addition, they come in a variety of widths, ranging from 3/4 of an inch up to 2 or 2 & 1/2 inches.


An advantage of using this tape is that because it comes in wider widths, larger areas of a model can be masked off and protected by it. In addition, large masking patterns can be drawn and cut out of one section of the tape.


On the other hand, because masking tapes are stickier than the Scotch Magic tape, you may have to remove some of its tackiness, (to prevent paint from being pulled away when the tape is removed). This can be done by repeatedly pressing it down and removing it from a clean surface.


Masking tapes can also be purchased from a variety of stores, such as office and art supply stores.




(Drafting Tapes)

This type of tape is very similar to masking tape. It is also colored beige and has a similar texture. It comes in widths of 3/4 of an inch up to an inch.


Drafting tape tends to be less tacky than Masking tape, and is available at art supply stores.




("Pin-striping" tape)

Although pin-striping tape comes in a variety of widths, it tends to be much narrower than the other types. Because of this, it is more bendable than the wider tapes, which allows it to be curved around easily when being applied. Since its main purpose is for masking automobiles to apply different colors of paint, this same technique can be used on models.


Pin-striping tape has a medium tackiness, is a bit thicker than the other types of tapes mentioned and can be found in hardware and automotive stores.



(Parafilm 'M')

Although this is not really a tape, it's probably most accurate in this category.


Parafilm 'M' was originally created for scientific purposes, but it worked its way into the modeling community a number of years ago, when it was discovered that it works well in masking off models.


Parafilm 'M' is a tape like, waxy film that comes in widths of various sizes. It is activated by carefully stretching it lengthwise. When it is burnished onto a clean, smooth surface on your model, it can be cut to size and shape, (with the use of a new, sharp X-acto knife), and will stick to the surface it was pressed down upon.


Parafilm "M" is generally available at good hobby stores.



(Types of Paper Masks)

The advantage of using paper as a mask is that it allows you to cover large models, or large surface areas on a model. In addition to using a paper's edge as the mask, one can also create intricate designs on the paper, remove the excess area and use the remaining pattern as a stencil, airbrushing or spray painting over the template to create a multitude of designs.


Due to the inherit nature of paper (with it being two-dimensional), it is best used for masking off the flat surface areas of a model.



(Frisket Paper/Film)

These are clear sheets or rolls of a clear material that have a sticky side. Because they are only available in low tack, their edges may pull away from a model's surface, allowing your paint to spray under your mask. By carefully applying a thin coating of rubber cement to the edges, your Frisket Paper will better adhere to your model.


As previously mentioned, Frisket paper is great for masking off large surface areas of a model. You can draw your pattern onto the non-clear side of the paper, cut it out and apply your mask.


In addition, if your pattern is created or stored on a computer, you can flip the image horizontally, print it onto the back, non-clear side of the Frisket paper, cut out the pattern and apply your mask.


Frisket paper can be purchased from Art Supply Stores.



(Full sheets of Label Paper)

Labels are available in full sheets. They tend to be much more sticky than the Frisket paper. So, you will have to remove some of its tackiness before applying. This is easy to do, though, by once again by repeatedly applying and removing the paper from a clean surface area.


You can create your masking pattern in the same manner as you would with the Frisket Paper. Since this is really paper (in the traditional sort of way), you can print out your pattern from an image stored on a computer.


As with the Frisket paper, after your label paper mask has been applied, paint over it and allow the paint to dry. You should wait no more than a day to remove this mask.


Label paper can be found at office supply stores like Office Max and Staples.



(Bare Metal Foil)

Although this is not a traditional masking material, it has excellent properties that make it a good candidate to be used as such. Because of its thinness, it can easily be cut to shape, (by using a new X-acto blade). Due to its thin nature though, this should be done carefully, so as not to tear the paper.


Because of Bare Metal Foil's low tackiness, it easily sticks to and comes off from the surface that it has been attached to.


A disadvantage to using Bare Metal Foil is its expense, with it running from $8 to $10 a sheet.


Bare Metal Foil is available at good hobby stores.



(Sections of paper with a rubber cement backing)

A regular sheet of paper can also be used as a mask. First, either draw or print out your masking pattern onto it. Next, cut the pattern out, apply a thin coating of rubber cement and carefully position your mask onto your model. The trick here is to not apply so much cement that it oozes out when you push your paper down onto the model's surface, but still apply enough so as to enable your paper's edges to adhere properly to the surface of your model.


It is best if your model's surface has been glossed over before applying this mask, (which will make the dried rubber cement easier to remove).


