Weathering Heresies
by: Paul A. Owen

Image courtesy of Defense Link
Weathering 1/35th Scale AFVs

The basic idea behind weathering an AFV model is to make it looked used. It is not, as some modelers allege, an antidote for shoddy construction. The "standard" AFV weathering today consists of a dark wash followed with dry-brushing successively lighter shades of the model's base coat to "bring out detail." The resulting model looks very pretty indeed, but is it realistic? And what process occurs in Nature that leaves lighter paint on an AFV's raised surfaces and edges? None! To realistically weather a model we must mimic Nature -- we must simulate, in scale, what happens to an AFV in the field.


The key to a good weathering job is, like everything in modelling, good research. Vehicles in the desert will not be caked in mud while those on the Russian front will be. So in determining what effects to portray it is essential to know the subject's location and time of year and then determine the conditions. The best references for studying environmental effects on vehicles are real vehicles. I used to work around heavy forestry equipment that resemble AFVs in construction (in fact some fellers are based on old Sherman chassis)! Although the reader may not get the chance to go out to an active cut-block he or she may see similar vehicles on construction sites and industrial yards. Even cars and trucks can be a useful guide -- just look how that old rusted wreck in the neighbour's back yard has bleached in the sun!

The "Standard" method of weathering an AFV model today is to apply an overall dark wash followed by dry-brushing with successively lighter shades of the model's base colour. This method is so ingrained as to be the accepted standard at model shows, while modellers who have actually put some thought into weathering their vehicles are often passed over as amateurs at shows. I have actually witnessed this at a show a few years ago; I was listening to the judges discussing the AFV models in contest, one stated "This one looks as it should.", (he was referring to my Jagdpanther model), the other judge responded, "It's not dry-brushed, how about this one?", he was pointing to a Pz. I in over-all dark Gray, dry-brushed with white! So no one who weathers a model with any intelligence will stand a chance of winning.

All the problems which model builders seem to have with realistic weathering and the single reason the "standard" method is so popular is that modelers have confused technique with effect. What I mean by this is a modeler will mindlessly dry-brush a model, because this is what he (or she) is supposed to do, without thinking of the effect produced. I take a different approach. Rather than describe the various methods used, such as washes, drybrushing, etc., it is far more logical to describe a weathering effect and how to replicate it in scale.

1999-2002 Paul A. Owen - Articled reprinted from TrackLink with permission of the author. All Rights Reserved.

Chronology of Weathering

By this I mean when did each "weathering event" occur in relation to the other ones. Did the vehicle get muddy before the crew spilled petrol on it or after, was it dusty before driving through a bog? A history of the vehicles weathering should be worked out beforehand and the weathering effects applied in this order. In general it is best to apply the effects as I have listed them in this article. Shadows, faded paint, field applied secondary camouflage and winter white wash are actually part of the painting process so are obviously the first effects, in that order, to be modelled. Long term effects such as worn paint and old heavy dust should be next. Topical effects including rust and fuel spills are next. Finally mud, snow and new dust should be applied last.

It is worth mentioning that some of the materials used for later effects may damaged a previous effect. For instance, a water based wash used to simulate dust will destroy the secondary camouflage effect created with artist's tube water colours. To prevent this from occurring it is best to use dissimilar based paints, in the case cited it would be better to use enamel based washes instead.

Weathering Effects

Below are all the weathering effects that I can think of which can be simulated on a AFV. For good results, patience and practice are important for good execution. I keep and old junked model around to practice on (an old Tamiya Matilda, which now has all kinds of mud, snow and even white wash all over it)!

Damaged Parts
An often overlooked aspect in depicting weathering is the daily wear and tear the vehicles are subjected to. Everything from a small dent in a fender to it being completely torn off can add considerably to a vehicle's looking used. The key to realistic looking battle damage is to, again, simulate Nature. This means do not heat the parts up first and melt them into shape. Instead it better to thin out the parts to scale thickness first, and then bend them with tweezers. After all this is how it happens in the field. The parts which are usually subjected to damage are the thin sheet metal parts such as fenders and storage bins, and frame storage brackets.

Thinning these parts down is not difficult, however, it is quite tedious. I tape sand paper to a piece of glass with double sided sticky tape and make small quot;handlesquot; from masking tape to hold the part while sanding. This is much the same method that vacu-form aeroplane model builders use. Work slowly and check often to see if the surface is being reduced evenly; the best way to do this is to hold the part up to a strong light and see if the part is consistently translucent - if not, concentrate on the thicker areas. The finished product should be almost paper thin. For parts which are not flat, hand sanding will have to be used. Sometimes, however, it is best to completely replace the part with a new scratchbuilt item. I prefer to use 0.0050" plastic stock, but sheet brass can be used too.

