Hairspray technique – Tips & Tricks

I guess there isn’t an armor modeller at this time, who has not heard about the hairspray technique of weathering models. This technique was pioneered by Phil Stutcinskas and gained fame after his marvelous Panzer IV won Best in Show at Euromilitaire 2006 (pictured above, you can see more excellent pictures here). I still consider his piece one of the best models ever made.

Hairspray technique has since been covered in many articles and books. In spite of that I have found out that it might not be as easy as it sounds, definitely some of my early attempts were more of a disappointment. Through experimentation and series of trials and errors I found what works best for me and was able to achieve very niece effects which can hardly be replicated in different way. So for any of you out there who are wondering (as I used to) why the heck I cannot do it when everybody else can, here are few things to try:

– The technique works best when the hairspray is applied on a glossy surface. This can be achieved either by giving the underlying surface gloss coat before applying the hairspray or, as I prefer, by adding some 10-20% of Tamiya Clear X-22 to the underlying paint coat (this usually results in less gloss than with the full gloss coat layer, which creates rather nice metallic sheen). The reason is that if the paint surface on which the hairspray is applied is flat, hairspray gets absorbed into the paint and subsequently cannot be dissolved with water applied on top.

– I use hairspray which is in a bottle with mechanic atomizer and can thus be opened. I then apply the hairspray with airbrush, which is the best way how to control the coverage.

– Do not apply thick coat of the hairspray. If you do this, the paint applied on top of the hairspray will peel off in large chunks, without creating that desired transition between the two paint layers.

– I use Tamiya acrylic paints. Unlike other paint brands, with Tamiya I can achieve thin semi-transparent layers of paint, which is exactly what is needed for the paint layer to be applied on top the hairspray. This paint layer has to be thin enough for water to pass through and dissolve the underlying hairspray.

– For regular paint coats I use Tamiya lacquer thinner to thin my paints, almost always with  addition of Tamiya X-22 Clear. The paint layer applied on top of the hairspray is an exception. For this I use alcohol (99% Isopropanol as can be bought in Shoppers Drug Mart) as a thinner and do not add any clear medium. Both lacquer thinner and clear medium are used to improve the adhesion of the regular paint coat on the underlying surface, which is not exactly desired with the hairspray technique. Here it is exactly opposite effect that is to be achieved – thin semi-transparent layer of paint that can be partly removed.

– Test, test, test. Before trying this on an actual model, just try the technique on a piece of styrene, this way you can avoid (a) wasting a model, which you probably have taken some time to build, and (b) quite a bit of disappointment if the result is not exactly as expected.

So, I hope this might help someone. I will try to post a pictures of my results with this technique in some (not too distant) future.

UPDATE as of February 29 – I have added some more ideas here.

UPDATE as of August 22, 2013 – for my latest tips and video on the hairspray method check my recent post here

12 replies »

  1. Have you tried the Windex chipping method yet? This is something I’m really keen on doing -if only Amazon finally shipped that Windex… (UK.)

  2. Thank you for this , I am trying it very soon and this helps a lot . My only question is time scale . How soon after hairspray should paint be applied and how long after paint had dried can I chip . Thanks again a great article 👍🏻👍🏻

    • Hi Rob, you can apply the paint pretty much right away. The coat of hairspray should be thin, so it should dry quickly. It should be dry to touch in few seconds or minutes so you can paint it right then. Cheers, Vlad

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