Making a Natural Metal Finish Chart

By Rogerio "Rato" Marczak

Everybody knows that natural metal finishes (NMF) can be a real dread. When properly done, it will make your model stand ahead, but when mistakenly accomplished, it will show your smallest faults, no matter during the painting or preparation phase itself. But long before loading the airbrush with paint, there are other important decisions to take:

  1. Which paint to use?
  2. Must it be polished it or not?
  3. If a clear coat is to be applied, how it will act over a given metallic paint brand?
  4. The clear coat should be flat, semi-gloss or gloss, if any?

Of course we all have our preferences and 'default' answers to these questions. But after researching photos of the real machine, on many occasions there are slight differences in the shine of the current NMF aircraft to your previous model. Even worse, sometimes all we want is a slightly different hue on a few panels. The subject can vary a lot: a P-51 operated in South Pacific area will oxidize more heavily than a (possibly polished) P-51 in Europe. The available materials also varies widely: enamels, acrylics, self adhesive foils, buffable and non-buffable metalizers, rub-on paints, and so forth. Not to mention the clear coats (if you are going to use any). How to keep track of your knowledge and secret recipes on how to get such effects?

Here is something that may be useful to you. It is simply a variation of Mike McLeod's Natural Metal Finish Paint Systems test. I lost my count of how many different metallic products I accumulated during the years. And since I can't rely on the 'see through the bottle' method, a couple of years ago I decided to adopt a systematic procedure every time I try a different product: I apply it to a 'standard' strip of plastic and keep it stored for comparison purposes. Eventually I accumulated a dozen or so of them, and then decided to took my airbrush and apply my usual clear coats on them. After a while doing so, I ended with my own NMF chart to compare with photos and it is helping me a lot to decide which method to use.

Here is the basic procedure: I cut a good stock of plastic strips measuring about 2 cm wide and 30 cm long. I divided each strip by scribing several lines spaced by 3 cm or so. As I said, every time I use a new product I take one of these strips and apply a hand of the metallic paint or metalizer on it. To minimize the work, I proceed to the next step only when I have a good number of 'new' strips done.

Next I apply different clear coats on the strip, using the scribed lines as borders. To avoid masking (and you know some metalizers don't like masks), I made a custom mask to simplify the task.

Applying the clear finishes on the metalized strips.

My custom made mask.

It is not necessary to be accurate here. The idea is to use the scribed lines as a reference, and avoid significant overspray over the adjacent areas. It's OK if you misplace the mask by one or two mm.

Here's a picture of my workbench during one of these sections. The large number of thinners on the background is due to the different nature of the clear coats I used.

Applying the clear coats.

After two years collecting these 'metalized strips', I decided to gather them in a big chart. I used a 70cm x 40cm cardboard sheet as a background and glued thick black paper on top of it to increase the contrast. The strips are slotted in place, so I can remove them when I desire, to compare with photos or models. The chart is arranged by paint brand along the columns and by clear coat along the rows. By now I have more metallic paints and metalizers to add, but here's my chart so far:

Columns (paint / metalizer / method):

  1. Tamiya XF-16 - Flat Aluminum
  2. Tamiya X-32 – Titanium Silver
  3. Orion ORTA007 – Extra fine aluminum
  4. Humbrol 11 – Silver Metallic
  5. Humbrol 56 – Aluminium Metallic
  6. Humbrol Metal Cote – Polished Aluminium
  7. Model Master Non-Buffing Metalizer 1781 – Aluminum
  8. Model Master Non-Buffing Metalizer 1780 – Steel
  9. Model Master Non-Buffing Metalizer 1790 – Chrome Silver
  10. Model Master Non-Buffing Metalizer 1781 – Silver Chrome Trim
  11. Model Master Buffing Metalizer 1401 – Aluminum Plate
  12. Model Master Buffing Metalizer 1401 – Aluminum Plate + Model Master Metalizer Sealer 1409
  13. Model Master Buffing Metalizer 1402 – Stainless Steel
  14. Model Master Buffing Metalizer 1412 – Dark Anodonic Gray
  15. Gunze Sangyo Mr. Metal Cote 211 – Chrome Silver
  16. Gloss black enamel + fine glitter polishing (article in preparation)
  17. Flat black enamel + fine glitter polishing
  18. Floquil Enamel F110100 – Old Silver
  19. Floquil Enamel F110101 – Bright Silver

Rows (paint / metalizer / method):

  1. Paint / metalizer as is
  2. Model Master Acryl 2015 – Flat Clear
  3. Model Master Acryl 2017 – Gloss Clear
  4. Future
  5. 80% Future + 20% Tamiya X-21– Flat base
  6. Tamiya X-22 – Gloss Clear
  7. Gunze Sangyo H20 – Flat Clear
  8. Model Master Metalizer Sealer 1409
  9. Floquil Enamel F110015 – Flat Finish

I took the photo of the chart without flash, and given the size of the image, you can't really see much clearly each 'chip' (see a larger image). However, I'm sure you got the idea. This simple experience resulted in a chart with 171 different NMF chips to choose from. Now I have to add a few more, but it is already a valuable resource when I have to decide what to use...

© Rogerio "Rato" Marczak 2004

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This article was published on Thursday, November 05 2015; Last modified on Thursday, November 05 2015