RG Freedom Gundam WIP

From the limbo, I post at thee!

We were supposed to be moving some time late April. It's almost July, and — as you can guess — we haven't moved yet. To escape the ennui of the wait, I've cracked open an RG box containing a special version of RG Freedom Gundam. The "special" bit is a fancy gloss coating — not exactly metalic, more like slight silvery sheen. My knowledge of Gundam SEED hasn't really improved since completing Aile Strike, so yet again I was a bit clueless as to what exactly I was putting together.

HG Ahead Smultron - done!

After all, it was supposed to be a simple job, right? As things usually go, "simple" got out of control and after putting it together I've decided to experiment. First thing I've tried was panel scribing. I had some cheapo panel scribers in my tool drawer and I've decided that I'd give it a go. There are many proverbs saying that you need to be careful when you're removing material, as this is usually a one way street. Guess what — same applies here. It's damn easy to make a new line, and it's even easier to make it unnecessarily deep and thick. I've used dymo tape to mark the line, scriber to carve out initial groove and finally a triangle file to make it deeper. Worked like a charm. That is, I've produced some panel lines. And have bent my thinnest scriber. Plus, as you can see on the photos below, I went a bit too wild with this on the shield and ended up with something that can no longer be called a panel line - it's more of a panel groove. It doesn't look as bad after coating, but it's definitely not the thing I initially had in mind. I've tried to use sandpaper wrapped around a toothpick and a very thin file to even out the edges. That of course resulted in even wider panel lingaps.

As you can see I've managed to control things better in other places, but still — this shows how important it is to get good quality tools and plan things beforehand. In few places my hand slipped and scratched more than I'd planed too.

Once the scribing rage subsided, I've decided to do some minor detailing. I've painted selected details with a Gundam marker, and once it was dry I've removed excess paint with a toothpick. This went well, apart from the fact that it's hard to get an even paint coverage with just the marker. Using a brush helps, but then visible brush strokes start to become a problem. But for small bits, marker + toothpick worked as advertised. Provided the toothpick was actually a toothpick and not a roughly-toothpick-shaped piece of wood, that is. I've used brown Tamiya premixed wash for panel lines. The wider the line, the poorer the capillary action was, and you can see that the lining on the shield isn't exactly something to write home about. The ink wouldn't flow, and would stay in uneven surface of the groove at random segments of the groove. One more reason to keep those lines thin and tidy. I've tried to experiment a bit with making my own panel wash, but it was a complete disaster. I've used Revel enamel thinner and paint for this, and for some reason I couldn't get it to mix properly. I'd end up with an oily soup of the thinner, with swirling tangible paint blobs in it. This thinner also turned out to be rather aggressive to the plastic itself — it'd lightly wear down every surface it'd touch, leaving a fine white residue.

I've also applied some generic HIQ Parts decals. They're well made, with minimal margin, and applied correctly every time. I've also used Mr. Mark Setter, which brought another useful lesson — once you apply it, don't move the decal as it gets soft, and can be torn easily.

The experiments ended with application of a gloss top-coat (Vallejo's). After all, it couldn't get much worse, right? And it didn't; although the coating isn't that even, I was pretty happy with the end result. The varnish covered some of the scratches and gave a nice sheen to the kit. The whole thing looked good enough, that I've decided to make a photo shoot.

HG Throne Zwei: a postmortem

Before you read on, be warned that this post contains some drastic (gunpla-wise) photos.

Looks like my recolor of Throne Zwei wasn't meant to be.

It was a silly colour to begin with. That thing was carrot orange out of the box, and as such the ugliest thing in my collection. A prime candidate for a recolour. Or rather, a test of recolour — after all, I had no experience and I was learning as I went. Someone on reddit suggested a colour set, and being as inept at picking colours as I am, I've decided to go with that. And as you can see, I kind of achieved a goal... not necessarily the goal, but a goal of some sorts: I've put the kit together with a new skin, so to speak. That's the good part. The bad part is where I repeatedly made so many mistakes that during yet another disassemble-to-change-something I broke enough pieces to decide that this case has been lost. Surprisingly, it's not the painting itself that went wrong — it's all the related things.

In the spirit of learning, I present to you a postmortem of this repaint. Not a full-fledged, proper one, mind you — but hopefully enough to be useful to someone else.

What went well?

  • Obviously, I got my first recolour done! Even if it wasn't the best job, I got it to a point where it could stand on a shelf and look half-decent. From a distance. With your eyes half-open. You get the idea.
  • Quick-disconnect for the airbrush is awesome. It's a simple cheap piece of metal that allows you to quickly detach an airbrush from the hose. No unscrewing needed, and the bit which remains on the hose seals it off once you detach the airbrush, so you don't need to worry about the compressor running. Sounds like a small thing, but the ability to quickly go to the bathroom and wash the airbrush made me more eager to experiment. Suddenly, the time tax paid on every colour change was gone. If only I knew this earlier.
  • While we're at changing colours; I've watched some (official!) gunpla videos on Youtube, presented by certain Mr. Kawaguchi. In this one you can see his recommendations for clearing the airbrush between colours. I've tried it for the first time with this paint job and it worked really well. I've still ended up going to bathroom to flush the airbrush with water, but mainly because I don't have a proper spraybooth where I can spray the cleaner off. This kind of bubbling makes the colour change quick and easy.
  • I had a lot of parts to spray, and I had plenty of time to test how the amount of paint deposited varies depending on the distance between the airbrush and the surface. I've noticed that I tend to put airbrush quite close to the part being painted. It's not necessarily a bad thing, as long as you watch the amount of paint that ends up on the part. If you can see a wet spot, or (worse) ripples being created by the airflow, you've put too much paint on the part, and most likely it'll not level itself properly. I've managed to avoid the disaster I've created with HG Exia's shield where the paint buildup would completely cover contours of an object.
  • A lot of people recommend painting parts with multiple thin paint layers. The keyword is thin — the first pass usually leaves only a "dust" of a colour. Hard to pull this off properly, especially if you're painting in the same colour as the primer. And of course if you spray from afar, it might take you several layers to get proper coverage, which will look blobby. I've painted most of the parts here in one go, only fixing few spots after a day. A few of the parts I did in multiple passes, and I think I need to stick with this idea as the end result looks better; the coverage is more even. Practice makes perfect, as usual.

