Airbrushing Shadow and Distress Effects

by FliteTest | January 5, 2017 | (6 Ratings) Posted in Tips

If you’ve been following our journey of growth and flight here lately, you’ve probably noticed our planes looking quite spiffy with detailed paint jobs. 

We can thank our resident magician plane painter, Chad Lewis, who has a few tips to share on how to create realistic shadows and distress on your RC models. 

Before You Get Started

One of the first and most important steps is to purchase a paint that adheres really well to water-resistant foam. Rust-Oleum and Montana Colors are two specific brand that Chad loves to use. 

Make sure when you’re laying the base coat down, you start with a very thin layer and let it dry before putting a second coat. You don’t want to get the foam too wet. 

Once you have the base coat finished and dried, that’s where even more fun begins—airbrushing! 

There are two different kinds of airbrushes you can use to achieve the look you’re wanting to create: single action and dual action.

The single action airbrush siphons directly out of the jar and disperses it, whereas with the dual action you have control over the air AND the paint. The iwata Revolution dual action sprayer is Chad’s favorite way to create his masterpieces.

A little piece of advice: Practice, practice, practice!

Before you start putting more paint on the model we know you’ve spent hours creating, you want to practice on a scrap piece of paper to ensure you have your technique down and have it designed how you’d like it to look.

Panel Shadow Effect

When working on distressing, it’s important to use transparent paint in order for the base coat you so meticulously put down to still show through. 

Step One
Mark where you want the tops of the ribs to be.

Step Two
Use a straight edge to guide where you’ll put the paint to create the first part of the shadow and aim the nozzle closer to the paper than the plane’s wing so that only half the nozzle’s width gets on it. 

Step Three
For the other side of the shadow, don’t put it directly opposite of the first one, but let it be a bit off to create a natural look.

Step Four
Add a touch of airbrushing to the bottom part of the wing to your liking—then you’re finished!

Distress Effect

When real birds are flown, they don’t stay pristine for very long and over time, they develop imperfections. The purpose of adding rivets and distressing is to create an old school, weathered look to your model plane. 

Step One
Get your tools: a steel ruler and a center punch. Make sure the center punch has a smooth, round surface to ensure it doesn’t crack the foam.

Practice on other scrap foam prior to placing rivets and distressing on your plane!

Step Two 
Use the steel ruler to create the initial scores that create the paneled look. When placing them on your plane, you don’t want to push straight down with the center punch. Roll it on its back, which prevents it from going too far into the foam. Create as many panels as you like to achieve the look you desire. The panels don’t need to be perfect and they should be staggered to make it more realistic.

Step Three
Add rivets along the panel lines by rolling the center punch back and forth. To achieve a weathered look, gently scrape spots on the wing.

Step Four
Use black, water-based paint in the airbrush tool and start spraying in all the scores, rivets and cracks you created. Spray generously. 

Don’t worry. It’s not going to look perfect during the process, but the end result will look fantastic!

Step Five
Wipe the paint off of the wing. Add a little water to a damp cloth to remove the paint. If that doesn’t remove as much as you’d like, you can use acetone or rubbing alcohol, but use sparingly! Too much saturation of acetone or rubbing alcohol will remove the base coat beneath.

Bonus Technique: Tape and Paint

Use a low-tack painter’s tape to place over a lighter-colored, base paint. Then spray darker paint over top to create panel lines, shadows and distress marks. Chad used this technique on our Rogue Drone.

Do you have some favorite painting techniques? Share them with us! 

Want to learn more about how to perfect your airbrushing technique? Check out airbrushtutor tutuorials on YouTube.


Yogenh on January 8, 2017
I think that it is very helpful. Can be used for the real look of a plane that has been used

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loemrntdherid1 on April 10, 2017

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