Wings & Wheels Metal Shop
With Pat Deluhery

The techniques mentioned here were developed on figures, but, with a little adaptation, they can be used in any modeling situation. As one who profoundly respects "Murphy’s Law," I always practice a new technique on a "practice dummy" before using it "live" on a project. And so, in the spirit of helping each other to improve our modeling skills, the following is submitted …….. for your approval.

Polishing Metal Surfaces

This technique can be used on all metal surfaces, including bare metal foil, and on some "quasi-metal" painted surfaces.

  1. Polish the whole area with a Dremmel tool – wire brush attachment – to achieve a polished finish. Press gently – usually the weight of the tool is enough. Be careful not to erase molded details. Minor defects and mold marks in the metal finish can usually be polished away or greatly reduced with a little care. This is also an excellent way to remove any metal flash, since it will not gouge the surface. (I use this method, instead of filing or sanding, to remove flash and seams on my metal figures.)
  2. Use #0000 steel wool to lightly polish the surface to its final base finish. This will remove the small scratches, swirl patterns and any stray marks from the Dremmel tool. If you don’t have a Dremmel, this method can be used to polish the whole surface as mentioned in step #1 – it’s just more work.
  3. Coat the whole polished metal surface with acrylic black paint. Let dry thoroughly for several hours or overnight. Then wipe off the dried paint with a paper towel, leaving the black paint in the deepest cracks and crevices. The black paint will "stain" the metal making it darker and more like steel. Because the underlying surface is polished, the black paint wipes off relatively easily. If you are looking for a darker color, give it a second coat of black and repeat the process. Usually, two coats are the limit for staining by this process. If you need it darker, you will have to wash it, as in #4 below. Also, avoid this step if the metal is heavily pitted. If you are working with bare metal foil or a painted surface, you probably will start here, since polishing is not usually needed.
  4. The metal areas can now be shaded, using light coats of acrylic or oil paint wash. Let each coat dry thoroughly before applying the next one. I usually detail the piece by outlining each plate of armor to make it stand out or running a wash in the cracks to set off plate sections. Do not apply a gloss finish over these areas. They will look more realistic if left flat. If you need to gloss coat anything, do it after staining and before detailing in black. Generally, you will not need a gloss coat if you polish.
  5. Highlights can be achieved by polishing the high areas with steel wool, and/or painting the high areas with a lighter metal paint. This will set them off from the darker base color you created with the acrylic black. You will usually want to avoid a high shine or too much contrast, unless burnishing.
  6. As an alternative to #5, you can "burnish" the highs with a steel needle or stylus by rubbing the side of the needle against the area to be burnished (don’t do this with bare metal foil!). This method is very tedious and basically puts little scratches on the metal. It works better with smaller scale pieces, in my opinion. Some will burnish a whole figure, but I think this is usually too much, since it creates a mirror finish, and it is rare that you would want a mirror finish on metal. For me it works better as a highlight, but you may have use for this technique in other ways.
  7. Do not cover with a sealing gloss or flat finish. "White metal" does not rust, and once this finish is in place, it will not fade. I have pieces 10 -15 years old that have their original finish. However, fingerprints will ruin the finish, so use care when handling (better yet, mount it on a base!) and carefully wipe off the piece if a print is noticed.
Painting and Finishing a Non-metal Surface

Too Many Paints; Too Little Time. There are many metallic paints on the market. Since I generally polish a piece, I will usually polish metal unless the piece is resin or I need colored metal. What this means to you is that I have not tried all the paint products on the market; and so, if you use products other than those mentioned below, and even with these, please experiment first.
My favorite metallic paints are the little bottles of good ‘ol Testors enamel metallic paints – chrome, steel, gold, and bronze. I have also used the Model master metallic colors with equal success. I do not recommend printers ink, since it is difficult to work with, dries flat and provides nothing that can’t be achieved by another method. Likewise, linseed oil (artist oil) based metallic are too thin and have very poor opacity. Acrylic metallic are good for clothing, but for me they are too flat and do not provide a realistic metallic finish on other kinds of surfaces. I have had good luck with Rose’s metallic powders, but they are unstable, and it is very easy to ruin this finish when painting or washing over them unless you use the Rule of Opposites discussed below. The Gunze Sagnyo Mr. Metal Color line is a buffable metallic that is very durable and stable, can be painted upon easily, or treated like a polished surface. I have not used SnJ.

Flow On Technique. Since I don’t use and airbrush, I apply metallic paints by "flowing" them on – this gives a polished metal surface affect and avoids brush marks. To "flow" paint, you must stir it well, get a good runny-but-controllable paint blob on the end of your brush, then set the brush down on its side and let the paint literally run off the end of the brush onto the surface. This avoids brush marks and leaves a mirrored finish that is very realistic. It takes a little practice, but the technique will help assure that your painted surfaces look realistic. NEVER work metallic paints too much with a brush, and ALWAYS apply them very "wet" – i.e. with a good amount of medium so they flow easily but do not run. When they dry, the media evaporates leaving the little metallic "flakes" perfectly smooth.

Proper Base Coat. Another important thing is to be sure that your underlying base coat is correct. I apply silver metallic colors over a flat black base coat, and gold or bronze metallic over a flat burnt umber or dark brown base. Flat black can be used under any color, in a pinch. Believe it or not, the right base color can make a big difference. Use a flat acrylic base coat under oil or enamel metallic. If you leave a little edge of this base coat showing when you lay in the metallic, you have already outlined that area. This works especially well around buttons and other small but prominent features.

