I was going to keep this a secret in case I decided to get into the model paint business and make zillions of dollars. But now I realize that’s a bit pointless and unrealistic of an idea. So here it is, for all people of the internet to benefit from.
*Boring lame story part you don’t really need to read*
Gundam modelling as a hobby has been a very on/off hobby for me throughout the years. I started Gundam models at approximately 12 years old, and I am 23, almost 24 now. Before this year, my last two kits I built up and did a good job with were an HGUC Kampfer and Zaku I, which I used a combination of Testor Acrylics and Model Master acrylic paints on. The Model Master Paints (despite being Testor made….) are better. But anyway. I did those approximately in 2010 or 2011. Basically, before those kits, all my other kits looked pretty terrible. As in, they didn’t look as good as all those cool guys online’s kits did. But the Kampfer and Zaku I I was quite happy as I finally got a result fairly equal to “cool guys online” I admired back in the day on Gundam.com’s model gallery as a little kid. Being able to drive places yourself to buy things you need and not being limited to Walmart certainly improved my modelling quite a bit.
So anyway, for whatever reason, I got the inclination to do some Gundam models this year, and I still had a lot of kits left in the closet to do or paint. So the first kit I got working on again was painting my old 1/100 glue kit Gyan. I had no model paints left that were suitable for that color, though. And the Gyan looked pretty terrible from my prior attempts at painting with model paints. So I decided Mr. Gyan would be Mr. YOLO for this experiment I had. Actually, my bad, it came slightly from an experiment in painting a Arii 1/100 Valkyrie as the initial catalyst, but the Gyan happened at the same time.
As a kid, my friend’s mom messed up a tad and when I said to buy “acrylic” paints, meaning acrylic model paints, his mom bought acrylic craft paints and it turned out pretty terrible. I figured though, hey, there might be some way to make it work. Or I could at least use them to tint some colors of model paint I had left. I didn’t have a spare $20 or so to blow on model paints at the hobby store, either.
So we tried it, I bought some 50c and $1 bottles of “Apple Barrel” craft paint at Walmart. And…. it sucked. The problem was, the paint would not level correctly. If applied at the thickness it came, it left brush marks and generally looked terrible. If thinned with water, at the end of whatever piece you painted, it would all sink and glob up at the edge of the piece.
*The important part where I describe the process and drawbacks, end of personal anecdotes*
Smelling the Tamiya model paint I bought, I noticed something. It smelled like alcohol. So I decided, hey, let’s try adding 91% isopropyl alcohol to the craft paint and see wtf happens. And then, I put it on, and it didn’t glob up at the end of the piece. It acted exactly like model paint.
So the process is simple. You add 91% isopropyl alcohol to the craft paint to get it to your desired thinness. And then it’s model paint. The 91% alcohol, I think besides thinning the paint, is a light solvent. So it helps eat the plastic in a minor way and lets the paint actually bond with the plastic surface.
However, this is not foolproof. For me with random acrylic craft paints I’ve tried, it only works with gloss paints. I’ve not gotten it to work satisfactory with flat paints. It’ll change the levelling properties of the flat paints, but the problem is the flat craft paints basically are very chalky and nasty looking, looking basically like house primer on a model kit. However, with the modified gloss craft paints, the results are pretty much identical to using actual model paints, or better depending on the brand. However, the gloss craft paints are gloss, and they mean it. They are glossy shiny paints, and for many mech models, you don’t want a super gloss finish.
The other drawback, too, is mixing. Blacks and whites tend to not want to mix super homogeneously with colors. Lots of stirring is required. The other thing too, is you still need containers to mix paints in. I’ve been too lazy to purchase some $4 empty paint pot containers off ebay for custom mixed colors, but if you do use these paints and custom mix colors, these will help you. Me, in my super cheapness, usually use bottle caps, but the paint can dry and skin over easily in bottle caps you can’t easily seal again, With my most recent build, a 1/144 MSV Johnnie Ridden Zaku, I ended up messing up a bit, as I painted about 3/4 of it, then let the paint dry out in the container, then had to remix and rematch my paint, so some areas are slightly darker and not matching.
Another thing I’ve played with but won’t really recommend is adding a small amount of ammonia as well. The ammonia seems to increase drying time, and maybe make the paint glossier as well. Ammonia is actually used quite a bit in “latex” (actually really acrylic as well) house paint as part of the base. You could play with this, but overall I think adding alcohol only is most reliable and simple. I’ve heard Tamiya adds glycol to their paint, that could be something to try, too. But I’ve decided it’s easiest to stick only with alcohol and nothing else at this point.
Again, this is not ideal, and if I had money, I’d probably rather buy $20 worth of real model paint per kit I build, but it’s an adaptation. I know lots of people in, say, the Philippines or Malaysia perhaps, where people are even more poor than people where I live in USA, could maybe benefit from this knowledge.
Anyway, here’s some pictures of a kit painted with this paint.
The dark blue is actual model paint, and the gold is as well.
I couldn’t get good pictures tonight as I’ve not figured out how to turn the flash off on my phone yet, so it’s not taking very representative pictures. Those are slightly older pictures of my Gyan. Obviously, this is NOT ideal, but it’s an adaptation to circumstances.