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FROM THE February 2009 ISSUE

Painting with nail polish

Q: What's the secret to painting car models with nail polish? I've seen it done, but have been reluctant to try it. What should I do to get started? How do you thin it?

-Several readers

Ken: We've received several questions regarding painting with nail polish, so we're lumping them together to present a basic overview.

Painting with nail polish is not much different than painting with any other solvent-based color, although at least a passing familiarity of airbrushing techniques is required.

As you know by strolling down any cosmetics aisle, nail polish is available in a vast array of beautifully varied colors, and those little bottles are just the right size for a scale paint job - without having to break the bank for a pint (or more) of custom-mixed automotive paint.

Nail polish can be thinned and applied just about like any other lacquer paint. There's no reason to be intimidated by the word lacquer, which sometimes conjures up images of secret application techniques and special equipment requirements.

All you really need to do is prepare the surface with a good automotive primer that will block the lacquer from reacting with (crazing) a plastic body.

I've always used Plasti-kote T-235 Sandable Primer from a spray can with great results, but there are many other suitable primers out there as well.

Thin the nail polish with cheap lacquer thinner (which, ironically, seems to work better than higher-grade thinners) to the consistency you normally use for your airbrush, and spray it on in a series of thin coats. Depending on the color, it may take longer to cover than other paints, but be patient, and don't hurry.

One trick - especially when using the more-transparent nail colors - is to spray it over a base coat that's similar in color to the top coat. Just remember that the base coat needs to be lacquer-based, too, so the layers are compatible.

You can also use the "transparency" factor of some nail polish to your advantage. By mixing nail color with "clear" polish, you can make your own Candy colors that can be applied over various base tones to create some exciting visual effects.

The key, as always, is to experiment on spare bodies until you feel comfortable enough to tackle a prize-winning paint job.

Thanks to all of you for the questions.


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