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Switching to Acrylics?


RidgeRunner
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Hi all,

 

I am a 100% enamels users but, for health reasons, I am considering a switch to acrylics. In the past I have been through a similar period of consideration and stuck with my enamels. However, I probably should try. I have a few questions for the collective and would be grateful if your advice:

 

1. are acrylics as durable as enamels once hardened?

 

2. when using how do you keep the flow? My little experience of acrylics has meant a rapid clogging of the airbrush

 

3. is the range of colours as good as enamels? I am primarily a post war jets builder. any suggestions?

 

4. how easy is clean-up post painting! 


5. How are acrylics thinned? Water? 
 

6. I think enamel washes can be used over acrylics?

 

That’ll probably do for now! ;). Thanks in advance.

 

Martin

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In the following I am talking about vinyl acrylics rather than the alcohol acrylics like Mr Hobby Color or Tamiya.

 

When I am using acrylics for airbrush work my preferred is Lifecolor using their thinners. I have come to like Lifecolor a lot. I have less tip dry issues with them than others.

 

In my experience:

 

1. are acrylics as durable as enamels once hardened? 

No, they are not. Lifecolor does dry robust but not to the level of enamels.

 

2. when using how do you keep the flow? My little experience of acrylics has meant a rapid clogging of the airbrush

Thinning ratio is key. You will thin more and build up color slow. Do not expect coverage as you have enjoyed with enamels and yet I find with Lifecolor you quickly get to good coverage and lovely thin coats. Expect minimum three. I do not put the paint job aside between coats. Just keep going. Expect the first coat to have little colour and do not be tempted to flood coat. Also, even though tip dry is not a big issue I am still in the habit of regularly cleaning the tip during a spray job with a Q-Tip. A must on a hot day. I also use a black lacquer undercoat (Mr Finishing Surfacer 1500) which does not help you for health reasons. Others will recommend a suitable undercoat. I prefer acrylics over an undercoat. 

 

3. is the range of colours as good as enamels? I am primarily a post war jets builder. any suggestions?

Lifecolor has a good range - post war I am not sure.

 

4. how easy is clean-up post painting! 

Simple so long as you never let it dry in the airbrush. Never spray to a dry cup (good practice with all paints). Always keep a wet cup. I find Lifecolor airbrush cleaner excellent.

 

5. How are acrylics thinned? Water? 

I can thin with water but prefer the manufacturer's thinner. I have a mix with a little flow enhancer that works well for me.
 

6. I think enamel washes can be used over acrylics?

Yes, except I do prefer to use a clear coat before doing so. Previously Future now prefer Alclad Aqua Gloss Clear. I use very targeted washes with my style so robust mechanical removal of washes is not normally needed.

 

Expect a good deal of experimentation but persevere. It is a new experience as you build up light coats. Thinning and airbrush settings will be different. 

 

Ray

 

 

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I feel that Ray answered all questions brilliantly and, as a long time user of acrylics, I pretty much share his same experience.

A few random thoughts I can add....

Lifecolors are maybe the most robust among water thinned acrylics, Vallejo's probably the least robuts with others in the middle. Does this matter ? Sure an acrylic coat requires a bit more care when handling but that's it.

Adhesion can be a problem, and again Lifecolor's seem to be the best in this respect. In any case a well primed surface should be no problem. There are acrylic primers as well but I found that generally all acrylics stick well to primers like Tamiya and Mr. Surfacer. Better in any case use good masking tape, anything with too strong a glue may lift some paint.

 

Colour range is not an issue, considering the various companies that today make these paints you can find pretty much every colour used by every air force in the last 100 years.. if not a perfect match, something close enough not to notice the difference. With choices from Lifecolor, Xtraclylics, Vallejo, Hataka and I sure have forgotten a few, you'll have plenty of options.

What can be a problem is that some manufacturers are not too consistent with their supposed matches... care is needed with Vallejo and also some lifecolors. Still, this is also a problem with certain enamel ranges so the best thing to do is check asking here, someone will have tried a paint that works well.

Another problem will of course be local availability, if this is how you prefer to buy your paints. In my corner of the world both Vallejo and Lifecolors can be found easily in many places, some not even proper hobby shops, things may differ where you live. Of course everything can be found through online dealers, but the problems with paint shipping options and the consequences of Brexit may have some impact.