Now that the part is thin enough it can be damaged. Do this logically: for dings and dents, lay the part down on a semi-hard surface (a hard back book is good) and push the part with a hard blunt tool; for bends, simply bend the part with tweezers. Sometime I chew (yes, with my teeth!) on the part a bit - looks great! Under no circumstances subject the parts to open flame or a hot-knife -- the part will look melted and not bent. This is just a general outline for battle damage, the details are best discovered through experimentation.

While not weathering, accentuating the shadows of a model goes a long way into making it look realistic. Usually this is accomplished with a dark wash. Washes are notoriously difficult to apply with success, I have developed an alternative, however. Apply an overall of base of the shadow colour, use a complimentary to the final base colour, such as dark brown for dark yellow, dark olive drab for dark green and so on. Now, with an airbrush, apply several thin coats of the final base. Note how the darker colour will stay in the crevices and rivet holes. Practice is important with for this effect to be completely successful.

Faded Paint
Due to many hours of exposure to the sun's UV radiation the paint will lighten and in extreme cases bleach and completely flake off. This is most obvious in tropical and desert regions and well as the Steppes on Russia. These effects are more pronounced in the Summer months, so checking references as to time of year and location is important. For simple everyday fading add about 10% (by volume) of white to the base colour and gently apply a fog coat to the upper surfaces of the model. For extreme fading, such as for vehicles used in the desert, scrub into the paint some ground up white chalk dust using a stiff short bristled paint brush (be careful not to break any pieces on the model). For those who use Tamiya paints, add about 20% Flat base and 10% flat white thinned by 20% and gently fog this mixture over the model. The results with Tamiya paints are incredibly realistic.

Winter White Wash
Usually in snow conditions AFVs are camouflaged in white. This was, in the case of the Germans in WW2, a water based lime/salt mixture which was easily washed off with water. Mostly this was brushed on with paintbrushes, mops, brooms, rags and even thrown on direct from the bucket! The best method for simulating this is with white artist's tube water colour paint, thinned out and applied with a brush which best matches the prototype pattern. Occasionally an air-gun was used. To simulate this, thin the mixture further and apply with the finest setting on an airbrush. The key to realistic results with an airbrush is to gradually build up the finish, leaving bare and thin patches. The reason I prefer a water soluble paint is to facilitate the weathering process. To simulate areas of wear the paint can be rubbed off using a slightly moistened Q-Tip. For scratches a moist tooth pick can be used. Experimentation and practice with wearing off white wash paint is very important as it very easy to goof and end up with a terrible looking model.

Water Based Secondary Camouflage
For field applied, brushed on secondary camouflage (such as the dark green/red brown schemes used by the German Panzer forces in WW2,) it is often better to use water colour paints to depict this. Not acrylic model paints but artist's tube water colours. Suitably thinned and brushed on, these paints, due to their inherent translucent qualities, look chalky and faded just like the real thing.

It is important to seal the two former cases, as further weathering with water-based paints will destroy them. However, most enamel and lacquer based sealers will obliterate the subtle effects rendered with the unique qualities of the paints used, so it is important to test first.

Worn Paint
Simulating worn paint realistically requires advanced planning: worn paint is just that -- the paint has been worn off revealing the bare metal and primer underneath. So before the base colour is applied, these areas must first be painted in bare metal and primer colours. Referring to figure 1, a typical worn area consists of -- from center out -- bare metal, rusty metal, primer and the unworn base paint. To achieve this, follow these steps:

  1. Paint the area to show wear with a shiny metal colour (use whatever your favourite is). Mask the section that is to remain shiny metal with a liquid masking agent.
  2. Paint the area with rusty metal next (do not remove the mask covering the paint below). Mask over this again, leaving a rim of rusty metal around the shiny metal.
  3. Repeat step 2 for the primer colour. For WW2 German AFVs this should be Red-Oxide, (I do not know what colour primers where used by other nationalities at this time).
  4. Finally apply the base colour. Let dry and remove all the masking (three layers).
Most modelers, including myself, are far too impatient to do this for all worn paint. And its not practical for small areas and scratches. So dry-brushing can be used. Start with the primer colour over the base colour, followed by rusty metal and finish with shiny metal. Its important to be subtle with drybrushing worn paint.

For light rust dry-brush with enamel paint, I find Testors Rust the most realistic. Restraint is important here, a little bit goes a long way. For heavy rust, first paint the rusted area with a slurry of diluted white glue and abrasive cleanser (Comet or Ajax, etc.), Undercoat this area with dark brown and gradually drybrush the area with successively lighter shades of rust.

