Paint color call-outs in kit instructions, believe ’em? Mfg’s own paint #s…

“Propwash” over on the site asked the following, excellent, question, and I put together a pretty good reply, I thought:

Q: “I have 2 Academy P-51s, a ‘C’ and ‘D’ type, however, there do not appear to be any colour codes on one, and the other has 3 numbers (3,9,10) in triangles, but no hint of the paint manufacturer they refer to.Is this normal for Academy? I can work out the colours of course, but it would have been nice to have a chart to look at……..”

A: You’re asking some terrific questions, but the answers aren’t short!

1) Different kit-makers use different ways of identifying what color you should paint what on a kit.

1.1) Probably the most important thing to remember is that the kit maker’s instructions MAY NOT BE CORRECT! Its your model, you can accept what they say, or what someone posts on the internet, or what’s in a hobby magazine or book, or what’s on the specimen at the local museum, or what reasoned argument with your pals tells you.

1.2) Second most important is that any given kit maker will use either their own brand of paint, a brand they are ‘friendly’ with, or perhaps a range of particular pre-mixed paints. So even if they know the correct color, and even if they mean to tell you the correct color, if they’re Dragon/DML or Hasegawa they’ll likely indicate whichever Gunze-Sanyo color they think is the best match. If Gunze-Sanyo doesn’t offer a very good match to the actual color… the results are not going to be very good.

Tamiya and Revell Germany give mixing instructions (using their own paint #s) for colors not available out-of-the-bottle, but don’t necessarily give a *name* for the resulting color, just names for the elements used in the mix. When the results are normal colors which are standard and available premixed in other brands, the results make commercial sense, but aren’t a great help to the gentle modeler. (Cite examples from Revell Hurricane IIB, Tamiya Mustang GT and an airplane kit)

1.3) While kit instructions are written for each kit by each manufacturer, the real things were subject to both reality (materials such as bare aluminum, stainless steel, rubber tires, etc have the own colors) and applicable standards. For military airplanes,
United States Army/Navy (WWII US) “A/N612 Interior Green…”
Modern US: Federal Standard 595a & b “FS 36440 Flat Light Gull Gray”
US Navy, WWII (Measure 05 light gray)
British WWI (name?) “Green Drab PC10”
RAF/RN (WWII) “Sky” “Night”, “Dark Earth”, “Extra Dark Sea Gray”, etc.
German WWII: what are called “RLM” but are mostly Luftwaffe: RLM 02 Gray (this IS an RLM color), “65 Light Blue”, “66 Black”, etc.
Contemporary German – RAL #s
Japanese WWII: Named colors for Imperial Japanese Army, Imperial Japanese Navy, and specific depots and manufacturers.
Italian WWII – named colors
Russian WWII – named colors with USSR number system defining the names

Regardless of what the kit instructions say, the typical 1940s USAAF airplane either had Neutral Gray underside and Olive Drab topside, possibly with Dark Green mottle on the leading and trailing edges of the airfoils, or were Natural Metal, on the outside. US Navy aircraft from the 1950s to the 1980s were FS595a 36440 Flat Gull Grey or 26440 semi-gloss Gull Gray or 16440 Glossy Gull Gray over 17xxx Glossy White. Early WWII RAF airplanes in the UK were Dark Earth and Dark Brown upper side, with Aluminum, Aluminum, White and Black, Sky, or Sky and Black undersurfaces/.

(Descriptions and examples will be provided for the list below:)
Academy put letters (A-Z) on the plan which are defined in a simple table: A = Dark Blue, B = White, C = Steel, etc. The letters don’t corespond to any particular brand of paint.

>Airfix gave names in the old days, then switched to providing the paint numbers for Airfix brand paint. (I’ll check recent Airfix instructions and report what I find)

Bilek, a Czech outfit who re-issue Airfix and Heller molds, give …
Kiel Kraft
Minicraft (recent)
Monogram were providing Federal Standard #s, very nice for US subjects, somewhat problematic for others.
Revell Germany put letters on the plan which are defined at a table at the beginning. The table uses Revell Germany paint #s, both for out-of-the-bottle (“A 111 Light Gray”) and for specified mixes “Z Blue-green: 20% 333 + 80% 222”.
HOWEVER, they also provide color names in a large number of languages for each of their numbered colors.

