The Hair Spray Technique
Like most modelers I like to try new things to add realism to my models so I pick up techniques from others and tweak them to make them my own. A few years ago I discovered what has been called "The Hair Spray Method" while perusing the pages of Military Modelling Magazine. The technique has since been made available to a wider audience through modeling websites. I have used other methods in the past to replicate distressed and fading or chipped paint, but I have found hairspray to give the best results. The best part is that it's easy to do and with a little patience a very good result can be obtained that cannot be replicated with standard brush painting.
Materials you will need:
Hairspray- I use Tresemme Tres Two Ultra Fine Mist straight from the can and find that it gives good results. Whatever type you use, make sure it is an aerosol and not a pump.
Stiff brushes of various sizes - My favorite is a Crayola brand medium round brush that I cut down to make it more stiff. You will also need a wide flat brush to wet the surface of the model in the area(s) you want to remove paint. You can use a variety of sizes to change the effects on the surface.
Water - I use warm water straight from the tap in a plastic cup.
Paper towel and/0r sponge - Use this to remove any excess water from the area you are removing paint and to wipe excess paint and hairspray from your brushes.
I strongly recommend trying this technique on a "practice" model first.
1. Paint the base coat on the model as you normally would using the paint of your choice. You can also do any panel fading or tonal variations to the base colors at this time. I use acrylics, but you can use enamels if you are more comfortable with them.
2. Once the base coat is thoroughly dry, apply a sealant coat. I use Future (Pledge) acrylic floor wax to seal the model. Let the clear coat dry thoroughly so it can protect the base coat from the scrubbing to come.
3. Apply the hairspray. I generally put two coats of hairspray on my models to make sure there is adequate coverage of the surface. Hold the can about ten to twelve (10"- 12") inches from the surface to avoid applying an overly thick coat. Let the first coat dry before proceeding with a second coat of hairspray. The first time you do this technique it will look like you just ruined your model while the hairspray is wet, but don't worry too much. As the carrier evaporates, it will tighten down around the details and you can apply your second coat. I recommend applying a second coat, because you need to be sure there is enough hairspray on the surface to remove the layer of paint that will come next.
Note: Because of the finishing techniques I use, I cover the suspension with a paper towel before spraying the hairspray.
4. Apply an acrylic overcoat. (Make sure you are using acrylics for this step because enamels will not react with the water you will use later to remove the paint.) Use a thin coat of paint. This coat of paint should not be overly thick and I recommend that you vary the intensity of the paint in certain areas to accentuate the effect. Let this coat of paint dry at least ten to fifteen (10 -15) minutes before beginning the next step.
5. With the top coat on, you're ready to start removing paint. Fill a cup with some warm water and grab a paper towel or two to clean your brushes as you remove the paint. Dip a brush in the water and apply it to the area where you want to remove the paint. The surface should begin to lift slightly and you might see some bubbles. The stiffer the brush, the more paint will be removed. Make sure to remove paint in logical areas on the top surfaces or sides that might be affected by crew action or moving through terrain. Continue to remove paint until you are satisfied with the result.
If you make a mistake, don't fret. If you remove too much paint in an area or scrape through to bare plastic you can redo the area by repeating the process or using a brush to touch up the area.
6. Apply another clear coat to seal the hairspray and protect the paint from the weathering process. One the clear coat is dry, paint any details as you normally would using the finishing techniques with which you are accustomed.
I have used hairspray for winter and desert schemes as seen in the photos above and have been satisfied with the results thus far. I have seen others use rust base coats to model realistic destroyed vehicles. As with any technique, the more you practice the better you will become. I hope you find this article helpful and use the information to improve your models.