Welcome to the top coat tutorial on the Layman's Gunpla Guide. Top coating is an incredibly easy way to add an extra dimension to your Gundam model. Unpainted kits can look great with just a nice top coat while painted kits will gain that extra umph. Top coats also serve to protect the underlying paint and details while the difference between a matte and gloss finish can dramatically change the feel of a project. Top coats, especially a dull one, has the extra benefit of helping to hide the edges of any applied decals.
Note that this tutorial is limited to some of the easier and most accessible methods available in the United States. Just because you don't see your favorite method here, or one you've heard recommended elsewhere, doesn't mean it's not viable. I always encourage experimentation and trying new things. If you should have any questions not answered in this tutorial feel free to inquire in the comments section or reach out to fellow modelers on Gunpla sites like r/Gunpla or the Gundam Australia Forum.
When it comes to cop coating the preferred method is to coat each piece individually. This way helps ensure an even coat and look across your completed kit. Beginners or those without access to alligator clips or putty should spray completed sections of a kit at a time. Be mindful of articulation points and hidden areas. You may spray a section down only to pose your kit later and discover that you missed a spot. Depending on your design it may be best to top coat the armor differently than the inner frame which may not even need it.
|Caution: Some types of top coats can have a negative effect underlying paint and details. For example, the thinning agent in lacquer based sprays has been known to cause Gundam Markers and pastel weathering to run. Always apply light coats and test beforehand!|
Dull coats are the most common finishing option for a kit. It flattens the look of the paint and plastic while making colours pop. Its ease of application makes it perfect for beginners who've never even painted a kit. On an unpainted kit a good dull coat can almost make the kit look as though it were painted and help hide sanding marks and other blemishes.
There are two recommended ways to dull coat your kit...
1) Testors Dullcote via spray can
Testors started making their top coats with the same label. Look for a barcode & label on the cap
or the product number on the bottom. Dullcote is #1260
Testors Dullcote is widely available at model shops around the United States and very easy to use. Simply shake the can well and spray on. Apply multiple, light coats with the can 5-10 inches away from the subject for the best results. It's also recommended to spray outside due to the fumes that come from aerosol cans.
There are a few caveats you need to be aware of. The most important of which is that Testors Dullcote is a lacquer based spray. Because of this it uses a thinning agent that may not react well with certain paints. I've found the results to be very hit and miss. I've seen it react negativity to Micron pens on one project and not on the other. Other models have reported similarly mixed experiences with Gundam Markers. On one project the spray resulted in a weird, blotchy look which I've never experienced before. By using light coats you can help reduce the impact of the thinning agent.
In addition it's easy to be so light with your sprays that you achieve an uneven consistency. When I top coat I always look at my pieces very closely under harsh light to make sure I've gotten everything coated properly. If you're not careful the cost of cans can quickly add up. Once you get a full coat with Testors Dullcote additional coats don't really add any benefit to the look. In fact, on my PG Zaku-II I found that subsequent coats actually worked to thin the previously applied Dullcote resulting in no change to the look.
From what I understand other dull sprays out there, like Mr Color, are nice and less abrasive. Unfortunately they're a lot harder to source domestically.
2) Flat Clear Acryl via airbrush
If you have an airbrush I recommend spraying some Flat Clear. It's generally available at most hobby shops and its acrylic base means it's easy to clean up and will likely have less negative effects on any underlying paint or details.
The mixture that I found works best for me is 90% Flat Clear and 10% acrylic thinner. Any more and it'll start to run. Since it's a clear coat, catching how much you are applying to a piece can be a pain. I recommend a strong light source to help you see how the piece looks. Ideally you want to see a bit of even moisture. Generally two coats should be enough.
If you thinned too much or sprayed down too much at a time let it sit for awhile. I've found it to be very forgiving and mistakes that I thought would be disastrous looked a lot better than I would've thought once it fully dried.
Dull Coating Clear Pieces
You can also dull coat clear pieces to give them a frosty or milky look. I dull coated the action base for my GN-X and Turn-A. I even went as far as to dull coat the a whole clear PG Zaku-II for effect (after painting the inner details of course).
|Note: You can never achieve as perfect of a dull coat than the look provided by a flat paint. Flat paint will have a much more matte appearance than a glossy or semi-gloss paint covered in dull top coat. In addition coating a flat paint with dull clear coat will take bit away from the matte appearance. It's very subtle but by adding a layer of clear paint you're adding a tad of luster. However it's a minor loss compared to the added benefits of helping to obscure decals and protect details.|
The luster of semi-gloss is fairly similar to the unpainted plastic of your average Gunpla kit. Not too shiny, not too flat. I can't say I've seen many modelers finish their kit in this style. If used on an unpainted kit one would be hard pressed to tell the difference before and after. If you're going to use some I recommend airbrushing some Model Master's Semi-Gloss. 90% paint 10% thinner should work really well for most.
There are those times when you want your kit to look like a polished sports car. For that, there's gloss coats. Unfortunately it's probably the most difficult top coat one can undertake. This isn't because applying it or getting the right materials is difficult, it's because getting things perfect can be an uphill challenge.
Where dull coats are good at hiding issues gloss coats exacerbate them. Imperfections like scratches, dust, or even thick decals can become quite noticeable. The glossier you want your kit the more coats you have to apply and each one creates an opportunity for minor issues that would be otherwise unnoticeable if not working with such a reflective medium. Where a dull coat would turn a piece of dust into a little speck on the paint some gloss coat could make it look more li
The more coats you apply the more likely you're going to happen upon the dreaded "orange peel texture". Due to a plethora of issues (spray was too thick, the paint dried to quickly, just because, etc) successive gloss coats start to develop a texture that's pretty similar to that of an orange peel. Hence the name.
On top of that gloss coats tend to be a bit thicker than dull coats. This means two things, first you may run into fitting issues later on if you're not careful. Most importantly this means starting from scratch on any piece is going to mean a lot of sanding. Gloss coat from Testors is lacquer based and, as far as I know, there's no way to strip lacquer that won't also destroy the paint underneath. The only real option is to start sanding.
If you want that perfect, super amazing clear coat, prepare to do a lot of wet sending. Wet sanding is pretty straight forward. Stop by your local home supply shop and look for some very, very fine sandpaper (1200 grit or higher) that's usually made specifically for wet usage. Sand with everything nice and wet, generally under a faucet or in a water filled dish. Messed up on a piece? That's a wet sanding. Starting to see some of that orange peel texture I mentioned above? That's a wet sanding. Most professional auto paint shops, when trying to get that amazing gloss coat, will actually wet sand between each application to keep things nice and smooth.
Have I scared you out of doing a gloss coat yet? Hopefully not, granted you've got the time and a cheap kit to test on.
Again, here are the two easiest ways to get a gloss coat on your kit...
1) Testors Glosscote (or any other hobby spray if you can get it) via spray can
Testors started making their top coats with the same label. Look for a barcode & label on the cap
or the product number on the bottom. Glosscote is #1261
Again I'm speaking to Testors because it's the most commonly available in the US, but same applies for any other product. As with any spray can apply light, even coats. I don't recommend this though because cans approach orange peel texture after the second or third coat.
2) Future Floor Finish via airbrush
Floor finish? Like the kind you use in the kitchen? Yep! Specifically the brand known as Future. These days in the US it's a Pledge brand but still caries the Future shine logo. I'm not 100% sure what's going on here, or whether other floor polishes would work, but Future works fantastically. Commonly refered to as a floor wax it technically lacks any wax and is really an acrylic. It's been used for years by modeling professionals to clear coat everything from Gundams, to cars, to airplane canopies. If you need to you can find a bottle on Amazon.
No thinning necessary. Put some in your airbrush and apply light, even coats. It'll probably spray on easier than you're used to with paint so careful not to overdo each coat. When you're done clean your brush with a mix of water and Windex or acrylic thinner.
Future can also be applied via a regular ol' brush. Just make sure to get an even coat up front and let it fully dry before seconds. Otherwise you stand to leave some brush marks. Generally small marks you might see following a proper application will disappear as the product settles and dries.
Krylon/Big Can Options
Over the years I've seen people ask about other coating products designed for other applications, typically Krylon spray cans which you can find at Michaels craft shops nation wide. Personally, I've never used them on any of my kits so I can't really say too much about the pros and cons. What I can say is that, for starters, these aren't designed for models. I haven't hear of anyone destroying their project through their use but that doesn't mean it can't happen. Non-model grade spray cans tend to leave a heavier and thicker coat so expect the same here. The general consensus I've seen is that Krylon clear coats aren't bad but won't get you the same great results that you would see from a brand geared toward scale models. Always test beforehand.
Peall coats don't really give pieces that proper pearl look, instead it's basically a clear spray with lots of white and silver sparkles in it. See the examples down below. The Model Master spray gives you more bang for the buck but after testing I found that second and third coats start to develop a yellow tint. Tamiya's is a might lighter spray and is hard to photograph. The Tamiya has the potential to mess with other sprayed Tamiya paints to use carefully. If you really want a sparkly paint I recommend skipping this top coat option and either spray down a paint that's naturally sparkly or metalic or look into mixing paint crystals into your paint.
Top Coat Samples
It's sort of hard to compare different top coat results without having the ability to hold a piece in your hand and examine different angles under a direct light source. None the less I've tried to come up with some examples. I started with one flat base and one gloss base so you can get an idea of how different coats are effected by the base and vice versa. Keep in mind that top coats can react differently to different paints so make sure to test on scrap plastic or a spoon before going to town on your kit. What you see below may not exactly match your results.
Every example represents two light coats unless otherwise specified.
|Base: Tamiya XF-7 Flat Red||Base: Tamiya X-4 Gloss Blue|
|Model Master Acryl Dull|
|Model Master Acryl Semi-Gloss|
|Testors Glosscode - Four Coats
|Future Floor Gloss|
|Future Floor Gloss - Four Coats|
|Model Master Pearl - One Coat|
|Tamiya Pearl Clear|
Top Coat Tips
- If using a can, spray outside to avoid stinking up your place
- Always physically inspect pieces before a top coat to make sure they're free of dust or other imperfections you would hate to seal
- If a piece of dust or hair that you can't easily pull off gets into your top coat let it fully dry before attempting to remove it. Trying to remove it while the top coat is wet will just damage the surrounding area more and possibly damage the underlying paint. Once the piece is dry you can gently scrape it away with a hobby knife, being careful to not damage the paint underneath, then apply a light coat again to mask any damage.
|Simply put, applying a top coat is one of the easiest and most rewarding upgrades you can apply to your gunpla projects. While it can also be time consuming and difficult depending on your end goal it can also be incredibly easy and the results make a huge difference. I invite all builders, of all skill levels, to give these a shot.|
Unfortunately, due to the great number of available products and methods out there, I can't cover them all in detail here. If you have any questions please feel free to reach out.