Weathering Techniques for Spacecraft

(Page One)



Someone recently asked me a question pertaining to weathering Star Trek spacecraft. This started me thinking - (a very dangerous thing for me). The following is what I came up with.


I'm really not sure whether or not Star Trek models should be weathered. What I mean by this is that since outer space is a vacuum, there really isn't (or shouldn't be) all that much stuff out there that would cause Star Trek spacecraft, or any spacecraft for that matter to appear old and used.


There is a trick I have picked up, which will make Star Trek and any other small-scale spacecraft look more realistic. This involves subdividing the panel sections found on the spacecraft's hull and randomly painting different sections a slightly different hue of the base color. With all the required masking, this task is very tedious. However, if the color contrasts are very subtle, this technique will give the spacecraft a much more realistic look, especially from arms-length.


I originally learned about this trick from an article written by Rusty White in the September 1998 issue of the Fine Scale Modeler Magazine. In it, he worked on AMT/Ertl's USS Reliant, applying different hues of his base coat to clear decal sheets, which he cut out and applied in small sections to the spacecraft's hull.


A slight variation of this theme is to differ the sub-divided hull panel sections not by color but by paint sheen. Have some panel sections be a flat finish, with others being semi-satin. This was done to the Jupiter 2 used in the Lost in Space Movie. Some of the blue portions found on the upper hull of the Jupiter 2 were glossy, while others were dulled down. This contrast was very, very subtle, but quite dramatic when viewed against a light source.


If you really want to weather your spacecraft, you could always resort to adding a wash to it. The type of panel lines your kit has will determine how to apply the wash, along with determining "whether" - (get it?) - your wash is a light one or a dark one.


For recessed panel lines, you will be applying a darker colored wash directly to these lines, protecting the surrounding areas. With raised panel lines, you should go with a lighter colored wash, concentrating not on the panel lines but on the surrounding areas.


Make sure you apply a protective clear coat over your basecoat before applying your wash. Lacquer base paints like Model Master's Glosscoat and Floquil's Crystal Cote are best to use for this. Due to their strength, they should only be airbrushed on, gradually being built up.


When dealing with recessed panel lines, a glossy clear paint should be used as your protective coat, since it will be better at preventing the wash from attaching itself to the nooks and crannies of dull paint. Your wash will be more likely to stick to the recessed panel lines only. With raised panel lines, it makes no difference whether you use a gloss or flat clear coat.


I have notice that it is best to use an acrylic wash over an enamel basecoat. This may not be necessary if you will be putting down a clear protective barrier. However, since acrylic paints are weaker than enamel (and lacquer) ones, the likelihood of this type of wash eating away at your base coat are lessened.


If you have recessed panel lines, use a very fine paintbrush to apply the wash directly to the lines. Give it a minute or two, and then wipe the excess away with a lint-free paper towel. The wash will get into your recessed panel lines and bring them to life.


Depending on the type of wash that was used, you may have to resort to using a very fine piece of sand paper - (600 to 1000 grit) - to remove the excess. This is another reason for using a lacquer paint as your protect coat. Any paint removed with the sanding should only be your protective coat and not your basecoat.


Work in small sections, as this will prevent the wash from drying up too fast.


If your kit has raised panel lines, you will be applying the wash more liberally. (With this, an acrylic wash will work best). After applying the wash, you may or may not want to dab the excess away.


With both scenarios the secret is to have a very, very subtle color difference between the base color and the color of your wash.



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