Tamiya use their paint numbers in the plan, X-1, XF-16, TS-26, for glossy black, flat aluminum and glossy white spray, respectivly. A table at the beginning of the plan gives names in several languages, Japanese, German, English.

2) Sooooo: if your Academy kit calls for /A and /B and /C colors and then defines them as Silver, Black, Interior Green (for example) you need to stand back and filter that:
2.1) Probably Testor’s oil-based Chrome Silver, glossy Black and Nakajima, Mitsubishi or RAF Interior Green are NOT what you wanted for a P-38 or a P-51.

2.2) Lesson one. Natural Metal Finish, aka NMF, or Bare Metal Finish, BMF, is REALLY hard to model correctliy. While there are many paths to a pleasing effect, no kit instruction I have seen in 45 years of building kits has captured what I believe it takes to make a reasonable model airplane or car model with large areas of bare metal. Its specialized knowlege and a constant source of curiosity and experiment, kinda like the guitar players “quest for tone”… ie, never ending.

2.3) For example, on a P-38, you’ll have
bare aluminum areas,
two mirror-polished aluminum areas on the inner engine nacelle that allow the pilot to see if the landing gear is down or up,
turbo-supercharger exhaust (steel/??? that’s been well heated),
I believe some fabric covered control surfaces painted with ‘aluminum’ dope
Possibly some stainless steel skinning near the turbo-supercharger
Gun barrels and air-cooling shrouds
Pitot tube
Reflectors in the landing lights
Landing gear oleo legs, which really ARE chromed
Landing gear wheels and legs which may appear to be bare metal but may be painted ‘aluminum’ or ‘steel’.

There’s nothing wrong with painting the whole business from one tin/jar of ‘Silver’ or ‘Aluminum’ or what have you. From the distance you’d have to stand back from a real airplane to see it as you see a 1/72 model at a ‘normal’ viewing angle, there probably aren’t more than 2 or 3 distinguishable colors/tints/tones to the natural metal area, and the play of light and shadow completely overwhem the small variations in ‘absolute’ color. Maybe 3 or 4 tones are possible for a 1/48 or 1/32 kit. This includes using a piece of shiny side metal foil for the landing light reflector…

If you put a dark wash over the guns and turbosupercharger, a flat or Dulcote on the fabric covered surfaces, polish or use Chrome Silver on the oleo legs, I think anyone who faulted your choices would be hard pressed to explain why. IPMS/USA rules certainly don’t speak to color ‘accuracy’ at this level because its just too subjective. They judge negatively and on craft- symmetry of shape, color, decals, square or correct alignments, kit seams and tooling marks made invisible, lack of glue globs, nothing out-of-scale visible, no tooling marks, no brush marks, no wrinkled decals, no airbubbles under decals, no dust, hair or orange-peel effect marring the paint… This knocks out about 95% of all entries, long before anything more than ‘silver’ paint is needed, in competition.

For your own satisfaction, do what makes you feel good. I built a 1/400 Dragon airliner kit, same size as a die-cast. I used one tone of flat aluminum for the jet engine intake lips, a shinier polished aluminum tone for the leading edges (possibly accurate for the vertical fin but maybe not the wings, on an A-320), a burned metal color for the engine ‘hot sections’, very shiny ‘silver’ for the gear leg oleos. Had it been a 737 I’d have painted the front landing gear wheels an ‘aluminum paint’ color- flatter-than-flat aluminum, maybe washed with flat or thinned white…Later I built a 1/400 widebody and used ‘flat aluminum’ everywhere. Looks pretty good too!

Back to your P-38, you’ll need to consult photos of (ideally) the plane you are modeling at the time you are modeling it. Next best is planes from the same unit at the same time, then other units at the same time or same unit different time, etc, etc. Just like one of those forensic shows on TV.

More fun comes for landing gear door interiors, gear wells, cockpits and the inside of scoops leading to radiators, intercoolers, air intakes and the like.

Some gear doors are natural metal everywhere, some painted inside with primer (yellow or green Zinc chromate) some with “interior green” which is zinc chromate tinted with black and possibly aluminum paste. Vought used “Indian Red”, as in the sub continent India, to tint zinc chromate primer on the SECOND coat inside gear wells and inside gear doors- the product was a sorta salmon color (remember, they were tinting yellow-green zinc chromate, not a darker green zinc-chromate + black). Check your photos, they’re mostly black and white so guess, ask your significant other, read online, read books and magazines. Isn’t this fun?

