Airbrushing Tamiya Paints
by Lee Rouse


Over the past decade or so, I've had the opportunity to try out a lot of different modeling paints. I have used Floquil Railroad Colors (lacquer based), Testors Enamels, Humbrol, the truly awful Testors original acrylic paints, Testors Acryl, Polly Scale acrylics, Gunze acrylics, and Tamiya acrylics. For a while I went back and forth between enamels and acrylics. I was looking for that perfect paint- great application characteristics and easy, nontoxic cleanup. For about the past year, I have used Tamiya paints for about 90% of the time. I've really gotten to like them.

I shied away from Tamiya acrylics for a long time because of their limited range of colors which frequently necessitates mixing paints to get the desired color. For example, RLM 02, 74, 75 and 76 must all be mixed from two different paints. Some of the French or Japanese WWII colors require three different paints. Well, eventually curiosity got the best of me and I decided to give them a try. I was very pleased with the result. I'll have to say that Tamiya paints are among the best I've used, comparing favorably not only with other acrylics, but enamel based paints as well. Gunze acrylics are excellent paints, but are not available locally. In addition, they can require an extraordinary amount of time to require, sometimes days to a week or more.

So, if you've been thinking about giving Tamiya paints a try, go ahead. I don't think you'll be disappointed. Here are some hints that may be of help:

Thinning   For most jobs I thin Tamiya paints with 91% isopropyl alcohol. This is much cheaper than Tamiya thinner is and available at your local WalMart. I've found that it works just as well as Tamiya thinner for most jobs. Thin to the consistency of skim milk (around 3:1 paint/thinner) and set your compressor air pressure for 15 to 20 psi. With my Iwata HPb, I can airbrush very narrow camo lines repeatedly with NO build up of paint on the needle tip.

Thinning Part II   Notice that I said isopropyl alcohol works well for most jobs. One situation that I use Tamiya thinner in is when I am airbrushing their gloss paints. For some reason, alcohol flattens the finish, while Tamiya thinner keeps the finish very glossy.

Coverage and Drying Time   Tamiya paints cover quite well, and dry quickly. Even the gloss paints are dry and ready to sand or apply decals to within 20 minutes. The gloss paints lay down beautifully.

Masking   These paints can be masked with just about any tape, and will not lift off, as long as the surface they are sprayed on is clean. (I always rub down the part to be painted with a little isopropyl alcohol just before painting). One note, do not use any liquid masking agent that has ammonia as an ingredient. It will react with the paint and cause the paint to dissolve.

Like most acrylics, I would not airbrush these paints directly over an underlying lacquer-based paint. If you need to do this, brush on a "barrier" coat of Future first and let it dry thoroughly (a couple of hours). You can then airbrush the Tamiya paint without any problems.

Tamiya Chrome and Aluminum Colors   Take my advice, stay away from these. While they airbrush just fine, the pigment particles in them are too large and produce a rather grainy looking metallic finish. In my opinion, nothing beats a lacquer based paint like Alcad II or an enamel like SNJ for a truly fine natural metal finish.

Tamiya Smoke   This "paint" is more a clear gloss that's slightly tinted with a little gray-brown color. It can be applied with a brush over metallic colored parts such as aircraft wheels or aluminum colored cockpits or wheel wells to give a very nice weathering effect. Thinned slightly and run through the airbrush, it can be used to "post shade" panel demarcation lines. It can also be used to airbrush exhaust stains.