 

Cleaning is incredibly easy and can be done using common cheap products. Personally I first spray some Vallejo airbrush cleaner, followed by simple window cleaner. I then strip my airbrush (H&S Ultra with a 0.2 tip) and use denatured alcohol to properly clean all parts. If denatured alcohol is not available, ammonia or anything with ammonia (like the abovementioned window cleaner) work pretty well. If using alcohol though, let the airbrush dry completely before painting ! Alcohol dissolves all paint traces but if used for mixing will turn everything into a blob. The same alcohol can be used to completely strip these paints from a model, so better be careful.

 

The worst part for a novice will be finding a thinning ratio that will not clog the airbrush... personally I just use Vallejo thinner and add one or two drops of Liquitex retarder... In some cases the drops of retarder are enough to thin the paint. Do not use too much retarder though or the paint may never dry.

Some paints, like the Vallejo Model Air series, are already prethinned for airbrush use. In any case I still tend to add a drop of retarder, helps with avoiding clogging.

Speaking of which, one thing I do that seem to help is spraying a few drops of retarder before the paint, so to build a film on the tip. I still keep a small brush ready anyway, that I dip into Vallejo's airbush cleaner to remove any build-up of paint on the tip whenever I notice a decreasing paint flow.

 

Not mentioned but worth considering is the advantage that the fast drying timeof acrylics gives to the modeller. I've been able to make pretty complex camo schemes in a single day, letting one hour pass between coats, something hard to do with the good old enamels.

Would I go back to enamels ? No, not unless I'm forced by something outside my control. I have experimented with the Mr.Color laquers and I like these a lot for a number of reasons, but acrylics will likely remain my paint of choice for most models. I've had problems myself of course, some models for some reason looked cursed, but overall I'm a very happy user.

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Apart from Polly Scale/Aeromaster* acrylics, the only other brand I liked was Lifecolor. Once you'd got used to its foibles I found it to be predictable in use and gave the smoothest finish of any paint. There were a few things to note, which I'll list below.

 

It really didn't like being the first coat, though you could get away with it. I found that it would try to bead and/or pool when hitting bare plastic. It could be quite alarming but if you let that dry, its self-levelling qualities meant that subsequent coats would cover it well.

 

I thinned to the consistency of skimmed milk using water with a drop or two of Liquitex Slo Dry retarder. You'll need that to prevent nozzle clog. It's been a while since I last used them, but I may have had a pot of cellulose thinners to hand that I would use to brush the nozzle with should the paint flow start to decrease. That's probably good practice with any paint though.

 

Once I'd finished with a colour, I would shoot a mixture of hot water with washing up liquid through the airbrush to get rid of paint residue, followed by flushing with water with a drop of IPA added. The IPA would knock back any remaining suds.

 

Acrylics will never stick to plastic as well as lacquers or enamels. Although I found Lifecolor better than anything except AM/Polly S, I still had to deal with paint lifting with masking tape, no matter how careful I'd been. I've read that some people add a bit of Klear/Future to give it a bit more stick and although I tried that with some other brands of acrylic, things improved, but not enough for me to consider it satisfactory. Lifecolor also held up to handling better than most.

 

What put me off Lifecolor was that after having invested heavily in the brand, over three quarters of them dried up in their pots, some having never been used. Over a hundred pots of paint lost. I never went back. I think they may have changed the formula since then and I believe that I may have bought a few of the newer formulation paints just before I went back to enamels. I didn't like these newer paints anywhere near as much, as the opacity was poor.

 

Please bear in mind that acrylics still have some chemicals you probably ought not inhale.

 

*The Aeromaster/Polly Scale acrylics are the only ones I still use. They're long out of production and some of the Aeromaster colours are wildly off, but they were durable and so easy to use, both with brush or spraying. If someone managed to get hold of their formula and release a range of accurate colours, it would be the only thing that might tempt me back. Oh yeah, and you can spray them over enamels and enamels over these with no issues.

 

Cheers,

Mark.

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42 minutes ago, lasermonkey said:

*The Aeromaster/Polly Scale acrylics are the only ones I still use. They're long out of production and some of the Aeromaster colours are wildly off, but they were durable and so easy to use, both with brush or spraying. If someone managed to get hold of their formula and release a range of accurate colours, it would be the only thing that might tempt me back. Oh yeah, and you can spray them over enamels and enamels over these with no issues.

 

Amen, brother!  Testify!.  Aeromaster were only of the first commonly available acrylics but still stand head and shoulders above the competition.  

