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Thread: Mineral Spirits vs. Paint thinner vs. lacquer thinner.

  1. Default Mineral Spirits vs. Paint thinner vs. lacquer thinner.

    Guys I'm 40 years old, and until I started to read these forums I had always considered these three to be the same. Now I'm questioning myself.

    I recently purchased my first airbrush and while I've been toying around painting junk cars, am finding it difficult to get any repeated results twice. This is the learning curve and I accept that there will be challenges so that’s ok. So for now I've yet to make a personal preference in regards to acrylic versus enamels. I want to try both really to form my own opinion, but I want to make sure I apply what is needed for each task. So far I’ve only sprayed Polly S paints.

    For the most part I have been buying Polly S paints. I do have some Model Masters enamel that I have been hand brushing with as with some acrycl (Model Masters Burnt Sienna) to be exact which seems that it’s thicker than the others. I've experimented mixing with water and with rubbing alcohol and got mixed results with those. I did notice that when I mixed some Model Masters flat black enamel that it clumped up like butter milk. I was not brave enough to pour it in the airbrush cup, and after a lil research last night and thankful that I did not. I’ve since learned that the rubbing alcohol may have been the culprit.

    So far I've built two Ameritown structures and chose not to prime them. However, this time since having an airbrush, I would like to take it from the top and do everything correct from the fist nip of plastic to sitting it down upon completion. I’m sure I will get varying results, but I would rather not destroy a structure from a poor paint mix.

    So my question for today is as I mentioned in my subject line: Are those three the same? It seems for every post that someone mentions using paint thinner, the next one they mention using mineral Spirits or lacquer thinner and even others uses Windex, windhield washer fluid or more shockingly lighter fluid. It's not really that I have a preference to any (well maybe to the exception of lighter fluid) of those since all of them are readily available. I simply want to make sure I keep apples to apples and oranges to oranges when I try them out. I don't mind the cleanup work as that’s just a part of learning. While I don't have a paint booth, I do have an open garage that provides a nice work area so the fumes are not a problem.

    Some of my problems so far have been that the texture of the paint feels like fine grit sandpaper while other areas of other colors are smoother. After reading, I think this may be due to too much pressure on the gun or spraying too sparingly. I’ve been using 20psi using an Awata Eclipse CS. I’ve tried a mix of thinners using water and rubbing alcohol. I’m sure it’s simply poor technique. But still I would like to get past the guessing game when it comes to mixing the paint.

    I have a few pictures (Smugmug is down), but will save them for questions regarding technique later, as with some questions on choice of primer for the plastic which is used on Ameritown buildings.
    Thanks for your help.


  2. #2


    I just use enamels, floquil for the most part and thin with either lacquer thinner or regular paint thinner depending on what I can find in the studio at any given moment. The lacquer thinner dries faster. Enamels really have to be thinned straight from the bottle about 50/50 or an airbrush is not going to shoot them. You can really thin a bunch if you are looking for subtle veils. I know there is now a turpentine substitute but I m pretty old and getting me to change is hard on everyone, especially me. I would expect a lot of trouble mixing oil and water as you describe. Once you get into oils in an airbrush, get religious about your cleaning. I keep tainted bottles of thinner just for cleanup in the early stages.

    If you use too much lacquer thinner it sometimes lets the paint dry before it actually hits the surface to be painted and has a texture you would not want to show off to your mom.

    On Scenery plasters on the other hand, I like watered down acrylic. My colors of choice are burnt umber , burnt sienna, black and titanium white. There is one other but my brain is having it's quiet time. Powdered Chalk for rolling stock with dull cote.

    I'll bet you get at least ten differing answers to your question.
    Last edited by Pete V; 12-31-2011 at 10:22 AM.

  3. #3


    Hobby paints for the most part are formulated to a system. When first starting out the best results are to use what the paint maker recommends, Model Master airbrush thinner for Floquil and Testors enamels, etc. Viscosity ( thickness ) of the paint will determine how much pressure to run in the airbrush. Less pressure for very thin and more pressure for thicker. Paints thinned with laquer thinner I generally use less pressure because laquer thinner evaporates very quickly and the more air you push it with the dryer it will be laying down. Alcohol evaporates very quickly also so pressure is important here too.

    I've used very very few acrylics but had decent results thinning them with 70% alcohol.

    Once you are comfortable with the basic process then you can try various thinners. Commercial grade mineral spirits I keep around only for staining my house and garage and cleaning the brushes afterwards.

    Lobuc Valley RR
    "The Hobo Route"

  4. #4


    Turpentine makes a good airbrush cleaner. I have never used it to thin hobby paints.

    Generic paint thinner, well, it depends on the paint you're using.

