Down N’ Dirty – A Beginner’s Guide To Scale Weathering

Down N’ Dirty – A Beginner’s Guide To Scale Weathering

One of the best things about being in the RC hobby is all the different types of RC vehicles available. Almost every type of 1:1 vehicle is available as a hobby-grade model. Anything from planes and jets to racecars, semis, trucks, tractors, heavy equipment—and the list goes on. When we take our new RC model out of the box it is clean and shiny… it’s perfect. Everyone likes a brand-new looking RC. But is that how they look in real life based on their actual 1:1 example?

This is an amateur’s guide on how to make your brand-new, or new-to-you, RC model look more scale, just like a real-life vehicle. We refer to the process as weathering. Weathering is a generic term used to describe the real-life appearance that the hobbyist is looking to achieve by manufacturing the wear and tear the vehicle would receive either by exposure to the elements and/or normal abuse throughout an extended, well-used lifespan. Just like a 1:1 vehicle.

In this example we are using a new body for a crawler RC based on a mid-1980s Toyota Hilux pickup truck. Remember, weathering on your own does not have to be expensive. In fact, quite the opposite. If you think about it, we are trying to make the model look like it is in less-than-perfect shape, so mistakes and errors can actually be good for the look of your weathering project. Now, let’s get started on the process!

Step 1

After you have selected the RC model of your choice to weather, do some research on similar 1:1 vehicles and find weathered photos to use as examples. We are trying to replicate a realistic look, not just imagine what it would look like. There will be variations of examples of weathered vehicles, so pick the one that speaks to you. In this example we wanted to go with a truck that depicted 40 years of weather exposure and damage from use.

Down N' Dirty - A Beginner’s Guide To Scale Weathering

Step 2

We decided that the truck lived a hard life outside and suffered the body deterioration of rust and decay and large dents from abuse of the road (and off the road). We created these effects using two different methods. For the rust holes in the body, as well as the rusted edges of the fenders, pillars and rocker panels, we used a soldering iron to create the effect. We felt that the method of melting the plastic rather than cutting it gave the weathered edges a duller look, therefore giving the truck more age. For the dents, this was the best part. We wanted to make the truck look like it had some contact with rocks while on the trails. So, for this effect we took a lighter to soften the plastic and then used actual rocks to press into the now-softened plastic to make an imprint emulating a rock dent.

Down N' Dirty - A Beginner’s Guide To Scale Weathering

Step 3 (optional)

This step was used to fill in the gaps on the body after we chose to shorten the wheelbase by cutting a section of the bed out and re-attaching the tailgate. In order to create realistic rough body work, we took pieces of the parts tree that would normally go in the trash, put them into a glass jar, and added a methyl ethyl ketone (MEK) chemical solution. CAUTION: This chemical solution will melt the plastic and should only be used outside and with proper PPE, as the fumes from the MEK are very strong. The MEK will melt the plastic into a paste. Once the plastic paste reached a consistency we were happy with, we took a popsicle stick to apply it and fill in the gaps in the body. After the body work has dried, you can sand the area to get the finish you desire.

Down N' Dirty - A Beginner’s Guide To Scale Weathering

Step 4

Now it’s paint time! This process scares most people. Before you go out buying paint, you need to know what type of paint adheres to the material to which it is being applied. As this example is a plastic hardbody, we used the Tamiya TS paint line.

Remember, we are weathering, not putting the finish coat on a Lamborghini. The paint is supposed to look rough. The key to the painting process is understanding how the paint and metal of a 40-year-old truck body are supposed to look. We pre-form the paint steps in layers, while remembering the colors of the paint we want to show through at the end. The first step is to prep the body. First, lightly sand the body using 240-grit sandpaper to promote paint adhesion.

Second, clean the body. Simply wash the body with dish soap and warm water and let it dry. This will remove all of the greases from the plastic molds and your hands from the painting surface. Now it’s time for primer. When applying any painting primer, be sure to lay down a consistent base so that all areas are covered. This process may take several coats and requires each coat to dry outside for at least 30 minutes. When applying differently colored coats of paint, you should let the previous color dry for a day before applying a new color.

Down N' Dirty - A Beginner’s Guide To Scale Weathering

Step 5

Now it’s time for some color! We want to put down a paint layer that replicates the raw metal of the truck. As you use your model, after you have completed the weathering process, you will enjoy it and of course add some of your own realistic body damage. When you hit an obstacle, the paint will be removed and show some of the raw metal, just like a real truck. For this paint layer we chose a basic silver color to emulate raw steel.

Down N' Dirty - A Beginner’s Guide To Scale Weathering

Step 6

It’s rust time! This is what you have been waiting for and is super simple. Rust is where you are going to start seeing the aging of your project. For the base rust color, we used a medium brown paint. Spray the entire body with multiple even coats, as you never know where that rust will show up.

Down N' Dirty - A Beginner’s Guide To Scale Weathering

Step 7

Now for some artistic painting. Don’t be scared! As we all know, rust is never just one color. We need to add some happy little variations to our rust colors by selectively painting areas of the body with multiple rust shades. For this step you will need to purchase a rusting effects paint kit. These kits will include with them a step-by-step process to guide you through which rusting paint colors are best for the look of your project. These paints can be applied with various sizes and textures of sponges using a dabbing motion. The location of your rusting accents should be sporadic, so don’t overthink it.

