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Cheap And Easy Detailing Tricks

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Old 11-21-2007, 10:13 AM   #1
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Join Date: Jul 2003
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Cheap And Easy Detailing Tricks

I don't post here a lot, but I do a lot of mods...barely a figure in my collection hasn't been tampered with in some way. When I DO show my customs to someone, I tend to get asked how I did something or other, so I just thought I'd write up a little information.

I have a very simple personal philosophy when it comes to customizing any figure: Always seek to improve upon the original design while retaining as much of the playability and durability as possible.

I try to avoid paint apps that dull the surface detail and require the owner to treat the figure like eggshell to avoid chipping or breaking; I spend a lot of time researching new ways to color or recreate parts the ensure optimum durability. In all of my customs, my objective is to have my figure as close to factory-playable as the original figure, with my modifications inconspicuous yet seamlessly improving the figure.

Some people don't have the workspace or inclination to buy a bunch of paint and spend hours taking apart their figures, then doing the whole primer, paint, recoat, seal, etc... so I like to keep my mods simple and effective, in order to make them accessible to any casual fan who wishes to put forth the effort. A perfect example of this is my slightly touched-up Longarm featured below. These techniques can be used on any figure, not just this one. Even if you're not as dedicated as some hardcore modders, there's a lot you can do to personalize your figures using easy to find, cheap, over-the-counter stuff.

This is my most very basic toolset:



Cotton Swabs: These are useful for more than cleaning your ears. They can be used to apply alcohol or goo-gone to remove decals or paint apps, soak up excess paint or stipple like a drybrush. Plus they're disposable.

Screwdriver: This is the screwdriver I use daily, for lots more than transformers customs. It has 4 reversible bits stored in the handle, for a total of 8 different sized phillips/standard heads. This one tool will take out almost any screw on any toy. It's sturdy and durable and costs only about 5$ at Home Depot. A good screwdriver is one of the best purchases you can ever make.

Pin Vise: A little hand drill, again, useful for more than toys. The handles are often hollow, where you can store dremel-sized drill bits. With a Pin Vise, you can carefully make precision holes in your figures, to brace weak parts, add sockets, or start a pilot hole for the x-acto. These are also called Hand Drills, though most places won't know what you're asking for unless you specify Pin Vise.

X-acto Knife: The holy grail of modeling tools, there's very little you can't do with one of these and the proper blade. Cutting, drilling, trimming; it's the all-purpose tool you can't live without. Just be careful, because you can cause yourself greivous harm with one slip from this bad boy.

Needlenose Pliers: While it can be useful to have a number of different sized pliers for dealing with stubborn parts, at least one set of needlenose pliers will suffice to provide some leverage when dealing with stubborn pieces, help you situate small parts, insert screws into narrow openings, hold pieces you're cutting when you don't want to put your fingers at risk. And they still remain useful outside the casual customizer's workbench.

With those few tools, you'll be surprised at all the things you can do if you put your mind to it. You don't need a dremel or pinpoint soldering iron or airbrush to effect small improvements that make a big impact.

As for painting, there may be times when you feel like a little highlight would really help an otherwise plain figure, but you don't want to exert all the effort to assemble a whole customizing workshop or you don't have the room to set up an elaborate lab. Unfortunately, some modifications, like total conversions, require a bit more dedication than what I'm going into here, but with some rudimentary tools you can accentuate existing apps with paint touchups and surprisingly easy marker washes.

Some of my personal essentials, all of which fit into a zip-lock bag, are:



Sharpie Markers: A set of sharpie markers can be useful for small retouches, such as areas where black paint may have rubbed off of an area. Bear in mind, however, that sharpie ink has a slightly oily sheen to it, so it won't perfectly match some paint apps. And over time, the ink has a tendency to discolor surrounding porous plastics, so use it with caution, lest your really sweet custom end up looking awful five years from now.

Metallic Silver Sharpies: These are a slightly different beast than regular sharpies. More like felt tip paint pens than a standard sharpie, I find they an excellent product. The ink is very opaque and dries very shiny. It's useful for adding unpainted mirrors, highlighting small bolts or piping, or covering up scuffs in factory silver paint. It's not as durable as enamel, but as long as you use it sparingly on accents, it won't matter. I advise you always keep one strictly for use in blathering on silver ink, and one that you intend to retain the sharp, pointed tip for detail work.

Uchida Marvy "Decocolor" Paint Pens: These pens are a little on the expensive side, costing about as much as a can of spray paint, but they go a long way and both the applicator and paint product are top notch stuff. They come in many colors, from primaries to a very nice chrome silver/gold, and can be found at most craft, hobby, or scrapbooking stores, like Michael's or Hobby Lobby. You can also choose from a number of tip sizes, though I usually prefer the Fine and Extra Fine, because I'm usually not using them to cover a great deal of surface area and accuracy in application can be important.

The paint itself sticks well to plastic, dries quickly, retains a glossy sheen, and doesn't rub off easily. It's pretty great stuff. Plus since it's oil-based, you can use goo-gone with a paper towel, Q-tip, or your finger to wipe off excess or thin it for washes. I'll mention this again later. Oh, and the stuff reeks to high heaven, so be sure to open a window or you'll end up with a headache from the fumes.

