Weathering Small Scale AFVs

1:72 Scale Painting Techniques

weathered tank model, type sIG33.
weathered tank model, type sIG33

Panzer III, sIG33 infantry gunwagon from the author’s collection. A three month scratchbuilt conversion based on Esci’s Pz.Kpfw. III Ausf. N. Dark yellow was sprayed on with an airbrush, and then green and brown patterns were applied with pastel chalks. The model was weathered using the techniques described below. This model was used as a pattern for the resin kit available from Rhino models.

Tools and Accessories

  • Airbrush
  • Size 1 Brush
  • Size 1 Brush, worn down
  • Clear Gloss Varnish
  • Clear Flat Varnish
  • Pastel Chalk
  • Akrylic or Enamel Paint
  • Water Colours

Aerial Perspective

Any discussion of small scale armour weathering has to begin with an overview of aerial perspective. What is aerial perspective? Simply, it is the visual phenomenon of distance effecting what the eye sees. For example, an object that is flat black in front of you will begin to appear more grey as it is moved further away from you. What is happening is that the light reflected from the black surface is becoming more diffuse or diluted with distance, the intensity of the black is eroded by the atmosphere between your eye and the black object. Jumping now to a 1:72 model, the finished model should look as if it is 72 feet away when viewed from an actual distance of 1 foot. Most models are viewed from about 2 feet away so actually we are working with an aerial perspective at about 140 feet. A tank 140 feet away is going to look more diffuse than one 6 feet away.

How much detail is discernible on a real AFV at 140 feet? How much dirt, mud, paint fade, etc.? Not much. If you have looked at a real AFV from this distance they look plain, monochrome, and rather boring, and what you notice foremost is the size, not the details. Finishing your model in this manner would be an ill-satisfying experience, unpleasant to look at. The eyes crave detail, or rather, the brain craves detail. So what we want to do with the small armour model is finish it overall in a manner that suggests distance, in keeping with its small size, and yet emphasise the details which will impart a jewel-like quality to the small piece.

The Basic Method

Begin in the painting stage by mixing down the chroma (strength) of your colours with a percentage of white. 10–30 % white added to your colours is the accepted rule for 1:72 scale aerial perspective, more or less white depending on the degree of weathering you wish to display. Here, careful experimentation and experience pay off. Don’t assume that your mix will look “right”, test spray or brush some to see what the dry colour effect looks like. You may have to alter the mix with small amounts of other colours to achieve the balance that is pleasing to your eye. When your model is painted it should have a “washed-out” or “faded” look. About black: never use straight black colour, always mix it down with green, brown, or some other colour. Make rubber dark grey, not black. Small guns are steel or dark grey. The one exception is using black to fill in view ports, or other spots that suggest interior areas that would be very dark.

The second step in this process is to accentuate the details. Begin by applying a gloss coat overall to your model. Why? The clear coat creates a smooth surface on the model to facilitate a wash. I highly recommend Flecto’s Varathane Elite Diamond Finish Clear Gloss. This milky white liquid brushes or sprays beautifully, sets in minutes, dries hard in an hour. It is a water based (acrylic?) product, so cleanup is very easy, and fumes are minimal. It is found in paint and hardware stores. Also, Future floor wax does the job well, dries fast, but tends to run if applied too thickly. When the clear coat is dry, apply your decals, if any, they will stick wonderfully to the gloss surface. When dry, apply more gloss with a brush just over the decals to seal them and blend the film edges.

Next, take some thin brownish/black water-colour paint on a #1 brush and apply (pin wash) the paint to panel lines, hinges, grilles, grates, holes, road wheels, suspension, around the base of the superstructure; anywhere you want to accentuate shadows or depth. If you apply too much colour, simply remove excess with another wet brush. You will notice that the wash colour is confined to the area that it has been applied to because the glossy surface restricts the capillary action of the paint; conversely, a matte surface acts as a “sponge” and soaks the wash away from where you want it, staining the surrounding areas. Many modelers spoil their work by applying wash over the entire model when it is in its matte painted state, which changes (darkens) the original paint job because of the matte absorption effect.

