Skill Level = Intermediate
This article will show how to paint a three colour hard-edged camouflage scheme on an armoured vehicle. The example used is Tamiya’s 1/35th M113A2 Armoured Personnel Carrier Desert Version as used in the second Gulf War.
The method shown works equally well with more or less colours, or on aircraft and warships. It is particularly suitable for modellers who are just starting to paint camouflage schemes, since it does not require any great skill with an airbrush, or complicated masking techniques.
Choosing The Paint Scheme
The kit instructions give four different paint schemes, two desert yellow and two three-tone camouflage. I decided on a vehicle that was used in the second Gulf War, but unusually it had retained it’s camouflage scheme from the European theatre. The choice was purely based on wanting a change from the desert yellow schemes that I had used on recent models that I had built.
Hard-Edge Verses Soft-Edge
Camouflage schemes may be either hard or soft-edged, depending on whether they have been painted with brushes or paint sprayers.
The kit instructions were not clear as to whether the vehicle being modelled had a hard or soft-edged camouflage scheme.
There is a great deal of variation in both the colours of military vehicles and the methods used to paint them. Most armies do specify particular colour schemes, but what actually happens in practice may differ considerably. This is partly because the vehicles may be painted in the field, in a hurry, under conditions that are less than ideal. Furthermore, the wear and tear and weathering that AFVs are subjected to often dramatically affects the look of them.
An example of this is with British Army vehicles being prepared for the second Gulf War in 2003. A lot of soft skin vehicles were sprayed a sand colour over a black and green camouflage scheme. Such was the hurry to paint all the vehicles, that some were immediately driven out of the paint shop and into pouring rain that washed much of the still wet sand paint from the upper surfaces giving a graduated paint scheme that was definately not in any official colour chart.
Bearing this in mind, I spent some time researching similar vehicles on the Internet and found that there seemed to be no logic in determining whether hard or soft-edged camouflage patterns were used on any particular vehicle. With this knowledge I decided to go with a hard-edged scheme.
Getting the colour right on any scale model can be difficult and is often the subject of heated debate on website forums. With a camouflage scheme the problem is doubled or tripled.
Fortunately, Tamiya make three paint colours specifically designed to reproduce the standard Nato camouflage scheme and these are, not surprisingly, Nato Green, Nato Brown and Nato Black. I decided to use the green and brown since it avoided mixing up my own blends. Instead of Tamiya Nato Black, I used Vallejo Model Color black-grey which is a very similar colour. I am gradually changing from Tamiya to Vallejo paints because I tend to get better results and the eyedropper bottles are so handy. With hindsight, I should have lightened all the colours as the end result looked a little dark and made me reluctant to use filters or washes that would darken the scheme further.
As a matter of fact, many modellers routinely lighten paint colours applied to scale models. This is partly because of what is known as the ‘scale’ effect – models seem to look too dark if painted in the exact same shade as the origninal vehicle. It is also partly due to the fact that most of the subsequent weathering processes such as adding washes will tend to darken the base coats.
Step 1 – Suspension And Wheels
The M113 has track guards that cover the upper run of tracks making them almost impossible to paint when the model is completed, so I started by painting the suspension, wheels and tracks separately before adding them to the model and adding the track guards.
The area directly under the sponsons was airbrushed Nato Black graduating into Nato Green lower down towards the suspension arms. This was done to simulate shadows under the sponsons. This area was also weathered with MIG pigments as it would be impossible to get at later on.
When the wheels and tracks had been added they were masked off which took quite some time and proved to be far more difficult than expected.
Step 2 – Priming
Initially, I intended to use masking tape to separate the three colours and so needed the base layers of paint to adhere very well to the model. Using masking tape always brings the risk of pulling the paint away when the tape is removed. Therefore, I gave the model a coat of Halford’s acrylic primer to improve the adhesion of the later coats of paint.
Step 3 – Pre-Shading
The purpose of this is to provide a subtle variation in the tones of the base coats that will follow.
Step 4 – Base Coat
The next stage was to airbrush the first colour of the three used in the camo scheme. Choosing the order in which the colours are applied is important and is governed by a couple of guidelines:
- Paint the colours in the order of how much area they cover starting with the largest area and working to the smallest area. For example if a vehicle is primarilly sand coloured with a few patches of other colours then paint the sand colour first.
- Paint the lightest colours first working toward the darker colours. This will keep the paint layers as thin as possible because it is easier to cover a light colour with a darker one than vice versa.
