Silly Putty masking

To be perfectly honest, I have no idea what silly putty is actually for. I know it’s a toy, but I’m in the dark about what kids are using it for. It was not sold when I was a kid where I grew up, and I only know what I use it for… A couple of years ago I was told how great masking agent it really makes on an online forum, so I headed to the kids’ isle at the local Walmart, and invested about $3 for a plastic egg full of silly putty. I thought I’d share this little gem, in case some people have not heard of it yet. You can buy dedicated products, which behave the same way, but I strongly suspect these companies are selling dirt-cheap silly putty repackaged as dedicated modelling product. (The very same thing happens with laboratory supplies… companies sell blenders, microwaves and other kitchen appliances as labware on a highly inflated price.) Anyhow, back to our post’s focus. Silly putty is a strange silicon polymer: it is essentially an incredibly viscous fluid, but it can also behave like an elastic solid material. (It’s a non-Newtonian fluid, if you really want to know.) So essentially what it means is that it can be shaped really easily, like clay, it “flows” into crevices, yet if you smash a handful against a wall, it will bounce off, like a rubber ball. We are not going to smash it against anything, though. This elastic, viscous nature makes silly putty an ideal masking agent. Using small pieces, you can easily form camo patterns on models. Obviously, for straight lines masking tapes are still your best bet, but to recreate irregular camo, it’s just perfect. Just place it on the model’s surface in the desired pattern, and use a toothpick to shape it further once it settled. Spray, and repeat if you have more than one colors to paint. It’s that easy. I used blue-tac for similar purposes, but it’s quite rigid, and difficult to make stick to the surface; silly putty is an all-around better option. Additionally, the material is very easy to work with. If you flatten it against a hard surface (a piece of glass, for example), you will have easy-to-use “pancakes” to work with; these can even be pre-cut it to shape with a sharp blade. Just carefully peel them off the glass, and lay them onto the model. Silly putty will not stick to anything (well, any model) permanently, and comes off clean, so you don’t have to worry about residues. If there are some residual material that got stuck in some real deep, real intricate pattern (like moulded-on grilles), rubbing a small piece of silly putty against any residual pieces will remove them easily. It will not dissolve in acrylic paint so they are absolutely safe to work with –can’t vouch for enamels, though, as I’ve never tried them. One thing you still have to keep in mind is the matter of small parts. If you are not careful, silly putty will remove any small parts from the surface, when you peel it off, so you’ll have to dig in for those PE clamps or headlights. (Same is true for any masking agents, though. On a positive note, silly putty will not break them when you apply it to the surface, unlike blue-tac, which does need some force to make it settle.) The best thing you can do is to leave those parts off until you finish the camo. Another general advice (which I sometimes ignore due to impatience) is to use several light layers, instead of a few heavy ones… this will make sure paint does not build up at the masking agent. After you are finished, you can just peel off the putty carefully (or use some more to rub it off with), and reuse. It seems to absorb the dried paint flakes without any issues, and it does not affect its behaviour. If you find after a couple of (dozen? hundred?) uses that the putty does not work as intended any more, it’s really cheap to replace. As a demonstration, I’d like to share some images of a DML 1/72 Sd.Kfz.251 halftrack painted using an airbrush, masked with silly putty. The putty was placed onto the vehicle in strips, according to the pattern shown in the instructions. After the first layer of color (green), it was further covered to add the second color (brown). Because it’s so easy to manipulate, and because it can be shaped very well, its “resolution” (the smallest detail you can make out) is quite high; you can create really intricate patterns even in small scale with very little effort. As you can see the putty was wrapped around the width indicator rods without any problems. Gently removing it shows the pattern achieved. And here is the result of the painting session


2 thoughts on “Silly Putty masking”

  1. This was a great article, helped me out immensely both in deciding on something I can actually manage to do that is still visually interesting, but I can also reliably replicate across multiple models. Thanks so much!


    1. You’re welcome 🙂 I am glad you found this interesting; the whole point of this blog is to show people things they might be interested in (like obscure models) or techniques.


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