Paint Masks: A Great Way To Finish Aircraft

Written by Sal Calvagna
RC Giant Scale
As seen in the August 2021 issue of Model Aviation.

WELCOME BACK. COVID-19 has been with us for more than a year. I hope that with the vaccine and warmer weather, we all can resume some normal activities. Because most of our modeling events were canceled in 2020, many of us returned to the workshop to maintain our hobby interests. Now that a lot of events are back on track for 2021, I suspect we’ll see more new additions at the flying field.

I have been working on a Jim Pepino Scale Plans Gloster Gladiator. The Gladiator was the last British biplane fighter to enter service and saw action early in World War II. In this column, I will describe how I installed the insignia and markings.

All of our models require some sort of markings to complete them, especially military aircraft. They are usually the last details added and really bring an aircraft to life. They can be made from adhesive vinyl, rub-on transfers, or by using paint masks, among other methods. For the Gladiator, I chose paint masks. I wanted the model to have an all-painted surface, similar to the full-scale aircraft.

There are very good graphics companies that specialize in working with the modeling community. I’m lucky to have one of them, Red5 Designs, located near me. I had Red5 make all of the paint masks from the sizes that I provided. It was extremely helpful to provide them with digital photos of the full-scale aircraft so that they could replicate the correct shapes that were involved.

Paint masks require slightly more work. After you apply the masks, you need to paint then remove them. With decals, it’s one and done—stick it down in the correct spot, remove any trapped air bubbles, and you’re done.

Vinyl decals and paint masks are usually made using the same type of vinyl. It has an aggressive glue backing that is great for decals but not for masks. A helpful tip is to remove the paper backing and stick the mask to the shirt you’re wearing before placing it on the model. Some of the material from the shirt will stick to the glue backing, which makes it less aggressive, easier to attach, and much easier to remove.

the top of the top wing and bottom of the bottom wing have been painted using masks
The top of the top wing and bottom of the bottom wing have been painted using masks.
pictured here is an unusual step
Pictured here is an unusual step! One of the paint masks is adhered to the author’s shirt before being placed on the model. This makes the glue less aggressive and the mask easier to remove.

The key here is to make sure that the mask edge is secured to the model. You don’t want any bleed from the paint. You can also use a covering heat gun to gently heat the edge while you rub it down with your finger.

Another method to attach the mask in the exact location is the hinge method, using masking tape as a hinge. Place the mask in the finished location, secure one edge using the masking tape, then fold it back to remove the paper backing. Secure the mask to the surface by rubbing gently from the hinge line outward.

not all of the markings were painted
Not all of the markings were painted. The small ones were colored in using a permanent Sharpie marker. It works well.

You can always use the wet method of installation by adding a couple of drops of dishwashing detergent to water and using a spray bottle to wet the glue side of the mask. This will allow you to move the mask around until it’s in the proper location. Just make sure that you remove all of the moisture before you paint.

Finally, paint masks work especially well for large areas that need to be painted, such as a roundel. However, there are times that masks are extremely small, for example, the wording "lift here" or very small numbers. For these, you could always use a permanent marker. They come in an assortment of colors and leave a nice, smooth finish.

Decals or masks, either way, enjoy the finishing part of the build. A wise man told me, "Sometimes it’s about the journey not the destination." Give it a try.

That’s all for this month. Stay well, and I hope to see you at an event in 2021.

using the hinge method masking tape keeps the vinyl in the correct spot
Using the hinge method, masking tape keeps the vinyl in the correct spot.
the mask is folded back to remove the paper backing then its ready to adhere
The mask is folded back to remove the paper backing then it’s ready to adhere.
the fin and rudder are shown using paint masks
The fin and rudder are shown using paint masks. The only marking not painted on this model was the bird on the fin. Red5 Designs made this vinyl decal.


Jim Pepino Scale Plans

(Available from Nick Ziroli Giant Scale Plans)

(631) 467-4765

Red5 Designs

(516) 353-8860

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