Let’s start off by getting a few things clear before we delve into this. This guide is now I (currently) paint and customise my models. You can use part of this as a beginners guide, however if you are a complete beginner, need something a little more detailed or are finding this a little steep, I highly recommend downloading or purchasing a hard copy of this excellent beginners primer from Monoeye press, the beginners guide to mecha modelling. This guide also assumes you will be comfortable with operating and using an airbrush.
Gundam models are most commonly known as gunpla. There is a mind-boggling amount of models, varying in size, grade and complexity. If you want to understand more about this, then click here to read my blog post “what is mecha modelling?”.
There is no, definitive and widely accepted way to paint and customise your gunpla. The way you paint and customise, will be your journey alone, and you’ll find out over time in the hobby and by interacting with others in the community what works best for you. As explained at the beginning of this article, this is how I paint and customise my Gunpla, and as such should only be taken as one method. The materials and tools I use in this are what is avaiable to me here in the UK. Check out my resources page by clicking here for some handy links for UK modellers.
What follows is a step-by-step on how to paint your gunpla, which can be applied to any class or scale of model.
Let’s start with what tools you’ll need to get started.
Basic building tools:
Hobby Knife set
Sandpaper, various grits
Side-cutters or nippers. Modelling type.
-Sandpaper (I go for 240 grit, 800, 1000, 1200). Waterproof is the best choice.
-Quality, sharp hobby knife.
Building your model
This part is a piece of cake. Open the instructions, and follow them! Yes, they are in Japanese, but following the pictures should not be any trouble at all. Some people will cut all of the parts off first, then “de-nub” the entire kit (the process of removing the excess plastic attached to the parts, after being cut off the runner), however I tend to build and de-nub at the same time as some parts will need more thorough de-nubbing than others.
I like to completely build my kits before I paint, so I can take a good look at it and understand its movement and design, so help me make the right decisions when it comes to painting the kit. Even if I am building and painting the kit OOB (Out Of Box, refers to the kit being painted the same colour as the parts). With this in mind, be mindful that later down the line you are going to be disassembling the kit. “loose fitting” (some people refer to this as “test fitting“) is a good tactic here, not securely fitting the parts together but just enough for it to hold and be functional. Use common sense here, if you can see a part is going to be very hard to remove later down the line, or you are not confident that you’ll be able to mask-paint it later on, then either leave the part out, or trim down the fitting pegs a little to make it easier to remove.
A lot of the building process requires always thinking about how you are going to handle it later on, so always be mindful of the build as you progress.
Cutting parts from the runners and “de-nubbing”.
Using your side-cutters, cut each part away from the runner, leaving a little excess, like this:
Once the part is free, it’ll look like this:
If you have trouble getting your side cutters in, use a good sharp hobby knife to cut it out, staying well clear of cutting towards yourself. Trim off the excess nubs, leaving a little stub. It’s a good idea to do this rather than trim the lot off, because it will reduce the chance of the plastic stressing and warping.
You’ll want to sand down that last stub, so start off with a low-density sandpaper (I use 240 grit) to completely take off the stub. Once gone, sand over again in increasingly dense grits of sandpaper. You can see the process below. Sticking the sandpaper to a popsickle stick is a really helpful way to keep control of your sand paper, but you can simply fold it.
Varying grits of sandpaper
Sanding after 240 grit
Sanding after 800, then 1000, then 1200 grit. Nice and smooth.
I do this for each piece as I progress through the instructions. It’s also worth keeping a damp cloth handy, or a large brush to brush off any sand residue.
Stickers and Decals
As you build you’ll notice now and again the instructions will point out the addition of a sticker or decal. If you are going to paint your kit, stickers largely a waste of time, leave them off. The only stickers (if I am feeling lazy) I use are the eye stickers, this saves a lot of time and some seriously precision painting later down the line (or a reverse wash, more on this in a later post). Water-slide decals are normally the first choice to be added to painted kits, if you have them with your kit, great! if not.. then you’ll have to either purchase some official ones for your kit, or look up a third-party supplier. There are a few of them around, one I use most often being samuel decal. Dry-rub transfers are another option too and are commonly found in master grade kits. Although not as easy to apply than water-slides, they look just as good. I’ll cover this too in a later post.
So, that’s the very, very basics covered. Stay tuned for part 2 where we’ll be going over some basic seam line removal techniques, and starting the painting process!