The Best Kind of Paint for an RC Vehicle
You’ve bought your kit or built your radio-controlled vehicle and now all you have to do is paint it. But what’s the best type of paint for an RC car, truck, or plane? Sprayed or brush-applied? Acrylic or enamel? And what part do materials play in your decision? Before you pick up just any old kind of paint and slap it on your RC, make sure it’s the right kind.
Paints and Techniques
There are several ways to apply paint to your model. You can brush it on, invest in an airbrush, or simply spray the paint from a can. Most hobbyists use a combination of techniques, depending on which parts they’re working on.
If you want to do an overall paint job on the RC body, enamel or acrylic paints will give you the best results. Both bond to a variety of hobbyist materials, including hard plastic, Lexan, metal, fiberglass, and even carbon-fiber (used in most chassis), which makes these types of paint the top choice of RC hobbyists and professionals alike. Acrylics tend to dry faster, are easy to thin, and give off no toxic fumes. While enamel paint takes longer to dry and is more toxic, it imparts a smooth finish, even when brushed on.
You’ll definitely want to stick to enamel or acrylic paints if your RC body is made from Lexan, which is the trademark for the most common type of polycarbonate plastic sheet. Lexan is about as tough a material for modeling as you can find, and it’s commonly used because it will withstand more than the normal amount of abuse. Use any other paint on Lexan and it will likely crack and flake off.
Still, some hobbyists do have good results with certain off-the-shelf or other specialized paints, such as automotive or heavy equipment paint, provided the body and parts are properly prepped. Some RC builders even go so far as to apply techniques used in regular automobile painting to their models.
Of course, you can use a brush to apply body paint if you wish, but usually, hobbyists reserve this method for detail work, like pin-striping, lettering, numbering, etc. That’s because it’s almost impossible to get a smooth and glossy finish—which is what you’re looking for on the body of your vehicle—when you use a brush.
For detail work on a Lexan RC body, most modelers recommend using Testors Model Masters brand and other Testors acrylic and enamel paints.
For ensuring an even and smooth finish on their RC bodies, modelers overwhelmingly prefer spray paint. There are dozens of options, in this case, ranging from inexpensive bottles of Rust-Oleum to cans priced at $20 and up. For spray painting, polycarbonate paints made by Tamiya or Pactra are considered top of the line. A less expensive option favored by hobbyists is SEM’s Color Coat.
If you want to invest a little money in an airbrush kit, you’ll find using one will give you professional-quality results every time. Airbrushing not only ensures a consistent application of paint over a large area, it’s also one of the best ways to get that high gloss appearance so prized by RC enthusiasts. It’s as speedy as using a spray can, but has the advantage of allowing you to do detail work as well.
You do have to make sure you buy the proper paint. Parma FASKOLOR is a popular choice and Tamiya also has a large line of polycarbonate paints suitable for both brush and spray painting. As for kits, Testors sells a good one, and a quick online search will net you dozens at different price points, most of which also come with bottles of their own brand of model paint.