Less than a generation ago, it would have been inconceivable that out of all the small-scale automotive hobbies, such as model building, slot car racing, and diecast collecting, that the enthusiasm for RC cars would ultimately outpace them all. But then again, hobby-grade radio-controlled cars have always been something extraordinary.
They’re not the delicate, scale model exhibition pieces that take months to build, only to spend the remainder of eternity in dust-proof display cabinets. RC vehicles are built to be driven – driven extremely hard – and technology and miniaturization have made them tougher and more durable than even the hardiest portable tools on the market.
True to their scale hobbyist roots though, what RC enthusiasts also want to go along with all that toughness and durability are blistering hot paintjobs. Whoever has a vision, and the inspiration, all they need are the right materials to lay down a few layers of paint that they can proudly take ownership of.
Paints for serious RC’ing
It’s not an understatement to say that you don’t have to be a wizard with an airbrush to be able to throw up an impeccable paintjob. The keys to painting flawless RC shells is to make sure cleanliness is always the word of the day, and to use RC paint colors that are designed specifically for use with Lexan polycarbonate plastic car bodies.
Not surprisingly, there’s no shortage of opinions about why paints expressly formulated for polycarbonate are the best. Or more accurately, why the cornerstones of hobby paints, classic acrylics, enamels, and even lacquers, wouldn’t necessarily be better. The answer’s simple and you don’t need to look any further than their display cabinet cousins to understand why.
Static display models are typically made from rigid plastics like polystyrene or resins that will never have the need to flex. Once they’re painted, nothing’s ever likely to disturb, or sometimes even touch, those surfaces ever again. The bodies of RC cars, however, are constantly flexing and twisting, being subjected to bruising impacts, as well as exposure to sand, water, and even corrosive substances.
In short, RC body paints have to be as sturdy as they are flexible. Precisely why, aside from small trim details, regular scale paints just don’t cut it. It’s the reason RC hobby shops specialize in polycarbonate-safe paints exclusively for the serious driving that RC cars are built to endure.
Because laying on a coat of the wrong paint means you can probably expect it to start flaking off after the first couple of good driving sessions, RC car paint will be clearly label on the container. If a manufactured doesn’t unconditionally state the product is polycarbonate-safe, then you need to exercise caution.
Ideally, you want to look for the benchmark polycarbonate paint lines like:
- Tamiya PS Polycarbonate,
- Redback Polycarbonate Series, and,
- Pro-Line Polycarbonate Airbrush.
These are the cream of the crop when it comes to paints designed for transparent Lexan surfaces. With their combined ranges of metallic, translucent, and fluorescent color choices, RC enthusiasts are limited only by their imaginations when it comes to unique paint schemes and stunning graphics.
Depending on your comfort level and the equipment you have, RC paints are available in either spray cans or can be applied with an airbrush. And fortunately, Lexan surface paints don’t require any of the extensive priming and other prep works prior to application that other paints do.
The visual quality of the paint’s finish certainly benefits from the paint being applied to the inside of the RC shell, and not to the outside, but with only a super-thorough surface cleaning to remove any oils or residues, polycarbonate paints provide absolutely flawless coverage. Working from dark colors to lighter ones, and allowing successive coats to cure before moving on to the next, all you need to do is:
- Apply any window or striping masks to the inside of the RC shell.
- Lay on an initial light coat to give a bit of “tooth” to the following coats.
- Lightly apply more coats to build up the opacity to the desired level.
- Remove striping masks as necessary to allow the underlying coats to come through.
- Spray on the final coat.
- Remove the masks.
An added benefit for enthusiasts who simply prefer the convenience of spray cans too is that the quality of polycarbonate paint straight from the can is noticeably free from the thickness and globing issues that modelers are typically haunted by.
They’re the perfect alternative to having to fire up an air compressor before and cleaning airbrush afterward. No matter how you shot them on, Lexan paints deliver a smooth, even texture that looks as if those are the colors the shell was molded in.
The final word
At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if you own a sure-footed RC rock crawler or a 200kph ready to race (RTR) road platform: you still want a paintjob that’ll turn heads.
And although it might seem like a tall order to fill, that’s anything but the case. With the range and quality of RC paint colors that are available, a blistering hot paintjob is just an evening away without a blistering hot price tag to go with it.
If you’re in the market for a new shell, or you already have a shell that you’re finally ready to put your personal touch on, now’s the time to make it happen. With what you can accomplish, it doesn’t get any more one-of-a-kind than that.