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Doing Panel Lines

Painting the panel lines is a very important step in our hobby since they will give a more realistic finish when a car is completed, especially if the body colour is light. I've seen cars perfectly built, well detailed and amazingly polished... but then the panel lines were left empty, finished in the same colour as the body! There are many methods to paint the panel lines and I think everyone has developed his own best procedure, like painting the lines in black before actually airbrushing the colour or doing them with a gundam marker! 


The procedure explained below, is the one I adapted for myself. Not many will agree about the moment I apply the paint, but for me it always works best with great results.

Working on panel lines doesn't start with just applying paint for me. It starts from the early stage of getting the body ready by making them deeper using a scriber. The objective here is to make them deeper, not wider. This is very important since wider lines will look bad.

I have another tutorial that emphasizes on the exact work and steps required during panel lines scribing, so make sure to check out the "Getting Body Ready" tutorial for this info.

Now, this is where others may not agree with me! Once I airbrush the colour coats and am happy with the amount of layers and finish laid down, I airbrush around 2 coats of 2K clear to seal the colour off. Once dry, I do the panel lines, remove all orange peel, attach any decals and airbrush the final layers of 2K clear. People have questioned this procedure since I’m applying clear over the panel lines, but these don’t become too glossy in the end and final results are good, as can be seen on all my recent builds.

So you may ask, why paint them at that stage, not after all 2K layers have been laid down? This is simply because at that stage the panel lines are still deep and applied paint will run smoothly inside the line. This will also give me a deeper, more realistic effect. After all 2K layers have been laid down, the panel lines are less deep so paint wasn’t running well inside and I wasn’t achieving that deep look I always aim for. Above are the items I utilize to do the panel lines: Tamiya X-19 Smoke paint, a small round brush, several ear cotton buds and a small container to mix the smoke paint with its respective thinner.

At this point I was to stress out that this procedure shall be carried out onto the clear, not the colour directly (unless it’s an automotive colour mixed with hardener!). The basecoat colours turn matt once dry and will absorb the smoke paint. They are also quite soft when dry and once you start removing excess smoke paint, you’ll remove your colour layers too. Above picture shows again the EK9 Civic, ready to start painting the smoke. Notice how deep the panel lines are, even after having already airbrushed the primer, colour and clear on them. This is thanks to the preparation done earlier on before the primer.

Let’s finally begin with the procedure. First step is to mix the Tamiya smoke with its respective thinner. I’m using an Acrylic paint, so for me it’s Acrylic thinner! Ratio is around 60% smoke, 40% thinner. Since the EK9 has a white colour, I began with a ratio of 50/50 since I didn’t want to risk it being too dark immediately. However, when body colour is darker, I always go for the 60/40 ratio for the first layer of paint.

At this stage I start applying the paint where I simply dip the brush into the paint and then move it along the panel line. Red arrow above shows a panel line that’s been painted, yellow arrow shows difference between painted (left side) and unpainted (right side), while green arrow shows the unpainted line. Don’t worry if some paint goes on the edges of the line, this will be taken care of once the smoke paint is dry.

When painting the panel lines, it’s very important to have as much lighting on the model as possible. You’ll need to see the painted line well, especially as this dries off to be sure that the colour of the smoke is consistent. You may see lighter coloured pieces in some areas. This is since the smoke paint may move slightly to the edges during drying and cause lighter areas. Having good lighting, you’ll notice these immediately.

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Let me demonstrate this in the above image. The 3 arrows are showing parts of the panel line where the smoke colour is slightly lighter. This occurred once the paint dried off. Under normal lighting, you’ll barely notice them. If you’re not applying anymore layers of smoke to darken the lines, then you can apply more paint to these affected areas only.

Sometimes to be extra sure that the smoke paint is consistent, I even help my eyes with the magnifying glass! These may be tricky to spot, and more difficult to repair later on. So better be sure that there are no lighter spots. Speaking of the smoke paint, I have always done this using Tamiya X-19 since I really like it’s colour. I also have a Vallejo smoke paint, but it’s more brownish and never used it here. Other brands may have good realistic smoke colours too, but I personally don’t own any so can’t comment on that.

Another thing I do, is to have a side picture of a real car like the one I would be working on and in the same colour too. This helps me realize how dark the panel lines need to be finished in, to be as realistic as possible. You don’t want to go too light or too dark, especially on certain colours like white or yellow. For the EK9, I was lucky to have a magazine that showed exactly what I needed. For other builds, I find the best picture online and print it! This is obviously optional, but I find it helpful.

Once I’m sure that all panel lines are painted, with the most realistic darkness possible, I wait around 30 minutes to be sure that all the smoke paint has fully cured and start removing all the excess paint. This is very simple. I first fill the little cap (yellow arrow) with the same paint thinner, then using the cotton buds I start removing the excess paint by simply passing it over the panel line without pressing too hard. The good paint is deep inside the panel line, so don’t worry about the cotton bud removing any of it. Red arrows show 2 pieces of panel lines that were already cleaned, showing a smooth line.

You will notice that the cotton buds will become black after a small amount of time. This means that you’ll need to replace these quite often, and that’s why at the beginning I mentioned to get ‘several’ of them. If you keep using it like that, you’ll notice it starts to smudge the extra paint around, instead of removing it.

Finally, once again I suggest doing this cleaning procedure under good lighting to be sure that all excess paint is removed and that none of the good paint is removed by mistake.

To end with, let me show you two pictures of the completed Civic, also showing the end result of the panel lines. For this Civic, I ended up painting two layers of smoke paint with a 50/50 ratio to achieve the darkness I required. Other builds, like for example the BRZ, took 3 layers of 60/40 ratio while the yellow Evo VII took 2 layers of 60/40 ratio. 


This shows that the layers vary depending on the body colour. There is no exact rule for this too, you'll need to experiment yourself even if you use Tamiya smoke like me. The bottle may be newer/older than mine, hence the paint would be drier/softer than mine requiring more/less thinner! So experiment and find the best ratio for the paint you have.


Finally, if you went too dark with your panel lines, don't worry. Just take out a small flat brush, dip it into the thinner and clean the panel line paint away. Then start over. Once again, don't forget to do this whole procedure on clear, not directly to the basecoat colour.

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And that’s my whole procedure! Really hope you find it interesting and that it'll help you out with your next panel lines job! If you have any questions, feel free to sign the guestbook or ask on the jdm24scale facebook page.

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