Raise a bandaged hand if you’ve ever injured yourself while building Gunpla. Between nippers, hobby knives and strong-smelling paints, the tools we use to assemble our kits and make them look great are no joke. The start of a new year is as good a time as any to review your Gunpla safety protocols, particularly when it comes to painting and working with resin. Let Megaplamo walk you through some best practices.
Sometimes the tools we use in our hobby get a bad rap. People warn us about lacquer-based paint and talk about resin as if it’s radioactive. If that’s not scaremongering enough, you still might get intimidated by the California Prop 65 warning slapped on just about everything.
Painting or customizing Gunpla isn’t dangerous. That said, we do come into contact with various tools and products that we need to be respectful of—and use in a way that is respectful to the people, pets, and environment around us. With that in mind, I want to talk about some techniques that will keep us safe and healthy while enjoying this hobby.
There are generally 5 safety precautions that we may take. Whether you use all 5 or just one depends on what you are doing. Just keep in mind that when customizing Gunpla as a hobby, it never hurts to take more precautions than you think might be necessary, rather than less.
The precautions are as follows:
- Wear gloves (Nitrile gloves recommended)
- Wear a mask (my choice is the Honeywell Home North 5500 Series Niosh-Approved Half Mask Respirator)
- Wear eye protection (I use Solid Safety goggles)
- Wet sand (use sandpaper dampened with water to minimize fine particles in the air)
- Work outside or in a designated workspace for easy clean-up
Everyone will have different needs and access to different products depending on their location. I personally use and recommend Nitrile gloves, Solid Safety goggles, Honeywell Home North 5500 Series Niosh-Approved Half Mask Respirator with organic vapor-rated cartridges (very Important when painting) and a particulate filter on top. When it comes to wet sanding I’m not picky, but this pack of multi-grit sandpaper is a good pick. I also have a workbench and a spray booth as my designated workspace to keep all the clean-up in one spot.
Gunpla building safety
When working with styrene (the standard Gunpla plastic), we want to be mindful of cutting and sanding. When cutting with a hobby knife, always cut away from your body or toward the cutting mat. When using nippers, be mindful of flying nubs! When I cut them they usually fly everywhere. Once I even got one in my eye! Luckily, I was fine, but I now wear eye protection in order to avoid that situation happening again. You may also consider wearing eye protection if this is a problem for you.
When doing small amounts of sanding, styrene can be pretty manageable. However, if you are doing some larger modifications, then I recommend a technique called wet sanding. Simply wet your sandpaper or sanding sponge and continue sanding, ideally in a circular motion, working your way up from a low grit sandpaper to a higher grit over time. Wetsanding will keep the dust from going airborne—and it results in a smoother finish. If I am heavy sanding styrene, I will use a dust mask instead of the full respirator.
For more info on removing nub marks check out our article on the topic: How to Remove Nub Marks And Avoid Stress Marks on Gunpla.
Working with resin
Resin is a material often used in conversion kits, garage kits, and 3D-printed parts. If you prefer to do out-of-the-box builds, you probably won’t come into contact with this substance. Resin is easy to access and is a valuable tool for customizers and people who make small batches of garage kits.
A resin piece by itself is safe. The toxicity comes from the airborne particles produced when the hobbyist begins cutting and sanding. The first step is to put on gloves, a mask, and eye protection. Next, use the wet sanding technique I described earlier. This will keep the particles from becoming airborne and make this a much safer process. If it’s a clear day, I recommend working on resin outdoors. If that’s not an option, I think it’s best to have a designated workspace with a cutting mat or a piece of craft paper that you can wipe off to dispose of any toxic particles when you’re finished. For those of you who may want to cast your own parts, be sure to use a OV (organic vapor) respirator while mixing.
Putty, plastic cement and glue
When working with these materials, I recommend wearing gloves for two reasons: first, to protect your skin and second, to protect your work from fingerprints. Treat putty the same way you would treat paint—if it’s water-based, wear a mask when sanding (it is still resin after all), and if it’s lacquer-based, work in a well ventilated area or use a respirator. Plastic cement is a compound that melts plastic, which means it releases chemicals as it works. You can wear a respirator indoors in a well-ventilated area, or simply use it outdoors. The same goes for glue: don’t forget to avoid fumes, protect your eyes, and keep from getting the glue on your skin.
This is the safest way to apply paint, especially if it’s water-based. If it’s enamel-based, be sure to have good ventilation, and go outside if necessary. I have asthma so I’m a little more sensitive to strong solvents. I personally prefer to work near an open window or turn on my spray booth when I’m using these paints. This may not be the case for everyone.
When you are airbrushing or doing any kind of spray painting, use all of your safety gear at all times. Paint and its solvents become atomized when they are sprayed through an airbrush, and they should not be inhaled. Goggles can protect your eyes from paint in the air or a possible splatter. Gloves will protect your skin.
A few words of caution:
If you smell a solvent when airbrushing, it’s time to change the filter on your mask.
If you see a mist in the air, you may need to replace the filter on your spray booth or open a window.
You should take these precautions even if the paint you’re using to airbrush is water-based. Even though water-based paint won’t smell as strongly, it’s still important to wear a mask to protect yourself from the atomized pigments and solvents in the thinner.
It’s best to use the usual precautions, but stay outside. In my experience, a spray booth isn’t strong enough to vent out the paint fumes that come from a spray can.
Remember to always be mindful of the other people and pets in your household, and to choose products that are the best for you and your building situation. When I lived in a small apartment with several roommates, I stuck to hand painting and outdoor spray painting, and got some great results. Now that I have my own space and a spray booth, I’m all about airbrushing with lacquer paint while using the necessary safety precautions.
Sometimes it might feel like you spend so much time thinking about fume mitigation and chemicals that the line between a model painter and a chemist starts to get blurry! However, don’t let that worry you or take the fun out of the hobby. It only takes a few extra steps to ensure that you will stay happy and healthy while you create your next Gunpla masterpiece!
Megaplamo lives on the Gulf Coast of Alabama where he paints everything from Gunpla to vinyl garage kits. Megaplamo has been building model kits since the early 2000s and loves to share any and all information he has learned on his journey. You can find Megaplamo on all social media as @megaplamo although he is the most active on Instagram.