Painting a Scale Model: Before or After Assembly | A Helpful Guide

Many modelers show their passion for scale models through painting. It is one of the hobbies that modelers love to engage in their free time. Today, you can build model cars after buying the modeling kit, and one of the things you can do is paint the models, whether it is a car, motorcycle, truck, or Gunpla model. However, a question that remains among many model car builders is whether they should paint the model before or after assembly.

In general, it is good for beginners to paint after assembly because it is easier than painting small parts one by one. Furthermore, it is easier to evenly paint the model if it is already glued or assembled. In the end, it depends on the user’s preference and the manual.

In this blog post, you’ll get to learn if to paint the car before or after assembly and additionally other things related to painting a model car, such as tolls you need and how to choose the right color, among other details.

Is it better to paint a model before or after assembly?

The Diecast Model Welcome Video
The Diecast Model Welcome Video

It is better to paint a model after assembly because it doesn’t make the glue interfere with the paint. Furthermore, painting evenly is easier on assembled models than painting parts separately. However, this can make it harder to paint hard-to-reach surfaces. That’s why some experienced modelers prefer painting before assembling.

Painting before AssemblingPainting after Assembling
Good ForExperienced ModelersBeginner Modelers
GlueCan be affected by Glue or Plastic CementCan prevent interferences by Plastic Cement
ColoringHarder to Paint EvenlyEasier to Paint Evenly
Painting Hard to Reach SurfaceEasier to Paint Hard to Reach SurfacesHarder to Paint Hard to Reach Surfaces
Time to PaintLongerShorter
Difference between painting before and after assembling

If you are thinking of making better details, then it is recommended to paint before assembly.

However, this is only recommended for experienced modelers since it is hard to evenly paint the surfaces if not assembled together.

This makes sure that you paint even the hidden surface for a more beautiful finish. However, it can be hard for beginners to do. So, is it good for beginners to just start painting after assembly?

The answer to this question is yes and no.

First, it is yes because you can choose to assemble the whole model car and paint; on the other hand, you have to paint those small detailed parts before assembling them.

Besides, there is even a third option where you assemble the model cars but leave some parts.

You paint these small parts before adding them to the car’s body and then paint the other unpainted parts.

I think this is a good choice for beginners for them to slowly build their skills up to start painting things before assembly.

Furthermore, whether you paint before or after assembly depends on the instructions from the model kit manufacturer. It is important to read and follow the instruction.

If they require you to paint before assembling, then do so and vice versa.

Another thing to consider if you want to paint before or after assembly is the plastic cement.

Plastic cement can actually harm your paint and for some, it is better to assemble and glue them first before painting.

My personal rule is to glue the ones that will use the same color such as the body (bumpers, skirts, etc). Furthermore, I make sure to sand and remove the sprues before applying the paint.

By doing this, the painting process will be easier.

However, for other parts that will have a different color, I paint them separately.

Another advantage of painting after assembling is what I call color density.

Painting before assembling can cause some paint to be thicker on other parts compared to other parts. This becomes obvious when you start assembling.

So, while it is easier to assemble before painting. Do not assemble all of them at once.

Assemble the ones that will have the same color. This makes it easier to paint and check if the color is consistent.

Then, on the parts that will have a different color, paint them separately.

In summary, here are the advantages of assembling before painting:

  1. Prevents Glue from Interfering with the Paint
  2. Easy to Even the Paint
  3. Easier to paint

However, painting after assembling has a major issue. This makes the smaller gaps harder to paint.

Thus, some experienced modelers paint before assembling. However, this is for experienced modelers since it can cause uneven paints.

Painting before assembly may make parts easier to access, and avoid complex masking, but if the kit involves joints and seams that need to be hidden, then assembling is necessary before painting.

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As you can see, this is a complicated matter and it depends on your preference. However, there is a general rule of thumb.

The general rule of thumb is to paint after assembling if you’re a beginner and to try painting before assembling if you’re an experienced modeler.

The better news is most model companies include a manual that can help you decide.

Which Model Parts require being painted before assembly?

Generally speaking, the model parts that require painting before assembly are the ones that have a separate color such as the engine and chassis. However, model kits usually have detailed instructions on which ones to paint first before assembling.

Every model kit comes with instructions on how to build the car up and how to paint the car.

Usually, there are those parts in a model car that are intended to be painted before assembling.

For instance, when you are modeling cars and have to add details like the seat, you have to paint them before assembling the cars.

It is not easy to assemble the car and try to paint the seats. It will not work out.  

