Model Railways: Brush Painting – Top Tips


You dip your brush in a tin of paint, then rub it up and down your model – simple, right? Not if you want a good finish on your model.

Painting models isn’t like painting emulsion on your walls at home. The model must be clean, the spread of paint must be even and the way it's applied must be methodical. Many a model can be brush-painted, though with the latest RTR models having such an excellent finish, it is best respraying these with an airbrush if a repaint is required.

1. Start with primer

Model Railways: Brush Painting – Top Tips

Applying paint directly to a plastic or brass model without first applying a primer is never advised because the paint can be easily chipped or scraped away with a fingernail afterwards. Apply a primer that is specific to your material, such as an etch primer for brass, either filler or standard primer for plastic or a sanding sealer for wood. Work a brush with soft bristles up and down the piece, following the direction of contours. Never apply too much paint with any one application, use multiple thinner coats instead.

2. Use the same paint

Model Railways: Brush Painting – Top Tips

The chemical structure of different paints means that they can react with each other. As a rule of thumb, use the same type of paint from the same brand when painting a project. For enamel paints, branded thinners are recommended for best results, though if you want to use a white spirit to dilute paints, test on an inconspicuous area first. Keep a small piece of material to hand and paint or spray each of the layers in turn that you would do on your model. At least if a reaction occurs, it won’t be on your model.

3. Give the paint time to dry

Model Railways: Brush Painting – Top Tips

Top coats can be applied before the primer has fully cured to increase the bond between the two layers of paint, though in the case of solvent paints, a few days might be required before the primer is ready to be coated. Ensure an even coverage of paint, avoiding brush lines.

If you’d like more advice on painting or weathering a wagon, Phil Parker gives you a full demonstration in our latest video. Or if you'd like to learn more about brush painting, watch our video here where you can brush up on your wood effect painting methods with Howard Smith.

You can also read our step-by-step guide to weathering a locomotive using paint washes and powders here, or for more advice articles, head to our Techniques section.