Ditch that rattle can

Ditch that rattle can

I am not an artist.

I have practically no artistic ability, and I can’t paint to save my life.  If you asked me to draw a scenic landscape, it would probably end up being a bunch of little stick men with rifles blowing each other up…  similar to what I might have produced in the 4th grade.  It may come as a surprise to you then that I own an airbrush, and that I use it all the time.   I love the thing.

You see, I have always been into painting new bodies for my cars and trucks.  I don’t do any freehand artistry or anything like that, and I’m not even very good at cutting masks.  My paint schemes tend to involve basic designs and straight lines, and for me that’s good enough.  Painting a new body is a quick and satisfying way of breathing new life into a tired old ride, particularly when you replicate a drool-worthy real-life vehicle that’s a bit out of your price range.

Historically I have always used rattle cans to paint my car bodies – with varying levels of success.  There are good things and bad things about rattle cans, as well as polycarbonate paint in general.  On the plus side, cans are completely self-contained, inexpensive, require no additional equipment to operate, and are capable of producing very good results with a little practice.  On the down side, rattle cans are stinky, messy, prone to clogging, murder on your spray nozzle finger, and extremely unforgiving.  If you get paint somewhere you don’t want it, you’re pretty much stuck living with it.  This holds true to the inevitable overspray that catches the breeze and, for example, turns some of your wife’s most cherished potted plants a nice fluorescent orange.  Try explaining yourself out of that one.

I finally decided to get a good quality airbrush setup a couple of years ago and I have never looked back.  The initial cost is a bit steep (a few hundred bucks), especially if you don’t already have an air compressor.  Once you get all your paints and other supplies you need, however, the ongoing cost of using an airbrush is fairly cheap.  If you use water-based paint  (and I highly recommend that you do) such as Faskolor/Createx, airbrushes are also remarkably forgiving.  Drips, leaky mask jobs, and other screw-ups are easily mended with a cotton swab dipped in a mild cleaning solution, and cleanup is accomplished with warm water.  Overspray is minimized because you can adjust the pressure you are using to spray the paint, and your trigger finger will thank you by not cramping up and threatening to fall off of the end of your arm.  You also have the flexibility to mix your own colors, and leftover paint can easily be saved and re-used instead of thrown in the trash.


RC Car Action - RC Cars & Trucks | Ditch that rattle can

Iwata makes some of the best airbrushes available for the money. Many resellers offer airbrushes in complete kits, like the one pictured here.

All-in-all, if you already own a compressor and you paint more than a couple car or truck bodies a year, it’s totally worth it to get yourself an airbrush.  The ease of use and cleanup alone are worth the price of admission, and if you have any artistic talent you’ll have a lot more freedom to create with the proper tools.

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  1. As Tom said: “Initially I was worried about the durability of the Faskolor/Createx paints on Lexan but I have yet to have a single incident of cracking or peeling despite some very nasty crashes.”

    I agree, and with a great prep job on your part with the body, the waterbased paints stick just as well as the rattle can paint. I’m glad you pointed out the “ease of clean up” with these such paints as well. I dont mind using my Pactra and Tamiya spary paints now and then when I’m in a pinch. But Tom, your right. The details and custom work than can be done is far better with air brush.

    Good artical Tom!

    1. Glad you liked the writeup Christopher. Prep definitely seems to be the key with the water based paints. My routine is wash with soap, scuff with a 3M pad, wipe with denatured alcohol. Works like a charm.

  2. Great Article! I too recommend an airbrush and the use of Faskolor paints for Lexan. Before I entered RC I used to model WWII aircraft as my hobby. From these experiences I too learned that an airbrush is an essential tool to producing high quality paint effects and finishes. My favorite aspect is that with an airbrush you can custom blend colors, as well as lay down some amazing metalized/chrome finishes. Another great thing is that you can use your airbrush for other small projects and not just RC. In other terms, an airbrush is like a customizable rattle can or the Photo Shop of real life!

    1. Thanks! Yep, I love my airbrush and I always seem to be finding new applications for it. I also really like the adjustability of it – swap out a couple parts and you can go from paint hose to precision work in minutes. Initially I was worried about the durability of the Faskolor/Createx paints on Lexan but I have yet to have a single incident of cracking or peeling despite some very nasty crashes.

  3. So why haven’t I heard of this hobby of yours before now?

    1. Well, I don’t consider myself quite talented enough for airbrushing/painting to be a stand-alone hobby. It’s more like an enabler for my main hobby of RC in general. 🙂

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