For many years I’ve been thinking that both the quantity and the placement of the information in RC manuals on finishing the body has been to the detriment of getting good results.

I still think Tamiya’s RC manuals are the best of any manufacturer and others aspire to their clarity and detail, but for a small increase in cost there could be a lot of much better finished RC cars out there.

N.b. If you’re wondering about the main image and the header, despite some truly horrific paintwork coming on to my workbench over the years (and leaving much better, I hope) I actually found it really difficult to find a photo that illustrated my point, i.e. where the builder wasn’t incompetent, just could have benefitted from spending more time on it, armed with more information. If you look closely, you’ll see that the body of the 782 March is unpainted, and the wing has an inadequate covering of the wrong sort of paint.


What I'm Talking About

Take a look the re-release Buggy Champ manual, for example. There are 4 pages dedicated to what the parts look like and their reorder numbers, there’s 3 pages of basic information on RC operation, plugging Tamiya’s tools & troubleshooting - 5 if you count the yellow inset sheet. There’s the cover, and 11 pages of what should be easy part identification & spannering.

Painting & decalling is covered on the equivalent of one page – or less than 5% of the manual.

It’s not the hardest car to paint by any means, especially with the cheaty large white panels, but think about that for a minute. Information on the thing that contributes most to the appearance of the car gets 1/20th of the available manual space.

Looking at a more modern chassis design like the M-06, typically you get one 24-page manual covering all varieties, and a double-sided sheet on the particular body included in the kit. That sheet is typically longer, with smaller print – but even if you call it 3 pages out of 27, that’s still only 11% of the instructions.


Why It Matters

Why does this matter, you might ask – well, think about how bad your first RC looked – and how badly finished a lot of cars & trucks you see on eBay & the like are.

If you’ve ever changed a lightbulb, put batteries in a TV remote, have successfully used cutlery, a pencil, and scissors, and have managed to read anything at a higher (even very slightly) than an early years’ text recounting the tales of a monosyllabically named canine who spends his time being observed running, then you really should have the transferable skills to construct an RC chassis.

Less skill and experience should only mean a longer build – it should still look good at the end.

On the other hand, I think properly preparing, painting and decaling an RC body – styrene/ABS based, or polycarbonate – is most of the visual impact and appearance of the car in almost all cases, requiring skill, practice, or a lot of hand holding – of which we get almost none.


Why Tamiya Do It Like That

The placement in the manual of the relevant section really doesn’t help either – it’s very much an afterthought, and possibly even a hindrance to getting the car finished.

Traditional Japanese tategaki (vertical writing) is in columns, read top to bottom starting with the rightmost column, then moving to the next column left. Art too – if gaijin know only one piece of Japanese art, it’s Hokusai’s “Great Wave Off Kanagawa”. To western eyes (looking left to right) the boats have either escaped inundation or at are least moving in the safer direction, but viewed from right to left, giri (and/or gimu?) makes those fisherfolks head into danger.

Modern yokogaki (horizontal writing) is read left to right, and from top to bottom – just like English & most other western languages have always been.

For this reason (and based on no research ;)) I like to imagine that a diligent Japanese RC builder would start at the back, reading the parts list, then seeing what those parts look like, what can go wrong, how to paint the body, how the car comes together, before ending at the front with RC basics and what tools to use, presumably then starting to build.

Whereas your average westerner … skips to page 4 – “let’s get some bags ripped open!”

I’m guilty of this myself – my first kit was a Grasshopper; I was aged 10 or so. Half of one afternoon & a short evening was taken up with the build, fitting RC and lettering the tyres, leaving the 1200mah Ni-Cd battery to continue charging overnight. I really rushed the bodywork the next morning, I don’t think I even cleaned it, let alone painted it before cutting the decals out & slapping them on ready for my first test drive. IIRC I did paint some details (roof bars & driver) later, but it remained rather plastic looking until I upgraded it to a Hornet sometime later.

I don’t have any pictures of that, so instead I’ll show you my worst RC painting fail.

The causes were ignoring the weather forecast, using incorrect and cheap materials, and impatience. I really can’t blame the manual for any of that.

jr paint first 001 rain damage jr paint first 002 humidity bloom jr paint first 003 marker bleed

jr paint first 004 tape pull


Doing It Right, Or At Least Better

There are a lot of other articles on TB on painting, reading the full text would be than the process bullet points below, but still …


ABS/styrene bodies:

1            Clean up sprue/injector marks, joint lines & so on with wet & dry paper & possibly filler.    

2            Wash with hot soapy water (Fairy, Dawn, etc) & allow to dry.

3            Supporting the part so you can get at it from all angles and can move/store it without touching it.

4            Paying proper attention to the weather, use an appropriate spray primer.

5            Give that a very light rub down with fine wet & dry

6            Spray the colour on in at least 2 or 3 coats

7            Give adequate time to harden before proceeding.

8            If you’re using two colours that will mean masking – never skimp on materials.


Polycarbonate bodies:

1            I used to advocate scissors (usually curved), but TBH I’ve moved to careful scoring with a new scalpel blade in a correct holder, then carefully manipulating off the excess – rarely does it simply snap off BTW.

2           Following the manual means drilling holes for body posts. Use a very small drill bit in a pin vise, followed up with a step drill.

3            Clean as per ABS bodies.

4            Mask those windows – from the inside - and the whole outside, if there’s no protective outer film layer.

5            Paint (Tamiya PS spray is the best adhering, despite the stink) the inside in several light coats.

6            Remove that outer film & clean before placing decals.


ABS/styrene driver figures:

1            Prep as for ABS bodies, including the primer.

2            Buy half decent brushes ( a 4-pack of Humbrol Coloro brushes is an ok start) and try to look after them.

3            Brush paint at least 2 coats of whatever colours you use.

4           XF-15 Flat Flesh matches no one’s skin tone, but it’s still so much better than pink.

5            Faces can be massively improved with a wash (mix a drop of XF-9 Hull Red paint with a few drops of water).

5            XF 69 NATO Black is more realistic than proper black, and tends to mix much better too.


Polycarbonate driver figures:

1            Cut out as for polycarb bodies, remove outer film.

2           Clean and prime with a neutral PS paint (PS 1 White, PS-55 Flat clear) on the outside.

3            Brush paint the outside as for ABS drivers. 



1            Make a scan/copy of the decal sheet & use small bits of masking tape to hold the cut decals in place as you cut them.

2            Take time to cut them out properly. Use decent, clean tools. Rounded corners stay on better than square ends.

3            Make sure your hands are clean, use tape to periodically pull any skin oils off your fingertips.

4            Use a scalpel to hold the decal while you peel off the backing, and place it.

5            Bigger/more important decals are best placed wet. Remove the backing, dunk in clean, tepid soapy water.



Written by TB member Jonny Retro


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