Rust in Peace - How to make any plastic object into a realistic rusty detail part, the SMARTT way!

Picture of Rust in Peace - How to make any plastic object into a realistic rusty detail part, the SMARTT way!
I originally wrote this tutorial for our SMARTT Newsletter Workbench column in January 2012. ---Raymond G. Potter

As much as we’d wish it were otherwise, the world is seldom shiny and new as a toy on a shelf. If you want your train layout or diorama to look realistic, you have to find a way to represent the wear and tear of the real world, showing what depredations the elements can wreak on unprotected surfaces. One of the coolest and yet easiest to create effects is rust.

There are a few ready-mixed multi-step products that can do the trick, like Rustall, but it is really not hard to create the effect of rust using a few simple techniques and paint colors. We will use the techniques of “the wash” and “the dry-brush” as discussed in earlier articles to achieve the desired rust effect.

Paint and supplies:
Burnt Sienna and Burnt Umber(we use water based Liquitex in the bottle)
Silver acrylic paint (we use Apple Barrel or similar)
Testors’ Dullcote spray in the 3 oz. can
Powder (We use Bragdon’s Weather System rust colors)
Brown or gray chalk pastels
Dish soap – to add to the wash
Isopropyl alcohol – also for the wash
Paper towels
djo41 month ago
How did you make the desert background
SMARTTinc (author)  djo41 month ago

Hi djo4,

I'm guessing you mean the ditch in step 7?

That is really classic scenery techniques applied in a small area. In this case, I had a sample piece of ground that worked perfectly. Time permitting, in the future I will elaborate on these, as they were outside the scope of the subject matter on rust.

jojo.mccolley4 months ago
How do you make a wash? I can't seem to find anything good on it.
SMARTTinc (author)  jojo.mccolley1 month ago

Hi Jojo,

We usually mix up regular water with a few drops of dish soap or rubbing alcohol. This addition acts as a "surfactant" which disrupts the surface tension of the water to prevent it beading up and allow the wash to sink into the depths. From there you add as much paint as needed to get the effect you want.

Note that if you are using paints as a base coat that dissolve at the touch of water, even after they dry (like craft paint), you may need to apply a barrier transparency coat, usually a spray paint, to protect your prior paintwork.

This is really an oversimplification, as there are versions of the wash that use oil based paints as well, for certain applications. Until I have time to do a more detailed article, may I recommend the Forums at Fine Scale Modeler magazine by Kalmbach as a good starting point.

build523 years ago
Awesome!!! You got my vote!
SMARTTinc (author)  build523 years ago
Thanks! We're glad you enjoyed it. Keep track of us for more Instructable goodies.
mikeasaurus3 years ago
I love this stuff, the detail and paint always blows my mind.
SMARTTinc (author)  mikeasaurus3 years ago
Thanks Mike. It really is a lot of fun to do and as you can see from the list of materials, it's not too expensive either. Any broken toy is ripe for the rusting and adding to a diorama. I do these rusty cars often as part of a "junk pond" vignette on the layouts we build.
nnygamer3 years ago
I sometimes add baking soda or fins sand to my rust paint to make the rust even more invasive looking.
SMARTTinc (author)  nnygamer3 years ago
Great idea, although in this small scale, fine grit is better.

If you really want it to look devastated, you could go after one of the body panels and grind out an irregular oval hole or two, then rust the edges of that.