Tamiya’s line of PS (Polycarbonate, Spray) aerosols are excellent, both in terms of pigment density and how well they stick.
However, the synthetic lacquer formulation reeks. When your spray facilities are holding an RC car body up with one hand, outdoors, then – if you’re lucky – leaving it in a shed to outgas, spraying in the colder months becomes a problem. Using these paints indoors isn’t an option for most.
The range is also a bit limited if you want a more individual choice – especially more normal, boring, everyday colours.
Before the PS paints, there were PC (Poly¬carbonate) paints in 23ml glass jars. These had enough pigment that they could be brush painted, though they often needed multiple coats in different directions for good coverage. They really didn’t stick that well when brushed on, but were fairly good when airbrushed, using X-20A as thinners.
The first 12 Tamiya PC colours appeared in 1984 – several years after the first Tamiya kits with polycarbonate bodies. The early manuals speak of painting on the inside, keying the surface first, and using unspecified “poly-carbonate” (note the hyphen) paints.
The range grew to twenty-three, and in 1997 the PS range also appeared. By 2008 the PC line had gone and supply problems for the most used colours such as Black and White seemed to begin almost immediately.
By 2012 most of the remaining stocks of PC paints had been exhausted. At present, you’d be lucky to get a part used pot, or new old stock in the least popular colours.
The PC colours solved the solvent fume problem for cold weather painters - brush painters and airbrush users alike – though I would recommend a mask and some sort of extraction or capture for the latter.
I am getting extremely low on White, which really limits how many more polycarbonate RC bodies I’ll be able to airbrush in the future. Although unless it’s one of the three shades of green, in which case I’ll be good for some time to come.
I can’t help thinking (or at least hoping) that eventually Tamiya will announce the re-release of the PC paints for environmental or even financial reasons.
I can sum up the above preamble with a couple of bullet points:
- Tamiya PS sprays reek
- Tamiya PC paints don’t but aren’t available.
I went looking for a polycarbonate paint system I could use indoors and hoped the Pro-Line RC Body Paint might be it.
No longer available in the UK as far as I can see, though supply levels in the USA appear to be good. Also an option in Italy, and to a lesser extent, Germany.
I tried brush painting the blue and white varieties way back in 2011 & commented on the low pigment content, compared to Tamiya PC paints. To be fair, the cars I finished with it looked ok from the outside.
I didn’t have any airbrushes at the time, so can’t comment on how well the paints would fare when sprayed.
I wasn’t even aware of this brand until I just did an eBay search for Faskolor, and it came up, as a seller had used the phrase “Faskolor Replacement” in their listings.
The current range is quite small – but still featuring popular, bold colours – with more promised. This looks to be available only in the USA at present, though shipping overseas is an (expensive) option.
Pactra / Duratrax
I remember Pactra polycarbonate paints from my early years in RC, but they were always something of a fringe product compared to Tamiya. Anecdotes suggest the brushable/airbrushable variety stuck very well but stunk as badly as any aerosol paint.
The brand was discontinued in 2013, then resurrected in 2014 under the Duratrax brand. However, I don’t believe that the jar paint survived even as far as the initial discontinuation. The brand certainly doesn’t appear to be an (indoor) proposition at present.
There are other options out there, but these are the final two I looked at in more depth:
Claims that it “works with polycarbonate (Lexan) and most other plastics, fabrics, wood, metals, ceramics, poster walls, glass and more.”
Has good availability in the UK at present, nothing like Tamiya’s ubiquity as a brand but is stocked by ModelSport and is available through sellers on eBay.
Comes in 60ml bottles, and some colours and additives are available in better value 120ml bottles.
I think this range will appeal slightly more to racers, due to the better availability of lurid hi-vis colours.
Prices and availability in the UK are like Hobbynox. It also comes in 60ml bottles, but there are no 120ml options.
The marketing says it’s “specially formulated for Polycarbonate” and has been “Developed by R/C body painters for painters” – and no mention of other materials, which helped sell it to me – “Jack of all trades but master of none” & so on.
