Friday, 19 May 2017

Airbrushing and Masking Miniatures - Plus Blue Steel NMM Technique

Masking, is there anything worse? It just never seems to go quite right, and no matter what fancy product you use it can be a bit of a battleground. Most of the time, it tends to go two ways; you either mask so well that you end up peeling the paint off when you take the tape away, or you do it too tentatively and end up with overspray and a bad finish.

Despite these concerns, I've been working on a technique that gives good coverage and protection, whilst not doing any damage. I managed to try it out this weekend on my Infinity Guijia, and it worked wonders.

I started by painting the orange armour sections with the airbrush (as orange is the main colour I didn't do any masking). I completely finished these by adding in edge highlights with the standard brush, and when I was happy, I gave them a coat of Vallejo Satin Varnish. This has the same lustre as the regular paint, but helps protect it from the next steps (It is also very important for my secret overspray defence technique, but more on that later). I painted in the areas that I wanted to do in Steel NMM in black with a regular brush as I was going to add a blend with various greys to them.

At this point, I usually find that something strange will happen. I'll be sitting there at my painting table and the airbrush will start to talk. It'll eye up the masking tape and say "Hey buddy, I thought you were a real man ... you don't need to mask anything, I wouldn't overspray on you". Try not to listen though - it's a trick. Even when it brings up all the progress you've made, and how nice your last mini was...

I find that Tamiya make good masking tape. It's pretty much as simple as that. I've used a few different brands, but it's the only one I trust not to weld itself on and come off with all of my hard work stuck to it. I have the varnish too for protection and I try not to leave it on there too long (an hour or so should be enough time to get what I need done). It does take a bit of time to get the tape on there and get coverage that you're happy with, but you really can't cut any corners. If you only need to mask the model to paint one thing that sticks out, I recommend using some plastic wrap like you used to have for your sandwiches, as the coverage is good and fast and I've never had any problems with peeling it off.

Blue-Steel NMM (Non Metallic Metal)

Top tip for mixing paint for the airbrush - mix it separately, not in the airbrush's cup and the consistency is right when it runs freely.

For the blue steel effect, I painted 4 layers over the black with the airbrush:

  1. A general highlight with a mix of black, Vallejo Dark Prussian Blue and white. This is a pretty dark mix, and the blue seems to help get some interest into it as well as aids the non metallic metal appearance.
  2. I followed up with another highlight, mixing in a greater quantity of white this time, and focusing on the upper areas and places that seemed like they should be reflective.
  3. I finished up with 2 highlight layers of pure white. The reason for the second coat was to try to intensify the "shine" that I was going for.
This was the colour that I used for the original mix (although this picture is from when I was painting it with the normal brush later)

After that, I painted his sword in blue, and then it was time for the moment of truth; peeling the tape. Luckily, thanks to all that preparation, it went rather well.

Even with all of that masking, I still had a little overspray on some of the orange parts to contend with. This was quite noticeable on the pilot's arm, where the end had got speckled with white unintentionally. Luckily though, I was prepared to deal with it, and that varnish was a real time saver.

Dealing with Overspray

Remember that varnish? If you're looking to make this work, I hope you applied it!

Like I said, this only works if you added varnish during the earlier step. This is because it protects the paint from what I'm about to do. Working quickly, I grab my airbrush cleaning fluid. This stuff is designed to break down paint in the mechanism, so it'll eat the paint right off. I take a fairly soft old brush, dip it into the fluid and then apply it directly to the overspray. I rub it for about 10 seconds, or until I see it dissolve and then wash the whole area out with a lot of clean water. I want to make sure that there won't be any cleaning solution left as I have no idea what it would do, so I recommend a lot of water (so obviously only do this once the paint you were applying is dry!).

Finishing Up

After a delicate scrubbing, the few little bits of overspray were gone and the mini was ready for the final steps. In this instance, that meant painting in some of the steel bits that I couldn't reach with the airbrush and then finishing up the steel with a final shade in the recesses and sharp highlight to get a bit more shine on it. For these steps, I used pure black and pure white respectively.


  1. Really a beautiful mini and thank you for taking us through the steps for it. Lovely stuff.

    1. Thanks. It's always nice to share a method that actually works!

      Unfortunately, I doubt it'll get many views as Infinity isn't that popular compared to 40k, and all the buzz is about 8th edition. I'm playing Infinity all day tomorrow though, so there won't be a shortage of posts!