“interior green” is a USA Army/Navy shade numbered 612, but actually no paint of this shade was made. The 612 color was what the manufacturer was supposed to tint their zinc chromate primer to… using black and possibly aluminum paste. The reason for the tint is 1) neutral color easy on aircrew eyes 2) tinted primer makes it apparent whether the first primer coat, not tinted, has been covered completely by the second coat.
So if you’d like to get REALLY into it, get some zinc chromate Testor’s Acryl and black Acryl and tint the zinc chromate as close to ‘interior green’ as you can get. Maybe add some aluminum if you think its called for.

British interor green WAS a particular color, a paint, which had fuel-proof qualities. Every inch of the wooden structure of a de Havilland Mosquito which wasn’t camoflagued was painted with the fuel-proof interior green.
Hawker Hurricanes were *largely* painted this color but some photos clearly show the steel and aluminum tubes and brackets of the structure were painted silver (there can be NO question of bare metal on in-service WWII Hawker airframes…) Interiors of wheel wells and the like were often painted ‘aluminum’ on UK airplanes, because aluminumized laquer was great at protecting cloth airplanes and the requirements dated back to the cloth and wood era… and there were more important things and updating such. And underside colors quickly got into gear wells on single engined fighters since underside colors on fighters could be ‘silver’ (ie aluminum), white, black, ‘sky’, ‘sea gray medium’ or ‘special night’, a very, very, flat black. Specifications changed during the first 3 years of WWII and many aircraft undersides were repainted in the field- some planes may have carried all of the colors listed above.

Some of us thought, from recovered relics, that in the 1930s and 40s Mitsubishi had used a translucent blue for interior color, but it now appears that they used a grayish green, and Nakajima used a grayish green, but they were different grayish greens. The Soviets used a greenish gray, but worked under tremendous strain and so a wide range of colors could be ‘correct’. The German standard was RLM 02, a brownish-gray but they quickly added flat black above a certain waterline, as did the UK later in the war. No doubt the Italians, French, Belgians, Poles, etc, etc, etc. all had their own standards for building and for maintenance too.

And in the USA, Bell used a “bronze green” of their own devising, and Boeing and North American proposed a slightly different “bronze green” for cockpits and othe inhabited spaces.

By the way, on the P-51, the laminar flow wing that was thought to be so special was puttied and sanded and painted, even if the fuselage was bare metal, so your P-51 in bare metal has bare metal, aluminum laquer on the wings and aluminum dope on the fabric covered control surfaces.

I’ll let you or someone else discuss black, flat black, glossy black, wrinke-finish black, black tires, etc etc. Just to keep it interesting, remember that early WWII USAAF airplane propellers were ordered to be painted with a mix of glossy or semi-glossy black paint and gasoline (!) to produce a flat black finish over the previous shiny polished metal…. So black on a tire and black on a control box in the cockpit and black on a propeller blade and black anti-slip strips on the wing and black stripes or other markings are, or could be, wait for it, different colors…

Is this fun, or what?

Bill Abbott

9 responses to “Paint color call-outs in kit instructions, believe ’em? Mfg’s own paint #s…

  1. I just finished tracking down another instance- Tamiya (and perhaps others) indicate the sheet metal on the underside of their 1994 Ford Mustang Convertable kit should be “Body color” , and they even tell you the stock colors Ford offered and how to use Tamiya paint to match. So far, so good.

    HOWEVER, Ford’s 1994 Mustang production line dipped the bodies in brownish/greenish/goldish primer, baked it, sanded and spotted by hand, then an automated spray system put the color coats over that.. and the spray system did NOT spray the underside of the chassis!

    Yes, the outside was painted “Body color” and yes, the bumper covers and trunk-top ‘wing’ are all “Body color” and so are the inner front fenders and the inside of the front of the engine compartment- the top of the front suspension, the area of the front engine mount, area the radiator mounts to, inside of doors, passenger compartment, truck, etc.

    BUT, on the underside, above the exhaust pipe, or above the transmission and driveshaft, or above the rear axle, or surrounding the gas tank, its a brownish/greenish/goldish indeterminate color.

    So paint you model Mustang carefully! Body color, whatever you choose, where it can be seen from above, a primer, now the brownish, etc stuff, in the 1960s, good old dark red-brown iron oxide, or gray, or some other primer-y color.

