Airfield Models - How To

Make Paint Pallets

May 05, 2015

What's New
Models Gallery
Model Building Safety
Mail & FAQ
Site Map
Site Feedback
Add to Favorites
Tell a Friend
Design and Build Contest
Items For Sale
Search Airfield Models

Back to How-To Articles


Airfield Models ( Pallets to Hold Parts for Brush Painting or Airbrushing

Often when painting you will have small parts that can not be held by an alligator clip either because there is no place to attach the clip or the part is too delicate to be held by a clip.

It is easy to make a pallet from a sturdy piece of cardboard which is what I've done for years when painting my plastic models.

However, The boards tend to get ratty quickly and I seem to go through boards faster than I get new ones of decent quality.

I've often done one of two things when using a pallet: 

  • Lay the pallet flat on the table which is not an ideal position for airbrushing.
  • Hold the pallet with one hand and airbrushed with the other.  Sometimes it takes two hands to guide the airbrush and if you're holding the pallet in one hand and you're not that steady then you're trying to do precision work one-handed on a moving target.

The best method I used was to lean the pallet against something so that it was mostly vertical.  That didn't entirely correct the problem because the pallet wasn't secured and could move around due to the force of the spray from the airbrush.

This is another one of those things I put some thought into so that I could have a consistent system that didn't introduce problems into the finishing process.


Making the Pallets

The first thing I did was keep my eyes open for a good piece of cardboard one that wasn't too ratty from various abuse and was thick enough to be relatively rigid.

It also had to be large enough to be bent into an A-frame shape to make it even more rigid when attached to my painting boards.

The cardboard was folded over at the top and stapled.

I originally used carpet tape to hold the fold closed but the joint came apart in less than a day.

The entire face of the board is covered with clear packing tape.  The purpose is so that I can use masking tape to hold parts to be painted and then remove it without tearing the cardboard apart.

The back of the board was bent approximately 45 away from the front face of the board.  This provides a great deal of rigidity to the setup.

Note that the lower edges of the front and back of the board are bent to allow them to engage the alligator clips more easily.

I made several short extra hands having 1" wires soldered into alligator clips.  For this board, four clips attached to the front and four more attached to the back made the set up very rigid and stable.

Even though it's just a piece of cardboard, the 20 or 30 minutes I spent making it right means I will have it a long time and won't have to rig up something new every time I need a pallet.

2" wide masking tape is used to hold parts to the board.  The long pieces have the sticky side up.

Short pieces at the ends secure the tape to the board.  Tape one end to the pallet and then stretch the tape taut before attaching the other end.

A couple short piece of tape in the middle of the long pieces of masking tape help prevent the tape from whipping around while airbrushing.

If the parts to be painted are small and there's a lot of them, I could have used two more strips of masking tape to hold them assuming they all need to be the same color.

It doesn't take much tape to hold the long pieces in place.

When you're finished, this tape will peel off the packing tape without damaging anything.

In practice, I prepare every part of the model for paint before I paint anything.  Every set of instructions that comes with a plastic kit says don't remove parts from the sprue until you're ready for them.

I'm ready for them immediately because they all need to have flash removed and mold marks sanded off or filled.  So I go ahead and remove all the parts from the sprues when I start the kit.

When all the parts are ready for paint, I sort them by the first color to be sprayed on them so I can do them all at once.

In this image I just grabbed random parts of the AMT/Ertl Darth Vader Tie Fighter I was about to build to show how it works.  At this stage most of the parts aren't even ready to paint and I have no idea what colors they're supposed to be.  After I took this photo I removed all the parts and put them back in the box.

Be sure to leave enough room between them so you can spray the edges and sides without flooding a part that is too close.

Small parts are often better held by a small self-closing tweezers or alligator clip.  Wet paint can soften the glue on the tape and allow the part to fall off and get lost.

Note:  I always paint the least important side of the part first.  When the part is turned over to paint the other side, the tape could damage the paint on the first side. I haven't found it to be a problem if the paint is actually allowed to dry but why tempt fate.  Paint the most important side last.

Large parts can be painted the same way but more than one piece of tape may be necessary.

Sometimes there are no flat areas on a part which makes attaching the part to tape more difficult.  Usually you can get the tape to stick if you work with it long enough.

In cases where that can't be done, then you may need to revert to alligator clips or put the part on a pallet laying flat on the table.

By the way, there is no way I would spray these parts with them this close together on the board.  That's just asking for problems.

This is another "for effect" photo.

In practice, I will glue the top and bottom of the hull together, fill any visible seams and then paint the entire component.

The hull piece at the top of the pallet has protrusions on the inside that make attachment to the masking tape precarious.  A little help was enlisted through additional pieces of masking tape to ensure the part doesn't fall off when it is being painted.

Depending on how you do things, it might be worth have two or three pallets so you don't have to wait for parts to dry before moving on to the next set.

When you're finished with the pallets, remove the masking tape, wipe off loose over-spray and put them someplace safe until next time.



How to Make Painting Boards
Scale Model Aircraft Painting Techniques

Comments about this article


Back to How-To's
Airfield Models Home


Copyright 2007 Paul K. Johnson