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The Vinyl Mask Revolution

by John Kerr
images by Richard Chafer

Hellcat Using Vinyl Masks


If a sample group of experienced modellers were asked about the most common modelling problems they encountered, masking and painting clear parts would probably be near the top of the list.

In this article, John Kerr looks at a relatively new innovation for masking clear parts - pre-cut vinyl masks.


I n t r o d u c t i o n


For years modellers have tried a variety of commercially produced masking tapes and liquid products to best mask off clear areas before airbrushing or hand painting the framework.

Drawing on my own modelling experiences of recent years, I have spent more hours than I care to mention cutting strips of TAMIYA masking tape with a sharp hobby knife and then carefully applying the cut lengths to various canopies and windscreens. I'm sure many readers can relate to this saga.

However, regardless of the excellent masking properties of the tape being used, the modeller still needs to carefully cut the tape into the desired lengths or shapes and then apply it "patchwork" style to leave only the framework exposed. At times this can be a frustrating "hit or miss" process.

For large "glasshouse" type canopies (such as the TBF/TBM Avenger, B-29, Ju-87 Stuka, Ki-46 Dinah, SBD Dauntless, He-111) the cutting and placement of masking tape can be a daunting task. As an example, a modelling friend of mine claims it took over six hours to mask the canopies for an Accurate Miniatures 1/48 TBF Avenger.

Some modellers have abandoned traditional masking tape in preference to PARAFILM, a medical sealant film. The modeller cuts a piece of PARAFILM and then stretches it over the clear part. A sharp scalpel is then used to cut on the inside edge of the framework. The excess PARAFILM is then removed to leave the framework exposed. I have not tried PARAFILM but know several modellers who swear by it.



A New Masking Trend


One recent solution to the canopy masking problem is peel off adhesive vinyl masks. These are vinyl sheets precisely cut into the exact shapes of the clear sections on a clear part.

E-Z MASKS produced by Chris Loney of Ontario, Canada is one after-market company leading what could be described as "The Vinyl Mask Revolution".

Now I'm no technical wizard but the manufacturing process behind this concept sounds rather intriguing ! Chris uses CAD (computer added design) and a lot of "trial and error" to get the exact shapes. The shape outlines on the vinyl sheets are then cut using a plotter.

According to Chris, the aircraft mask and car mask ranges have been well received by modellers and have sold in quantities well beyond his wildest expectations.



Applying Vinyl Masks


One of my recent modelling projects was tackling HASEGAWA's excellent 1/48 scale F6F-5 HELLCAT. E-Z MASKS Set #101 is designed specifically for the HASEGAWA F6F-3 and F6F-5 HELLCAT kits. This set provides complete sets of masks for two aircraft; the windscreen (one each for the -3 and -5), canopy and rear windows.

The individual mask pieces are suppose to simply peel off the backing sheet. However, as I have short fingernails I needed to use a hobby knife to lift up a couple of edges which would not part from the backing sheet under finger pressure (needle-point tweezers will also do the job).

I heeded the advise of a fellow modeller and dipped each mask piece in mild soapy water before applying it. The reasoning is the water allows the piece to be slide correctly into position. If you do not use water then the mask will stick firm on the clear part and cannot be moved.

The Hellcat's canopy has diagonal corners, these would be a "pain" to mask by hand. However, the E-Z Masks fit perfectly.

Once I was happy a mask was where it was suppose to be, any excess water was wiped away with a cotton ear-bud.

The interior of the windscreen and canopy were then masked off. The two parts were then blu-taked to an ice-cream stick (sans ice-cream and washed of course !) and sprayed in the exterior finish, in this case Gloss Sea Blue followed by a shot of Clear Semi-Gloss (I chose not to spray an interior colour on the parts).

The two parts were left for over a day to dry before the masks were peeled off. The result - very sharp painted canopy edges !

To further road-test the product, I chose another two subjects; TAMIYA's 1/48 scale Fw190F-8 and Hasegawa's 1/48 scale Ki-61 Hein (the later being a more difficult assignment). With the experience gained from masking the Hellcat and Fw190, I found it took under 45 minutes to complete masking the Ki-61's complicated one-piece windscreen/canopy/rear window with the E-Z MASKS set. Wow, was I impressed !



Other Vinyl Masks


E-Z MASKS is not alone in manufacturing vinyl masks. On the after-market scene, CUTTING EDGE (from Meteor Productions, USA) has released hundreds of 1/48 and 1/72 scale vinyl mask sets marketed under the "Black Magic" label. These sets cover different masking needs; windscreens, canopies, wheel hubs, camouflage schemes and recognition bands (including "Luftwaffe Defence Of The Reich" rear fuselage bands). EDUARD also has a range of vinyl masks called "Express Mask". No doubt both ranges will grow in number.

To my knowledge, TAMIYA was the first model-maker to include canopy masks as part of a kit release, ie. TAMIYA 1/48 scale F-117 kit.

Retail price for all the above products varies and will depend on the size/complexity of the mask set and from where the product is purchased.





Some readers may be thinking E-Z MASKS, and similar vinyl mask products from other sources, sound too good to be true. To give you some indication of my opinion I've now purchased over 30 E-Z MASKS sets for many of the kits I intend to build over the next few years.

The obvious benefits in using vinyl masks are they produce consistent excellent results as well as saving modelling time.

As further testament, remember the example of my modelling friend taking six hours to mask an Avenger with masking tape ? The same person used the Avenger set from E-Z MASKS on another Accurate Miniatures Avenger which took only three hours to apply, a time saving of at least three hours.

The majority of E-Z MASKS sets are for 1/48 aircraft scale kits but there are a number of sets for the more popular and best-selling 1/72 scale kits, eg. B-29, F-4 Phantom.

As car modellers have a similar need for masking off car windscreens and windows, the E-Z MASKS range has a growing number of sets for car kits with a promise of more to come.

The E-Z MASKS range is available from many local and international hobby retailers. I'm unsure whether CUTTING EDGE's "Black Magic" range is imported into Australia, however they can be ordered direct from Meteor Productions. EDUARD's "Express Masks" may also be available from local and international hobby retailers.



Article Text Copyright 1999 by John Kerr
Images Copyright 1999 by Richard Chafer
Page Created 22 November, 1999
Last Updated 18 May, 2001

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