Thursday, September 30, 2010

Product Review: Tamiya Masking Tape

I remember building Revell's prototype F-16 when I was a kid, in the early 1970s, the one painted up in red, white and blue. The kit was molded in white so I let the white areas be raw plastic, and masked the hard-edge red and blue. I used cellotape, which over raw plastic had nothing to pull up and gave razor-sharp demarcations. I was very impressed with the edge work, less so with the finish of flat enamels slathered on thickly with a brush, and which somehow managed to migrate under the tape where it crossed detail.

Not long afterward I tackled Monogram's B-52D, painting the whole thing with a brush in Humbrol enamels. The white underside took coat after coat and must have looked like it had been done with a roller... Due to the size I used automotive masking tape and of course discovered the necessity of de-gluing the back. Even over well-cured, thick enamel the tape had a de-surfacing effect that was not attractive. I had planned to mask and paint the walkway stripes over the NMF but after early experiments abandoned the idea. Somehow paint would always migrate under, no matter how well-burnished the tape edge seemed to be...

I used to think joint dressing was the biggest drag in the hobby, but since the advent of both cyanoacrylate glue and better-engineered kits joints have become simply a part of the process, not the disfiguring headache they once were, and the necessity of masking the paintjob has rather moved to the fore as the most time-consuming task in reaching a really good result.

Household/automotive paper tape is not designed for delicate paints and you need to seriously de-glue it to stand a chance. Scotch brand invisible mending tape is not very sticky and produces a very sharp edge. The problem with these two is they are not very flexible, they don't deform easily around corners. In the US there is the blue 'painters' tape,' but I'm not aware of it (or an equivalent) in Australia. To be fair, I've not checked out hardware stores for the item, but there's not much point when you have an item like Tamiya tape in the tool draw.

If there was a perfect product for this application, I'd have to say Tamiya have nailed it. Their tape is low-tack, burnishes down tight, deforms readily, and peels off clean. I have yet to have it pull up sprayed acrylics or enamels over any properly prepared surface (the only time I had it take paint off right through to the plastic was attributable to a deposit left on the surface of the model by the cleaning agent I had used to degrease it). The tape is also essentially re-usable, I have used the same pieces of tape on multiple projects, simply by transferring them to another plastic surface where they can stick for weeks or months and again peel off cleanly.

The tape comes in a variety of widths from narrow to broad so you have the option of curving lines or bulk coverage. I usually put a strip down on my cutting mat and slice it up with a razor knife and steel rule into ultra-narrow pieces or shapes as the job calls for. The dispenser rolls are a good idea, too.

The FW 190 I have on the bench at the moment was masked in both hard and soft contexts. The unit markings featured yellow rudder, cowl and fuselage bands, and rather than go with the kit decals for these items I sprayed them at the same time as the rudder. After overnight curing I masked them with strips of Tamiya tape and carried on with the rest of the paintjob. Several days went by, then I removed the hard masks and discovered perfectly sharp edges, and perfect protection of the underlying paint from later applications.

The big resin Beta-1 bomber featured in the last couple of posts was also fully masked with Tamiya tape, a long and complex operation, but one which went off essentially without a hitch. The colour demarcations are as tight and sharp as you could possibly wish for, with absolutely no paint bleed-under or de-surfacing on removal.

Tamiya tape is an indispensable tool in my kit, and I recommend it without reservation.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Giving Up Enamels: Just Around the Corner?

I've posted a fair few times on the contrasting merits of enamels and acrylics, and despite being a lifetime enamel user I find I'm drifting toward acrylics more and more.

They don't go on as silky-smooth, they dry quicker in the airbrush tip, and for sure you need to get used to them, but the benefits really do weigh heavily in their favour. They're far less toxic, they come in larger bottles that have phenomenal shelf-life, there are enough shades around that you can either get a decent match right off the shelf or mix one without much bother, and they're durable enough to survive gentle handling. Their non-toxic nature means they're probably the only option for indoor spraying if you're health-conscious at all (brain cells, we don't need no stinkin' brain cells!), so you can paint through the winter without being well-enough heeled to have a spray booth/ fume hood in your workshop, and that's the majority of us. Also, enamel paint chemically attacks vinyl so if you fancy anything from anime subjects to dinosaurs via movie tie-in figures, acrylics will be your medium of choice.

They've come a long way in the last twenty years, and modern acrylics are seriously competing with traditional enamels. I've done mostly-acrylic paintjobs on my last eight armour kits, with oil-wash weathering over the top, and it's become my standard armour technique, so it may only have been a matter of time before the medium encroached on aircraft.

The Convair XAB-1 that I reviewed in the box in my last post, rather longer ago than I had imagined (apologies for the long delay in posting!) is now finished and submitted to the commissioning magazine, and it turned out to be an all-acrylic paintjob. I had intended to do the natural metal parts in enamel, but fate took a hand: I discovered I had no enamel thinner in stock other than the dirty thinner in the bottom of an old bottle I use to suspend oils for wash detailing, and as I was on a deadline I realised the metallic would have to be acrylic too. Fortunately I had the shades in hand, so I mixed Tamiya X-11 Chrome Silver with XF-16 Flat Aluminium (9:1) and laid it on in several decent coats. The underside white of the bomber was four coats of satin white mixed from X-2 Gloss White and XF-2 Flat White, while the red of the engine inlets, the chromate green of the wheel wells, satin black of the antiglare panel, dark metallic of the flaps and gunmetal of the exhausts were all previously mixed and sprayed in the same acrylic range.

I was impressed by the covering ability (with the exception of the white, and that's the nature of the beast where white is concerned), and the rapid drying which made multiple coats a practical proposition in a modest timeframe. The job became practical and the finish was entirely acceptable. Yes, the natural metal had a certain grain to it that an enamel job probably would not, and in future I will still work in enamels when the environmental conditions are right; but when they are not and there is a model to be finished, the less-toxic medium is now fully up to the job.

I have a Tamiya Fw 190 F-8 underway with an all-acrylic finish. I'll write a review of this excellent kit when she's done, and talk about mixing the RLM paint shades from the basic Tamiya range, an operation which, at time of writing this article, looks both simple and highly accurate (sometimes...).

Cheers, Mike