How To Weather Model Aircraft

How To Weather Model Aircraft

20th Jan 2022

A model aircraft looks great in mint condition, straight out of the box. But do you know what can make it even more impressive? When you make it look like it has clocked up real air miles.

Weathering your model airplane adds a touch of realism. And for many of us, that's the point of building a model aircraft--to make it look like the real thing. If you want to display your model aircraft as is, no one's stopping you. But if you're like us and want to make your models look as authentic as possible, then you've come to the right place.

In this article, we will teach you what makes a model aircraft look realistic in our eyes. We'll cover the best weathering techniques for a model aircraft, and provide some additional tips to make your model look like it has been through years of flying. Let's get started!

What Makes a Model Aircraft Look Realistic?

A model aircraft obviously won't go through the same wear and tear as the real ones. So, how do you make your model look like it has soared through the skies in all its tiny glory? Here are a few elements that can make your model aircraft look like it's traversed the air:

Dirt and Soot

Applying "dirt" to your model aircraft is perhaps the easiest way to simulate weathering. Real planes accumulate dirt during take-off, landing, taxiing, and while parked outside hangars. To make your model look old and worn, drawing "dirt" and "soot" on different parts of your model is a great start.

Rust Stains

If you want your aircraft model to look heavily weathered, consider adding rust stains to the steel parts. Particularly, add rust on the wings and near the cockpit. WWII model airplanes in particular look best with rust stains for that extra sense of realism. Modern jet fighters, however, are never rusty because they are made with metal that is designed to resist corrosion. Knowing which types of planes to add rust to is part of the battle here.

Chipped Paint

It is very common to see chipped paint on real planes, especially older airplanes that were painted with low-quality paint. However, it is important to do your research about the model plane you're weathering. Make sure that the paint you're "chipping" is actually real paint on a real aircraft. For example, the back of a Hurricane fighter jet consists of a wooden frame with a black canvas. Hence, it wouldn't make sense to add chipped paint in that spot.

Exhaust Stains

Exhaust staining is a common technique for weathering aircraft models. It's easy to do, too. You just have to make sure that the exhaust stains are going in the direction of the airflow over the wings and fuselage--just like in a real aircraft.

Oil Stains

On a real aircraft, you will usually find oil stains on the plane's belly. And the darker the stain is, the more "damage" there is on the paint underneath.


Real airplanes naturally fade with constant use, although every part of the aircraft may not fade all at the same time. Usually, the first parts to fade on an aircraft are the ones that get the most exposure from the sun. This is typically the top of the wings and the top of the body.

Signs of Battle

If you're weathering a model warplane, consider adding bullet holes or burn marks. For extra realism, you can also add model aircraft accessories for warplanes, such as weapons and fighter decals.

What Are The Best Weathering Techniques For Model Airplanes?

You can achieve a realistic look for your model aircraft in a variety of ways. However, these are the techniques that work best for weathering model airplanes:


Washing is done to add depth to any withdrawn or raised details on a model airplane, therefore breaking up what would be an otherwise monotone appearance. Washing also simulates shadows on a model. Since models don't have large shadows, you have to create them from scratch.

When it comes to washing, you can choose from acrylic, oil-based, or watercolor paints. But if you are a beginner, we recommend using watercolor because it is the easiest to remove and dries very quickly. Moreover, watercolor will not stain your model's finish and decals, so you can easily start over if you make a mistake.

The key to washing is to keep your wash very thin to avoid covering the details of your model. Place a few drops of paint in some thinner until you get the shade that you want. We recommend going for a dark gray to add just the right amount of grime to your model. If you use a darker washing color, it may make your model look like it's covered in motor oil.

To simulate shadows, simply dab a loaded brush on the area you want to work on. The rules of physics will do the rest; the wash will flow away from flat surfaces and gather in the corners and around raised details.

When painting panel lines, apply a clear coat to your model first to avoid ruining the paintwork you have already done. Once the coat is completely dry, press the tip of a loaded brush into the lines and allow the liquid to trickle into the panels.

If the wash doesn't hold, use a dark gray pencil to fill in the detail. Repeat each process until you achieve the look that you want. When done right, the result will look exactly like shadows on a real airplane.

