Care is needed with this term as it is often used to describe any sort of glossy protective coating, for example furniture is often described as having a lacquered finish.  Sometimes a paint may be described as a lacquer when in fact it is an acrylic or enamel based gloss varnish.

  • Cellulose paints are widely used in the auto industry and when you consider how hard wearing the paint job on a car has to be, you will realize how durable lacquer paints can be.Highly toxic and very strong smelling!
  • Fast drying;
  • Very flammable;
  • Hard, durable, shiny finish (although some flat lacquers are available).

Because lacquers are very fast drying, highly toxic, flammable and very unforgiving they can be a real pain to use.  However, they are popular with some modelers.  The shiny hard wearing coat is ideal for auto models – particularly radio control which need to survive the real world.  Lacquers are also great for realistic metallic finishes and one of the most popular ranges of metallic lacquers is made by Alclad and since full details of how to apply them are on their website I will not repeat them here.

Another range of lacquer paints popular with modelers is the ‘Mr Color’ range from Gunze Sangyo (not to be confused with their ‘Mr Hobby’ paint range).  Tamiya produce a range of lacquer spray cans and Testors produce some clear lacquer coats under their Model Master range.

There is a weird contradiction with lacquer paints and plastic modelling.  Cellulose melts plastic, so you might think that you would not want to get a lacquer paint in direct contact with the plastic surface.  However, there are some lacquer based spray primers.  Because the lacquer spray is so thin, it dries within seconds before it does any damage to the plastic surface, but it just has enough time to key into the plastic giving it very good grip.

Lacquers will almost certainly need to be applied very thin by spray can or airbrush in a very well ventilated area and with a protective mask.  Use only cellulose thinners and use them well and often if you value your airbrush.  Alcohol, water and acrylic thinners will have no effect on lacquer paints except to make an dreadful mess – you have been warned.  If anyone knows of a way to remove dried lacquer paint please let me know.

One problem you might find with using lacquer paints is getting hold of them in the first place.  Due to their flammability many mail order and Internet shops will not ship them airmail so you might have to find a local source.

Personally, I would only use lacquer paints as a last resort, since I want to enjoy my hobby and they are just too unpleasant to work with.  However, some modelers swear by them.

Safety Advice: Whatever type of paint you are using you should wear a good respirator when airbrushing.

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