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Weathering Techniques in AFV Modelling

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I think the modeling subject about which the most questions were asked, the most articles were prepared and the most discussed is weathering. After they see an incredibly realistic model in contests or over the internet, modelers probably ask themselves “How can I build models like this?”. The combination of all stages to improve realism, after a model is put together and painted, is called as “weathering” in international arenas. The article will tell you about weathering techniques and try to find solutions to questions. It should be worthy of note that this article will probably be of most use to beginners and intermediate level modelers. To become a top tier modeler and produce “Master Class” models you will need much more than this article can tell you. In our hobby world, lots of “masters” and “professionals” roam around, but the contributions they really make is questionable. I think only a handful of real “master” modelers exists and I am not one of them. Still, since I am a modeler who tries new methods and experiments a lot, I believe that practice is the key to improving yourself. It is really not important who does what, whose methods and ideas are more effective, who gives what advice, etc etc… What is important is that you should not be afraid to try new things, experiment, try your ideas on your models. You might get 1-2-3 maybe 5 models wrong, but you will learn along the way and develop yourself. By reading articles and looking at models you will only get an idea, nothing more. Putting that ideas into use and increasing your skills and experience is what will enable you to enjoy this hobby more.

What is this “Weathering”?

In short terms, modeling is reproduction of a vehicle in certain scales. Pieces of various material (plastic, resin, metal, etc) are assembled to make a whole vehicle (correct assembly, clean up and other arrangements are different article topics). To make this assembled model more realistic, we paint the model. Now we have a similar looking vehicle in scale (Painting is also an entire topic on its own). However, we still have an important difference between the real thing and our model; these are the changes that have occurred on the real vehicle due to useage and environmental factors. These can be generalized as paint chips and scratches in places, mud, dirt, dust, faded colors, smoke, rain streaks, smudges, rust and similar effects. “Weathering” is simulating these effects on our scale model in a realistic way. However, we can not say that “Weathering only happens in old and used vehicles”. Even if it is new, if you are applying effects on the model to make a surface look like metal as in the real thing, these effects can also be considered as weathering.

Is Weathering Necessary?

No. This is entirely a personal choice. If a modeler builds models for “his pleasure” and likes his models without weathering, it is not correct to force him. In addition, there’s no definite method of weathering, you are free to do as you please. For example, you can use paints and airbrush and apply weathering during your painting stage, it is entirely up to your equipment, skill and experience.

Are There Limits to Weathering?

Yes. If you want an aesthetic model, there is a limit to weathering. It depends on personal taste, but you should not overdo weathering. Do not forget that the purpose of weathering is improving the realism of your model. If your model is entirely covered in mud, dust and grime so much that nothing is visible, or if you apply rust to surfaces that are aluminum just because you like applying rust, then Weathering loses its true purpose. Do not also forget the scale effect. A scratch of 1mm width on a 1/35 scale model will mean the scratch would be equal to 3.5cms in the ral vehicle, which is far beyond a stratch in that size. Try to establish realism by keeping also everything in scale.

After so much talk, I presume we can finally move onto application


Our subject that will help us for this article is the MiniArt’s box no. 35026, the T-70 tank. As you can see, it is painted and decaled, nothing special so far.

If I must summarize what has been done so far:

The model was assembled through the usual methods, painted in German colors as it represents a captured vehicle, in this case the color is Sand, no #31116 from Revell’s Enamel-Airbrush series (NOTE: There are arguments that these captured tanks were actually used in the original Russian Green color.In addition, the painting instructions state that you can use three-colored German camouflage of dark yellow, red brown and green. The issue of correct colors, correct tone of these colors and all related arguments can be followed in the endless discussions in several forums. We will only concentrate on weathering for this article). In addition, I must specify that I used pre-shading on the crevices of the model.I used to believe that this technique was not very useful in AFV modeling, but after a careful application I think I might change my mind about this. Of course, these are all about painting, which has nothing to do with this article. If we return to our weathering subject, the tools, tracks, vents and other additional items on the tank were brush painted in their respective colors. After that, the areas on which the decals will be placed were clear coted, when these were dry the decals were applied. After that, the decals were clear coted to protect them in the following stages. It is now time for weathering.

The following stages of weathering can vary according to your personal tastes, experience and style. Each different method and application will of course produce different results. I show you “my way” in detail, but also I will tell you about alternative ways as well. You don’t need to apply all techniques on a single model. Try them as you like and use these techniques as you please.