There are a number of “Change” shades that don’t really look like much until backed with another colour, and a Matte Clear, handy for Tamiya’s Unimog and 2CV bodies, among others.
I bought a “Primary Color Set”, which is a sleeve of 6 bottles: Reducer, White, Black, Red, Yellow and Blue. I also got a bottle of Matte Clear, along with an extra bottle of Reducer and two more of White.
All bottles are nominally 2 US fluid ounces (60ml) but are of two distinct types. All the paints came in 34.3mm diameter, 98.5mm total height PETE bottles, but the Reducer and Matte Clear came in 35.4mm OD, 102.5mm high HDPE bottles. This may have to do with solvent content rather than a supply change, as the “Primary Color Set” included both types. All (except the Reducer) contain a small metal ball to aid mixing.
The key questions for me are:
- Does it stink?
- Does it stick?
There is a bit more to it than that, including how well does it behave with epoxy glues (so I can use my preference of magnetic body posts).
Having had recent experience in brush painting Tamiya PC and Faskolor Blue, I used the Blue Pro-Line paint for this test. The Lexan test panel had no prep other than cleaning. I used the same masking I would on any RC car body – 3M 471+ 1/8” Vinyl tape and Tamiya Masking Tape.
For consistency, after each coat was dry, I photographed the test piece from the painted side up against my PC monitor showing a paper white background.
The “Final” result is from the outside with the protective film removed, held off a dark background and lit by a desk lamp.
As you can see, coverage is not great. Given the average size of an RC body, the size of the bottle, as the patience of average user, I really would have liked to have stopped at 4 coats.
I don’t really think it’s practical to reduce the level of solvent by leaving the cap off to thicken up.
It doesn’t quite fail the brush painting test, and to be fair, Pro-Line have never made any claims that it is suitable for it.
There’s little odour from the paints when opened or brushed on, thought it does seem to vary by colour. Red, for example, smells something like water based PVA poster paint. Blue is reminiscent of Tamiya X-20A solvent, and black has something a little stronger, like the Tamiya PC paints. All are faint though.
Clean-up with water (with or without dish detergent) is very effective on brushes.
Tamiya X-20A thinners was also effective, but the best effect was from the Pro-Line Paint Reducer*. Neat IPA was less effective than either.
|I would recommend decanting some of the paint into something less top heavy – a small palette, a 10ml glass jar, or some sort of DIY stability device.|
* The Pro-Line Paint Reducer is significantly whiffier than the paints, seeming to share one of the same surfactants as found in milder jewellery cleaners, Sea Clean Ultrasonic Cleaning Solution, and various milder bathroom brightwork cleaners. It seems fine at first but does build up.
Extra fine paint pens (like the Pilot “Super Color” in white) may be handy for lettering tyres with smaller print, but I still like to do the larger lettered ones, such as the Sand Blaster 915 or the Super Gripper Oval Block tyres the old school way – using a fine cross point or trilobe screwdriver as a quill.
I didn’t have any of those tyres to hand though – so used an old Sand Scorcher front to test. Prep was a going over with a drop of the Paint Reducer on a cotton bud.
Given the mediocrity of the Blue as a brush paint, I fully expected to be disappointed with the white when applied like this.
It was excellent, however. It could be thinned a little to improve control, as I found it a little thick – my initial “O” was something like a 3D donut until it dried, and I did go over the lines in places.
Spraying Straight from the Bottle
I used Red for this test. Set up & conditions were the same as for Brushing, above.
Pro-Line state that it works straight out of the bottle with a 0.5mm nozzle at 30psi. I can’t test those minimum specs, as that’s a very wide nozzle for a regular dual action airbrush – mine run from 0.2mm to 0.35mm.
My single action Badger 350 copy though has an 0.8mm nozzle and is a lot better for spraying wider areas.
I had to crank the pressure up to 55psi on my mini compressor and use neat Reducer down the siphon to get anything to flow at all. Once paint was flowing, it continued with the pressure turned down to 30 psi but would quickly gum up.
I’m very sceptical that a smaller (0.5mm) nozzle would perform better.
On the plus side, I was so pleased with the evenness and density of the red test panels that I stopped after 3 coats.
