How to paint a helmet

Message 3245, Jun 27, 2001
Hi mates! Following some questions from several members of this group, I decided to explain how airbrushing a flight helmet or a model kit.
Using an airbrush is simple but you need to know some basicaly rules:
How your airbrush works, kinds of paints, surfaces to be airbrushed, putty, thinners, compressor, umidity, etc.
I'll not explain ALL steps in spraying paint on a surface but some suggestions only.
I prefer the compressor instead of compressed air bottle because the air coming out from the compressor is fine and the jet is continuing.
There are 2 kinds of paints: acrylic and enamels. Acrylics are thinned with water, enamels with synthetic thinners. Normally I use 50% of paint and 50% of thinner but it depends of colours, paint and thinner constitution.
Suggestions: if you add just a little bit of alcohol to the acrylic it will became just a little matt. If you add a drop of nitro to the acrilic, it will became just a little bit glossy.
- Starting with the cleaning of the surface to be airbrushed. Use putty to cover holes or scratches. Let the putty dry for 2 sunny days, then sandpaper (fine sandpaper). Remember that putty could retire! I use to repeat this action twice.
- Clean the surface and let it dry.
- Mask all zone not to be painted with paper tape.
- Prepare the colour in the little bottle of the airbrush and start to cover the surface with a neutral gray. This is the primer.Your airbrush movement MUST TO BE naturally and 5-7 cms from the surface using 1,4-1,7 BAR pressure. Test it before the use on the definitive surface!
- Let it dry for 2 sunny days.
- It's time to use the definitive paint on your surface. Prepare the colour and airbrush the surface (5-7 cms off the surface/1,4-1,7 BAR)
- Let it dry for 2 sunny days.
- If you have to make spots, drawnings, stars, stripes or others, use a paper tape for masking (transparency films, Post IT, etc...are good, too).but remember that: if your surface is spherical (like flight helmets!) your mask-job will be extremely difficult. Look for the best choice before your definitive job!
- Spray the definitive transparent gloss or matt paint to fix all and let it dry for 2 days. Repeat this steps not less than 7 times. More soft covers are better than one or two covers where you use a lot of transparent paint with bad drops risks.
Dust is dangerous: use the airbrush air jet (without paint!) to eliminate the dust before painting.
Several tests on old helmets (...I would hope motorcycle helmets!!!!) before your definitive job is a good idea (you can find old motorcycle helmets on the "second hand or free goods" magazines)
Clean the airbrush EVERYTIME you use it. I use to have a second airbrush little bottle containig thinner and I spray it when I have finished the use of airbrush (PLEASE do not spraying on your just covered surface!). I have a little plastic bottle (coming from a face-cream) with a hole on a side.The plug is been replaced by cleenex tissues (this is the filter) and an elastic. You just have to put the nozzle into the little hole and the clean air will escape from the top of the plastic bottle and the color and the thinner remain in the plastic bottle. Open the airbrush. Clean all parts with thinner (beware of o'rings) and then wash all parts with soap for dishes and warm water. Let it dry naturally. I use my airbrush since 1992 and for me it is easy to use but I can understand that there is always a "first time".
If you apply stickers or some kind of enamels it's better to use a phon to have an "hard grip".
If you have questions or suggestions, please contact me on discrete freq.
My best regards. Shark

Message 3143, Jun 23, 2001
Hi Shark, I'd really appreciate some tips on airbrushing. I have been buying a number of models over the last couple of years so the airbrush would not only be for helmet painting. You could contact me on discrete frequency for further conversations on this topic.
Cheers, Bluelight

Message 3105, Jun 22, 2001
Thanks for the kudos - I use plain old spray cans (Krylon or DupliColor); the lightning bolts were masked with 3M fine line tape (about $7 per roll). Once they're cured out, I hit them with fine sandpaper and then polish with Novus #2 plastic polish. As far as the sheen goes (gloss vs. satin vs. flat), the shells both appeared to have a clear coat over the paint job - they showed definite signs of having been done professionally (possibly sent out locally to a commercial shop for squadron paint) - the lightning bolts were applied identically to both helmets, right down to being off-center a bit to the right side of the helmets (when worn).

Message 3094, Jun 22, 2001
Hi Bluelight, as you know I'm a military modeller and I use the airbrush since 1991 on my models. I airbrush airplane and tanks but sometimes I airbrush motorcycle helmets, too. There are some things to know before airbrushing a surface. If you need/want suggestions, I'll be happy to explain to you all details, secrets and mistakes of airbrushing!
...just a suggestion: do not buy little compressed air a compressor or "made it by yourself" from an old freezer compressor (cheap!).(if you buy 20 bottles you have paied a new compressor!) During the substitution of an air bottle with an other the paint dry (inside the airbrush and on the surface) causing bad situations...
All my best, Shark

Message 3092, Jun 22, 2001
Hi Maggot, Very interesting pair of helmets, indeed, and a beautiful restoration job, too. I have seen a photo of a helmet with a similar design of lightning bolts, only they were light on a dark background (B&W photo) but I have no clue about unit.
How do you paint your helmets? Are you using a modeller's airbrush? I am contemplating buying a Badger airbrush for this purpose but I do not know which model and size I should go for.
The finish of your restored helmet looks very glossy to me. Maybe it is just because I am used to looking at old helmets but I would have thought that something a bit more silky or flat would have been more authentic. Does anyone have any ideas on this topic?
Cheers, Bluelight