First of all, I sprayed on varnish on the model to protect the base paint from harm. I used acrylic (water/alcohol based) varnish specifically. Why acrylic? As you may recall, I used enamel paint for the base color of the vehicle. The chemicals I will use in the following stages are also enamel based (turpentine, white spirit, ename thinner) and if I use these chemicals directly on my enamel base coat, they will react. This reaction can crack or distort the base paint and ruin my weathering effects, as well as the model as a whole. Therefore, the model must be protected by an enamel-resistant coat of varnish. The easiest solution is using acrylic based varnishes (I think getting information about paint types and their characteristics will be very beneficial at this stage). The varnish I chose to use is not intended for modeling. It is a satin acrylic varnish in a large container that you can purchase from any hardware store. I thinned the varnish in 50%/50% ratio with alcohol and it currently looks white. I will airbrush this on the model; no worries, once dry it will become transparent and it is no different than modeling varnishes. Why I prefer this varnish? The choice is purely economical. You can use modeling varnishes if you like (Like Tamiya X-22).

What kind of varnish? As with paints, varnishes also have different kinds, clear (gloss), satin (semi-gloss) and matte. What kind of varnish to use is an issue where modelers can not give a single answer to. Basically, all would work. However, due to their different characteristics, different kind of varnishes will affect the results of your weathering efforts differently. I would personally recommend trying all kinds to find your own personal best. From my experience, I decided that satin varnish produces the best results for me. Matt varnish gives good results with washes (mind you, this is not the classical overall wash method, I will tell you in detail). However, it also does not allow you to work with many layers of wash and filtering, it over accumulates if you try. Gloss varnish, on the other hand, creates a very smooth surface. This smoothness does not allow washes or filters to grip the surface and hampers your weathering efforts. Washes on such surfaces tend to accumulate in crevices and lower areas of the vehicle. Still, with patience and careful application, I should say that I was able to obtain good results with gloss varnish. Finally, semi-gloss varnish both creates a good smooth texture and allows you to work with multiple layers of washes and filters. This, of course, is my idea. You might get different results, so feel free to try.

Must we use varnishes?

The answer depends on your application and the chemical properties of the paint you use. If you are going to apply weathering on enamel base paint and you need to use enamel thinner like turpentine, you must use varnishes. On the other hand, if you are only going to use acrylics for weathering over your base enamel paint, you don’t need varnishing. Similarly, if your base paint is acrylic and you will apply weathering by enamels, you won’t need varnishes. Depending on the fact that whether you use varnishes or not, the following step is called as “Washing” or “Filtering”.

General Wash (Filtering)

First of all, I should tell you that the “General Wash” I will tell you about is not the old fashioned way of covering the model in thinned oil paint and then wiping it. This method has become outmoded as it changes darkens the base paint and wiping an assembled model is not generally very easy at times. Currently,a new washing method is used where you use different amounts of paint and you do not wipe excess paint.

Of course, right away I should give some information in a disclaimer. If you use acrylic base paint and apply washes without using varnishes first, you are using “Filtering” according to Mig Jimenez. The thinned oil color (or special “Filter”s produced for this task) will slowly give a special tint to the base paint, slowly changing its tone. It is not possible to achieve this effect using ordinary paint and ordinary painting methods. If you are applying washes/filters after varnishing, these washes/filters will change give color to the normally transparent varnish and create similar effects I told you about previously in this paragraph.

Equipment we need for Washing: Turpentine, No.6 paint brush and oil paints. The oil paint colors depend entirely on the color of your base paint and the effect you want to achieve.

The colors I chose are Yellow Ochre, Natural Umber, Burnt Sienna and a Dark Grey similar to Panzer Grey. I chose this colors since my base paint is in Sand color. Depending on the color of the model, I can state that various shades of brown and yellow are generally used for washes/filters. You can achieve different results using different colors like orange or beige.

First of all, we place some oil color inside our container. Depending on the size of our model, a small amount like a single piece of rice should be enough. After that, we put turpentine in the container. How much? Mig Jimenez states that you should use 5% paint and 95% thinner in this filtering technique, so you can arrange the turpentine amount according to this. You should have very little paint the mixture.

In the following step, the oil paint is dissolved in the turpentine thoroughly. Make sure there are no residue and all of the paint is dissolved well. If there’s small particles and residue, change the brand of your oil paint. Higher quality brands usually give better results.

As you can see, the well dissolved paint inside the turpentine almost looks transparent.

