A “natural metal finish” on a plastic model doesn’t work without the “panel shading.” This means that different panels reflect light differently, because the different pieces of aluminum sheet that make up the aircraft skin are different colors. Slightly. Very slightly.

So what’s a good way to reproduce this effect? One way is to mask and spray the different panels slightly different shades. But because I’m not spraying I have to invent a new way. Here’s one approach.

I take “low tack” masking tape and then try to rub off the glue by drawing it between my fingers. This makes very low tack tape.

I grind a charcoal pencil into some sandpaper and pick up a little of it on a soft brush. Then I brush the powdered charcoal onto the model. If you can see it happening, THEN YOU ARE PUTTING ON TOO MUCH. Keep it subtle.

I tried using regular graphite pencil and got carried away and put on too much in my first try. So I had to get out the paper towel and a cotton swab with a little water and scrub it off. If you think this is easy to remove, just goof it up and find out the hard way.

Once I settled down, used the proper charcoal pencil and brushed it on LIGHTLY– I got reasonably good results.



  1. Angus Osborne

    I am really enjoying your blog, and it expresses how I want to approach painting very well. Thank you.
    I started model planes recently, and my brother-in-law got very excited and leant me his second best air brush. He explained in detail how to operate and clean it, and I cannot face taking it out of the box.
    Anyway, regarding this post I don’t understand what the masking tape is for. Can you please explain?

  2. Brushpainter

    The surface of an aircraft is made up of aluminum panels. They appear to be different colors because aluminum sheet has a “grain” and it will reflect light differently depending upon the angle at which it is viewed. When you move around it, it seems to change color (slightly) due to this effect. When cut to shape and riveted or screwed into place, the panels on an aircraft are not “aligned” to reflect light in the same way, so an unpainted aircraft looks like a patchwork due to the way that each panel reflects light differently than the others around it. To mimic this effect on a model, you need to cheat by dimming some of the panels. To do this, mask off a panel using the panel lines as a guide, and brush some charcoal dust over it (don’t overdo it!). Then remove the tape. The panel will appear to be a SLIGHTLY darker shade than the panels next to it–replicating the effect seen on the real thing (good enough to “fool” the eye).

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