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Customizing Gunpla - part 3: paint and final assembly

In this final installment of Custom Gunpla, we take a look at the different options for painting and take a look at the final product.

Welcome back! Last time, we covered a few of the tools we use to give our Gunpla a bit of a different look and showed a couple of examples of the end result. Today, we’ll answer a question received in the first entry. With regard to the custom D.Va Sazabi ver. Ka, ‘do I need to be a painter to make a bad ass custom like that?’


The answer is yes! And if it’s your first time painting, then you will probably fail! Painting (in general) is a skill like any other, so there’ll be failure(s), but practice for long enough and anything is possible.

Gunpla painting has 4 different streams: spray cans, airbrush, handpainting, or a combination of them. Each have their pros and cons.

Spray cans

These are, arguably, the easiest way to paint Gunpla. It’s important to try and pick up hobby-grade spray paints: not the Krylon or Rustoleum brands but Tamiya or Mr. Hobby. The reason for this is consistency; the formula as well as how the paints spray are different, with the Japanese brands spraying less thick and achieving a finer finish. You can still get decent quality with Krylon and the like, but it’s harder. Also never spray the paint directly onto the model kit; start spraying away from the kit (such as beside it), move the spray across the piece, and then stop away from the kit. This prevents paint build up in one spot.


The two issues with spray cans are 1) you can’t mix the paints, what you buy is what you get and 2) they’re expensive as heck. A Tamiya can will probably run at least $10, and the cans are tiny, lasting 2 - 3 HGs at best. If you screw up painting and need to redo it? Yeah, it’ll run out fast.

On the other hand, spray cans do come in a lot of colors, so there’s that.

So good, but so expensive.
Photo: Veteranus


The gold standard for painting model kits. Airbrushing gets you the thin, great coating finish of spray cans but also lets you mix and thin your paints as you like. However, using an air brush is a heavy upfront investment. This Badger Sotar 20/20 airbrush is $105 on Amazon.com and doesn’t include the air compressor, paint or thinner. On the other hand, a small jar of paint is about $3, thinner is about $10, and compared to spray cans? The airbrush will pay for itself in the long run. The Gunpla wiki on Reddit has a good guide on airbrushes.



Arguably the cheapest but most intensive process. It is heavily dependent on skill and patience. The reason is that you can not rush handpainting. To achieve a nice finish, you need to paint in multiple, thin coats. Otherwise you get things like...this.

Good try.
Photo: Unknown original source

A lot of detail gets lost and the finish looks gloopy. You do not want gloopy. Gloopy is bad. Please thin your paints. The consistency should be quite milky. The usual ratio is 1 part paint, 1 part thinner, but you can adjust it to suit your weather.


There’s also the type of paints you can use. Many hobby paints are acrylic, so they’re (relatively) safer than other types, which include lacquers and enamels. The airbrush FAQ from the Gunpla subreddit outlines each of these.

Combination style

A simple, effective way to paint gunpla is to use a bit of everything - spray/airbrush the base colors on and then hand paint the small details in. Shocking, I know.


Masking the paint

Small note here that another technique to be aware of is masking. Tamiya makes some pretty good paint masking tape that helps to achieve sharper lines when painting. Basically does what regular paint masking tape does but for hobby purposes. Please note that, from my experience, masking tape doesn’t work as well with handpainting: the paint will seep in if it’s too thin (which it should be anyway) and the seal on the tape isn’t tight enough (it will never be).


Let’s get on with painting a custom Gunpla.

Picking your colors

If you’re really good, you already have a perfect mental image of the color scheme you want for your custom gunpla. If you’re like the rest of us, you could use some line art to help plan the scheme out. Luckily, the seesaaw Wiki has a pretty massive collection of line art for most of the Gundam series (find series on the left). It doesn’t have everything but chances are good the one you want is there.



So very important, primer helps paint stick to your model better. You can also use primer to identify areas that aren’t smooth enough yet for the paint or need a bit of extra work (e.g. there’s cracks in the putty). The primer color will have an impact on the final result. Gunpla 101 has a great write up on how primer color affects the final product, but the tl;dr is white yields a lighter finish, black yields a richer finish, grey is somewhere in the middle.


My general rule is if I want to go from a dark color plastic to a light color product, I’ll use white or grey primer. If I’m going from a light color plastic to a dark finish, then any primer will do. The reason is that light colors need a lighter primer to help prevent the color from getting “muddy” due to the dark plastic. Note that you may need a couple of coats of primer to completely cover the plastic.

Actual painting

Not gonna lie, sometimes painting is hell. The fumes, even if using acrylic, are nauseating (use a respirator) and there’ll probably be screw ups, which often means using alcohol to strip the paint away to...repaint.


And sometimes you need to do it multiple times. My own Pearl-inspired custom took a long time because I had to re-apply paint in so many areas (and unfortunately it shows).

That being said, when the end product works, it works. Most importantly, because it’s a hobby and not a contest*, it must work for you. 


And sometimes it does. Couple of changes from the last photo are the star on the chest (made of putty) and the use of putty to round out the red jewel at the top of the head into a more pearl like shape.


That’s kind of it for these series of posts, a super basic primer (ha) for going about to customize Gunpla. There are no rules for what a custom should be, so just go out there, buy a kit** and have fun!

See, this guy is having fun.

Photo: Reddit


And thus tomorrow we’ll return with long reads again.

*unless it is for a contest, then yeah, definitely keep going for perfection.

**if you read the phrase “plastic crack” in reference to Gunpla....remember to be responsible with your wallet.

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