Clean up, whether with water, thinner/reducer or IPA was as expected from the brush test. I also tried Acetone on small drops on my cutting mat with no obvious issues.
N.b. Aerosolising around 1ml of the Reducer and using 2ml more for clean-up made me really think I should have used a mask and some sort of extraction/capture/ventilation.
My custom paint recipes are usually a base colour measured in millilitres, and shading/toning colours measured in drops off a new cocktail stick. It’s an odd unit of measure, but it’s (usually) repeatable and scalable.
I some variation in the viscosity of the Pro-Line paints, with White and Yellow being the
Thinnest. Red is a touch thicker, Blue a little more, and Black the thickest of all. Bear in mind that all these came from the same sleeve, so are theoretically at least the same age & have had similar storage & handling experiences.
I wanted to try a pale grey for a forthcoming build, I started with 4ml of White, but couldn’t get the Black to drip at all using my usual method. Very carefully fed “drips” from a 2ml syringe were larger but appeared to be of a consistent size. A single drop of black had a marked effect, but I needed four to get the shade I wanted (at least in wet form).
Stirring at each step showed the paint was quite happy to mix.
Spraying with Reducer
Nb: “Reducer” here means it reduces the viscosity of the paint. Referred to as “Thinners” by most other manufacturers ;)
Pro-Line give dilution rates on each bottle, stating “any ratio” for all the coloured paints I bought, but only 5 to 10% for the Matte Clear.
The full recipe isn’t available (just like Tamiya), but it does contain 2-Butoxyethanol. This is a relatively “mild” solvent used in a lot of paints for its surfactant properties (meaning how well each droplet spreads).
In small quantities, thinners usually are expensive, and this is no different, being the same 60ml pot size as the paints - and not much cheaper. It doesn’t appear to be available in larger, better value containers, unlike the Tamiya X-20A thinners, or the Hobbynox equivalents, which are available in 250ml and 120ml, respectively.
I started with 25% Reducer to 75% paint (1ml Reducer into to 4ml paint), and used a gravity fed, dual action airbrush with a 0.2mm nozzle.
This was much easier to spray – I didn’t have to do anything like preload with thinner, or crank the regulator up, it worked straight away at 30 psi. I could have used a much lower pressure but didn’t for decent coverage. I could also have used less Reducer, as little as 10%.
I went up to six coats this time as it was a pale colour. I’d usually use an airbrush with a bigger nozzle (0.35mm or even 0.8mm) for coverage, fewer coats would have sufficed in that case.
This time I used 100% Tamiya X-20A Thinner for clean-up – including some very heaving mixing and spraying out of what was left in the bowl. Although it needs further testing before I could recommend it, I believe you could use it for thinning the Pro-Line paints.
I’ve mentioned this as I did it through the various tests, but sum up, clean-up of still wet paint was easy, whether using water without or dishwashing detergent.
For spills and dried paint, the Pro-Line Reducer worked very well. IPA (Isopropyl Alcohol) was less effective.
For reasons of cost, I wanted to minimise use of the Pro-Line Reducer for cleaning, so tried substituting Tamiya X-20A Thinner instead – this was I think as effective as the “correct” thinner.
I also tried acetone – which is something I’d usually avoid in practice; thanks to the effects it can have on plastics and rubber seals – and observed no incompatibility.
Again, this is something I’ve called out as I went through the tests. In general, the paints themselves barely smell, but to get them through an airbrush you really need to use the Reducer, which smells straight out of the bottle, and really builds up when sprayed.
With a mask, some ventilation and/or extraction/capture this won’t be anything like as much of a problem as using a synthetic lacquer-based aerosol (like the Tamiya PS paints) indoors.
Tape Bleed and Peel
Not a specific test, more by-products of my methods – but having paint creep under your masking or peel off when you take that masking off can be very frustrating.
In all application methods, the Pro-line paints didn’t get under the masking when applied on the flat, but where the masking crossed over itself, there was bleed where the bond between the tape & surface was less strong (or small gaps had opened, post application).
