by: Mario Matijasic [ ]
Let's face it, the decals are just not good enough to realistically simulate painted markings on a scale model. The markings on a real vehicle are usually painted using stencils or templates and I feel nothing can replicate the look of the painted markings in scale like... well, like the painted markings themselves. These kind of markings are painted using masks and are, unlike decals, very easy to weather uniformly with the rest of the model.
I started using paint masks for my models some time ago. The simpler masks I usually design myself using the masking tape, while the more complex ones were cut for me by the local company. For the recent project, however, I needed really tiny lettering which the company just could not handle. Reluctant to use decals, I stumbled upon Miracle Paint Masks website, run by our own Mal Mayfield, and asked if the lettering could be done... a short while later I received my masks.
High-quality paint masks are an essential tool in the process of painting markings on a model, which ultimately results in extremely realistic finish in scale. For this particular project I designed my own masks using Corel Draw software. If you not familiar with the program, contact Mal directly, supply him with some reference photos of a subject you are modeling, and he can design the masks for you. Mal also offers several pre-designed sets of paint masks, but those are mostly oriented to wingy thingies.
The paint mask sheet from Miracle Masks arrived inside a regular envelope. The masking material is only 80 microns thick and specifically designed for masking purposes. The material is also semi-transparent, which helps when positioning the masks on the model. Since painting markings is still not common in modeling, Miracle Masks always includes very comprehensive instructions with each set of masks. The instructions are clear and easy to follow, perfectly illustrating the masking procedure in detail. Number of spare masks are included as well, allowing a lot of practice before actually placing the masks on the model.
Application of the masks:
Iíll try to demonstrate the complete procedure of painting markings on the model using the masks I designed for my Scorpion CVRt project (1/35 scale). Although the entire marking is extremely small (1.5 x 5mm), the masks I received from Miracle Masks were cut perfectly.
First of all, the instructions suggest placing the masks on a gloss coated model. Gloss coat provides a barrier which ensures the paint underneath would not be damaged if the painted markings need to be removed. Also, the masking material adheres better to the gloss coated surface, making it easier to conform to the uneven areas of the model. Additionally, fine tuning the masks can be performed by wetting the surface and sliding the masks in position. Of course, the area has to be completely dry before painting. Here's the sequence I employed for the masks I have received:
Step 1: Weeding
In this step I'm removing ("weeding") the waste material from the mask sheet, revealing the individual masks.
Step 2: Weeding the lettering
I removed the lettering from the individual mask using precision tweezers. I found this easier to do while the mask is still attached to the sheet than after placing the complete mask on the model.
Step 3: Transfer
The transfer tape provided is actually the same material as the masks themselves. The transfer tape is laid over the mask and holds together all elements of the mask while they are being transferred to the model. After removing the mask together with the transfer tape from the backing paper, I carefully positioned the mask on the model. I removed the transfer tape and burnished the mask firmly using a cotton bud. Masking tape was applied around the edges of the mMiracle Mask to protect the model when painting.
Step 4: Painting
I airbrushed the marking, being careful to build up the color gradually.
Step 5: Removing the mask
I removed the mask. The low-tack nature of the masking medium did not lift or peel any paint and a perfectly painted marking is revealed.
This procedure can be very different for more complex masks (i.e. multi-colored roundels on the airplanes) but the instructions cover all sorts of masking examples using Miracle Masks.
My experience with Miracle Masks is super positive. Mal is a great guy and runs a one-man-band business very professionally. I designed my own custom mask and Mal managed to cut it perfectly, although it featured extremely tiny lettering and was, according to other companies, impossible to cut. The instructions supplied are nicely illustrated and give detailed account on how to use the masks. Painting markings on scale models with Miracle Masks is very easy and gives extremely realistic results in scale.
After using Miracle Masks and realizing Mal can cut absolutely any mask design possible, I really hope I would never have to use decals and decal softening chemicals again. I love working with masks and I think they provide the perfect touch which is bound to bring your models to a whole new level of realism.