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Nail Polish

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  • Member since
    December 2009
Nail Polish
Posted by jpolacchi on Monday, November 27, 2023 7:38 PM
So, I realize this is a subject that may have been brought up before, and the only reason I’m asking is essentially, I don’t know much of anything about nail polish beyond what little I have learned in recent days. I was (and still am) contemplating to use acrylics, as they are the predominant, more popular hobby paint used to finish scaled models. However, in recent days for some reason, “nail polish” entered my mind as a viable alternative.
Mainly I have been looking closely at acrylic inks as virtually every other acrylic manufacturer I have found does not have the colors or types of colors I want or need. They tend to have a small line of pearlescent colors, but really not much beyond a base coat and maybe one or two other colors and the rest are wrong or on the extreme spectrum of color.
However, many of these lines of acrylics are also not recommended to be airbrushed, although I have talked to some who swear they can be if you run them through a larger needle with some added flow agent and you max out the thinning ratio. They are also tend to be opaque colors and I require something more, “transparent to semi-transparent”. I can achieve most of the transparency by experimenting and testing ratios of a clear acrylic medium. It just takes some tinkering with Fair enough.
Acrylics also have some major draw backs. They tend to be very heavy and require a good 20-25 psi to spray them. They also cannot be thinned much beyond the average, recommended consistency of whole milk. Over thinning acrylics leads to all kinds of painting issued from cracking, flaking to adhesion. They tend to not get a “hard bite” into a nonporous surface such as styrene and other plastics the same ways a solvent based paint tends to do. They also do not blend or really melt into prior paint applications like lacquers do. Granted, old lacquers have gone the way of the dinosaur, but what you get with acrylics is more akin to, “layering”. Kind of like stacking cards on top of one another.
Which brings me to the idea of “nail polish”. I just started thinking of it and started looking at some brands online. Most have a good line of pearlescent colors. Pretty much the full spectrum I am looking for as well as a few others I may even consider. There are clear coats ranging from gloss, semi-gloss to a dead flat. I’d still need to monkey around with nail polish colors and clear coat ratios to achieve the level of transparency I am seeking-no difference there.
From what I have read, nail polish is an acrylic lacquer. They can be thinned pretty heavily to near water consistency, although I am not sure what thinning medium to use? I was told to use the nail polish thinner/remover, which as far as I know is basically Acetone. Acetone (to my knowledge) does not play well with styrene and ABS surfaces. It could attack surfaces and dissolve its way down and through base coats and primed surfaces. It also could produce some unwanted painting problems of its own like poor surface finishes, clogging needles and drying up inside your airbrush.
That being said, I further read that others have thinned them out with lacquer thinner (which is another hurdle of mine). I can’t get good lacquer thinner in my state. However, it was said that nail polish dried quickly, dries almost overnight practically and cured super hard which might allow me to do with it that acrylics won’t allow due to how soft they tend to be. I can wet sand and polish (use polishing compounds) between painting sessions which might give me an even better painting finish and results.
In the end, what I am seeking is hopefully someone who might be able to help me finish dotting all my i’s and crossing all my t’s concerning the use of nail polish over hobby paints. I don’t know everything and am simply repeating what I found out/read about. I am certain there are other things that have not yet occurred to me nor have I thought of?
 I’d like to know of any airbrushing issues, the best thinning ratio results, what thinner(s) were used, any problems with taping and masking or removing tape, templates and masks (Were there clean lines?). What psi was used, how the nail polish went down on surfaces? Using any of the clear coast? Can you combine the clear coats with colors? Drying issues. Decal application problems (if there were any?). Really I’m looking for a full review from someone who had/has more experience using them over me which I should think will not be that difficult. Any help in these departments would be greatly appreciated.
  • Member since
    July 2008
  • From: Summerville, SC
Posted by jeffpez on Tuesday, November 28, 2023 7:53 AM

Some number of years ago I painted a model car with a vibrant hot pink nail polish for my daughter. I thinned it with whatever brand of lacquer thinner is sold at Lowes and it worked fine. It dried rock hard very quickly. She still has the model after around 15 years and the finish held up well. 

  • Member since
    March 2022
  • From: Twin cities, MN
Posted by missileman2000 on Tuesday, November 28, 2023 8:45 AM

The only real problem with airbrushing laquers is the very fast drying time. You have to clean airbrush immediately, else cleanup can be a nightmare.


  • Member since
    November 2018
Posted by oldermodelguy on Tuesday, November 28, 2023 9:40 AM

Ya the fast dry thing really speeds up when shot through the airbrush, especially if you get too far away from the model with nail polish. Nail polish is lacquer and already fast dry, also most are pretty translucent. I shoot it with medium dry hardware store lacquer thinner but I really haVE BEEN  meaning to try Mr Leveling Thinner with it. I shoot black nail polish for radiators with the store LT. Now KleanStrip brand has a fast dry and medium, I use the medium and honestly it's still a bit fast. The gloss polish dries a bit flat, fine for the radiators or you will clear coat to get the gloss. I also have a green that is pretty much a dead ringer for flathead Ford green.