Partly, this was down to the delay between masking and painting – I’d set up the test strips the day before I’d expected the paints to arrive, not realising they would take an extra week.
The brushed-on paint (Blue) bled the worst – due to a thicker coat, and a longer wet time.
The Reduced (thinned grey) paint bled less than the unthinned (Red) on the airbrush test panels, which I would put down to a shorter “flash” * time due to the increase solvent content.
*Time taken for the paint to visibly dry, but not cure. Sometimes referred to as “touch dry.”
I wasn’t particularly delicate in removing the masking but had absolutely no issues with paint coming away with it on any of the test panels.
Note: also see the closeup of the brushed-on Blue, above.
I really prefer using magnetic body mounts where I can – at least for “prettier” cars likely to spend most of their time on a shelf. This means fixing magnets to the underside of the paint using a strong adhesive.
Here I’ve used Araldite (the “5 minute” version) and cheap/ Pound store “Bloc” brand epoxy.
This latter is much stinkier, and I’d previously believed that this was a partial re-melting of PS or PC paints, and the (apparent) etching of the inside surface of polycarbonate formed a much stronger amalgam of bodywork, paint, and glue. This turned out to be incorrect.
There was no visible reaction to the Araldite, but there were to the Bloc - cracking and colour changes, dependent on the colour and application method.
|Paint Method||Araldite 5 minute||Bloc brand epoxy|
|Brushed (blue)||No visible reaction||Visible cracking & darker halo at epoxy edge|
|Airbrushed Neat (red)||No visible reaction||Slightly darker halo at epoxy edge, only visible under magnifying lamp|
|Airbrushed With Reducer (grey)||No visible reaction||Notable fine cracking & lightening of paint|
Having bonded small neodymium magnets to the test pieces above, I initially used a piece of highly ferrous mild steel to pull against them, followed by a stack of the same magnets. In all cases, I would expect the magnetic attraction to fail before the glue bond, as has been the case for me when using Tamiya PS aerosols, or airbrushing PC paints.
|Paint Method||Araldite 5 minute||Bloc brand epoxy|
|Brushed (Blue)||Passed steel test and remained attached after multiple attempts with magnet stack.||Failed steel test, removing all paint in under the epoxy|
|Airbrushed Neat (Red)||Failed steel test, removing c60% of the paint.||Failed steel test, removing all paint in under the epoxy|
|Airbrushed With Reducer (grey)||Passed steel test. Remained attached after multiple attempts with magnet stack.||Passed steel test. Failed magnet test, removing all paint under the epoxy.|
The plan for this (subjective) test was to use force and bending to remove the magnets and making a judgement about how well this sort of body mounting would fare in use.
However, only two samples – the brushed on Blue, and airbrushed thinned grey survived this far.
The epoxy on the grey sample popped off with very little resistance under bending, taking all of the paint with it. Contrary to expectations (again), the magnet on the blue sample was harder to remove – though nowhere near as hard as I’d have like – and a lot of the paint remained.
A greater sample size is needed to draw any firm conclusions, but at present, I don’t feel I can recommend this paint for use with magnetic body mounts.
I admit that this would have been useful but painting multiple RC car bodies to slam them into something solid (in a scientifically controlled way of course) was really beyond the scope of what I wanted to do here.
Compatibility with Other Paints
Ordinarily, you’d hope that similar types of paint from different manufacturers would show a good tolerance for each other, but paints from fundamentally different paint systems, and especially those from different sources may well react.
However, Tamiya PC and PS paints – despite one being “water based” and the other, synthetic lacquer – do not react with each other in my experience.
There are an awful lot of other paints I could have tested for compatibility, but I reasoned that the most likely scenario for a reader of this site would be wanting to brush painting details (like lights), then overspraying with the main body colour – very likely a Tamiya PS aerosol.
