How to Paint a Plastic Model Ship

Assembling a plastic ship model can constitute a time-consuming process, requiring patience and painstaking attention to detail. Completing the model brings a great sense of satisfaction, however. The last step to a completely finished model is painting. A realistic paint job transforms a good model into an excellent one that will impress friends and fellow hobbyists. Fortunately, the basic techniques of model ship painting are simple. With a little patience and care, you can give your vessel a paint job to be proud of.

Things You'll Need

  • Dish soap
  • Acrylic or enamel paints
  • Paintbrushes
  • Varnish


    • 1

      Prepare your ship for painting by cleaning the plastic, rendering it dry and free from dust. If your model has separate rigging and sails, leave them off during painting. If the plastic feels oily, wash it gently with water and a small amount of dish soap.

    • 2

      Research the correct paint scheme for your vessel. Look at photographs or paintings of ships of the same type. In some cases, such as Viking longships, history has told us very little about the paint schemes. In others, such as naval vessels, accuracy is important.

    • 3

      Undercoat your model by applying a layer of black acrylic or enamel paint with a brush to the entire ship to form the base coat for later layers of paint.

    • 4

      Paint the main colors of your model. Apply a dark shade of the main color to the main areas of the hull and deck. Don't worry if you go over onto detailed areas such as railing; you will come back and fill these in later.

    • 5

      Highlight your model. Use a lighter shade of the original hue, or mix some of the original color with white. Outline raised areas of the ship, such as the edges of strakes or the corners of superstructures. This technique will create an effect of light and shadow.

    • 6

      Paint detailed areas. Using a fine brush, such as a 3/0 or smaller, apply paint to small areas of detail such as railing, figureheads, weapons and other equipment. Highlight them just as you did with the large areas.

    • 7

      Varnish your model to protect it from wear and fading. Gloss varnish is sturdier, but matte varnish provides a more realistic appearance.

    • 8

      Rig your ship if you have previously removed the rigging and sails.

Tips & Warnings

  • To give your ship a weathered appearance, add patches of rust or faded wood. Dip your brush in paint of an appropriate color, then wipe it off until only a small amount remains. Lightly brush a light color over wooden areas or an orange-brown over metal.
  • Use varnish in a well-ventilated area.
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  • Photo Credit Pixland/Pixland/Getty Images

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