How to Paint Plastic Model Airplanes Cockpits – Essential Tips

Scale Model AicraftGuidesHow to Paint Plastic Model Airplanes Cockpits - Essential Tips

Painting Plastic Model Airplanes Cockpits in Five Easy Steps

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This post provides advice from my perspective only. It is the way I do things and it does not mean that it is the best, correct or the way most [competition] modellers do it, so I suggest obtaining information and tips from other sources and doing it how it best suits you. I hope, however, it still gives you some tips and helps you gain ideas!

When I begin a cockpit, all relevant parts of thatย plastic scale model aircraft are removed and placed in a bowl. I will determine what needs to be painted separately and what can be assembled prior to painting.

All major parts are glued together so they are in place to paint and won’t have to be handled. The smaller parts will be painted, detailed and set aside for installation. In most cases, a watercolor wash is added to the side panels and floor as well. Sometimes, if a wash is too bold, I will use dry pastels for a softer effect. I discuss washes and pastels further in the weathering section.


You will see the mention of many techniques which should be fairly self-explanatory to most modellers. A wash is just that, with an oil-based wash color applied. Although many modellers (myself included) might apply with a brush, and wipe off excess with a dry rag/cloth. The Base Colour is the basic color of the model aircraft cockpit (eg: Interior Green) and is usually applied by hand painting or spray painting, generally to the walls, floor and other structural parts of the cockpit. Drybrushing is a common term/technique where you dip your brush in paint and wipe it over the tissue, cloth etc to the point where almost all the paint has gone, the brush is almost dry – hence the term.


Some modelers prefer to use resin kits for their cockpits. I never found an interest in using them. In some cases, they can be costly. I prefer to use the kit parts and add some inexpensive detail to it. Let’s face it, most of the time our hard work goes unseen once it’s all said and done. For the majority of my “offices,” I like to use Eduard photo- etched color sets and scratch-built seat belts. I feel PE seat belts are too rigid and troublesome. So, lead foil with PE buckles is an excellent alternative.

*Lead foil is very pliable and easy to use. It can be cut into thin strips with a sharp Xacto knife. It can also be painted once it’s in place.

*Use of appropriate colorsย for dry-brushing will bringย out the detail.

*Lead foil can be used for other details such as ammo belts and armour plating.


This is probably one of the most effective methods of detailing. Dry-brushing is more of an illusion that adds depth and definition to make parts more noticeable. It will take some practice and the right tools to get the right effect. Any raised detail is a good candidate for dry-brushing, interior or exterior. My tools of choice are a stubby paintbrush, , and a metallic silver pencil. The pencil is good for small, controlled applications where the brush is good for larger areas. The key to effective dry-brushing is to remove almost all the paint from the bristles before you apply. Then, lightly ‘scrub’ the part with the brush concentrating on edges and raised details. If need be, layers can be added until satisfied. In this case, too little is better than too much.

Color used for dry-brushing will also add realism and depth. Deciding on a color depends on the base color of the detail. Below are some suggested dry-brush colors for specific cockpit/component colors.

Base Color:Dry-brush with:
US Interior Green
  • Yellow
  • 2:Yellow+1:White
RAF Interior Green
  • Pale Green
  • White
IJN Interior Green
  • Pale Green
  • White
RLM 66 (Black-Gray)
  • RLM 02 (Gray)
  • Neutral Gray
  • Gunship Gray
Black (consoles, radios)
  • Light Gray
  • White
  • Aluminum
  • Khaki
  • Tan
  • Earth Red

Painting Cockpits in 5 steps

The following steps provide an overview of generally my most detailed painting, usually where I have the cockpit open or where the detail can be seen and I want it to show all my handiwork! I will miss some steps and cut corners when closing off the cockpit that might not be seen or where I don’t want to put in the huge effort. I find that cockpit detailing is the most time consuming of undertaking a model building project and once completed, everything else runs much more smoothly… and quickly.

I should also mention that the following steps assume a basic standard Interior Green (or similarly standard color other than say black and aluminum) cockpit. Adjustments need to be made for contrasting different colors – for example, a black cockpit would miss out part of (2) as there would be no need to paint radio boxes black when the cockpit is already that shade. Or, for an aluminum cockpit I would not add yellow/white for depth, I would use a different shade of aluminum (perhaps polished or matt depending on the rest of the cockpit) or add a darker color.


  1. In the first step, I simply attach the main components that all share the same basic interior color to one of the fuselage halves. I then paint the cockpit its base color and leave to dry. In most cases, I do this by brush painting the surfaces as I find it easier than spray painting – especially in the early stages of a project (ie: forgo the hassle of setting up booths etc!). However, spray painting looks much better!
  2. Once dry, I dry brush a lighter shade of the interior color usually by adding white or yellow to it. The idea is to highlight shadows, edges, depth etc. Once dry the darker areas, such as radio boxes and other black panels are painted in dark grey. I never paint these in black even though in my reviews I might mention I paint the boxes black (because that is their true life color). Dark Grey or a shade that is almost a “light version of black” is best. Some people add white to their black to achieve this color.
  3. Depending on how I feel (as far as the level of detailing concerned) I pick out a slightly less dark grey and use that to highlight the boxes and panels painted in “black” above, but quite often I just leave the boxes as they are. I also pick out various knobs, hydraulics, wires and cables in the appropriate colors (red, yellow, white etc) usually by consulting reference material. The seatbelts are added and painted, usually in a light brown/beige color. You realize at this point how inaccurate most cockpits are in injection molded kits!
  4. That’s basically the cockpit done and depending on where I am going with the kit (in terms of how detailed I want it to look), I either add the final touches right here to cut corners, (see 5. below) or apply a gloss coat to seal in the detail. I generally don’t wash the interior, but after the gloss dries, some other modellers do this wash with an oil base color as their next step. If there are any decals to be applied (eg: consoles etc) I apply them at this point onto the gloss surface. Once dry I generally then apply a matt coat and leave that to dry.
  5. The final touches generally include very small bits of silver to simulate chipped areas (that’s when I am feeling in a real detailing mood but often I skip this) and then deal with any missed areas and/or touch-ups required. Finally, I dab a bit of gloss cote in areas to simulate glass, lights and dial faces. I usually apply this with a toothpick or the finest of brushes. Then it is finally time to move onto affixing the fuselage halves together!

The steps above are generally when I am in a detailing mood, I do take shortcuts when I am kitbashing or the cockpit is hardly going to be seen, as I do build wheels up models and thus the cockpit is always closed.

I hope you found some useful tips and it helps you out with your modelling project but please consult a group of modellers before relying on any one way to do something. What works best for me is not always the best for others!


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