Modeling Notes: Paints

With Testors ending the production runs of Floquil and Polly-Scale modeling paints, the S-scale modelers who enjoy building kits, brass models, or scratchbuilding had to re-evaluate their choices. In this page we want to capture the modeling paints that are currently available for those who wish to paint their own cars and locomotives. In light of the disturbance, several companies have put together a color chart cross reference: MicroScale Industries, Model Railroad Hobbyist (if you subscribe to their online free magazine, you might be able to download the free PDF version).

Paint Types


A fast-drying, low or no toxicity paint that cleans up with water, and has low odor. It is usually made of pigment suspended in acrylic polymer emulsion. It becomes water resistant once dry.


Usually an alkyd resin or oil-based paint, that dries to a hard, temperature-invariant, gloss finish.


A very durable paint that contains colors that remain once the volatile organic compounds (VOC) have evaporated. Strong odors.


Known as "emulsion" in the UK. Color is carried in a water-based paint containing some sort of synthetic polymer such as acrylic.


Usually used to color paints. Pigment absorbs or reflects certain wavelengths, thereby giving the impression of color. A pigment is insoluble.


Material, usually dyes, dissolved in a carrier medium.


Thinned- or watered-down solution of paint.


Badger's MODELflex

photo © Badger

A water-based acrylic paint line with quite a few railroad-specific colors. These are available in 1oz and 2oz bottles, sold both individually and in convenient color-matched sets. These paints can be found online, in hobby shops, and in some arts-and-crafts stores.


photo © Humbrol

Humbrol has line of acrylic rail colors. Humbrol is a British company, so some of the colors may be biased toward British railroad colors. They also manufacture gloss enamel paints. Paints are directly available from their web site, as well as via U.S. retailers, such as: Mega Hobby, Sprue Brothers.


Hunterline has an extensive set of weathering mixes, generally used for aging wood (for example, flat car boards).

Modelers Decals and Paint

photo © Modelers Decals and Paint

This company produces acrylic paints designed for airbrush application, specifically for model railroaders.

Mission Models

photo © Mission Models

Although this company targets their airbrush-ready paints for military models, there may be some overlap with colors needed by model railroaders.

P-B-L Star Brand

Star Brand paints are solvent-based (PDF Flyer, which isn't very relevant, but it is the only info on their site). They are a lacquer-type paint, similar to automotive body paints. Experience has shown that you have to use their thinner to thin their paints; nothing else works as a thinner (lacquer thinner will clean the hand brushes, though). It dries very quickly. Their web site is a bit confusing to use, but if you go to it, click on the "Online Catalog" entry on the left, then in the "Categories" list, select "22 - Paints/Cements" for a listing of the paint colors they have (the "Photo" links are not photos of the color, but rather a link to the PDF flyer we link to above). They carry railroad paint colors, but most are aimed at the narrow-gauge railroads. These paints can be found online, and in some hobby shops.


photo © Rapido

Rapido Proto-Paint is an acrylic paint. The company is based in Canada, so they feature a lot of Canadian-prototype paints, but they are continually expanding to include U.S. prototype colors, as well as generic railroading colors. They don't sell direct, so be sure to check with your favorite dealer.


photo © Peter Vanvliet

Scalecoat is now owned by MinuteMan Scale Models. All Scalecoat paints are solvent-based enamel paints, and most dry with a gloss finish.

Scalecoat I is designed for use directly on metal and wood without the need for a primer coat. When applied to brass models, a low-heat baking in the oven will cure the paint layer within hours.

Scalecoat II is designed for use on plastics. Curing may take several days. Don't put plastic models in the oven!

All paints are focused on railroad modeling. Once cured, the coat should be glossy, immediately ready for application of decals. For airbrushing, Scalecoat has their own thinner, but some people report that thinning the paint with lacquer thinner works well (thin about 50/50; thin the to-be-used paint, not in the bottle, because the paint will be ruined over time). If any dulling appears on the painted surface, not enough paint was applied. Once a paint bottle is opened, there is a limited shelf-life. These paints can be found online, and in some hobby shops.