Mixing Metallic. Yes indeed! you can mix metallic in all sorts of interesting ways. These methods work with the paints I use, but may require a little experimentation for your brands. Generally, you can:

  • Mix any oil, enamel or metallic with any other oil, enamel or metallic paint; or mix any acrylic with any acrylic metallic paint,
  • Mix any oil or enamel color paint, like green, blue or red, with enamel silver to get a tinted silver color (I use this method to achieve tinted armor colors on fantasy figures),
  • Mix silver with gold to get a lighter gold or a gold highlight,
  • Mix enamel or oil black with silver to get a darker silver or silver shadow,
  • Mix enamel or oil burnt umber with gold to get a darker gold or gold shadow,
  • Mix gold with bronze to get a lighter bronze or bronze highlights,
  • Mix burnt umber with bronze to get a darker bronze or bronze shadow.
For example:

To get a blue- or green-tinted silver for gothic armor, I mix viridian or Prussian blue oil paint into Testor’s chrome to get a blue or green tinted silver. Add more blue or green to the base or use color straight from the tube for shading, and use pure chrome for highlights. Be sure to keep it well-stirred at all times, as the oil will quickly settle. You will probably need to add a little more thinner to make the mix flow. I use the Testor’s enamel thinner.

To shade and highlight gold, I apply the gold straight from the bottle as the base. Then, add a little burnt umber to the base for shading low and a little silver to the base for shading up. High highs are pure silver.

To shade and highlight silver, I add a little black to the silver for my base coat. Then use straight silver for the highlight and add a little more black to the base for the shadows. High highs can be white or silver and white.

Washes And the Rule of Opposites. Another way to shade or highlight is with washes, as used in the polishing technique. However, due to the unstable nature of most metallic paints and because a wash is largely medium, washing can disturb or remove the underlying finish, especially oil-based finishes.

So, we have to employ the Rule of Opposites: Wash an oil with an acrylic, an acrylic with an oil, or use an opposite-based clear coat to seal in between like-based washes. This means:

If your base coat is an oil or enamel paint, wash with an acrylic; or apply an acrylic clear coat to the oil base before washing with an oil paint. The clear coat is a sealer, so dilute it, if needed, to avoid adding too much shine. Also, you should not work the sealed area too hard, or you will wear off this thin coat.

If your base coat is an acrylic, wash with an oil or enamel paint; or clear coat with an enamel paint before washing with an acrylic. (Often, depending on the brand of paint, you can get away with washing an acrylic with an acrylic without observing this rule, but if you have any trouble, then follow it.) I think it is easier to wash an acrylic with an oil, and you get a nice sheen from the oil.

If you are applying another metallic color on top of a metallic base, follow the Rule of Opposites; for example gold painted inlay on silver painted base color armor.

Steps to Painting a Metallic Finish. With the above as background, here are the steps to painting a metallic finish:

  • 1. Mix and apply your base metallic finish, using the flow on method. Let dry thoroughly.
  • 2. Mix and apply your shadow and highlight colors.
  • 3. If using washes, follow the Rule of Opposites.
A Few Other Tips
  1. If you wish to add pastel chalk weathering to a polished metal surface, coat the area to be chalked with a flat clear coat. This will provide a "toothed" surface for the chalk to adhere to. The trick is to apply the flat coat in the same pattern as you want the chalk to appear, e.g. if doing an exhaust stain, put the flat coat on in the same shape as you want the final stain to appear, then cover with chalk.
  2. Results of the polishing technique depend on the composition of the metal in your project. The more tin; the higher the shine, and the less it can be darkened with an acrylic stain.
  3. If you want realistic "jewels," like those on a crown or weapon, paint the "bed area" with Testor’s chrome. When dry, top it with a blob of color from the Tamiya line of clear color acrylics (same as are used for vehicle lights). When dry, repeat the Tamiya coat until you hare happy with the "glow."
  4. The best medium for printer’s ink or Rose’s powders is Liquin. Don’t use turpentine or any solvent. Liquin can also be used as a gloss coat over acrylic or oils – if the Rule of Opposites is observed. Dilute Liquin with thinner to cut the gloss. Any gloss should always be in scale with the piece.
  5. If you use a "polishable" metal paint, you can follow somewhat the polished metal technique above. However, do a little experimenting to see if the paint is stable, and how much buffing the paint will take before it comes off. Be sure to let the base coat dry COMPLETELY before trying any of this.
  6. If you use any heat treatment on your project, such as baking, a hair dryer or light box, be advised that heat will often dull a metallic finish. Maybe you are looking for this - or maybe not. If you use heat, I recommend experimenting with your particular paint first. Personally, I have had WAY too many "surprises," so I do the heat-treated areas first, then paint the metallic parts last – that way I can control what I get.
  7. It is possible to do a wet-on-wet technique with oil metallic and oil paint, but it is very hard to predict the end result, so I avoid it. The oil tends to settle on the bottom then rise up again when drying. A flat finish often occurs. Again, with a little experimentation, your results may be better than mine.
  8. If you wash with acrylics, remember that they dry flat. This may or may not be the affect you want. If you want a shadow in a large area that is not as flat as what you are getting, add a small amount of gloss coat to the wash – just enough to give it a sheen similar to the finish you are shading.

Thanks for your attention. Good Luck with your work!