Tips and Tricks

Tips and Tricks

Using Filters - Eric Christianson - July 2013

Greetings! We are introducing a new column this month which will try to focus on modeling tips and techniques that will hopefully be useful to all types of modelers. Subject matter will range from techniques that I have discovered myself, to supervising discussion between members who have tips that we all want to share.

It is important to understand, then, that the tools and materials, approaches and opinions are those of the contributors. Each one of us enjoys our own special niche in this wonderful hobby; this column will simply attempt to add to the skill set we already have.

So let’s start! I would like to discuss a finishing technique called a Filter for this month’s inaugural column. Simply defined, a Filter is a thin layer of heavily diluted oil paint, brushed over the entire surface of something to slightly change the hue and saturation of the background color. Not unlike putting on a pair of colored sunglasses, or a tinted camera lens, hence the name.

Over the last few years I have had to compress the time it took to finish my builds, which, as a result, has pushed me to find alternative ways of doing things. I used to paint a German cockpit, say, using dark pre-shading, lightened-RLM Grey base-color, smoke colored post-shading, and then detail painting of all the little cables and levers, etc., followed by a wash and dry brushing. Similarly, an open-topped armored vehicle required attention to all the little pieces of equipment stowed within; different types of canvas bags, steel ammo canisters, wooded steering wheels, fire extinguish- ers, etc. When finished, sometimes the stark contrast between the colors I used looked odd to me, even under a wash. I see this a lot in contest entries as well. When I look inside a real combat-worn and faded cockpit or vehicle interior, the idea of ‘color’ doesn’t really jump out at me. In my mind’s eye, I see a general faded beat-up shade with hints of green here and black there.

As a result I’ve started using filters in a big way and the results have been really nice - with very little effort involved. The key is to start with a very light base color. I will lighten RLM-Grey with flesh or white, Olive Drab with yellow or white, German Yellow with Deck Tan, etc., etc. Very light. That’s the base color I use for everything (from radio sets to fire extinguishers) on to which the filters will be added. I normally use Tamiya paints but I have used just about every other type of paint as well. The key is that the base-coat must be FLAT before applying the filters. You want even coverage – this is not a wash that you want to flow into nooks and crannies.

The filters I use are made from oil paints, the finer the pigment the better. I thin them heavily (80-90% thinner vs. pigment) with Mona Lisa Odorless Paint Thinner. Here are my favorites, which I keep in separate, pre-mixed jars:

  • Windsor Newton Payne’s Gray for grey
  • MIG Wash Brown for brown (#1)
  • MIG Shadow Brown for brown (#2)
  • MIG Light Rust for brown (#3)
  • MIG Dark Rust for brown (#4)
  • MIG Black for black
  • W.N Cadmium Orange for effect
  • W.N Cadmium Red for effect
  • W.N. French Ultramarine for effect
  • W.N. Cadmium Yellow for effect
  • W.N. Mars Violet for effect
  • W.N. Viridian for effect

Once my base coat is dry, I will brush a coat of pure Mona Lisa thinner (Home Depot, Michael’s) on to the area that I will be applying a filter. This will help the filter flow and prevent tidemarks. Mona Lisa will not affect the base-coat paint, no matter what paint I use or flat coat I’ve applied, believe it or not. It’s great stuff – it does what it is supposed to do (thin oil paint) and nothing more. Once that is reasonably dry I will brush on the filter, coat by coat, until I get the color I am looking for. In the armor image example, I started with a lightened Olive Drab overall. I then added a Wash Brown filter to the main hull areas to darken that, and a Payne’s grey filter to the extra track links, and a Black filter to the two smoke dischargers. The ‘dry brush’ effect on the track links is actually the original light Drab showing through thin Payne’s Gray filter.

Once I have the effect I want, I apply a gloss coat to the entire surface to prepare it for decals, a Pin Wash and some Streaking. I blend everything at the end with road dust and a flat varnish.

These last techniques might be subjects for future columns. Hopefully, you will find this simple technique of using filters worthwhile and add it to your arsenal of finishing steps. As always, if you have any questions or suggestions, feel free to email me directly.