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Modelling colors - a comparison ...

by Christian Jakl


It is all in the colors (An attempt to clarify the confusion about modeling colors and a comparison of the products of major manufacturers). Who can navigate through the color jungle? The times are gone when one had to purchase the colors offered by the manufacturers of plastic kits and then had to tediously mix the right color tone at home.

Today, upon entering any model shop one is confronted by color displays from many manufacturers. How does one make the right choice with such a varied selection? In this evaluation we shall look at some manufacturers whose products we have used and tested. We are not looking at price here since the differences are negligible. The following criteria were important for us:

Color type:

Model Master Acryl
Model Master Enamel
Model Master Metal
ACRYL or ENAMEL? Different thinners are necessary for each. ENAMELS should be thinned by following manufacturers recommendations while ACRYL colors can be thinned with water, denatured alcohol, or isopropyl alcohol. Bad smelling and dangerous fumes are not major problems with acrylics. We did observe however that when thinned with water, acrylics do not dry as matte as one would wish.


Colors that are easily sprayed with an airbrush are sometime difficult to apply with a paintbrush. Enamels lend themselves better to paintbrush application, especially for dry brushing. Naturally there are exceptions. Coarsely ground color pigments make work with an airbrush difficult.

Color palette:

The larger the number of colors by a particular manufacturer the less the chance for having to mix a particular color. The labeling of the various color tones is very important here. Caution is advised here, for the same color tone labeled on the bottle by different manufacturers do not give the same results.
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ENAMELS and ACRYLICS cannot be mixed. Problems can also arise when mixing the same color type. GUNZE and TAMIYA colors, both ACRYLICS behave quite differently when mixed. When mixed they have a tendency to become lumpy. REVELL and HUMBROL on the other hand mix quite well. If you paint a model with different color types make sure that the coat has dried thoroughly before applying a different color type.


The amount in the bottle is relative because when using an airbrush the color has to be thinned. The amount available will be determined by the amount the color is thinned down. Glass bottles have the advantage that they can be used again. Their screw tops have the further advantage that the colors have less of a tendency to dry out.


Most colors can be removed from the airbrush with "Nitro thinner". (A degreasing agent seemingly available only in Europe.) It is a mixture of Acetone and Naphta. LIFE-COLOR can be cleaned out of the airbrush with water or its own specific cleaner. Generally all colors are easy to clean up whether airbrush or paintbrush.
for all colors (except: JPS-Colors) a color-chart is available for download as PDF-File, you will need Acrobat Reader 4.x (or higher) for reading or printing (free):