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As a lifelong enamel user previously, after returning to the hobby after a short break (some two decades ago), I switched to Tamiya acrylics when I was living in an apartment (purely for the purpose of limiting fumes). I found them durable and trouble-free to use, easy to mix and thin...and frankly, using a Badger Anthem airbrush, have never experienced any of the problems with tip-drying that other acrylics users seem to report so regularly.

I use their own X20A thinner, and cleanup is a breeze with ammonia window-cleaner.

The one shortcoming I'd admit to for the brand is their relative lack of 'standard' pre-mixed colors for some WW2 and modern a/c types -- though they're getting better all the time -- but since I've always enjoyed mixing my own colors anyway, I've never really found this an issue.

I did use some of the PolyScale acrylics back in my 'enamel' days and really liked them. But since my Tamiya experience has been so trouble-free, I've not been tempted to try any of the newer, more 'custom' brands to date.

Cheers

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I'm an acrylics chap and agree with the good advice above. A couple of points I'd add:

 

A strong recommendation for the Ultimate range of primers.

You can get them here: https://www.umpretail.com/

 

And for metallic finishes I'm a fan of the Vallejo Metal Color range. Use it over a gloss black primer and it looks great.

 

I don't have problems with paint lifting with the masking tape.

Good luck

Mark

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Moving to "acrylics" will still need the same respiratory protection as you use with enamels. Water based "acrylics" may not smell as bad as enamels or be as toxic but they do create aerial particles that means an extraction fan and a particulate mask are still needed.

 

Combine that with the weaknesses of "acrylic" as a paint compared to enamels as has been described above and for me at least there is no gain in using "acrylics" and much to be gained by using enamels especially with the advent of good odourless enamel thinners like those sold by Colourcoats, I use Naphtha for cleaning and some thinning which is cheap when bought by the gallon this again has little smell so they don't disturb the domestic harmony.

 

I started using Aeromaster "acrylics" when they first appeared in the 90s and felt then that they had some merit but left the hobby shortly afterwards. On getting back into it again a few years ago I went with "acrylics" for the first year but was so disappointed with their performance that I reverted to my enamels and have never looked back.

 

They can be made to work as many "acrylic" painted examples on here testify but the faff on to get something almost as good as enamels to me just wasn't worth the effort or expense.

 

I do however use from time to time Stynlrez primer, if all "acrylics" were like this then that would be a step change for them.

 

Stynlrez is sold re-labeled by UMP as the Ultimate primer and by AK as One Shot.

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3 hours ago, thorfinn said:

As a lifelong enamel user previously, after returning to the hobby after a short break (some two decades ago), I switched to Tamiya acrylics when I was living in an apartment (purely for the purpose of limiting fumes). I found them durable and trouble-free to use, easy to mix and thin...and frankly, using a Badger Anthem airbrush, have never experienced any of the problems with tip-drying that other acrylics users seem to report so regularly.

I use their own X20A thinner, and cleanup is a breeze with ammonia window-cleaner.

The one shortcoming I'd admit to for the brand is their relative lack of 'standard' pre-mixed colors for some WW2 and modern a/c types -- though they're getting better all the time -- but since I've always enjoyed mixing my own colors anyway, I've never really found this an issue.

I did use some of the PolyScale acrylics back in my 'enamel' days and really liked them. But since my Tamiya experience has been so trouble-free, I've not been tempted to try any of the newer, more 'custom' brands to date.

Cheers

 

Tamiya paints are different in composition from the ones from brands like Vallejo, Lifecolor etc. They do not dry as fast and this avoids the various clogging problems that can occur when using the "other family" of acrylics. They are also more durable and generally stick better to the surfaces.

As you mention their problem is the lack of colours matched to standards used for real aircraft but this can be sorted by moving to a brand that makes very similar paints: Gunze. The Gunze (or Mr.Hobby, same stuff) Acqueous paints work like Tamiya's but their catalogue is much wider. Actually I rate these paints as even better than Tamiya's, the pigments seem to be finer and it's easy to achieve with them a very smooth surface. The problem with them can be availability, from what I understand they are not easy to find everywhere. IMHO they can be a great solution in between enamels and "water thinned acrylics" like Lifecolor.

 

 

54 minutes ago, Mark Harmsworth said:

And for metallic finishes I'm a fan of the Vallejo Metal Color range. Use it over a gloss black primer and it looks great.

 

I don't have problems with paint lifting with the masking tape.

Good luck

Mark

 

I share your love for the Metal Color range, they are a great product. For some reasons they also seem to stick to bare plastic pretty well, something that does not happen with the other Vallejo paints. Said that, I also use them over a black primer and never on bare plastic

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