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How to Paint an RC Plane: A Step by Step Guide

Painting an RC Plane is a fun part of the hobby, and RC enthusiasts can even turn it into a small side hustle if they get really proficient at it. At the least, it’s a great way to put your own personal mark on your RC aircraft. 

So how do you paint an RC plane? This guide will cover all the steps to painting an RC plane, including the following: 

· Necessary supplies and tools to paint RC planes

· How to set up your workspace to paint RC planes 

· Tips for priming and painting RC planes

· How to solve problems related to painting RC planes

Painting RC aircraft can be a bit tricky for novices who have never done it before because some liveries look fairly complicated at first glance, but with a little instruction, it doesn’t have to be hard. Keep reading to find out more about how you can paint your RC plans and customize them with any colors or designs that you want. 

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Painting an RC Plane

Learning how to paint your RC planes can be a great way to take your RC aircraft hobby a step further and put your personal touch on your models. There are many advantages to painting an RC plane, including the following:

· You can add weathering effects to increase the authenticity of a model

· You can change an aircraft’s default livery to reflect a personal livery or to emulate the livery of a famous aircraft

· Depending on how good the paint job is, a customized RC aircraft can be worth more if you choose to resell it

· Painting RC planes is fun and relaxing and can make an otherwise technically oriented hobby an outlet for artistic expression too

· Painting RC planes teaches you valuable painting skills for other creative projects

· Paint can help protect an aircraft from corrosion

· Dirt and oil do not stick as readily to a painted surface, making painted RC planes easier to clean and maintain

While there are many benefits to painting an RC plane, there are also a few drawbacks. Here are some of the disadvantages of painting your plane:

· Adding paint to a plane increases its weight

· Using the wrong kind of paint on a foam plane can cause the foam to dissolve

· A poorly executed paint job on an RC plane can make it look less aesthetically pleasing than not painting it at all

There are lots of good reasons why you’d want to paint your RC plane, but for it to turn out, you need to know what you’re doing. Keep reading to learn more about changing the paint job on your plane and a step by step explanation for what that entails. 

Changing RC Plane Livery

When you decide to change the paint job on your entire RC plane, then that is referred to as changing the plane’s livery. In commercial and military aircraft, livery is used so that traffic controllers and other air transportation crews can easily identify a plane on sight. Here are some of the different kinds of livery that are commonly seen in both standard and RC planes:

· Bare metal: To emulate bare metal, a plastic or foam RC plane is usually painted silver.

· Cheatline (racing stripe): This design is to hide the appearance of windows on a passenger aircraft that break up the plane’s livery design of the fuselage

· Hockey stick: This is a modified cheatline livery design where the racing stripe along the body of the plane extends at an angle up the side of the tail

· All-over color: Like it says on the tin, this livery design consists of painting an airplane all over in a single solid color

· Eurowhite: Eurowhite is a modified version of the all-over color livery design where the primary color is (you guessed it) white.

· Jellybean: A plane with a jellybean design will have a mostly white livery, but will feature a detailed, colorful design on the tail area 

· Billboard: The billboard-style of livery became popular in the 1970s, and with it, commercial aircraft usually plastered the company name across the side of the aircraft in large letters.

Any of these livery styles (or a style that is completely customized to your own persona livery) can be applied to an RC plane to give it a more professional and aesthetically pleasing look. If you want to make up a custom livery to paint across all your planes, all you need to do is take a look at some of the real-life plane liveries available and brainstorm some modifications for your own. 

Which Paints to Use and Which to Avoid on RC Planes

The type of paints you use on your RC planes depends largely on the material that your plane is constructed out of. For foam RC planes, the best choice for paint is a water-based acrylic or latex-based paint. These types of paint are fairly cheap and can be found in most hobby supply or home improvement shops. 

The one type of paint you definitely don’t want to use on foam-based RC planes is lacquer. This is because the chemicals in most kinds of lacquer will eat straight through most kinds of foam, which is the last thing you want to happen to a model you just finished putting together. 

Some hobbyists use a urethane-based automotive paint, but the major drawback to this kind of paint is that—while it looks nice—automotive paints are very expensive in comparison to hobby paints, and it’s almost impossible to get car paint mixed up in the small amounts necessary for model painting without committing to much more paint than you actually need. 

One way to get around the issue of lacquer paints eating RC plane foam is to use high-temperature engine enamel spray paint  intended to paint engine blocks on cars. This paint will offer a high-gloss, super plush-looking finish, but you will avoid damaging your foam at the same time.  

Supplies for Painting an RC Plane

Before you start painting your RC plane, the first thing you have to do is gather all the necessary supplies to do it. You don’t want to have to stop in the middle of working to try to track something down since you’ll want to paint a coat as evenly as possible in one go and not stop mid-way if you can help it.

Here are the supplies needed to paint an RC plane (other than the paint itself): 

·  Masking tape

· Newspaper or paper towels

·  Hobby knife

·  Respirator mask

·  Water-based polyurethane

· Light spackle/foam filler

· Sandpaper (80-120 grit)

· Primer

·  Hobby paintbrushes

·  Paint thinner

·  Denatured alcohol

· Decals (optional; depends on chosen livery)

Once you have these materials gathered, you should have everything you need to get your plane painted. Along with these items, you’ll also want to be sure to have a few cleaning cloths and a cup of water to clean your paint brushes in. This is especially true if you’re using acrylic paint, as this paint is plastic-based and dries very quickly.

One advantage of using an acrylic-based paint versus other types is that it forms a plastic player on the surface of the object, so on plastic pieces, if you don’t like your acrylic paint job, it can often be gently scraped off with a sharp razor.

