Restoring 3 Tiger Is (updated 21/03/11)
I wanted to paint German armour really well. And I was prepared to make my wife
pay for it.
To paint German really armour well, I needed an airbrush. But they’re expensive.
So when we popped in to my now defunct local model shop and found a Premi-Air G35 Airbrush Briefcase starter set going for £58.23 that became
my birthday present. I was told this was the perfect beginner’s airbrush. That was
about 10 months ago, but I still haven’t mastered the art of airbrushing.
Truth be told, I was a little cheesed off with my first attempts. Don’t get me wrong,
I’d prepared. I’d read a book about airbrushing. Watched a few YouTube videos and experimented with an old model. I thought I was ready. I had my Tiger
Is. I wanted to airbrush on the good old tri-tone camo pattern straight away. I
set to work.
And it was a nightmare.
£30 worth of propellant cans later, my Tigers emerged spattered and messy:
The stripes were uneven. Sometimes the paint went on heavy. Other times it went
on light. Some went on smooth, others went on splattery. When I tried to tidy it
up, the Vallejo Model Air 025 Dark Yellow didn’t match the cursed base coat. When
I tried to blend it all in with a MiG filter, it didn’t really work. When I tried
to add depth with a dark wash it went all tidal and streaky on me due to the very
I put my tigers on the shelf and tried to forget about them. Until now. I wanted
to restore them to something worth playing with. I’d read abit more, was inspired
by articles in February’s excellent Year of The Tiger edition of Military Modelcraft and, critically, I’d learnt more about painting.
I now knew how to remove MiG Dark Wash tidal marks with thinner. I’d watched Battlefront’s very useful Jagdpanzer IV/70 video and seen how a gloss varnish helps pin-washing. I’d learnt not to use too dark a colour when shading zimmeritt on the captured Soviet Panther.
But the eternal challenge of the airbrush remained. On Monday this week I sat downand tried again. This time I was serious. This time I was going to bust its ass…:)
As Mark has astutely observed in his comments below, there are alot of variables
when airbrushing. But if you’re serious about wanting to airbrush your FoW AFVs,
I think you’ve got to be prepared to make a significant committment to the process
because it’s not cheap. My first error was relying on cans of propellant. These
are expensive and unreliable. As you use them the pressure diminishes. This can
be off-set a little by sitting the can in a jug of warm water but, trust me, this
isn’t the best.
At the start, you’ll be working with high pressure, but as you progress
the pressure will drop and this will have a comensurate effect on your painting.
In the end, I opted to buy airbrush compressor for about £90. It allows me to set
the precise pressure I want to work with and stores excess air in a tank to ensure
that the pressure is consistent:
So, with my airbrush attached to my compressor, I set the pressure to around 15psi
and looked to my paints. I use Vallejo Model Air airbrush paint which is of a thinner
consistency than the regular Model Color range. You can use the latter, but you’ll
have to thin it down. For this I use Vallejo thinner. To be fair, I’ve found that
it is better to thin down the Model Air paints too as they seem to go on better
the thinner they are.
So to start with, I thinned down Vallejo Model Air Dark Yellow (71025) at about
a ratio of about 2:1, that’s 2 ‘drops’ of yellow to every 1 ‘drop’ of thinner. I
then practiced on a piece of kitchen towel to work out how far I needed to be from
the model to get the effect I required. It also enabled me to practice finding the
sweet spot on my dual action airbrush where the right amount of paint flows with
the right amount of air. After a while I found that I could get a small amount of
paint finely applied whilst working about a centimeter away from the model.
So I set to work, slowly working my way over all the old dunkelgelb lines I’d
made before, ensuring a broadly consistent colour was applied to all areas whilst
working on any hard lines left by previous applications of green and brown.
I did the same with Tank Brown (71041) and Tank Green (71011). I made the error
here of not thinning the paint sufficiently. I think it was a 3:1 or even 4:1 ratio,
which resulted in the paint being too thick, blocking the nozzle and ‘splattering’
everywhere. Now, I always keep some cotton buds and airbrush cleaner handy to wipe
Whilst I’m on the subject of cleaning ‘in the field’, I’ve often spilt paint out
of the paint reservoir whilst trying to clean the nozzle. It just pours out from
underneath the lid (if I’ve remembered to put it on!). To prevent this, I’d recommend
that you buy a cheap airbrush holder just to keep everything nice and tidy. The
last thing you want is a pool of paint all over your model…
As if this all wasn’t enough to worry about, you’ve got to remember to play the
angles. I was painting one of the glacis at about a 90 degree angle and the air
pushed the paint out into and across the zimmeritt. No nice soft edge camo, just
a drippy splurge.