  60 colors available, ACRYLICS, 17ml plastic bottles  
  ANDREA colors were produced to paint their own figures. Colors for painting of vehicles etc. are not to be found. For figure painting in dioramas they are excellent. Brush application is first class.  
Best colors for brush application
Can be thinned with water
Excellent screw cap, makes measuring of paint easy
Excellent for dry brushing
Reusable bottle
No smell
Airbrush application limited
Small assortment, aimed at figures of the manufacturer
Andrea Colours
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  161 colors available, ACRYLICS, 10ml glass bottles  
  Many application ready color tones for military aircraft of all nations. Emphasis WW2. Best color for airbrush application. So far no problems have been encountered with GUNZE colors. One word of caution. Some colors are labeled with a W. This W stands for "weathering". Coarse pigments were added to these colors to simulate dirt. This can lead to the clogging up of your airbrush. Another drawback is that many colors come in semi-gloss. This is not necessary if you use future or clear-gloss when applying decals.  
Excellent for airbrush application
Many applicable color tones, makes mixing unnecessary
Dry fast
Can be thinned with alcohol or water
RLM and FS colors (sadly no RLM72 and 73)
Glass bottles, reusable
No smell
Brush application has limitations
Hard to find
Not very good for dry brushing
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  6 colors available, ACRYLICS, 23ml glass bottles  
  Airbrush ready colors that can be buffed. Only six colors are available. The colors do not have to be thinned and can be polished in 24 hours. There are a few problems with lifting. The surface has to be primed or lightly sanded or the color will lift during masking or handling.  
Perfect airbrush application
good results when polished
ready to airbrush do not have to be thinned
Glass bottle is re-useable
No smell
Not enough colors
Brush application difficult
surface needs to be primed
Gunze Metal Color
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  151 colors available, ENAMEL, 14ml tin  
  The largest and oldest manufacturer of colors for model building. Best known brand. The tops of the tins are a drawback. After the second use, the top is hard to close flush and hence the danger of pre-mature drying out becomes a problem. HUMBROL has the most FS colors. This makes the painting of American colors easy.  
Very good for airbrush and brush application
Very good for dry brushing
Large selection of colors
Uniform colors are also considered
Excellent gloss finishes
Dry quickly
Metal tones can be polished
Easy to find
Typical enamel odor
Empty tins not reusable
Humbrol Super Enamel
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  155 colors available, ACRYLICS, 22ml plastic bottle  
  Working with these colors takes a little practice. They behave a little different despite the fact that they are acryl colors. Thinning is possible only with water. Some colors react to alcohol by making the mixture rather thick. When shaken with water they foam. Color chart is necessary since all bottles look the same on the outside (black screw top) Ask for a color chart when you buy. A nice feature is a thickening agent. If a color is too thin then it can be thickened with the use of this agent. A thinning agent is also offered but not necessary.  
Large selection
Can be thinned with water
Brushes well
Plastic bottle can be reused
Very fine pigmentation, very smooth spray finish
FS labeled
No smell
Thickening agent
Color assortment not very well organized
Foaming when shaken
Long drying time
Can only be removed with water or its own thinner (and with a ammonia-based household cleaner)
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  173 colors available, ACRYLICS, 15ml glass bottles  
  Here is a manufacturer that really provides everything. Model Master offers acrylics and enamels and divides them into different categories. There is something for everybody. Whether one chooses to paint ones models with an airbrush or prefers to paint figures with a regular brush, you can find it with Model Master. Paints for cars, ships and fantasy figures are available. Even the often forgotten RLM 72 and 73 of the Luftwaffe are available. There are also FS matched colors available. Primer colors and decal softening solutions are also part of the extensive selection. If you have waited for certain colors to appear then you are in the right palace here. User-friendliness is comparable to Gunze paints. Spray applications provide a smooth even finish. Can also be brush painted.  
Large assortment
Perfect airbrush application
Glass bottles are re-useable
Can be thinned with rubbing alcohol or denatured alcohol
Many flesh tones available
Not readily available (in Austria)
Model Master Acryl
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  122 colors available, ENAMEL, 15ml glass bottles  
  The smaller number of colors can be explained by the fact that FS colors are offered separately. All important colors can be found here. This is the perfect selection for those who would like to stick with enamels.  
Large assortment
Perfect airbrush application
Glass bottles are re-useable
Typical Enamel smell
Thinner available only in small quantity bottles
slow drying time
Model Master
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  15 colors available, ENAMEL, 15ml glass bottles  
  Here are colors only for metal coating of outright metal parts. These colors are very thinned down and work very well with airbrush and brush. After they have dried they can be polished with a soft cloth. This increases the glossy quality however. Good, precise assembly and filling and sanding are essential because the thinness of the color will show any imperfections. Drops may develop during airbrushing.  
Perfect airbrush application
Can be polished
Glass bottle is re-useable
Dry quickly
Although enamels, no noticeable smell
Does not react very well to the use of turpentine
Model Master
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  88 colors available, ENAMEL, 14ml tin
46 colors available, ENAMEL, 25ml airbrush color
21 colors available, ENAMEL, 40ml spray cans - not tested
  REVELL-Germany emphasizes mixing but is the only manufacturer that offers an airbrush series. The little bottle fits the screw cap of the AZTEK 470 airbrush. The color selection however does not give specific color tones (part. RAL). German Luftwaffe color suggestions are found in instruction sheets but really have to be mixed. Revell products can however be bought on every street corner (in Europe!).  
Very good for brush application
Very good for dry brushing
Has its own airbrush series, fits AZTEK 470 screw cap
Good quality gloss colors for vehicles
RAL listing
Airbrush bottles can be reused
Available everywhere (in Europe)
Typical enamel smell
Important colors are missing, requires mixing
Tins cannot be reused
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  36 colors available, ACRYLICS, 18 ml plastic container  
  The manufacturer advertises under the motto: "waterbased colors with great opacity, (covering quality)" They really meet this standard. REVELL follows the trend, for a healthier and less smelly work environment.Currently ther are only 36 colors and it is entirely possible that with increasing sale of the acrylic colors the production of enamels will decrease and more acrylic colors will become available. The directions call for plain tap water as a thinner. Correct, however the percentage of 20-25% water is only an approximate value.The modeler has to find the correct mix through trial and error. The first tests had very positive results. Whether with brush or airbrush the covering qualities were good and a smooth surface was achieved. It is very important that with metallic and gloss colors an airbrush should be used. These colors are recommended for beginners and children but more advanced modelers can also get very satifactory results. The only criticism I have is that not enough colors are available. I hope that various Luftwaffe colors will be available from Revell , making the mixing of colors unnecessary.  
  The Revell Aqua Colors for testing were kindly donated by:  
Very good colors for brushing and spraying
Can be thinned with tap water
No unpleasent smell
Dry very quickly (3-5 hours)
Good for drybrushing
A lot of paint for little money
A little awkard when opening for the first time
Plastic container cannot be reused
Not enough colors available
Revell Aqua Color
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  81 colors available, ACRYLICS 23ml
78 colors available, ENAMEL, 23ml - not tested
22 colors available, spray cans 100 ml - not tested
  Acryl and Enamels are offered in the same color tones. It is too bad that the colors in the spray cans are not also available in bottles. That is why in Tamiya instructions mixing is recommended when it comes to bottles but only the code for spray cans are given. These color tones would be important to have in bottles, for they are all for aircraft color schemes.  
Excellent for airbrush application
Many color tones for military vehicles
Dry fast
Can be thinned with water or alcohol
Glass bottles can be reused
No smell
A few color tones only available in spray cans
Brush application problematic
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VALLEJO Model Color