Wait a bit for the cement to dry and then go ahead and paint your pattern on.


Once your paint has dried, remove your paper mask. You may have to rub the remaining rubber cement areas back and forth to remove the excess.



(Liquid masking mediums)

The advantage of using a liquid masking medium is its ease of use. You just paint your liquid mask on with a small paintbrush, wait for it to dry and paint over the area. When the paint has dried, carefully remove your mask by either using a section of masking tape, or by carefully using a curved, #10 X-acto blade to peal a corner away, followed by pulling the remainder of the mask off.


These types of masks work best on small areas or irregular shapes and/or uneven surfaces that have been glossed over. They are available at good hobby stores.



(Microscale's Micro Mask)

This is a blue, thick odorless liquid. It is water-soluable, (which makes clean-up easy), and generally cures within an hour. When dry, it often becomes clear, with a barely detectable blue tint.


Paint over the area, and when the paint has cured this material can also be removed by either using a section of masking tape, or by carefully using a #10 X-acto blade.



(Walther's Magic Masker)

This is a cream colored, creamy liquid (that smells a bit pungent). It is also water-soluable, and dries to a slightly hazy look. It is applied and removed in the same manner as the MicroMask.



(Putties - Tac 'N Stik)

I've often lauded Stockwell's Tac ' N Stick putty, due to the numerous uses that has in the modeling realm. This blue-colored adhesive was originally designed as an office supply to be used for such purposes as holding posters, artwork and calendars to a wall. However, it's non-residual nature, along with the facts that it can be kneaded into any shape desired, it does not dry out but remains malleable and it removes cleanly and completely from the surface it was applied to makes it a perfect candidate for masking off small, possibly irregular and uneven surface areas on a model.


After being applied, a toothpick or some other small tool can be used to properly shape its edges, along with burnishing them down so a proper pattern and good seal results.


Once the paint has been applied and cured, this masking material can be carefully removed. By repeatedly pressing the material down onto and removing it from the masked off area, any excess will quickly lift off.



(Gels -- Mold Builder - Liquid Latex Rubber)

Liquid Latex Rubber is a gel-like substance that has a pungent odor to it. It is best used for masking off large, 3-dimensional surface areas of models, like large scaled figures, animals or busts.


It was originally intended to be used to create a mold of a subject, by repeatedly applying multiple coatings on it.


By applying a couple thin coats with a paintbrush, though, this material will nicely mask off areas on a model. It is best applied over a surface that has been sealed with a protective coating of clear paint, like Testors' Dullcote. The sealing helps to prevent your basecoat from pulling away when the rubber latex is removed.


Liquid Latex Rubber dries rather quickly and dries slightly cloudy. After it has cured, your additional coats of paint are applied, and when your paint has cured the Mold Builder can be removed by carefully pealing an edge away and pulling the remainder off.


Liquid Latex Rubber can be purchased at Art Supply Stores.



(Masks used for rescribing panel lines)

The second purpose for masking off a model is to provide a guide for scribed panel lines. Label tape can be used for this task. Because it's very tacky, it will stay in place when applied. In addition, it can be cut to the proper shape, for example to form a straight line around a curved area or cylindrical shape.



(Label tape)

For masking off straight lines found on the flat surface of a model, just measure the length of the line, remove this length of label tape and (carefully) apply it next to the line that needs to be scribed.


Using a scriber or the back end of the tip of a #11 X-acto blade, carefully draw your tool along the length of your tape several times. Do not press down, but let gravity do its work. The depth of the line can be determined by the number of repeated passes that you make with your scribing tool. (For deeper lines, you may have to apply a little pressure after your first several passes).


Clean out the excess plastic that may remain in your line by carefully passing a straight pin or needle through the line.


In order to mask off curved areas of a model, you can create the desired shape by first drawing it on a section of regular paper. Cut the desired shape out and transfer it to a section of the label tape.




With the great variety of supplies that currently exist for masking off a model, this task has never been easier. In addition, the fact that most of these materials are not specifically designed for modeling makes them inexpensive and affordable. With a bit of patience, some very good paint results can be achieved.


Naturally, it's best to play around with the techniques that you may be unfamiliar with on an old, unwanted model first, before moving onto your latest-n-greatest creation.

Note: Specific examples of uses of some of these masking materials can be found in several articles that I've written and posted on the web. You can check out a review on the Lost in Space (Movie) Jupiter 2, found at, along with a "Building a Better Babylon 5 Starfury" article, found at

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Copyright © 2010 by Anthony I. Wootson. No material may be reproduced without permission. Unauthorized duplication is prohibited.