Tag Archives: alcohol based paint

“Water” based model paints. Testor’s Acryl, Polly-Scale, Tamiya, Gunze-Sanyo and now Vallejo


I build (or at least start) a fair number of plastic models, particularly airplanes and cars, but also the occasional ‘other’ – a ship, figure, military vehicle, space-craft, etc. Polly-Scale is my #1 choice for model paint and and Testor’s Model Master Acryl is #2. They are what I buy if I give a model and brushing paint as a present.

Polly-Scale has the finest-ground pigments, and I’m used to working with it, so I find it easier to use, in terms of brushing cover, ease in avoiding brush marks or drips and lumps, drying time, etc. Each of the major brands of ‘water based’ paints have distinct and unique solvent and drying systems and for flat paint I find Polly-Scale‘s system the best- it goes on thinnest and covers in the least number of coats.

Testor’s Model Master Acryl is my second favorite. It has a range of gloss-finish paints, unknown in Polly Scale, color matches to a wide variety of original standard military AND automotive colors., and straight-forward primary colors for doing one’s one mixing. It is widely available, slightly more so than Polly Scale, and it costs $2.99 a bottle versus $3.99 for Polly Scale. So the same $12 + tax gets you 4 bottles of Acryl, or 3 bottles of Polly Scale, at most stores. You can still get Polly Scale for $2.99 a bottle at some places, though….

Tamiya and Gunze-Sanyo are tied for third in my world- they use a water and alcohol solvent, not just water; they have a lot of gloss colors which are perhaps more demanding than Testor’s Acryl to apply well, they can become thicker on your parts than you’d really wanted, and they don’t seem to dry as innert as Polly-Scale or Acryl. Gunze-Sanyo gloss colors, in particular, don’t ever seem to dry. A topcoat is needed. Tamiya gloss feels firm and strong but wears very easily. Luckily, all of these paints react well to Future Floor Wax, so bringing up a gloss is no problem.
All four of theses paints require thorough stirring. Just like house paint. I use a little stainless steel paddle I got in Chemistry class many decades ago, but a nice piece of 12 AWG solid copper wire, or stainless steel or aluminum wire works nearly as well. Stirr the paint until you’re absolutely convinced it is completely mixed. Then stir it for 1 minute more. Remember to raise the stirrer from time to time to mix between the top and bottom of the bottle.

Vallejo, from Spain, are the newest kids on the block. They’re water based acrylics with a stunning selection, and all packed in 17ml squeeze bottles. I get a sense they started out aiming especially for the figure market- little metal or plastic warriors, fantasy figures or dinosaurs, although there are some airplane-oriented colors in their range. They sort chromatically, rather than by nation and branch of military service, or rail-line…. The paint itself is about right for brushing, maybe even a little thick. It sticks well, color is dense and the bronze green and dayglo orange I’ve used look good and stay in place months later. I’ll have to try spraying it or applying it over a large area some time…

Some historical notes:

It was a very long time ago that I first saw Polly-Scale, then called “Polly-S“, acrylic paint for model builders. Back in the 1970s. I’d used artist’s acrylics for various purposes and both enjoyed them and recognized their differences from oil based paints. Back in those days, there were two US model paint suppliers available widely, Pactra and Testor’s, and it was pretty easy to find Humbroil from the UK, in the little tins like miniature housepaint cans. There were lots of other model paints- seemingly every model company had its own brand of paint and glue during the 1960s, and there was at least one model paint company founded on providing exact matches for ‘official’ military colors.

Oil paints were very democratic. You could mix any with any other, thin them all with paint thinner from the hardware store, and they all had similar working characteristics. Testors and Humbroil seemed to have the finest ground pigments, and Humbroil had a seemingly vast range of flat/matt/matte finishes, which were a real step forward from glossy primary and secondary colors from the 9 bottle ‘paint set’- black white, red, blue, yellow, orange, green, purple and thinner. Actually, purple was so loaded with cultural meaning it was probably not sold in the sets- maybe you got gray or “flesh” (peachy caucasian skin tone, sorta) instead, or maybe the basic assortment was 8 bottles… Oil paints disolved in model glue too- so you didn’t have to be that scrupulous about scraping paint off surfaces to be joined, the glue would get through ‘some’ paint. Best of all, because of the vanishingly low surface tension of the hydrocarbon base, you could do a reasonable job of painting most colors onto your model with just one coat, and if you were reasonably careful, not many brush-marks. (yes, several, thinner, coats would have made for a better finish. But we’re talking 8-12 year olds here…)

Polly S was different. First and foremost, it was water based, Second, it was VERY flat and VERY thin- one coat wouldn’t cover much, unless you were painting a flat color over a plastic that was basicly the same color. So you had to apply multiple coats, and it would leave brush marks if you weren’t good at brushing it out thin.

On the other hand, you could work with it all day indoors without stinking up your room, or the basement/garage. And when it dried it was VERY inert- oil based enamels do undergo a chemical change as they dry, and simply applying thinner will not soften them and return them to the pre-dried state, but thinner and some friction WILL remove them. Not so Polly S. Once it was dry, you could sand it off, and that was about it. Ask me how I know… And it dried quickly too!