Painting Panel Lines
by Matt Quiroz
Just as the title suggests, this is how I paint panel lines on my scale model aircraft…when needed. This method can be used on all models regardless of scale. My test subject is the Venerable Airfix U-2 in 1/72 scale. The U-2 kit has raised panel lines which will be lost while dressing the resulting seam line created when joining the fuselage halves and wings. I assembled my kit almost completely, only leaving off the wings and elevators to make it easier to sand the assorted parts and pieces. Once all of the panel lines were sanded off of my model, I added the wings and elevators to the fuselage. I scanned in the instructions used for placement of the decals and blew them up to the same dimensions as the model. This would help me in the placement of where the panels would be painted back on.
With my scanned guide and a business card hand held template at the ready, I made a thin mixture of Tamiya Light Gray that had been cut with lacquer thinner to replicate the panel lines. I held my airbrush, an Iwata Custom Micron-B, at approximately a 10degree angle to the business card and lightly sprayed along the back edge of the card, being careful not to create too heavy a line and not to dwell in one area for too long. I kept my air pressure set at 8psi for this work. Progress was from the back of the plane forwards to prevent any over-spray from the business card creating shadows and affecting other panel lines. I’ve had this happen on other builds and it is frustrating to say the least as it creates more work in fixing the goofs.
I continued painting from back to front until all of the panel lines that run across, (wing tip to wing tip-wise) had been replaced. I then added the panel lines that run front to rear using just the business card. The panel lines that wrap around the fuselage can be added using just the business card, but it is trickier, as you have to try and keep the line straight with a somewhat rigid card, so I suggest using masking tape instead. If the spray pattern varies in places, it’s alright as it creates an uneven appearance which is something that looks more natural than a solid straight line so don’t worry should this occur. Once all the panel lines are in place, if it looks too stark, a light misting coat of the base color can be shot over the entire model to tone things down a bit. This helps tie things together too. This method can be somewhat nerve wracking if you have never tried it, but with a little practice, you will find it is quite easy to do and can actually make a model look considerably better.