    I’ve read that Ford used to dispose of unwanted paint by pouring it into the vat of primer that the assembled body was dipped into… so color is variable, and Mustangs were made at more than one factory. Start searching the net for this stuff and there’s a lot of it about the vintage cars.

    I was clued into this by a video my son used to watch, “How A Car Is Made”, with I.Q. Parrot visiting the Mustang assembly line in Dearborn in the 1994 or later (pre big-side-scoop) year. You can see the underside color when the workers are installing the engine, from below, the driveshaft, rear axle, etc. You can see the overspray of color against the primer, and before the color is laid on, you get to see the bodies in primer only being worked on.

    Various owner’s posts write about the greenish or goldish tone, but I make it out brown and used RLM-02 grau in a semi-gloss with pleasing results.
    Even better with some Body color overspray!

  2. Hey, I have a question. This is my first time building a model. I had a question about painting. On my models instructions it only tells me to paint certain parts, while leaving i.e. the body, or barrel with no color at all. And i’m sure that the body or barrel is not tan! So i’m wondering what do i do about this, Thanks!

    • Hi Brandon,
      Yep, painting instructions range from well intentioned to incomplete… and there ARE good ones too.
      So the body or barrel or whatever of this object you’re building comes in a tan material (styrene plastic? resin? ) and you’d expect it to be another color.
      You’ve got painting instructions for this and that little piece, but not for the bigger piece(s).

      It may be the maker thought tan was OK, and you don’t agree. Model companies do sometimes make mistakes.

      It may be they expect only people into the subject will buy the kit and will have their own idea of a base color for the barrel/body/whatever. This is more likely for a specialty kit made by semi-professionals- the “Cottage Industry” or “Garage” source. Resin kits, of, say, original Star Trek tv show blasters, in resin, might not have overall painting instrructions, but specify the fine detals

      It may be that this is a model of a real object which was finished in a variety of ways, all different, none more ‘right’ than the others. Like a car,
      for example. So various little bits are defined colors- turn signals, door handles, but the body itself is up to you.

      In any event, its your model, if you think it should all be painted, and you’re willing to try, then by all means paint it.

      1) Its easier to paint with a larger, flat, brush, if you brush paint.
      2) Spray cans look easist but DO require some care. Best to practice on something (empty bottle, discarded toy, etc.) before spraying your valuable model.
      3) Once you’ve painted some of the details, spraypainting means either covering or at least sprinkling them with the spray paint unless they’re masked with tape, paper, etc.
      4) Putting masking on and taking it off can be hard on some finishes.

      Can you tell me what the model is supposed to be, what color and what material lits made from, and how you think it should look?


  3. Hello Bill,

    Your article is very informative on the complexities introduced by the different kit manufacturers when it comes to colouring.

    I am currently working on a Trumpeter Hurricane Mk1 and have been having to contend with deciphering the colour call outs.

    This kits instructions always gives two paint numbers for every part. The first number equates to a Humbrol paint number and is a number with a box around it. Right next to it is another number that is boxed but is completely inversed. So the first number is black print, white background, black box, the second number is white print, black background, black box.

    Can you please let me know what the significance of the second number is and what is its relationship to the first number.

    Your advice in this matter is eagerly sought.

    • Thank you, Antony.
      Short form: I believe both numbers are Gunze-Sangyo, the left, black letters on white background, are for Gunze “Aqueous Hobby Colour”, (water based acrylic), the right, white letters on black, are for “Mr Colour” (oil based enamel)

      On the glossy, color, sheet (in another Trumpeter kit) that shows the marking options, the helpful label at the bottom reads:

      On the glossy sheet entries like:
      “H[ 3 ][ 3 ]” (points to red)
      “H[ 61 ][ 35 ]” (points to white)
      show how it works.

      In the plain-paper and black ink instructions to the same kit (1/72 Gannet AS.MK1/4), I see a similar pattern- two numbers in square boxes, with the capital letter “H” starting it all, with a color name in Chinese and English:

      Black on White
      | /—- White on Black
      “H[ 8 ][ 8 ]


      These designators are used, without any explanation, on the plain paper and black lines assembly instructions:

      In the notes on the front page of the instructions, some hope is provided by the second note from the bottom- “Glue and paint are not included in the kit. Use plastic cement and hobby paints only. Color guide for purchasing paint is included in the kit

      ! wouldn’t be surprised if the Aqueous (and Mr Colour) colours are generally numbered the same as Humbroil.