With nail polish be sure you're not buying the UV cure stuff but the old fashion nail polish. The thinning ratio I find to be generally around 1-1. So one part polish to equal part thinner.

Today model paints are coming out more and more with lacquer options though, the Tamiya LP lacquers for instance lay down a gorgeous finish thinned with Mr Leveling thinner. Or regular thinner, then mist coated on the final coat with thinner to level it ( probably the oldest painters trick in the book, even in 1/1 refinishing)..I think about the only way to screw up LP lacquer thinned with MLT is to deliberately try and you might fail then..

There are tons of ways to work acrylics for pearl results. with several types and brands including using mediums from arts/craft stores and the paints too. Craft paints, model paints, you name it. Plenty of thinning options from home brewed to commercial stuff. The way you spray is different, you need each coat to flash off and some do best with a hair dryer between coats .  But you can move right along once you get the hang of it. Createx loves a heat setting between coats, it responds very well. Their system is very good once you understand it. All acrylics need primer first, that's the # 1 lesson.

  • Member since
    December 2009
Posted by jpolacchi on Tuesday, November 28, 2023 9:49 PM
Many thanks for getting back to me on this subject. Any and all information is much appreciated. After doing some more snooping around I’m running into similar problems with nail polish and nail polish colors as I was with acrylics. I’m finding maybe half the colors I want, the rest are close, but I can compromise to a degree. I’m not too worried about using different brands so long as they are the old school lacquers and the the UV Gels as you mentioned. I think after it is cured it doesn’t matter, just probably not a good idea to combine different brands for custom mixing the same as paint and I can probably spray one on top of the other.
My main problem is obtaining the solvents I need. Particularly lacquer thinner. My state they had phased out all the NOS stuff and replaced it with re-formulated “green” EPA solvents. Honesly I don’t rust to use them in my expensive hobby paints. You don’t wanna know how much NOS Flowquil and M.M enamels cost. I’ve never had any lacquer thinner and I’m down to my last couple bottles of M.M enamel airbrush thinner. So I’m sort of screwed.
 I need other solvents too. I used up all my MEK a long time ago which I used extensively for assembly. So basically what I need is: Lacquer thinner, Mineral Spirits, MEK, Acetone, Naptha and maybe some Tolulene. I read in another forum guys are using Tolulene for Flowquil R.R enamels. I know I can use lacquer thinner with it, but Tolulene is better and much closer (chemically speaking) to the very expensive Dio Sol that was made exclusively for Flowquil R.R and Military enamels.
That being said, concerning thinning nail polish with lacquer thinner and drying too fast. Should I use a retarder to extend the working time? If memory serves, I have some retarder for Flowquil (at least one bottle?). Except it’s for Flowquil enamels. I’m not sure if I can use that retarder in acrylic lacquers or not? I’ve never really had a need for retarders and its only really hot here during summer months.
Like I said before, I have looked and used other alternative paints. I could never really find what I want or get the results I was looking for. The closest pearl paints I’ve found to date have been Doc PH. Martin’s Acrylic inks and also there is Daler Roney. Problem is, even the manufacturer says you can’t run the pearl inks through an airbrush, but I‘ve had a person or two swear you could with a larger sized needle, and adding some acrylic flow aid to the mix and maxing out the thinning ratio, but the compressor is still run at 20-25psi. I’ve not been too satisfied with the other acrylics I’ve found. The paints are still too heavy and I could never find all the colors I wanted. I also can do any sanding between cots and laying down colors with the acrylics. It’s too soft
I am revisiting another product, dry pearl powders and there’s an automotive supplier HOK where I still might be able to get them? Others have been using Pearl-X powders, but the colors are still off. They come out pastel like and chaulky when combined with a clear gloss coat for spraying. Its looks Okay, but not quite right. So in the meantime, I’ll keep looking and see what happens?
  • Member since
    November 2018
Posted by oldermodelguy on Wednesday, November 29, 2023 6:17 AM

You can get beauty supply acetone at Amazon, the name is Onyx, it might ship to your state where it's not bulk hardware stuff. Beauty Secrets is supplied by Sally Beauty as fingernail polish remover but is 100% acetone as well. Same for Mr Leveling Thinner, Amazon that's not listed as lacquer thinner but it is lacquer thinner with a bit of retarder added for leveling. Under product description it says liquid. Drop those into your cart and see if they are blocked from being shipped.

The green can lacquer thinner is synthetic, it's junk.

What state are you in, I could check in my Amazon account if you don't have one.