Rust streaks can be applied with pastels. However, only in extreme cases where an AFV has been left sitting in the rain for weeks will such streaks be evident - in other words, even though rust streaks may look very pretty indeed, do not apply them.

First of all, by grime I mean that black, greasy sludge that usually builds up on engines and things which get lubricated a lot. It is basically a mixture of oil and dirt. The best way to simulate this is with a heavy wash of black, with a hint of grey and green, paint. For extreme cases mix in a bit of dark brown chalk dust.

A convincing mud job is a little tricky to do; a bad application can ruin a model. However, by close inspection of references and a little practice, mud-slinging is one of the most satisfying aspects of weathering. I have concocted a good recipe for mud. The mixture consists of roughly equal proportions of the following:

  1. Tamiya paint (colour depends on what colour of mud is desired - usually I use Flat Earth).
  2. Tube water based paint (see previous brackets).
  3. Dry bulking agent such as Polyfilla, finely sifted earth or even coffee grinds, the desired consistency should determine which.
  4. Static Grass, (add an amount to suite your references).
  5. White glue - add only a few drops.
  6. Add water to the mix to reach the desired consistency, which should be about that of toothpaste.
Now that you have this mud-mixture, find a good reference photo of the vehicle you are weathering and apply the mud just like in the photo using a paintbrush. Dip the brush in water occasionally to help the mud flow a little easier. Let the mud dry. To simulate wet mud paint the muddy areas with a diluted white glue mixture. For dry mud grind up some earth coloured pastel chalks and apply to the mud with a brush -- use a lot and really grind it in. The results are incredible.

A paste of baking soda and white glue can be painted on to simulate wet snow. For dry snow, use the same mixture but sprinkle on more baking soda. For thin, frozen snow, dry-brushing thick flat pure white paint works well; build up the layers and try not to get too much on the raised detail.


A dusty M1-Abrams. Photo courtesy of Defense Link.

Dust is the is the main agent in an AFV looking dirty. It can be simulated by three methods; each depicting slightly different accumulations of dust. Use them in combinations for the following effects:

  • Old Heavy Dust: Using successively built up layers of thinned earth coloured paint. I prefer Tamiya Flat Buff and Flat Earth with some white tube water paint, mixed with water and a drop on Windex as a wetting agent. brush this mixture on, letting it collect around rivets and in crevices. This is the exact opposite to the "standard" drybrushing method of accentuating raised detail with lighter coloured paint. However, it is far more realistic - when dust is blown or rubbed off an AFV it tends to stay around rivets and in crevices and not on raised surfaces. Use a hairdryer to dry the model off fast - but be very careful not to melt the model.

  • New heavy Dust: Spray the above mixture with an airbrush. For a thicker application, thin the paint less. It is important to refer to reference photographs and to works slowly as it is easy to end up with a model that looks as if it has been sprayed with earth coloured paint and not road dust!

  • Light Dust: Pastel chalks, ground up and applied with a large (round no. 6) red sable brush. The final coat should be blown on. Always apply chalk dust except for AFV in winter, jungle and other extreme wet conditions. To simulate a recent, light rainfall spray the dusty model with water from a mister bottle - the effect is quite stunning.

  • Chalk Brands: Its worth noting what pastel chalks are. They are not the standard black-board chalks but artist's quality coloured drawing chalks. Get several earth colours. They will last for literally years of intensive weathering.

  • Fixing With Clear Coats: This is not recommended. Applying any clear top coat, whether it be enamel or water base will ruin the subtle effect created by the chalks. Also the colour will be darkened. The only way to avoid fingerprints is to either fix the model to a base or handle the model with extreme care. If finger prints do get on the model, however, they can be easily brushed out with a little more chalk.

Oil And Fuel Stains
These are best replicated with washes. Its debatable as to what colour petrol, if any, should be. However, a slight green tinge to the wash looks pretty good. The trick to a good gas stain, however, is not to colour the model, but to affect the previous weathering. Therefore gas and oil stains should be the last effect applied. Oil of course should be a medium wash of dark brown-black. The wash will stain any chalk dust and end up looking just like the real thing. For older stains, reapply chalk dust just before the wash dries, but don't use a brush as it will leave streaks, just blow it on. The dust will collect on the wet wash and when dry look most realistic.


While none of these techniques are ground breakingly new, I think the philosophy of effect over technique is - keep this in mind when you weather your next model. And have fun!

This article comes from Armorama