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Special Report: An Introduction to Customizing
by: Joris DeSmet

Paint and Painting Techniques

If you care to construct a small army of droids or beings that only look a little bit different, it's very well possible that you may only have to apply some paint to do the trick. Painting that POTF2 Weequay Guard with some other colours for instance, may give you a convincing custom that will look very nice in a diorama. Jabba had tons of Weequays around and if you don't position your re-paint in the exact same stance next to the original, nobody will notice they're actually one and the same figure.

So how do you do that?

Well, of course you just pain, but first of all it's important that you will choose the right kind of paints. When a kind of paint doesn't stick well to the plastic, it may take forever to dry or start flaking off real quickly.

In the worst case, your paint may contain products that will cause the plastic of your figure to melt! And unless you plan on making a "Han threw Greedo in a bucket with nitric acid"-custom as I managed to, it's not an effect you would like to apply very often...

When you'll ask around in a customizer's place what paints you need to use, you'll get a series of answers that will say "acrylics" and "enamels".

Eh, come again?

Acrylics are paints that are composed of an acrylic polymer; they are soluble in water until they dry.

Enamels on the other hand, are paints that are oil-based. This means they have to be diluted by a solvent (thinner, white spirit and the like).

Acrylic paints will dry much faster than enamels. However, enamels, once dry, will usually give a far more durable finish. Note the "once dry", because it may take a little while before an enamel paint will dry. Most of the time enamels will leave a slightly tacky surface as well. Last but not least, you should check if the paint you use will be compatible with plastic or other paints. There might be chemicals in the paint that don't mix well with other paint components or the plastic of the base figure. You have to know that a typical Star Wars figure is made of a couple of different plastics. The head and limbs make for one rather flexible kind, while the torso and pelvis usually make for a second more hard and solid kind. Both kinds may react differently to different paints.

There are a number of popular paints around and depending on where you are in the world; you may find different brands and kinds.

In Europe, the Revell (acrylic) paints are widely known, well available and are a good choice. They stick to almost all parts of a Star Wars action figure and will dry very fast.

If you're in the US, you'll likely be able to find Testors enamels first. They are equally good paints for customising, but according to the specs, it may take a long time for them to dry. If you don't want to sit out the drying process, you can seal your paint applying the Testors Dullcote.

That's important, because you have to know that a typical Star Wars figure is made of a couple of different plastics. The head and limbs make for one rather flexible kind, while the torso and pelvis usually make for a second more hard and solid kind. Both kinds react differently to painting; Revell works just fine for both of them.

An important thing to keep in mind is to use matte paints mostly. Only use gloss paints when you really, and I mean really, want something to have a nice shine ... If you decide to ignore this healthy counsel your customs will probably look like John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever and that means they'll sparkle like a fresh-polished diamond in a bath of light ...

The most important quality for making a good paint job then is... patience. Don't try to paint everything at once! Paint layer after layer, ground layer first (usually the bigger chunks of your figure, such as legs or body), let it dry out completely, and only then paint the details.

One of the biggest mistakes starting customizers are making (I did, at least), is to paint layers too quickly after one another, so that colours get mixed or droop into each other. The possible effects of impatience in this case can easily be compared to a chocolate bar with banana filling in the back of your black car on a hot summer afternoon.

But there’s still a bit more to be told about painting …

Painting Techniques

There exist a number of painting techniques that you can use to make your figure look more realistic. Mind that you will have to decide of “realism” you want to put into a custom figure well in advance. Hasbro is making its figures quite true to scale and appearance in the movies, but they are still painted in their very special own way. If you want to produce customs that fit in with the Hasbro lot, you will need to take a very hard, long look at the way they paint their figures.

If you decided to go for “more realism” then the next techniques can help; they are popularly called weathering techniques.

They are actually quite simple and it works great to imitate stains, wear, dirt or dust on a piece of "clothing", the wear marks on boots and other "leather" objects and the scratches of heavy use on "metal" objects.

A first technique can be applied as next:

Dip your brush (don't choose too small brushes for this job) in the color of your choice and paint something else but your figure until your brush feels almost completely "dry" again. Then "dust" the parts you want to look stained or dirty lightly with the almost empty brush. Repeat that until you are satisfied with the result. Got it? Why, let’s “illustrate” that a bit better then …

Here is your old boring and very plastic vibro-axe. Realism is still in a Galaxy far, far away … Let’s fix that! I painted this one black first for maximum effect.

Then open your tin of silver paint and dip your brush in it. I have been looking but it’s really hard to start in any other way …

Get rid of most of the paint on your brush again, as if cleaning it (e.g. on a piece of paper). When there’s just a little residue of paint left, you can start …

Then brush the vibro-axe very lightly … as if you're a cop “dusting” for fingerprints. [Oh my God! Look how many different people were holding my vibro-axe!]

If you did this correctly, your vibro-axe will now look as pictured. The special application of the silver paint made the details in the axes’ sculpt come out beautifully. As such, it is rendered a whole lot more realistic than it was when you started.

A second “weathering” technique exists in diluting the colour of your choice (very often a dark colour to imitate dirt) and putting the diluted paint on your figure. Since the paint is diluted, it will run into the folds, creaks and cracks of the figure and dry up there almost exclusively; giving the figure a dirty and worn look. Of course this also means you have to be careful that “unnatural” cracks and seams caused by your customizing handiwork are not emphasized extra.


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