I therefore gave the final square from each test painting method a single, heavy coat of Tamiya PS-7 Orange spray, and … oh dear.
|Brushed (blue)||No immediate issues, but checking later showed some shrivelling, and crazing/mild edge shunning visible through to the outside. Best result of the three, but still not a useable option. With much lighter coats of PS?|
|Airbrushed Neat (red)||Slightly delayed lighter crinkling/shrivelling. Later checks showed edge shunning, widespread crazing, and some bleed through that crazing on the outside.|
|Airbrushed with Reducer (grey)||Immediate heavy crinkling/shrivelling. Later checks showed marked edge shunning, complete crazing, and almost complete bleed through that crazing on the outside.|
A major failure there, but on the plus side …
Something I didn’t think about until quite late in the process was mixing Tamiya PC paint and Pro-Line paint, so combined 1ml of PC-17 Metallic Green, and 1ml of Pro-Line Yellow. This produced a colour much less disgusting than you’d think - although I was born in the 1970s. Dinky Thunderbird 2, anyone? It didn’t get the full perm of tests, just a simple brush out test, and a scratch/bend test later.
Scratch Resistance & Bend Testing
This test involved repeatedly rubbing the paint with a thumbnail, and bending the test piece.
|Brushed (Blue)||Moderate: six rubs of thumbnail to scratch through.||Excellent: repeated 180-degree folds caused no flaking or cracking.|
|Airbrushed Neat (Red)||Moderate: five rubs of thumbnail to scratch through.||Excellent: repeated bending working up to 180-degree fold caused no flaking or cracking.|
|Airbrushed With Reducer (grey)||Poor: two rubs of thumbnail to cause significant scratching off||Excellent: 180-degree fold caused no flaking or cracking.|
|Brushed Tamiya/Pro-Line Mix (green)||Excellent. 20+ rubs of thumbnail to begin to scratch through||Excellent: 180-degree fold caused no flaking or cracking.|
Nb: For comparison, I’d rate the Tamiya PC paint when brushed as moderate/moderate, airbrushed as moderate/excellent, and the Tamiya PS as excellent/excellent.
All application methods showed excellent flexibility, but, again, how well it bonded when sprayed with Reducer was disappointing. Brushed on blue exceeded expectations again.
I asked right at the start was whether the Pro-Line RC Car Body Paints were a suitable replacement for the long-withdrawn Tamiya PC paints.
That quickly ended up being several things to ask, and even more I would have liked to test for.
Stick / Bonding
Not as good as I would have hoped. Not up to Tamiya PC paint standard when airbrushed, and way off Tamiya PS aerosols.
May require a mask & ventilation/extraction for larger areas if you use any of the reducer, but it’s nowhere near as bad as synthetic lacquer-based PS paints.
Performed as I expected – but some of my expectations were wrong.
Can need help to “drip” when using as a tint but mixes very well. The ball bearing in the pots really helps when preparing individual colours.
Indifferent brush-on performance (but note that Pro-Line don’t state that it can).
Excellent, though a little Reducer (thinner) might be useful.
PS Paint Compatibility
Immediately failure on two of the test pieces, delayed on the third.
PC Paint Compatibility
Based on this small sample size, appears to be fully compatible/mixable.
Spraying Out of the Bottle
Too thick to airbrush straight from the bottle but performs well when thinned.
I ruminated on the overall rating for more than a week so it’s not a snap decision, at one point I felt a three was more appropriate. However, that was based on what I’d hoped these Pro-Line paints would do, rather than claimed.
However, they lose points for the overly optimistic “sprays straight from the bottle” claim, and my experience of how well it sticks.
So, can this Pro-Line paint replace the defunct Tamiya PC line? The answer is a qualified yes. Tamiya PC paint was never that brilliant for brush painting, but these paints are not as dense.
Airbrushing will give a better, or at least much more even result, and while the “stick” may be adequate for most, I don’t think it’s enough to recommend magnetic body mounts. I will try it myself (airbrushed, with minimal Reducer, using Araldite) and report back.
Pro-Line have never made any claims about compatibility with Tamiya PC paints, the X-20A Thinner, or the Tamiya PS paints, but my “replacement” criteria required that I test for that. Two of the aspects it passed very well, but the PS overspray test was disastrous.
On the plus side, unless Tamiya have a major change of heart about their PC paints, this at least is a low odour alternative to the Tamiya PS paints.
Written by TB member Jonny Retro