  208 colors available, ACRYLICS, 17 ml plastic bottles  
  A color assortment that leaves little to wish for. Glazes, thinners, retarders, masking material and metallic colors, it is all there. Figure painters will be overjoyed. It is no coincidence that the bottle shapes bear a strong resemblance to Andrea colors. The colors cover after the first coat. If applied too thickly the colors will appear a bit greasy.(Thinable with Propylene-Glycol)  
Good color for brushing
Thinning with water
Practical cap, easy to dispense colors
Good for dry brushing
Plastic bottle re-useable
No smell
airbrush application problematical
Vallejo Model Color
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  96 colors available, ACRYLICS, 17 ml plastic bottles  
  These colors were designed by Vallejo to be sprayed directly from the bottle. In order to compete with other manufacturers however there is a lack of variety and types of colors. The colors spray easily and dry very smoothly and can be thinned with water. In order to clean the airbrush you can forget Nitro thinner. In order to remove the color you need an ammonia mixture as is found in window cleaners or Propylene-Glycol.  
Perfect airbrush application
ready to airbrush do not have to be thinned
Plastic bottle re-useable
No smell
Not enough colors yet
Cannot be used with a brush
Airbrush cleaning difficult
Vallejo Model Air
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On the typical workbench most paint manufacturers will be represented. Some paints for the airbrush others for the paintbrush, some because the other manufacturer does not make it. The qualities of paints in general today are on a high level. Problems that arise are usually not the fault of the manufacturer. Practice makes perfect and the individual works out his own procedures. The only problem that keeps occurring is what to do with the myriad of bottles and tins and how long it takes to find the proper color only to realize that it has dried up or is gone.
  meet the author      

Christian Jakl

  I was born in Vienna in 1971 and now I live in the middle of the mountains in the Tyrol district. I am in marketing and my specialty is graphic design and layout. Ships, planes and automobiles is how it started and now I have taken up aircraft models only. I concentrate on the German and Soviet air force. My favorite mode of display are dioramas in 1/48 scale. Here I can let my imagination run wild and can produce many of parts. Experimentation and the use of new techniques are foremost on my mind. I also combine stock kits with other add onís and try out new tools. There is always a lot to learn.

It is not all that important to me if a detail is no exactly in the right spot; the final product has to look right. If somebody stands in front of my model and is enthused then I did my job right. The only problem I have is the time factor and in this I probably not alone. I wish everybody a lot of fun with this page and hope that critiques and comments are forthcoming.
  Christian Jakl  
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was last modified on: Feb 25, 2015
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