I found i t useful when painting gun barrels to start and finish airbrushing either
side of the intended area. This allows for a nice smooth coat. Another thing that
worked for me was to test consistency and flow by spraying into the turret mount
before working my way out onto the chassis. At least you can cock it up here rather
than on the bodywork.
Wise man say be patient. Don’t try and do everything at once. Be prepared to allocate
time and go back and work on areas again if it all goes wrong.
Corporal Jones say ‘Don’t panic!’ If it all goes wrong you can always overspray.
If you’re spraying on acryllic matt varnish, as I was this afternoon, and it goes
on too heavy you can rub it off with the (heaven sent) MiG Thinner (this will remove
your decals – doh! – just in case the eagle-eyed amongst you wonder why one of my
turrets mysteriously becomes numbered 315).
Finally, after you’ve got the look you vaguely like, be brave enough to spray a
light coat of the original basecoat yellow over the final piece. I found it tones
down any inconsistencies, helps the colours blend and ‘weathers’ the piece nicely.
Finally, before gloss varnishing, I lavished a coat of MiG P242 Tan filter for tri-tonal
camo over the whole kit and kaboodle to further blend the colours together.
So, after all this effort and a layer of gloss varnish. What did I end up with?
I’m painting this one with the grey heat-resistant paint still visible,
I’m painting this track with 1 wheel still in the factory primer to reflect field
Decal time. I bought the Obersturmführer Michael Wittmann (GBX16) boxed set and 2 Tiger 1es (Ge701) which, unfortunately, don’t ship with decals. Luckily for me, Dom’s decals produces an excellent range of 15mm decals and I was able to get hold of GE-N3-2 German Turret Numbers and GE-B3 Balkenkreuz which I applied to the side of the turret and chassis.
The presence of the towing cable on one side requires the decal to be cut in-half
to make it look convincing. I found Dom’s decals easy to work with. They come off
their backing paper relatively faster than comparable decals I’ve used in the past
and conform well when microsol is applied to work them into all that zimmerit:
Decals dry, it was time to run a Citadel Devlan Mud wash over the zimmerit and a
MiG Dark pin-Wash over everything else. As Battlefront’s video shows, the gloss
varnish really does pull the washes into all those nooks and cranies You’ll see
above and below the effect this has on highlighting the detail. Any overwash likeyou
can see on the chassis below is washed away by wiping the surface with a cotton
bud dampened (and only just) with MiG thinner. Gently wipe the cotton bud over the
top and edge of any items in high relief, you want to tidy up the lines not scrape
down to the basecoat:
How does it all look now? Well, as one of my turrets just fell off let’s take a
Now, I’ve just sprayed on a coat of Vallejo (70.520) matt varnish which is very,
very matt. Nice, but don’t get cocky and overspray like I did and end up having
to wipe it off with thinner (doh! – I’m having such a blind spot with varnish nowadays.
I guess it’s because I’m using it more and more as my reportoire expands).
On to the details…
The Front: all wooden handles were base painted German Camouflage Black Brown (150)
and then highlighted (135) Beige Brown. Metal fittings were base painted Black Grey
and highlighted Black Grey / Neutal Grey (160) 50:50 mix. A pinwash of Devlin Mud
and Badab Black was applied to the edges of all tools and handles respectively to
pull out the contrast.
What caused me the greatest amount of pain was the white inner driver and gunner
hatches. I struggled with painting them trying alternatively (004) Off White washed
black; (155) Light Grey highlighted Off White; and even Light Grey,washed black
and highlighted Off White.
Nothing seemd to work at this scale. The solution wasfound by accident after painting the hatches Off White and running in a Black Wash whilst the paint was still wet. This blended the colours nicely and resulted in natural looking grey areas with minial effort. Kerrching! All that remained was to highlight with watered down Off White. To get a clean edge around the rim (if you will), I tried painting free hand, but just wasn’t steady enough. In the end, I applied successive drops of Badab Black wash around the rim and it literally ran into place providing a nice clean dark grey line (just don’t now tell me inner hatcheswere actually dunkergelb! ):
Sides: Towing cables were painted (179) Gun Metal and washed black. I’m not convinced
a metallic paint ise suitable when I’ve painted other metals tools grey. I’m just
do this as a matter of filthy habit I guess:
Rear: I’ve painted what I believe is a red fire extniguisher on the rear engine
deck to add abit of colour:
As you can see, the whole lot got a good dowsing in dull-cote before the tracks
were weathered, sealed and glued onto the chassis. Nearly there, just the final weathering to be done: