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Starship Modeling Guidelines

Model Kit Reviews - Building the Enterprise-C - Building the Enterprise-E - Starship Modeling Guidelines


Advanced modelers have special recipes to build stunning starship models. Not every of their tricks is easy to reproduce, and it is also the lack of time or patience that often prevents a normal modeler from building a perfect model. Still, there are some useful hints I have compiled for the majority of average modelers like myself.

Use a knife or scissors to remove the parts from the trees, don't try to tear them off without a tool. Remove excess plastic edges with a sharp knife or a file. If you intend to paint the model (and you really should), then use very fine emery paper to smoothen the edges.

Take liquid polystyrene glue with a syringe, not a brush. This works far better for small parts. Take into account that only part of the glue is soaked up by the polystyrene, thereby dissolving it. Excess glue will come out between the parts and ruin the outer surface, so don't overestimate the required quantity for small parts. If there is a clear part, take only a minute amount of glue and apply it to the very edge of the part. There is no way to undo damage to its surface.

There is some kind of "strategy" for every part to be glued. Put the parts together without paint and watch where they touch one another. Apply the glue in your mind before you actually take the glue bottle.

Large sub-assemblies should be fixed with rubber bands until the glue has dried. This may take up to half an hour. Rubber bands, however, are usually not suited to hold together nacelles and pylons, so you have to do it with your hands. Clothes pegs are the better choice to fix saucer top and bottom parts.

As masking I recommend an adhesive tape with a smooth paper-like surface, not the flexible ribbed tape that is often used for rough masking on walls to be painted.

Ignore the painting instruction sheet if it is an AMT/Ertl model kit. Look at reference images of starships instead. If not perfectly correct, you can at least make the colors of your model look as similar to the prototype as possible. The studio models of Federation starships are painted in different shades ranging from almost white over very light gray to bluish or greenish gray. Their appearance in the VFX shots, however, is usually different. The Enterprise-D, for instance, is actually painted in light gray and greenish gray, while the ship looks silver gray on screen. Light gray (RAL 7035, European standard) is a good compromise if you want to avoid painting each single hull panel which could make them look too contrasting and colorful.

Spray paint is very convenient and easy to use for the basic color of a starship. Don't make the paint coating too thick, because this will blur the details too much. Spray only one layer even if the instruction on the paint can says you have to create two perpendicular layers. You're lucky if the parts have the same basic color as the paint (e.g. AMT/Ertl Enterprise-E and Enterprise-C), so small holes in the coating are hardly noticeable.

Small parts should be painted prior to their assembly. In this case you should hold the part with tweezers or adhesive tape while painting. Scrape the paint from surfaces that have to be glued.

For painting the details you will need at least a very narrow brush (take the smallest available), a small one and a medium one.

The paint must be thin for a homogeneous coating, if you're painting hull plates, but not too thin. Otherwise it would run through the narrow channels between the plates due to the capillary effect. It must be a bit thicker to cover clear parts such as Bussard collectors and plasma conduits. Windows can be painted with very thin paint. Just put the brush tip into the thinned paint, thereby soaking up very few of it, then gently touch the window hole, and the paint will completely fill it. Try out every paint type in advance. Once you see how it works, it will be easy to estimate how much thinner you have to add, if any. In my experience enamel paint opened for the first time can be applied to hull plates, for instance, without additional thinning.

Accidental paint spots can usually be wiped away with a rag and a bit of petrol without damaging the basic color. If the spot remains visible, let it dry and repaint it carefully. I prefer petrol for cleaning rather than enamel thinner, for I know for sure petrol doesn't dissolve the plastic and only slowly dissolves the dry first coating.

If you mix two colors, first apply the paint to a test part and wait until it dries. The coating will usually look darker when dry and often more glossy than either of the initial colors.

Wait a few hours until you paint another layer, especially if it is another color. If you don't allow the paint to dry, the first coating will not be resistant to the thinner of the second layer, leading to ugly fissures and crumbles.

Wash the model with water and soap before painting and once again before applying the decals. This will improve adhesion.

Applying decals is usually very tricky, because there is only one try. Don't handle more than one of them at a time. My recommendation is to dip the decal into water for a few seconds and let it soak outside for about one minute. This will prevent the decal from being washed away while you're trying to fix it. Gently touch the decal with a paper tissue as soon as it is in its final location and it will dry immediately.

A large decal often needs a few minutes of work until it is both properly aligned and even. Don't worry, you have enough time to accomplish this. Drip water onto the decal to keep it flexible. If you try to move a decal that is not wet enough, you will easily tear it apart.


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Last modified: 04.08.09