You can’t use a regular panel line marker for a painted Gunpla kit (well, you can try but no guarantees that it will look very good)! So what’s a modeler to do? Today, contributor Megaplamo shows us how to do a panel-line wash for painted Gunpla models:
You did it! You painted your first kit! Maybe you spent a lot of time outside with spray cans. Perhaps you did some amazing hand-painting work. You might have even managed to get that thinning ratio correct for your airbrush.
Whatever the technique, you finally have a painted kit! Now, all that’s left to do is add some panel lines. You reach for your trusty Gunpla Marker and you make your first panel line… and the results are terrible! It doesn’t mark consistently, makes a mess and even scratches the paint! What went wrong?
As it turns out, painted Gunpla require a different panel lining technique: panel line washing. Today, I’ll show you how to apply a panel line wash for Gunpla.
A panel line wash differs from regular panel lining because it isn’t done with a marker. You use paint and a paintbrush to apply these panel lines. You also use acrylic or enamel paint (instead of the oil-based paint in a Gunpla Marker) to make sure it adheres to your painted model without damage or fading.
This is a fairly common problem for model painters, so usually, you can buy a pre-mixed panel line wash specifically for this purpose. There are several panel line washes that come in many colors to match different painted finishes. Many come pre-thinned, though some painters like to thin and mix their own. For the sake of simplicity, I’m going to write about two main types: acrylic and enamel. Each has its pros and cons. This tutorial will help you decide what is right for you.
For this tutorial I used:
- HGUC Z’Gok E
- Tamiya panel line enamel wash
- Zippo lighter fluid (as an enamel paint thinner)
- Vallejo Mecha Blue Gray base paint
- Vallejo Mecha Gloss varnish
As we shared in our Paint Types 101 article, the recommended order for layering paints is as follows: Plastic part > Primer > Lacquer > Enamel > Acrylic. This is to prevent the thinner from eating away from the other paint types. In this tutorial, the order used is Primer > Acrylic Base > Acrylic Clear > Enamel > Acrylic Topcoat. Notice that both of the paint types recommended for panel washes are high up in the paint layering structure—because panel washes are typically done as the final step in painting a Gunpla (before topcoat).
The Pros and Cons of an Acrylic Panel Wash
Acrylics are water-based; they don’t have a strong smell and are nontoxic. They are a good option for a beginner or someone who doesn’t want to put up with fumes.
Acrylics also clean up with water or alcohol so you won’t have to worry about strong thinners. At the very top of the paint layering order, acrylics are also the least “hot,” or caustic, of the two. That means you won’t have to worry about an acrylic wash eating the plastic or previous layers of paint.
The downside to acrylics (or upside depending on who you ask) is that they do not clean it up very easily, and they will leave a stain if you let them dry before wiping up the excess. Usually, you have enough time to work with them and worst case scenario you can gently use some alcohol or acrylic airbrush thinner to remove any extra paint. Just be careful not to remove previous layers of paint. Due to the nature of acrylic washes, they are safe to use on bare plastic, so if there is part of the model that you don’t paint but would still like to panel line, acrylics are a safe bet.
The Pros and Cons of an Enamel Panel Wash
Enamels are my personal favorite for washes. Enamels flow more smoothly than acrylics and are easier to clean up. Because enamel is considered a “hot” or caustic paint, you will need to be careful about where you use it. Never put enamel on bare plastic because it will make it brittle and cause it to break, or in some cases melt. A good rule of thumb is that lacquers like Mr. Hobby will be fine, other enamels are a no go, and acrylics will require testing on a spoon before attempting the wash and cleaning process on a model. Be aware that enamels have a strong smell. Be sure to use them in a well-vented area or with a mask rated for organic vapors.
I use Zippo lighter fluid to wash up my enamels because it’s cheap, has little odor, and dries very quickly. However, you can use any enamel thinner.
Applying an Enamel Wash
Before starting your wash, I recommend a clear coat of varnish or topcoat to protect your previous work and to aid in the flow of the wash.
To use a wash, simply dip your brush into the wash and then touch the panel line with your brush. The paint will fill the line through capillary action. (It’s really fun to watch.)
For warmer colors like orange or red, brown is a good option. Black is the best option for colder colors such as dark blue.
Once the panel line wash has been applied to each individual panel line, you can wait about 30 minutes for it to dry. Then use the enamel thinner to clean up the excess paint. For a cleaner look, use a Q-tip, and for a more blended look, use a brush. (In the picture I am using a brush but I decide to go back and use a Q-tip for a clean look before finishing, I recommend trying out both to see what you prefer.)
Continue this process all over the model and be sure to have good lighting to look for any smudges. You will notice that the thinner will not affect the Vallejo clear varnish and you can remove smudges like you have an eraser! Once you line the whole model be sure to double, triple or even quadruple check for anything you need to clean up before spraying your final topcoat or varnish.
Applying an Acrylic Wash
To panel line wash with water-based acrylic, follow the same steps but instead of waiting for it to dry use a slightly wet Q-tip to clean up excess paint as you go along. Some areas may leave stains that you can clean up with a touch of the same paint as your base coat or very gently clean it up with alcohol but be extra careful not to damage the base coat. You will want to barely touch the model and use a slight amount of alcohol.
Acrylic panel line washes are not as clean as enamels and are not my preferred method. However, depending on your situation, they can still be a good option. I use them on unpainted parts of the model and clean up with 91% isopropyl alcohol.
Once the wash is complete and the final coat of varnish is dried you have a very nice and subtle panel line like in the pictures below:
Don’t forget to share this tutorial with a fellow Gunpla builder and leave us a comment in the comment section below!
Megaplamo has been building plastic models since 2001. When not building he plays the guitar, bikes, and travels. He lives near the Gulf Coast of Alabama where he and his wife are teaching their two cats to become productive members of society. You can follow @megaplamo on Instagram for current projects, completed projects, and Gunpla building tips.