Jump to content

Salt Weathering Techniques


Recommended Posts

Here is my step by step process of salt weathering. I know that many of you have done this before and you have your own methods, but I’ve done this on my last 5 builds and I now have the time down to 1 1/2 hours from start to finish.

For most salt weathering, make sure that you have a good coat of Future on a dry painted surface beforehand. I prefer Model Master enamel paint rather than using acrylics, because the advantage of enamels over a good base coat of Future is that you can easily remove paint you don’t want later with solvent. With acrylics, you’re sort of stuck with what you get, since removing acrylic paint after it dries can be very tricky.

Here’s a pic of the tools you will need to do the deed. You need a large flat surface that I recommend you cover with newspaper, a spray bottle filled with warm water, sea salt in a grinder, regular table salt in a shaker, a hair dryer and of course your air brush. For this build I did everything in my spray booth, but I’ve also done this on my kitchen counter fairly successfully, much to my wife’s chagrin. :rolleyes:


Prior to getting started, I mixed up some enamel paint in a variety of colors. For the Medium Gray color on the top of the fuselage, I mixed up some of this color with a little bit of white to lighten the color, then I thinned it at least double what I normally would so that it was more of a wash than actual paint. I then added a few drops of lacquer thinner to give it some “heat” so that it would adhere and dry more quickly than normal. Weathering on the top that is exposed to salt spray and sun usually results in faded colors, so I want something lighter than the base color for contrast, but still with the same color hues. For the sides and bottom, I used thinned Dark Ghost Gray without any white paint to lighten it, since I found it to be very light already against the darker pre-shaded base coat. Since the bottom doesn’t see much sun and the color is already very light, you want the blotchy look without lightening it too much. I also mixed some “grime” in the form of Burnt Umber mixed with Flat Black, again thinned a lot with paint thinner and a few drops of lacquer thinner.

One thing to note about these Model Master flat gray enamel paints is that they dry very quickly already, so they are perfect for this salt weathering process where drying time is important. With drying accelerants like lacquer thinner and a hair dryer, they behave almost like acrylics for drying time. Other enamel paint may have different drying characteristics, so experiment with them first before you take the plunge.

The other issue is masking off areas where you don’t want paint, like the black skunk stripe and engine shrouds in this build. I have masked these areas off in prior builds, but the Tamiya tape I use does not react too favorably to water. When removed from these dark areas it leaves a whitish haze to the Future coat below that does not go away with drying. After hitting it with more Future and Windex, the haze will go away, so not all is lost if you do this. For this build I want a little weathering on this paint, because it looks more natural than pristine gloss black and I can remove any offensive paint with solvent later. The cockpit, of course, needs to be protected, so the tape stays on no matter what happens to protect it from both paint and salt water.

When you’ve gathered all this stuff up and you’re ready to start, I’m sure you will be a little apprehensive about potentially destroying 6 months of work. Ok, you’re going to be TERRIFIED! , so remember this: Your model is made of plastic and it is covered with water proof paint and a coat of Future, so almost everything you do from this point on can be reversed- sort of. No guts, no glory, so let’s get started!

Starting on the top surface, spray down your model with warm water so that it’s wet enough to start dripping off. Then take your salt grinder and deposit salt crystals all over it in a fairly even distribution. These salt crystals are irregularly shaped already and as they dissolve with the warm water, they will create a nice random distribution of a mask……



For the sides, I like to use finer crystals of salt, so the plain old salt shaker works best for this to give finer detail, but you need to hold your model sideways so that the salt and water don’t fall off


Don’t worry about getting salt into places you don’t want. This will all disappear when you rinse it off……


Now get out your hair dryer and dry the salt crystals as they form little pools of salt. Keep the heat and blower setting to low, because you don’t want to cook your model or blow all the salt off before it has a chance to dry.

When everything is fairly dry (5-8 minutes), put the thinned gray paint into your air brush and get started. I like to use very low spray pressures of about 10 psi so that I can control where the paint will go. Obviously you should be trying to paint all of the surfaces that have the color you’re using while avoiding black paint, wheel wells, engine shrouds and the radome which doesn’t usually weather like the rest of the aircraft. I spray just enough paint to get a light haze over all the salt crystals, then I get out the hair dryer again and dry the model for about 5 more minutes. All paint should be fairly dry to the touch at this point.

If you’re not in a hurry, you can let it dry longer, then wash off the salt crystals under the kitchen tap, re-apply some more salt, dry the model and spray on the next color (if any). Since these 1/32 birds are so big and I’m impatient, I simply tilt the model at 45 degrees and re-spray the salt crystals with the spray bottle, so that the salt is redistributed as it runs longitudinally downward towards the newspaper. When everything has moved around a bit, I dry it again with the hair dryer…..


I then spray the dark grime mix I’ve created, mostly along panel lines but also a few random spots. This gives the model a randomly looking dirty look, quite different than the last paint wash which was light colored. Don’t overdo this or it will turn out too dark.

When the top is dry, flip the model over and do the bottom the same way, with light colored paint wash first, re-spray the salt, then do the darker color last. This is also the time when I spray the sides, because it’s almost the same color as the bottom. Before I go to the darker paint, I flip the model over and hit the air bladders under the wings with the light colored paint to replicate what I’ve seen in pics. I also spray a bit here and there on the upper part, “just ‘cause”. What you want is a totally random and multicolored weathering effect, just like the real deal.