      The Gannet kit sheets list:
      H[ 2 ][ 2 ] Black
      H[ 3 ][ 3 ] Red
      H[ 4 ][ 4 ] Yellow
      H[ 8 ][ 8 ] Silver
      H[ 12 ][ 33 ] Flat Black
      H[ 37 ][ 43 ] Wood Brown
      H[ 61 ][ 35 ] IJN Gray (wheel well interior? ) *
      H[ 74 ][ 26 ] Light Gray Green (afaik British Sky…) **
      H[ 76 ][ 61 ] Burnt Iron
      H[ 77 ][ 137 ] Tire Black
      H[ 90 ][ 47 ] Clear Red ( Port wingtip & red nav. lights)
      H[ 94 ][ ] Clear Green, no Mr. Colour version (Stbd…)***
      H[ 331 ][ 331 ] Dark Sea Gray **
      H[ 337 ][ 337 ] Gray Blue ****

      Notes and comments:

      * The glossy color guide lists H[ 61 ][ 35 ] IJN Gray, a silvery gray color, for the nose-wheel-well interior, while the plain paper instructions call for H[ 8 ][ 8 ] Silver. Both call for H[ 8 ][ 8 ] Silver for the nose gear strut. Nothing specific is stated for the main gear wells or the inside of the gear well doors. General UK practice, from the 1920s until somewhere in the 1960s, was aluminum paint on landing gear wells, doors, struts and wheels. But gear wells, in particular, are notorious for getting dust, dirt, grease smears and fluid stains, and the patina of age over whatever they were originally painted… So a flat silvery gray might be a good rendition of aged aluminum paint… Dry brushing one over the other might be even better, and a brownish wash wouldn’t hurt. Your mileage may vary…
      The point to using aluminum paint is that its VERY opaque- the metal particles don’t allow a lot of light through, and thus nothing near visible light will get through to degrade whatever is under it.

      ** The canonical “Post-war” Fleet Air Arm (FAA) aircraft colors are Extra Dark Sea Gray topsides and Sky undersides, carried up the sides of the fuselage, fin and rudder. BS381C/640 is the official Extra Dark Sea Gray designation, BS381C/210 is Sky. H[ 74 ][ 26 ] Gray Green may be Gunze’s closest match to Sky (frequently called “Sky (type S)”, meaning smooth…)

      The kit color guide suggestion of H[ 331 ][ 331 ] Dark Sea Gray may be closest to the RN’s Extra Dark Sea Gray, or may represent Trumpeter offering some ‘scale effect’ (lightening dark colors, darkening light colors) advice for the best looking finish.

      *** Port aka left wingtip lights are red (left, red, get it?) and Starboard aka right wingtip lights are green, but the traditional Stbd. lamp covers for airplanes and ships are closer to a blue-green. This may be because the most stable and long-lived pigment is blue-green (copper oxide?) or because yellow incandescent lamp light with a blue filter gives a green light… A kelly or forest green wouldn’t be wrong, but a blue-green would be more likely.

      **** H[ 337 ][ 337 ] Gray Blue might be the closest match to standard RAF/RN Interior gray-green, a fuel and hydraulic-fluid proof paint, or it might be a “jet age” interior color more like the Dark Gull Gray used in USN interiors from the 1950s onward. I’ll have to look into this…


  4. Hi very good site you have! I was wondering If you would like to add a link to each others sites?
    Please check out my new blog
    Regards Neil

  5. Hello Bill,

    Thank you for your fast reply. I have examined the color guide in detail in the past as it was this document that I hoped to decipher the call outs.

    Then I noticed at the very bottom in small print was a legend indicating that the two numbers actually referred to two different paint manufacturers that are friendly with Trumpeter.

    While most of the colors are similar to the ones identified in historical texts, a few are only close.

    So now that I know how Trumpeter indicates which part is what color, I am going to recode the color guide to better reflect what the aircraft colors actually were and then match them with the correct Humbrol paint or mix.

    This should give me a fairly color accurate model.

    Thanks again Bill. Without your input I would not have been able to work out the call outs.

  6. Hey Antony,
    I’m delighted to have helped! If your Hurricane’s color guide calls for something other than Gunze-Sangyo Aqueous Colour and Gunze-Sangyo Mr Colour, would you post it here for others? Someone might loose or their color reference or recieve a second-hand kit without it.

    Happy modelling- send a link to a photo of your Hurricane when its finished!


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