After the wash you will want to seal the water-colour and remove the gloss surface by way of a matte overcoat, best sprayed on. I use Pactra Acrylic Clear Flat. It works best sprayed straight out of the bottle, but I like to thin it a little with water and apply it in 2-3 thin coats. Make sure all glossy areas are covered. OK, at this point you have a nicely matted vehicle with darkened shadows.

The next step is to drybrush highlight the raised details adjacent to your washed areas. This must be done in a subtle manner. Try to avoid the temptation to brush the angled superstructure joints as these will look too obvious. Stick to the small details, those items that need to stand out. I do not recommend the in vogue method of successive lighter coats ending in almost white, as this is too much and results in a surrealistic vehicle. Use one tint, comprised of the base colour, mixed with 10-20 % white. Apply less than you want, because the effect you want is usually more than you need.

It has been stated that nowhere in nature do the conditions exist to make a real AFV appear like dry-brushed AFV models. However, the indoor conditions in which we view models seldom adequately simulate the conditions of outdoor lighting. Natural outdoor light is of a magnitude far greater than indoor sources. I think that drybrush highlight technique is an attempt to simulate the outdoor condition of bright light reflecting off of numerous surfaces. It may be dismissed as being “too pretty” or unrealistic, however our brains accept it on some level as an adequate simulation of reality. It is pleasing, and artistic if executed tastefully. As to the method, general dry brush technique is good, just do not let the paint get too dry, lest it flake off in large flecks. I use an extender with my acrylic paints, it slows the dry time, and prevents total paint dry on the brush. If you use oils, this will not be a problem.

Weathered Sturmtiger.
Weathered Sturmtiger

So now you have your painted model with both selective wash and drybrush. It should look somewhat faded, but with nice shadows and details. It is clean looking. The Sturmtiger pictured here is a major conversion of the Hasegawa Tiger I kit. The base colour is green with sand and brown oversprays.

At this point, if you wish, you may airbrush some thinned earth colour, I like burnt umber, around the lower half of the hull, the tracks and running gear until you have built up the desired darker shade suggesting dirt. Go easy here, a little goes a long way, and again, use less than you think you want. At this point I like to add pencil graphite by finger tips to the end of the gun barrels, and the high points on the tracks. You may also choose to brush on pastels here and there, but I urge caution in their use, as they can quickly distort the colour subtleties if used to excess. They also impart a dusty look, as opposed to a pure matte look, which is “cleaner”.

Wash Substitute

In addition to the above, start by priming the model a dark colour. I like grey-green when painting dark yellow schemes. Using an airbrush, apply the base colour in light passes until the desired strength of colour is met. The dark primer will show through the base colour around detail areas in much the same way that the wash will impart. I use both dark primer and wash for a strong shadow effect.

Camouflage Spray Patterns

Sprayed camouflage patterns can be duplicated using pastel chalk. Use an old #1 brush worn down to the nubs to apply the chalk dust in the required scheme. This can only be accomplished on a pure matte paint surface. Afterward, seal the chalks with a mist coat of gloss. Let dry, then gloss the whole vehicle and go with the basic method from there.

Heavily Weathered Finishes

Following the basic steps (above), drybrush over the main areas of the vehicle with a tint of the basic colour or colours. After darkening the lower half of the AFV, drybrush details with the base colour only, resist the urge to use tints here because of the high contrast. The base colour will appear darker because of the dark (umber) background, but this is important in capturing the illusion of dirt weathering.

Extreme Fading

You can spray mist coats of white water-colour on the top surfaces only of vehicles that have been sun beaten, especially desert AFVs. Go easy on this too, however, if done last, it can be easily washed off if needed.

Jim Gordon

Painting Miniatures