Dry Brushing

Dry brushing is an excellent technique if you want to simulate sunlight shining down on your aircraft. It's also a great way to highlight raised details and make them look more realistic.

Unlike washing, dry brushing is done without any thinner or water. You simply load a brush with paint and brush off the excess on a paper towel until the brush is no longer leaving visible marks on the towel. You only want tiny traces of paint left on your brush before you start painting on your model.

If you want to simulate a sunlight effect, paint from the direction of the general light source. A broad paint brush works best for large areas, such as the top of the aircraft. For raised details, use a smaller brush and paint the areas where the sunlight would be shining, e.g. the top part of a cockpit window.


Using pastels will allow you to apply any color on your aircraft. This makes it a great way to simulate rust, exhaust staining, dust, and other signs of weathering. However, you must first grind down pastels into a fine powder before application. Moreover, pastels must go on last because they will disappear if you apply a clear flat coat over them.

When applying pastels, you can use either a makeup sponge or a paintbrush with short bristles. For smears and smudges, you can also use a cotton ball.

If you want to make certain parts of your aircraft look faded, use colored pastels. For example, if your model is dark green, use a lighter shade of the same color to create an illusion of soft fading. Doing this might require a few attempts at color mixing, but the end result will be worth it.

Earth-colored pastels work best for simulating dust and dirt. Try using a combination of gray and dark brown to make your model look grimy. For exhaust stains, brush gray pastel powder along the direction of the airflow from the exhaust. You can also simulate rust by mixing orange and brown until the color resembles iron oxide.

Paint Chipping

Chipped paint was common on older aircraft. That's because aircraft manufacturers back in the day did not use a primer. And, planes received little cosmetic upkeep. Paint chipping was even more common on combat planes. This was due to extreme wear and tear from combat. Signs of paint chipping were especially common along the wing edges and access panels.

The easiest way to apply this effect is to add spots of aluminum-colored paint on the areas where chipping usually occurs. To keep your model accurate, look up the real plane and see what the metal looks like underneath the paint.

Here's another great technique: prime the model with a metal color then paint it with a final color. After the paint is completely dry, you can scrape away the top layer of paint with an X-acto knife to reveal the metal color underneath. Or, you can also strip the paint away with pieces of masking tape.

Weathering Tips to Make Your Model Aircraft Look More Realistic

These weathering techniques alone might not be enough to help you achieve the level of realism you're going for. Here are some other tips you need to keep in mind when weathering your model:

Do Your Research

To achieve an accurate result, you have to know what your aircraft looks like in real life. Gather reference pictures of your model online and see what kind of weathering it goes through with actual use.

For example, if you want to add rust to a Japanese model warplane, find out if the actual plane did rust in real life. Or if you want to chip the paint off an American WII fighter jet, look up the color of the metal underneath so that you can match it for your "chipped" spots. Weathering a plane just for the sake of weathering it doesn't make sense from a realism standpoint. You won't want to weather a new commercial jet, for example.

Don't Overdo It

Weathering a model might be a lot of fun, but avoid adding too much detail. Otherwise, your model might end up looking tacky and unrealistic.

For instance, when adding detail to panel lines, don't add too much shadow. If you look at panel lines on a real aircraft, they do not appear very distinct from a distance. And since you're working on a scaled-down model, your panel lines should be even less visible.

Start Big

If you're working on your first aircraft, we recommend starting with a bigger model. This may sound counterintuitive, but think about it: larger models have larger details, which are easier to work on than smaller ones if you're a beginner.

Avoid Glossy Elements

Glossy elements go against what you're trying to achieve with weathering. You don't want any part of your aircraft to look "new". That said, avoid putting a gloss coat on your model. Similarly, wear down shiny parts of your aircraft, such as the windows and the wheel rims.

Get Your Dream Model Aircraft at Free Time Hobbies Today

As you can see, building the aircraft is just half the fun. Weathering is where you get to unleash your creativity and give your model a "personality". So, what are you waiting for? Choose from our wide selection of model airplane kits and start building your next project today!

We also have the best model aircraft accessories to help you make your model look more authentic. And if you're feeling more nautical, we have an awesome collection of model ship kits, too.