You might ask “What color should I start with?”.  I don’t think it matters. Still, I start with a dark grey color that looks similar to Panzer Grey. You can try and formulate your own order of colors

Now we will apply this “washing paint” onto the model. For this we will use our No.6 paint brush. We will dip our paint brush into the paint, stir a little in case there’s still undissolved paint (repeat this every time you dip the brush into the paint to reduce risk of particles in the paint). Then we touch our brush to the side of the container to remove excess paint. Repeat this for the other side of the brush as well, we do not want too much paint on the model at once. By the way, separate the turret and the body of the vehicle if it is a tank. If it is another type of vehicle, separate removable pieces like gun assemblies, launchers, etc to work easier on separate parts. Try the paint on a blind spot first, like the bottom of the vehicle, so that if something is wrong you will be able to correct it without ruining the vehicle. After making sure everything is proper, we will brush the paint on the vehicle in vertical motions until the surface of the vehicle looks wet.  This is the key to this technique, working slowly and with control. You will first see that the parts you brushed are wet and shiny, but there’s no other difference. No worries, we are on the right track. After you make the entire vehicle wet by brushing on, you will have a vehicle shining because of the turpentine. Now we must store the model away for drial.

There are several important points in this stage. First, on vertical surfaces, you must use vertical brush strokes, from top to bottom. You should only make one stroke on a surface, you shouldn’t go over the same area twice. Horizontal surfaces must also be washed in an orderly fashion, either with brush strokes in the same direction or with circular brush strokes. Finally, you must make sure the wash does not accumulate anywhere and form little pools, this means you are over doing the wash.

Lastly, our model was drying out. The time to dry depends on several factors like the quality of the turpentine, the density of the mixture, temperature and similar things, but it should take about 2 hours on the average. When you look at the model, you don’t see much difference? Actually there is. We brushed on very thin paint on the surface, althought we can’t see it very easily it is there. The surface texture looks different than the varnished surface? Yes, we are on the right path, let’s continue. We will repeat the washing process but use a different color. Then we leave the model to dry again. After each layer of the wash, the accumulating paint on the model will make a more obvious difference. Keep going in the same manner, after several layers (6-7) you should have the right colors and tones on the model.

At this stage, you might have some questions and problems.

* The surface-details are looking fine. Will I ruin this if I apply another layer of wash?
No. Depending on the density of your wash and your care during application, you will get better results with each new layer. Yet, you must stop somewhere, do not overdo the wash.

* How many layers should I use?
As much as you like until you achieve the effect you want. However, I should add that the varnish  you use will limit your application. Using semi-gloss varnish, you can have as much as 10 layers, but matt varnish will limit this to 4-5 layers only. For gloss varnish, the number depends on how careful you work.

* The base paint was damaged in some places. Why?
This might have several reasons. The varnish you sprayed on the base paint might be too thin, during washing you might have pressed the paint brush too hard or the turpentine could have pooled in some places and ate through the varnish, damaging the paint underneath.

* Small pieces on the model broke off.
If used in large amounts, turpentine can dissolve plastic cement and plastic itself, easily breaking weak joints like those of small pieces. Either pay special attention or cement these small pieces on using CA glue.

* There’s an uneven surface or smears and smudges on the surface.
You might not have used the brush as you should (vertical strokes) or you might have gone over the same areas more than once.

Local Wash (Pin Wash)

Up till now, we have applied washes and achieved some differences in tone and color on the model. Now it is time for local (pin) wash.

What we have done up to now gave the model a metallic shine. Even if you want to build a vehicle fresh out of the factory, you can use general washing to get this same effect. In the following stages, we will weather the vehicle and try to obtain a worn look. In order to do this, we will first apply local wash to bring out the details. We need turpentine and oil colors again, only this time we will use a thin brush.

What is important here is that our paint will not be thinned so much like the general wash. Instead, there will be more paint and lesser amounts of turpentine. We will use dark colors like black or dark brown, put some in our container and add turpentine to dissolve the paint. Remember, our paint should be thicker than the general wash.

When our paint is ready, we dip our brush in, remove excess paint by brushing gently to the sides of the container. This time, we won’t use the paint on the vehicle generally. Instead, we will pick details, like nuts, bolts, corners and any other detail around which dirt and grime can accumulate. We won’t use brush strokes this time. Since our paint is thick, we will only touch our brush to the base of these details, the paint will be transferred by capillary action. Keep a clean brush and some turpentine ready in case you make a mistake. After dipping the brush into the turpentine and removing excess turpentine, you can clean up your mistake. After we are done with our local wash, we will leave the model to dry. The model will look different when the turpentine is wet and after it dries. If you don’t like what you see after it dries, you can redo the wash as many times as you like.

 If you want, by using your clean brush, you can produce small streaks at this stage, just touch the washes and gently pull the brush down vertically. However, the real streaks and stains will be reproduced in the following stage.

In the following article, we will talk about streaks, paint chips, heavier chipping, fuel-oil stains, scratches, making mud, using pastels and pigment and finally dry brushing.

Happy weathering days,
Özgür Güner, July 2008

Last Update November 1, 2008 by freeguner

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November 1, 2008