Foam is absorbent, however, so if you use acrylic on the foam, it’s likely to soak the paint up. Luckily you can paint over acrylic easily if you make a mistake, just remember that each coat of paint you add to your plane is increasing its overall weight. 

Workstation Preparation for Painting an RC Plane

Before you start painting an RC plane, you’re going to want to get a workstation prepared. This means taking your newspaper or paper towels and laying them out over a table. 

If you’re working in an area with any kind of wind or ventilation (which you should be, especially if you’re working with spray paint), then you may want to tape down your paper towels with a bit of masking tape to keep them from blowing up into your work in progress while it’s wet.

Before touching the RC plane to prep it for paint, you’ll want to be sure to wash your hands thoroughly. This will prevent any body oils from being transferred to the bared surface of the plane, as these oils can prevent paint from sticking uniformly. 

All of your supplies should be gathered and ready to go. Pour a glass of water to clean your brushes (or paint thinner if you’re using a heavier-duty paint than acrylic) and get ready to work. 

Prepping an RC Plane for Paint

Once your workstation is ready, you’re ready to begin prepping your RC plane for primer and paint. This involves removing any stock decals, then taking your sandpaper, and making sure to brush sandpaper over the entire part to rough up its surface. Taking off the glossy top layer of the part will help the primer and the paint to adhere more easily and soak into the surface of the part with better coverage. 

This is also the point where you can use light spackle to cover up any small dings in your plane and sand them down once the spackle is dry. Be sure to apply as lightly as possible to avoid unnecessary added weight to the plane. You can also apply masking tape to any area of a part of the plane that you don’t want painted. This applies whether you’re using spray or brush paints.

When using sandpaper, be sure to get the inside edges of the parts as well as the inside of any corners. These are the areas where you’re going to have the biggest issue with uneven paint if you don’t make sure to sand the part evenly. 

Once you’re done wiping down the sanded part, wipe down the part carefully to remove any sandpaper dust. At this point, you can spray down the part with denatured alcohol to degrease it. Note: You should not use anything with acetone in it to clean or degrease a foam RC plane, as acetone will eat the foam. Degreasing is done to keep fingerprints and other body oils out of the paint.

Painting an RC Plane

After the plane has been sanded and degreased, it is ready to be primed and painted. The primer should be applied first in an even coat to the entire plane or any separated parts of it. Make sure to rub the primer carefully down into the surface of the plane to make sure that the inside of any porous material is coated well.

At this point, you can either paint the plane with a spray paint enamel or a water-based acrylic. The former can be done straight from a spray can (being sure to hold the can at least a foot from the surface of the plane.

The most important thing to remember when you’re painting your RC plane is that it is better to apply many light coats of paint than it is to try and do one or two thick coats. The main reason is that if you apply a coat of paint too thickly, the paint will begin to run and will generally look terrible. Thicker coats also take longer to dry. 

Apply thin coats and wait for ten minutes between each one, making sure to move your hand with a smooth, even motion as you paint. You can test how dry one of the coats is by gently touching the edge of the masking tape to see if the paint’s surface shifts nearby. Repeat until the plane is uniformly coated. Polyurethane can be used to give the plane a glossy finish. 

Detailing an RC Plane

After being painted, an RC plane will need to stand and dry untouched for at least twenty-four hours. It is vital that you don’t attempt to remove any masking tape or touch the plane during this time, as this can disrupt the paint while it’s still tacky and ruin your paint job. 

When you do get ready to pull the masking tape off the plane, it’s important that you do so very slowly and while keeping the released tape as close to the surface of the plane as possible. This will prevent you from accidentally ripping back any of the fresh paint closest to the tape’s border. 

After removing the tape, inspect the plane or parts closely for any flaws in the paint or overspray. These issues can be easily corrected by using a small paintbrush to brush up any problem areas carefully. While this might seem like a tedious process, cleaning up the lines on your paint job can drastically improve the aesthetics of the result, as the entire design will look crisper. 

If you’re painting with multiple colors, once your first layer color is applied and completely dry, you can mask off the plane again to protect the new paint while you paint in secondary colors. The paint must be completely dry before you do this, however, or the masking tape could peel up new paint.

Tips for Better Paint Jobs on RC Planes

It might take a few times to get really good painting RC planes, but there are a few tips you can observe in order to get a better result right from the beginning with your first custom-painted plane. Here are some things you can do to improve your result: 

·  Make sure to paint in dry, warm weather. This can help your paint to dry more quickly and, as a result, helps you avoid the kind of minor paint defects that can occur while the paint is still drying. It also makes it harder for any dust, hairs, or debris to get caught in the paint. High levels of humidity can make it take much longer than usual for your plane to dry. 

· Be meticulous—don’t rush it. If you want your final paint job to look professional, you have to slow down and paint like a professional. Cutting corners will finish the job more quickly, but you’re going to sacrifice aesthetics to do it. You’ll get a better final product if you take the time to sand the plane down and remove old decals versus painting over them. 

· Keep your nozzles, brushes, and workshop clean. Nozzles can become clogged up, leading to bad runs and uneven paint coats. If you don’t clean your brushes correctly, you might end up mixing colors inadvertently or damaging the brush by allowing a plastic-based paint to dry in the bristles. Make sure to clean up as you go, and you’ll have less of a mess to deal with at the end.

Here is a short video about tips and tricks to painting your RC plane.

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There are many great reasons for painting RC planes, whether you just want to use your own colors or you’re trying to replicate a real-life aircraft more closely. No matter what livery you end up choosing, learning to give your RC planes a professional-looking custom paint job can be one of the most rewarding aspects of the hobby.