    Lacquer thinner will thin almost any solvent based paint, from the Testors enamels, to Floquil, to Scalecoat, and so on, but will attack plastic, so you really have to know your stuff when using it on plastics.

    Using the manufacturer's system is great for beginners, but as you learn, you will find out that the hobby paint business is very profitable because they take common items and put small quantities in small bottles and sell them for a large profit . Nothing wrong with a little capitalism, but then there's nothing wrong with saving a little money either

    Xylene or Xylol will thin most hobby enamels, and is not as volatile as lacquer thinner. I have used it for years without any problems at all. I have done many custom paint jobs for paying customers and nobody as ever complained

    You should test the thinner you want to try. Fill a small container with it, and dip a toothpick in your paint, and in the proposed thinner. If the paint dissolves into the thinner, you're good. If it stays on the toothpick, or breaks off and floats in the thinner like a little booger, then don't use it.

    For acrylics, some thin with alcohol, some with water, and some with windex. Again, test it. Tamiya paints use an alcohol based thinner. Others use either their own, or Windex, or even water. I have not had much luck with Polly S. The paint is very thick. Pollyscale is better. Badger Modelflex is also good and formulated for spraying. No thinning is necessary with it. One place I do stick with the system is retarders. These are necessary with some acrylics because they tend to dry very fast. With Modelflex I add a squirt of their retarder to every new bottle. They airbrush better that way.

    These methods work for me. There are others, and you will get other opinions. Good Luck!

    PS, make sure you use a proper respirator with the solvents mentioned, even if you have a vented booth, and I do mean a respirator, not a dust mask!

    Modeling Espee on the Coast and in steam

  5. #5


    Acrylics are a fussy animal to me. I've started to slowly switch to painting with them because"
    1) probably easier on your health than the oil based
    2) some colors are only available in acrylic
    3) much easier clean-up

    That being said I tend to prime my models using Testors ModelMaster flat gull grey (enamel) bacause acrylics don't like bare plastic in my experience.
    When thinning acrylics I tend to use the thinner that the compny provides with the exception of poly-s. I use the testors acrylic thinner with that. I've learned not to cheap-out on buying inexpensive thinners like the wal-mart thinner with mineral spirits. How much is a good paint job worth to you?
    For Enamels like testors Model master I went to an autobody supply shop and bought a 1 gallon can of ennamel thinner for about 20$ (Canadian) It's lasted me 15 years and I'm almost out of it.
    I save the mineral spirits for cleaning my airbrush or take it to work and use the laquer thinner there.
    I also use different airbrushes for my acrylic painting and enamel and laquer based paints. I don't want to accidentally mix the two because acrylics will gel up if they come in contact with oil based thinners and make a real mess of your airbrush.

  6. Default

    Thanks for the replies. Actually I thought Polly S and Polly Scale were the same thing. It is Polly Scale that I have been purchasing. With the exception of a cpl bottles of Model Masters enamel and one Acryl. I've noticed the Polly scale is much easier to thin. But then again, I've yet to find a way to thin the other two (we're only talking a cpl days of experience here).

    I'll re-read these tonight from work.

    Thanks again for your replies and wishing each of you a Happy New Year. Now it's time for me to toss the uniform on and go scrape drunks off the road tonight.



  7. #7


    I find Floquil easy to work with so that is what I use, thinned with laquer thinner. Acrylics are water based, enamels are oil based and they are two different animals requiring different thinners.

  8. #8


    Quote Originally Posted by bigken462 View Post
    Thanks again for your replies and wishing each of you a Happy New Year. Now it's time for me to toss the uniform on and go scrape drunks off the road tonight.


    With hopes you had a routine and safely boring night for all concerned.

    Lobuc Valley RR
    "The Hobo Route"

  9. #9


    This is not a direct answer to your question, but if your question really is; what should I use with an enamel paint or a floquil paint, I remember reading this some where, that the thinner that they used ( Diosol ) was a mixture of 55% Xylene and 45% Tuolene. How's that for a run-on sentence.

  10. Default

    I'm nothing more than a wanna-be railroader, but I've built more than my fair share of models (just ask my wife) using everything from acrylics to pure automotive base coat/clear coats. Here is my thinners for different brands.
    Model master enamel - generic mineral spirits (all enamels)
    Model master acrylic - 91% isopropyl alcohol
    Polly scale acrylics - distilled water
    I then use lacquer thinner to clean my airbrush no matter what I sprayed. It will eat through any paint you can spray.

    I would recommend turning your pressure down 3-4 psi and thinning your paint just a little more if your getting gritty finishes. Try using some Polly S cleaner to wipe down your project before you spray, it will help keep dust and hair off the Plastic while your spraying.

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