Down N' Dirty - A Beginner’s Guide To Scale Weathering

Step 8

Here is the really cool part of the weathering process—salt. Yes, salt! All you need is some water and coarse sea salt. What we are doing with the salt is using it as a paint mask. We are masking the areas of rust that we want to show after the finish coat of paint is applied. Simply take some water and a small paint brush and apply the water to areas of the body you want the rust effect to show through the color coat. Then sprinkle your coarse sea salt onto the areas where you applied water. Once the salt has been applied, the water will adhere the salt granules to the body so they don’t blow away from the spray can when the color coat is applied. Let the water and salt dry overnight.

Down N' Dirty - A Beginner’s Guide To Scale Weathering

Step 9

Color coat time! Select your favorite color coat that you want applied to your body and spray it over the rusted and salt-covered areas. Coat everything with multiple, even coats of paint, letting the coats dry for around 30 minutes in between.

Down N' Dirty - A Beginner’s Guide To Scale Weathering

Step 10

After you have let your finish coat dry for a day, it’s time to remove that masking salt. Take an old toothbrush and start scrubbing the body to remove all the salt. You will notice as the salt is removed that it leaves behind those beautiful rusting colors and shows some depth in the paint as well. Keep scrubbing until all the salt has been removed. If you scrub too hard you will notice that some of your finish coat will start to thin. Not to worry—that’s part of the weathered look!

Down N' Dirty - A Beginner’s Guide To Scale Weathering

Step 11

The devil is in the details! Now that you have your finish coat and your rust areas exposed, it’s time to start blending the two together. As with any realistically weathered vehicle, there is no such thing as a perfect finish color next to a rusted area. There needs to be a gradation and blending of the multiple different finishes. There are tons of ways to achieve this, and here are a few techniques I have used. First, I will take the 240-grit sandpaper and lightly scuff up the body to knock off the glossy-finish paint coat and dull the paint a bit. This also allows you to advance the wearing process and start to show off some of the raw metal that we applied in a previous step.

Next, I like to take the rusting effect paint kit and start applying various rusting colors to the body in order to show rust streaking. This effect would emulate something like rain washing over the rust and staining the color coat. Lastly, I use an oil-based paint in order to add shadows to the doorjambs and other recessed areas to create depth. I’d recommend a burnt umber oil-based paint, as it’s a great neutral color. Note that oil-based paints take longer to cure. Waiting up to 5 days for the oil to dry is recommended before applying any clear coat.

The burnt umber oil paint is also a great product to use on the interior of your model. If the exterior shows wear, you cannot leave your interior looking brand-new. Adding some grime and wear to the interior is critical to marry the interior and exterior together.

Down N' Dirty - A Beginner’s Guide To Scale Weathering

Step 12

Clear coat time! You need to seal in all of those colors and details. For this I recommend a clear matte finish. The matte finish will give your project a more realistic “dulled” look, as you want to maintain the look of decades of wear.

Down N' Dirty - A Beginner’s Guide To Scale Weathering

Step 13

Not unlike the interior, all aspects of your project need to go together… including the windows and any accessories you might be adding. The windows on a 40-year-old weathered truck are not going to be clean and clear. Here is how you take care of that. Tamiya makes a great Weathering Master Kit A. This paint is like a pasty powder. You will need to add water to the windows on areas where the paint will be applied; while the water is still wet, dab on the Tamiya paint. The kit comes with three colors; we only used sand and light sand colors. Apply and texture the paint onto the windows like you might see on a real vehicle, using the windshield wipers as a guide on where the dirt should accumulate. The nice thing about this paint is that it will come off as you use your RC, but it can be easily touched up as desired.

Well, that’s it! Now you have a realistically weathered RC model that will make your friends envious. I really hope that you enjoyed the process and found these steps from an amateur helpful. I would like to add a special thanks to Robert “Scale Rat” Pezza for guiding me through this project. As this was my first weathering project, I had many questions that he was generous enough to answer. If after you have read through these steps you find yourself overwhelmed or not liking the end results, message Scale Rat on Facebook, as his business offers scale painting services of all types to fit your RC scale needs. Also, thank you to my good friend Jeremy Kilburn for sharing some of his weathering secrets.

Down N' Dirty - A Beginner’s Guide To Scale Weathering


Chassis: Vanquish VS4-10
Transmission: Vanquish VFD
Axles: Treal Hobby, AR44 portal
Wheels: Treal Hobby, Type H
Motor: Castle Creations, 1406-1900kV
ESC: Castle Creations, Mamba Micro X with external 2.0 BEC
Servos: Reefs RC, Raw 500 (steering), and (2) 179 Smart Micros (winches)
Body: RC4WD TF2 Mojave II
Body Accessories: Sea Squirrel

Down N' Dirty - A Beginner’s Guide To Scale Weathering

Wrapping Up

Remember, we are creating a deteriorated model, which is supposed to show decades of dirt and decay. So don’t overthink it! Have fun with the process. Study how the 1:1 vehicles in your everyday life look and use the paints and tools available to try and mimic different looks on your models. Stay scale, my friends!

Text and Images by Tyler Slane

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Updated: January 26, 2023 — 1:37 PM
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