Tamiya's paint is available as a synthetic lacquer or an acrylic paint in a variety of colors for plastic surfaces, available in both flat and gloss. Since Tamiya is a manufacturer of plastic car and airplane kits, their paints are more geared toward those products. However, some may be applicable to the railroad modeler. These paints can be found online, in hobby shops, and some arts-and-crafts stores.

Testors Model Master

Although Testors no longer manufactures Floquil or Polly S paints, they do still make paints for figures, military, automotive, and general colors, as well as primers in their "Model Master" brand. These are available as acrylic washes, lacquer and enamel paints, and spray cans. Some colors might be useful in model railroading. These paints can be found online, in hobby shops, and some arts-and-crafts stores. Additionally, the Testors acrylic paints, available in individual 1.4oz bottles and in grouped paint sets, are primarily intended for general arts, but some may be useful in model railroading.

Tru-Color Paint

photo © Peter Vanvliet

Tru-Color Paint focuses on model railroad paints. These are solvent-based paints. For airbrushing, it is recommended that you thin them either with the company's thinner, or with acetone. For some people it doesn't seem to dry to a gloss finish. It is recommended that brass be primed with the company's primer first. Direct adherence to cars made out of resin can be a problem (priming might be important there). It is sold in two variations; one for airbrushing (glossy) and one for hand-painting (flat/matte). Thorough stirring of the paint is highly recommended. They have various color charts available.


Vallejo is based in Spain and makes various model paints, including ones for military and airplanes. The types of paints include, pigments (for weathering), acrylic, washes, and inks. Most paints adhere to plastics, and some (their Premium RC colors) can adhere to metal. Some colors may be useful for model railroading, especially if combined with other colors. Since they are not a U.S. company, getting their paints may be a bit of challenge. Here are a few retailers you might want to check: Hobby Lobby, HobbyLinc, Internet Hobbies, Mega Hobby, Micro-Mark, Miniature Market, Midwest Model Railroad, Showcase Miniatures, Sprue Brothers.

Paint Finishing & Decal Preparation

photo © Peter Vanvliet

Some paints leave a flat finish and some leave a gloss finish. A flat finish is one where the surface consists of many irregular small surfaces, all at different angles. The light is refracted such that it appears to not be reflective. A gloss finish is one flat, smooth surface. When applying decals, you will want a flat, smooth (i.e. gloss) surface, so that the decals can be easily applied and somewhat moved around while they are still wet. They might tear or not adhere properly on a "flat" surface. If you used a flat paint, you will need to apply a gloss spray to the model first. Typically, model railroaders use Testors Glosscote or a similar product.

Decal Protection

For model railroading, we typically don't want the cars and locomotives to be shiny. In the real world these are typically dull or dusty. So, once the decals have been applied, typically a spray is applied, such as Testors Dullcote or a similar product. This not only dulls the shine, it also protects the decals and the underlying paint layer from possible future damage. One note about Dullcote. If you apply too many coats of this clear lacquer, the irregular small surfaces mentioned above will start to fill in, and eventually become a smooth surface. So, too many coats of Dullcote, will cause the model to have a glossy surface.


To protect models where artists chalks (including Bragdon Enterprises' weathering powders) have been used for weathering, be sure NOT to use Testors Dullcote, because it will effectively nullify the effect of the chalks (Bragdon's will turn into a muddy mess). Use an acrylic clear spray to protect weathering chalks. The advantage of using Bragdon's weathering powders is that once they are worked into the model, they don't come off very easily, which means that an over-spray isn't really needed. The friction of working them into the model's surface activates an adhesive mixed in with the powders. Regular artists chalks do not have that, so they can be easily removed from a model with regular handling, and may require an over-spray.

Relatively new to the scene are PanPastel for weathering powders.

Copyright © 2019 NASG, Inc.; all rights reserved