When all this is finished and the model is dry for about ½ hour, I go to my kitchen sink and place the model carefully under the tap and rinse it with warm water. Again, make sure the water isn’t too hot or you’ll regret it. It’s impossible to not get certain areas like the cockpit wet, but try to avoid them as you rinse your model thoroughly. When you think you’ve got all the salt crystals off, place your model somewhere on a soft cloth (or building box like mine) and dry it again with the hair dryer.

This is when you’ll really notice the work you’ve accomplished. The mottled effect of the salt mask really comes out as the model dries. If there’s some spots you’ve missed or don’t like, you can rub them off with solvent and then re-apply the salt and try the whole thing again. The enamel paint is dry enough to handle, but it’s still fragile enough that you don’t want to rub it too hard with your hands.

After I’m done with the painting and re-painting, I let the model dry for another half hour, then I get out the Q-tips and small pieces of paper towel soaked in solvent and start removing paint from those areas where I don’t want the paint wash. Paint is carefully removed from decals, black paint and other areas very easily at this stage. You might even leave some of it on certain decals to replicate weathering of these features. If you wait until the next day, it will be a lot harder, so time is important while the paint hasn’t had a chance to cure. When you’re happy with the distribution of paint, rub the whole thing down with wet paper towel to remove the “edges” created by the salt boundaries.

Now some pics of the salt weathering results. If you think some areas are too “much”, another coat of Future will smooth things out and make the weathering more subtle.









For my recent Lancaster build, I didn’t use Future before salt weathering because I wanted a chipped metal effect more than a blotchy look. To do this I painted the entire aircraft with Alclad steel, let it dry a few days, applied pre-shading and the salt as above, then did the camo-masking with raised paper to get the feathered effect between the 2 colors.



Once this dried after about 10 minutes, I washed it off, touched up some areas with more paint, then applied Future and decals. After decaling, I re-sprayed some thinned and lightened paint over them to dull them up a bit and voila! A war weary Lancaster!....




Even the bombs get the salt treatment….


Thanks for your interest.

Edited by Chuck540Z3
  • Like 12
  • Thanks 3
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Thanks for walking us through that process Chuck, it looks really interesting, I might use that on the Revell U-Boat I'm building for the Battle of the Atlantic GB!

Still, your skill is what counts as much as applying the correct technique, hats off to you for those stunning models :worthy:



  • Like 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Although i've seen salt weathering done before i've never seen it described quite so well, consider you technique duly nicked, that phantom is a total corker by the way. :speak_cool:


  • Like 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Although i've seen salt weathering done before i've never seen it described quite so well, consider you technique duly nicked, that phantom is a total corker by the way. :speak_cool:


Thanks. Here's a couple more of my F-4J, which really show the effects of salt weathering....






Edited by Chuck540Z3
  • Like 2
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Stunning work! This page has just been bookmarked! Thanks for taking the time to describe the technique and post it here, my next military subject will definitely be worked on using the above, but I think I'll practice quite a bit before I try it out on a Tamiya 1/32nd kit!!

  • Like 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Thanks a lot guys. This technique obviously takes a bit of practice, but after a few times it becomes very easy and almost routine. The key reason to salt weather is "randomness", because no matter how good you may be with an airbrush, nothing can create the blotchy look of weathered paint quite like a random distribution of a salt mask. One thing I didn't mention much above is that after you've taken off the salt, you often have to re-paint some areas and remove paint from others. How much, is totally up to you, so I often re-touch things many times with my airbrush until it just "looks right". Here's some examples below of Before/After pics.....







After, but a bit too harsh.......


Final Version with re-painting some of the green and earth with light coats after decals. This also gives you a chance to maybe paint over some of the decals to give them a bit of a weathered look. The exhaust stains go on last.....


Small parts can be done the same way.....





Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 4 months later...
  • 2 weeks later...
  • 1 month later...

always tempted to try this... wondering if the Corsair I have just started is a good one - thought is

1) lighten the all-over blue and spray whole model

2) salt mask upper surfaces, walkway, wing leading edges

3) spray normal all-over blue

hopefully this would give a faded look to the blue... however, wouldnt I then have big bold decals that looked "odd".... should the salt masking be used and then the decals hit with very thin paint?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 2 weeks later...

going to try this on mt dragonfly.... painting as it is now is not good so going to decal her up then look at lightening the upper camo.... will post here and in the build thread.....

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 1 year later...
  • 2 weeks later...

QQ - what happens if you just apply salt weathering WITHOUT a KLEAR coat? I am painting enamel... do I still need KLEAR (or without it do i risk salt rings stains?)

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 2 months later...

This is a great technique and the results look stunning, but a word of caution, I tried this to get the chipping effect on my Dragonfly for CAS GB and hit a snag. I obviously didn't wash salt off properly as once I applied the sealer coat over the paint job the Quickshine I used as a gloss went cloudy! See pics http://www.britmodeller.com/forums/index.php?showtopic=234921004#entry1061848

It only seemed to happen on the parts painted with Vallejo model air, the rest is gunze and seemed ok.

Not a criticism of the technique just trying to share my mistake to stop others making it!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
  • Create New...