It is simple logic you have to apply here, and even if you read the modeling kit, they have highlighted what needs to be painted before assembling.  

Again think about painting the car interior after assembling the car with windshield and mirrors attached. There is no logic being applied there.

Even without instructions, you see, it will not work like that.

Only the things I love”

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So, here are the things I love when taking care of my Diecast Models.

Cleaning the Models

The first we are going to talk about is cleaning the models.

Removing Dust

  1. Air Brush – For me, this is the best since it not just removes dust but you can use it in painting/clear coating.
  2. Air Duster – This is a good alternative to Airbrush
  3. Normal Brush – If you are short on budget, you can use a normal brush. However, make sure that the brush has soft bristles because there are some hard brushes than can cause scratches. That’s why I recommended a good brush that can do the job properly.

Cleaning and Shining Hacks

Well, here are some of my cleaning hacks for removing scratches, oxidation, and so much more.

  1. Removing Decal Adhesive – Use Goo Gone on those hard-to-remove decal adhesives. It works fast and works like charm!
  2. Waxing and Polishing – Here is something a lot of people don’t know. Waxing protects the clear coat and paint while polishing shines the model. Instead of buying it separately, use a 2 in 1 to save money. Get this instead.
  3. Beginner Wax – The wax I recommended earlier is good and provides the best results based on my experience. But a beginner might have a problem especially if they’re not good at applying wax. Solid wax reaching hard to reach surface can be hard to remove. You have two choices here. One is to use a qtips to reach those surfaces, another is to use a liquid wax I recommended.
  4. Cleaning Wheels, Rubber, Plastic – Do not forget that rubber and plastic surface are quite different, especially in the cleaning process. Just wiping it down won’t do the job. That’s why I use Meguiar’s Vinyl and Rubber Cleaner and Conditioner. Works like charm!
  5. Make the Wheels Shine! – Making our models look good won’t be complete without tiny details such as shiny wheels! Do not forget this because however small this is, the difference can be as big as night and day.
  6. Remove Scratches Easily – Tiny scratches are not the end for your model. Here is a simple trick I’ve been using to make my models look scratch-free even without repainting. Use T-Cut.

Painting the Models

Painting Tools

Make sure when you paint models, have these ready.

  1. Tape – A tape is important if you are painting a straight line. Furthermore, it will prevent your paint to scatter on other parts. I recommend Tamiya Tape since it is really made for models. Furthermore, they stick really well preventing paint splatters.
  2. Brush (Beginner) – Find a good set of brushes to paint your models. Of course, you can opt for an airbrush but it’s quite expensive.
  3. Airbrush (Intermediate/Expert) – This will yield a significantly better result than an ordinary brush because you can easily spray the paint evenly. I recommend this if you know what you’re doing.
  4. Stand(Optional) – Stands are good because it can be hard to manually hold the models while painting. It is optional but in my opinion, the price is well worth it for the comfort it gives.
  5. Drop Cloths – Drop Cloths will protect your surroundings from the paint.
  6. Primer – The most common beginner mistake I see is painting models without any Primer. A primer will prevent imperfections such as bubbles or paint not sticking to your models. It is a small price to pay for quality results.
  7. Clear Coat – A clear coat will protect the paint of your models. This will make the paint last longer. Also, it is the one responsible for making your models shine.

Paints

Of course, you can’t do painting properly without paint. So here are the ones I recommend.

  1. Acrylic PaintGood for beginners because it dries quickly. However, it doesn’t produce results as good as enamel paint.
  2. Enamel PaintProvides a good quality finish and longer-lasting paint. However, it takes longer to dry and requires expertise to use.

Model Maintenance

Model Storage

  1. Simple Wood Cabinet – While it doesn’t let you display your models, wooden cabinets are good storage for these models. For one, they are not heat conductors which means that the temperature inside will remain constant and remain cool. Furthermore, they prevent light from reaching the models which can cause oxidation.
  2. Clear Cabinet with Lock – If you want to display your models, then I recommend this. It closes so dust won’t easily get to your models. I also recommend you don’t put more than 1 model in each compartment since metals are good conductors of heat.

Model Photography

So you want to show off your models to others? Well, I got you covered.

Here is my beginner-friendly model photography tutorial that teaches everything from taking pictures to the editing process.

You will also see me doing hands-on photography in that tutorial.

Here is the link: How to Take Pictures of a Diecast Model or Model Kit | Helpful Illustrated and Video Guide

Sources

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