What went bad?

  • Once I got the parts painted, I've put them together when the paint dried and cured for a day. That was a stupid idea: I've instantaneously discovered which parts move against which, by seeing all my precious paintwork getting scratched. I probably should have varnished it first, especially as I was planning to do this later for decals. I've tested afterwards how scratch resistant parts get when you actively try to scratch them with a nail; single layer gloss varnish do improve things, but not drastically. I think it would have been sufficient against accidental scratches, and if not, I could have always tried with two varnish layers...
  • During assembly I've also discovered that placement of the clips of the painting sticks is crucial. I haven't maimed any of the parts, but I have found some of the parts with clip-shaped areas of unpainted surface. And for some of the parts that I've clipped "on the inside", it turned out that I should really paint the "inside" too, because it's visible in a constructed kit. I think the best way to address this will be to keep the time between disassembly and painting to minimum — in case of this kit it was a couple of months, due to that unfortunate bike crash. Marking surfaces that should be painted, despite not looking as such, would also be good.
  • Repainting a part painted previously with a stock paint is dead easy. Repainting a part painted previously with a paint you've mixed yourself... well, you better remember the mix ratios, or have some leftover paint. This was a small kit, but with larger ones I think it'd make sense to mix larger amount of paint and put it in a separate bottle.
  • Last but not least: I should have prepared the kit for disassembly when I was first putting it together. Cut the pegs, widen the gaps, and do whatever's necessary to make sure I can disassemble the kit afterwards without excessive force. Also, scrap primer and paint from pegs when assembling back, as this only adds to the friction when you disassemble the kit. I've broke a nontrivial number of pieces while I was trying to take Throne Zwei apart for some repaints and varnishing, and as a result I've decided that it's not worth continuing. What I did instead was to... experiment on it! After all, there was a lot of other things I've planned to do after I painted the kit. It's just that the parts suddenly got way more scattered.

Lessons learned

  • First thing I've played with was gloss varnish. All of my varnishing so far was with a matt varnish, and I think that by now I know how much of the varnish should end up on a part when I'm spraying. With gloss, I still need to experiment some more, as you can probably notice on the photo above. This is mostly about setting your expectations: "I sprayed this way, and I got this result". There's a good page over at Otaku Revolution that shows a large gallery of MG spoons painted and varnished in different ways. It's worth reading, especially if you expect gloss to be highly reflective. It's not that easy. If you look at the photos above, I've varnished about half of the parts with Vallejo acrylic top coat, and compared parts afterwards.
  • Second experiment: panel lining with enamel washes on painted parts. I really liked the performance of Tamiya premixed wash, so I've tried it out here, on varnished and unvarnished parts. If we're sticking to actual panel lines (that is, grooves in plastic surface), there's very little difference between varnished and unvarnished. Ink flows slightly slower on varnished part, but that's about it. There's a huge difference when it comes to edges (just a place where two surfaces meet, without a groove). On unvarnished part ink gets sucked away from the edge which results in an ugly gradient shade (see here). Gloss varnish prevented that, but also made the paint very reluctant to flow. I think that my options would be to either spend hours cleaning things up or use a scriber to create a small groove along the edges I want to line. Or just go with a marker. On the subject of cleaning up after panel lining: it's kind of hard. It was dead easy to remove everything from the part, varnish, paint and primer with lighter-fluid soaked cotton swab. Supposedly it's possible to do, you just need to be extra careful. I've noticed that the varnish helped slightly in preserving the layers. I've also tried using an eraser; it's way more delicate, but it also takes way more time to clean up.
  • Waterslide decals were the third thing I've tried. For small ones, there was little to no difference between varnished and unvarnished surface. For larger ones, you could see that it's much easier to tear a decal on unvarnished surface. I haven't tried using any decal softer/setter things this time.
  • Bonus round: I've seen a number of articles describing the use of a toothpick to clean up excess paint from hand painted details. It's definitely not something that's doable on a painted kit, as you have almost no control of how much you're removing. Besides, Gundam paint markers are usually enamel based, and as such will happily melt underlying acrylic paints. As a result, you're looking at uneven color coverage, and paint coming off after a stronger look (yet alone a toothpick).

What's next? Two things, I think. I'll try to make one of my existing kits annoyingly glossy, just to get the feel for that gloss varnish I use. I'll also try to repaint another Throne. And of course, build something. It's been ages since I've done an actual build. So three things. I'll come in again... :)

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