Unfortunately, with many schemes these two guidelines may conflict and the lightest colour might also be the one covering the smallest area. In such situations a decision will need to be made on which order will be easiet. There may also be other considerations depending on the particular model and colour scheme. For example, on this model I considered painting the entire model using Vallejo black-grey as the first coat as this would act as pre-shading the model. However, I decided it would be difficult to paint the green and brown over the black, so decided on green as the first coat, but it was a close call.
I applied the green in as thin a coat as possible so that the black pre-shaded lines would show through and give tonal variation. Unfortunately, the pre-shading does not show up very well in these photographs, but it is more obvious in reality and does make a difference to the overall appearance of the vehicle.
Change of Plan
So far everything had gone to plan, but then I made a decision that I regretted. When starting out, I had planned to airbrush the paint scheme since an airbrush almost always produces a better result than brush painting. However, when the time came to mask off the green paint in preparation for the brown and black colours, the sheer enormity of the task hit me.
Being a hard-edged scheme it would be necessary to make sure that the masking tape was stuck right on the surface and that meant sticking it down firmly over all the various projections and surface irregularities at the same time making the tape curve back and forth to match the weaving edges of the camo scheme. I tried it over one of the hatches and it proved very difficult. It was clear that it would take many hours tedious work to mask the entire vehicle for the brown paint and I would have to do it all again for the black paint.
After consideration, I determined to brush paint on the brown and black patches. After all, that was how the paint had been applied on the real vehicle and if I kept the paint thin then I should get a thin brush free finish. With this decision made I moved on to the brown paint.
Step 5 – Applying the Brown Camo
The first stage in painting anything is to set out everything you will need to use so that it is all readily available. Make sure that you have your jars of water and other fluids to hand, but at the same time place them where they will not be overturned.
When brush painting large areas it is necessary to thin the paint. I thinned the Tamiya Nato brown with water and also added a small amount of gel retarder that slows down the drying time of acrylic paints. One of the problems with acrylic paints is that they sometimes dry too fast.
I put a disposable latex glove on my left hand to protect the model from fingerprints and began carefully applying the paint with a small brush. Unfortunately, the results were not good. Even with the paint so thin that it was very transparent it still had a tendency to leave brush marks. I think this may have been due to the retarder which was a gel and so made the paint more ‘gloopy’ yet at the same time diluted the pigments in the paint.
When working over an entire model like this it is important to proceed in an orderly way. The two sides were painted first whilst holding the model on the top and bottom. This was followed by the front and back still holding the model by the top and bottom. When the time came to paint the roof, the sides had dried sufficiently so that they could be used to hold the model. By painting in this order I was able to complete all sides in one sitting without having to stop and wait for paint to dry.
The final result was not good with the green showing through the brown in many places. I was forced to apply a further two coats of brown before getting a result that I was satisfied with. It had taken me longer to brush paint the model than it would have taken to mask it and airbrush it and the results were disappointing.
Step 6 – Applying The Black Camo
The black paint went on much easier than the brown. This may be partly because it is a darker colour and thus naturally more opaque. It also might be because I was using a Vallejo paint specifically designed for brush painting. Whatever the reason, I was able to get good coverage without brush marks in a single coat which came as something of a relief.
Summary and Lessons Learned
The model has now had the base coats completed. The next stage was to airbrush couple of thin coats of Klear varnish in prearation for decals, washes, drybrushing, weathering etc. which are covered in other articles. The lessons that I have gleaned from this exercise are as follows:
- Brush painting is not an easy or quick alternative to airbrushing even if the airbrush route requires carefull preparation and masking.
- It is very difficult to get a good finish by brush painting – in future I will keep my brushes for detail painting rather than large areas. Considering that a basic airbrush powered by compressed gas cans can by bought for little more than a few good brushes, it is difficult to think why anyone should choose to brush paint entire models.
- Depending on what paints are used and what additives are added, very different results are obtained. In this case, the difference between the brown and black colours was huge, but I still do not know whether that was due to the paint manufacturer, or the additives I put in to them.
- The pre-shading was largely a waste of time for this camouflage scheme. Although it worked for the green colour, the brown and black were painted over the green and so totally obliterated the pre-shading. Unless you can keep the base coat to a single thin layer, there is little point in trying to pre-shade the model.
- With regard to the prospect of complex masking, it would probably have been much easier to use masking flluid rather than masking tape – if only I had thought of that at the time.
It is a good thing to learn something new from every model – that is how our skills and results improve and I have certainly learned a lot from this model.