Now these... these are one of my secret weapons:



Roseart Colorsharp Metallics: Sometime a few years ago, a fellow customizer tipped me off to these beauties. You'll find them lurking in the craft aisle of many stores, in an unassuming package of five. These markers are similar to the Metallic Sharpies, in that they are opaque felt-tipped pens whose ink acts more like paint, but they have their own special incidental qualities.

The Green, Purple, and Blue are impressive solid metallic colors, perfect for gun barrels, sensors, eyes, or anyplace else you might want a strong colored accent. Though the same caveats apply here -- the ink is nice for recessed areas but its not durable enough to stand up to repeated manhandling, so if you use it on a wide open area, it's going to rub off.

The Gold is different from the Sharpie gold or Uchida Marvy gold, as it is less reflective and a little greener, almost a bronze color... which that can work to its advantage in areas where you want a metallic color that isn't silver and isn't blinding bling.

The Silver is entirely inferior to the Sharpie silver in terms of sheen and permanence, as it's slightly transparent. However, this is also a strength, in that you can use it on areas where you want a very slight metallic sheen and the ink appears as a metallic grey instead of a chrome silver. On a black part, a wash of this silver gives the impression of gunmetal. Which is awesome.

The "dual" pen tips don't work quite as well as advertised in my experience, having gone through at least three sets of these pens over time. The fine tip just doesn't have the flow to provide a nice opaque surface layer of ink. You end up with the colored pigment, and little of the metallic flake. It provides a translucent, somewhat pearlescent effect, but I haven't ever found this particularly useful.

Now for some examples, with our lovely model, Movie Deluxe Longarm:



This is Longarm's gun, given some quick n' dirty highlights using the aforementioned materials. The photograph does a poor job of reflecting the levels of silver here, but basically all I did was use the silver Colorsharp to messily color any areas I wanted to stay silver, especially any indented areas such as panel lines. As I colored areas, I gave it a second or two to dry, then wiped my finger over the ink, removing it from the highlights, and leaving only the recessed areas with a metallic stain. Then I went back and touched up certain areas with the Sharpie Silver, leaving a much brighter silver by contrast. The fact that the ink rubs right off of highlights with some effort becomes its strength here.

I used this same technique on all of the other black parts of the figure, and the white parts of the gun. The painting/rubbing process left silver in the recesses of course, but also granted the white a slightly greyer cast, adding some quality and visual interest to an otherwise sterile, uniform white.


Here you can see the gun as it appears in Longarm's alt mode. It's easier to see on the Robot Mode photo below, but I've used the Silver Wipe on the textured steel plating. I covered the entire section with the Silver Sharpie, then rubbed my finger over it to remove silver from the highlights, making the plain silver molded plastic appear to have a more realistic metal surface.

(I also planned to paint the tail lights and turn signals, but my fine-tip red Uchida Marvy had given up the ghost. It'll have to wait till I get to the store and pick up a new one.)



Another view. I also dusted the various handles and levers with silver as well, to give them SOME differentiation from the rest of the body. I didn't do any sort of washes on the truck exterior, although you certainly could if you wanted to. It's entirely up to your personal preferences, which is what customizing is all about.


Here is a front-on detail shot of Longarm's upper body. I hit up the textured metal here once again with silver, to give it a more interesting definition. For consistency's sake, I also did a silver marker wash on the arms and head, so that none of the plastic would be glaringly absent any highlights. In order to hit some of the harder-to-reach internal parts, I drew on them with the marker, then rubbed the excess off with a q-tip.

I'm disappointed how little of the silver showed up in these photos, but the black and blue parts have an interesting wash effect. From the right angles, you can see metallic shines that emphasize "metal robot" as opposed to "plastic toy"

For the main body, which already had a black paint app on the crotch but was painfully bereft otherwise, I unscrewed the front half of his torso and broke out the black Uchida Marvy. I did the same thing I do with the markers, and painted over the silver plastic, making sure to coat the inside crevices. Then I took a paper towel, moistened it with Goo-Gone, and wiped it down. The last step was taking the blue Colorsharp and coloring the bubble in his chest. As you can see, it's a very nice blue and very reflective -- the camera flash caused the blue tint visible around the core.


The plain silver panels behind his head got hit with the same black Uchida Marvy/Goo-gone wash. The camera flash and glossiness of the paint lend the paint a "wet" look here; in person, it's a lot more subdued and subtle, but still makes a noticable difference contrasting to plain plastic.



The end result is a figure with a lot more interest, for very little investment in equipment and time. I'd estimate this whole process took maybe an hour to an hour and a half tops, just idly highlighting areas as I went, (and cleaning off my fingers when they got too messy, as to not leave unintentional fingerprints.)

I've used this same method to improve many of my figures -- it works well on the Classics Seekers, and any figure with a lot of unbroken solid color (especially black, like Movie Voyager Ironhide, Deluxe Jazz or Deluxe Arcee.)

I hope this was at least slightly interesting, and that you find some of these tricks useful yourself in the future. Thanks for reading.
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