R/C Car Painting

By John Hauser

In the r/c world, one of the main attractions is the wild custom painted bodies. While painting these bodies may seem daunting, it can be mastered with practice and the right equipment. During this simple tutorial, we'll show you how you can get started in airbrushing your own wicked paint jobs with a simple paint scheme and some basic masking.


Painting your r/c car or truck body successfully requires careful preparation and planning, but this simple program will take you through the basic steps no matter what style paint job or body you are painting.


Body Prep

The first step in preparing the body to paint is to wash and dry the inside of the body. This is done to wash away the release agents used on the body so that it will be free of the molds. The release agents will keep the paint from sticking to the body. Use regular dishwashing soap to wash away the agents and dry the body with a lint-free towel.

Design Planning

Design planning depends on the style of body you are painting. Designs tend to fall into a few basic categories: fantasy, racer replica or street. The design I've chosen is a fantasy design called Molten Rip. In this case, the car looks like it is being torn open with molten lava in the middle of the paint. The best way to accomplish this design is to simply draw it on the body, mask the body and cut it out. A Sharpie marker works well on Lexan R/C car bodies and can be wiped off with rubbing alcohol.


You may need striping tape, precut masks, vinyl masks or liquid masks to achieve your design. In this case, we will be using hobby liquid mask to create our molten rip design. The liquid mask should be applied in 4 to 5 thick coats and allowed to dry for a few hours between coats. Liquid mask remains flexible, yet seals the body nicely so no leaks drip under the mask.


Once the mask has dried, cut out the molten section of the mask with a stencil knife, being careful not to cut through to the Lexan.


1. Spray a light, thin fade of red along the jagged edge. Aim your spray pattern half on, half off the masked area. Be sure to spray light; you don't want a heavy coat of red, just red "mist" around the edge.

2. Using a hairdryer, dry the red. You can actually watch the moisture leave the paint. Just get close enough to dry the paint. You don't want to melt the Lexan body. Let the body air dry for 30 to 60 minutes. Now check out the picture. It looks horrible, doesn't it? Don't worry about how it looks through the body (unless you notice obvious mistakes). Since you are painting inside out, so to speak, you can rarely tell how each coat looks until you have removed the next layer of masking.

3. Spray a fade of orange next to the red. The red and the orange should fade together. The orange should fade about two-thirds into the clear molten area. Again, use the hair dryer to dry the paint and let the body air dry for 30 to 60 minutes.

4. Now spray the entire molten area with yellow. You will want to spray two coats of yellow paint, drying them between coats. You now know the routine with the hairdryer, so repeat it and the air-drying.

5. Next we will need to back the molten area with white. Concentrate on spraying two even coats using only the hair dryer in between coats. Set the body to the side to air dry for a few hours. (This time can decrease and you gain confidence, but for your first few bodies, go slow and be patient.)

6. Now carefully remove the rest of the liquid mask from the main body area and see how the molten area looks. It should be similar to this picture. As you can see, the molten area has turned out nicely.

7. Time to spray the main body. You can spray the body any color you like. For this example, I've chosen to paint it pearl purple. To do that, set your compressor to approximately 40 psi, spray a light coat of the pearl purple and allow the body to dry for an hour. The body needs to be evenly sprayed. Continue this for three to four coats.

8. Now back the purple with silver. The silver will allow the pearl purple to "pop" and look brighter.

9. As an optional step, you can take off the window masks and tint the windows with Pactra Acryl Transparent Smoke.

10. We will finish by painting the wing and side plates with chrome paint. Spray the wing and side plates lightly but evenly with three coats, waiting only 5 to 10 minutes in between coats. You can check after the third coat to see if you have enough paint on the car by holding a black shirt behind the body. If the wing and side plates look like a mirror, you have enough coats of chrome on it!

11. Back the whole car and wing with Faskolor Black.

Body Finishing Finishing the body is easy now that the painting is over. The first step is to cut out the excess Lexan with Lexan hobby scissors. Once the body is cut, remove the window masking. If everything looks good, remove the overspray film and attach the wing and you are done! Admire your masterpiece!


As you can see, painting R/C cars and trucks with an airbrush isn't difficult. It just takes practice and planning; but when you take the time, the results can be outstanding. I've added some pictures of cars I've done and some by Charlie Barnes, one of the premier painters in the R/C car industry. While you may not turn out work like Charlie's, you can create wonderful cars that will be the envy of your track or parking lot!

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