  • Member since
    November 2018
Posted by oldermodelguy on Wednesday, November 29, 2023 10:06 AM

I just want to say though, that nail polish does not work as you may imagine it too. It's very translucent, even those that look opaque. By the time you thin them to a good sprayable consitency they look more like a wash. You would be far better off if you want lacquer to buy lacquer model paint, there are several brands. Mr Color for instance has a pretty extensive line of model lacquers and thinners to match.

I did do the Mr Leveling thinner test in black LA Colors nail polish this morning. It was sort of ok, nothing like the same thinner in Tamiya LP1 black though, not even close. As I said before, good for radiators. Even better if the radiator has black primer on it, just if it has black primer on it you might do just as well to go with that. In fact Stynylrez black primer works very well for such things and it's not solvent based.

  • Member since
    December 2009
Posted by jpolacchi on Wednesday, November 29, 2023 5:02 PM
Well, as far as “being translucent”, that’s precisely what I want from it. I want transparent colors and to spray colors next to, on top or to layer one onto the other with complementary colors. Perhaps I may be able to thin them down to where I can get away with a different ratio to lay down more opaque base coats and not have to apply several coats? However, if it means I need to, ”build up the colors” to get more opacity, that’s better than trying to cover everything in one coat and lay too heavy a coat on and cover up details, get drips, runs, pooling etc.
Which means I’ll have to invest in a spray gun if applying base coats (which I had always intended to do, I just never did). Next to primers, the only real base coat (for this scratch project) besides primer will be white. I also thought if I wanted to get a more opaque color down that I might be able to paint on a small area with a brush and then follow up with a thin coat or two with the airbrush of the same color to smooth and level it out so it doesn’t look, “brush painted”. I’d have to try that first to see what it looks like?
Well, I’d have to buy other lacquer paints online or maybe through Amazon like Mr. Color or even the Tamiya lacquers that come in the 1/2oz. (500ml) bottles. The only hobby shop close to me cannot get those paints. The distributor won’t (or can’t) carry them. I can only get a few different primers in aerosol cans or the Tamiya acrylics and other acrylics. I’m not a fan of the Revell enamels and I don’t know anything about the acrylic line. In a way I’m glad Model Master and Flowquil R.R enamels aren’t made anymore. Rustolium was not doing those enamels any favors. I read about all kinds of painting issues about them and the
As far as the solvents go, I’d prefer to get larger quantities that what I might get in ½oz. -4oz. volumes in nail salon botles. I’d prefer ½-1 gallon cans which I know makes it more impossible for me to get. I might be able to get some of those things this next summer if I go back to Idaho? Maybe pick those things up either in Idaho, or on my way back through Washington or Oregon, but I am not sure? It’s too far in the future to know now. I have a bit of both Mr. Surfacer and Tamiya lacquer primers. At least one of the Mr. Surfacer primers I bought is black. My only real interest in black primer is ”light blocking”.
  • Member since
    November 2018
Posted by oldermodelguy on Thursday, November 30, 2023 7:33 AM

If you did learn to master acrylics though, they have transparet paints and mediums to use in them. Then you have no need to get all the solvents in bulkier packaging.

Createx, Liquitex, Goldens all have transparents. Not to mention in the clear lineup they all have clears to put into the paints, even opaque can get a trype of transparent look. Createx has their 4030 intercoat I always use in acrylics, that increases bond and curing by poly acrylic conversion. Great stuff with really good results once you get the hang of it. I've been playing and experimenting with acrylics for more than 8 years now, they can work quite well. But lacquer is easier, well plus I have 60 years of lacquer and enamel experience that makes it feel natural. Acrylic was like taking my old life and knowledge to a new city with different customs. You don't adapt in a day but if you stay with it and don't move back home you learn their ways.

Then there is the thought of alcohol inks, also transparent. I have a set coming today actually. I saw some videos online where they drip that inside clear ornaments and swirl it around. It doesn't look like much till they pour opaque white into the ornament after the inks are dry. Then the colors pop up, really vibrant. Gotta try it for a few gifts. I use in them acrylics now. I have my method down but want to expand. Not sure how that might work in reverse, white base then the alcohol inks, final topping of clear coat. Might be a go but I don't know that for sure. The alcohol ink could eat the white base for all I know. But I could see where they could be mist coated with an airbrush, at least in my imagination. And how about over a real silver base, my imagination really starts kicking there. I do a lot of silver base coat on models or for that matter rose gold base coat. All acrylics.

All my airbrushed art work is acrylic. I'm not afraid to experiment, I take it as a challenge to iron out the ways of.

Well anyway, you seem to know where you're headed, have your mind made up so I'll bow out at this point and let someone else get a few words in . There is a ton of tallent and knowledge in these forums. My ways are not the only ways by any means.


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