Painting Your Mandalorian Helmet Kit

I have currently suspended production of Mandalorian Helmet Kits, myself but have left this page online as it’s full of useful tips and techniques for anyone wanting to paint and weather a costume helmet.

To get the best results out of your Mandalorian Helmet Kit taking your time to give it a great looking paint job that looks like it stepped out of the movies is a must.  Here are a few methods that I have used.

Study the Reference

The most important thing to do is to take a little time to study the Boba Fett movie reference.  There are stacks of great quality photos out there in books and a vast gallery of reference on The Dented Helmet – an online community dedicated to creating replicas of the Boba Fett costume.

Here’s a photo I took at the Star Wars Identities Exhibition at the O2 in London of one of the screen used costumes.  If you look closely at the various pockmarks and paint chips you’ll notice that they are random and chaotic, they emphasise the edges of the helmet and raised details that would naturally suffer chipping and rubbing and that the paint job is layered.  If you look at Boba’s visor and cheek area you can see areas where the paint has been chipped back to a grey primer that sits on top of the metal, on Boba’s chest plates, there are yellow areas that are exposed by the paint chips on the green plates.

This use of layers of primer paint and top coats is key to creating a paint job that has depth and authenticity.

Here are the separate steps of paint and masking I used in painting my personal helmet:

Plan Your Paint Scheme

Work out what colour primer paints you’re going to use and what top colours – if you can, be a little daring with your primer to create some contrast between the layers.  For example, I use a red oxide primer colour underneath my grey top coats.

If you’re looking for an authentic Star Wars bounty hunter paint scheme, take a look at the movies – particularly the scenes set outside of the Empire where less primary colours are used – subdued colours, more military tones, creams, browns with small accents of primary colours for emphasis.

And also try to use the same brand of paints throughout your paint scheme.  Sometimes differences in mixtures and manufacturing can mean that certain paints aren’t compatible – this can be particularly true of metallic paints, and can result in ugly reactions between the layers.  So it is advisable to do some tests beforehand because seeing a top coat suddenly crackle like orange peel when reacts to the paints underneath can be heartbreaking.

And when it comes to paint chipping and damage effects think about those too.  If you look at the image above you can see that raised edges have been heavily chipped, there are one or two large areas of damage and that every scratch mark has a direction that makes you think how it might have happened had it been real.

Oh, and finally…one warning – try to avoid the putting some kind of three-clawed strike mark across the face – it has been done so many times now it is a bit of a cliche.

Deluxe Cold Cast Helmets – Preparation

If you have any Cold Cast Aluminium parts the first thing you need to do is remove the dull grey protective top layer of resin from them.

Do this in a well-ventilated area, using gloves (to protect against wire splinters) and a dust mask (to protect against inhaling tiny bits of sharp metal that’ll shred the inside of your lungs.)

Take some fine grade wire wool and rub over the surface of the part to strip off the top layer of resin.  Use consistent strokes being mindful of the direction that you’re rubbing as this will give you a nice brushed aluminium finish (so, in the example below, up one side of the ear cap, around the top of the curve and straight back down the other side.)

Keep going until your entire part looks like a piece of shiny brushed metal – be careful not to go too far as the aluminium layer is relatively thin.

(If you’re unsure – pick the inside of the right ear cap or a section of the side of the helmet that will be covered by an ear cap and experiment there first.)

Polishing Cold Cast Aluminium Mandalorian Helmet Left Ear Cap with wire wool

Then, take a metal polish like Brasso and a soft cloth/paper towel, apply to the part and buff to a shine.  (Metal polishes like Brasso contain an abrasive element, so what you’re doing here is continuing the work done by the wire wool – expect black/grey residue to rub off the part as you polish – that’s more of the top protective resin layer coming away.)

Polishing Cold Cast Aluminium Mandalorian Helmet Left Ear Cap with metal polish

Wash Your Kit

Before you start painting (although I do wash every kit before I send it out), it’s worth washing the whole kit in warm (not hot) water with a little dish detergent. Rinse the parts thoroughly with clean water and set aside to thoroughly dry.  This should get rid of any remnants of mould release that comes from the casting process, any grease from your fingers and any resin dust left on cold cast helmets after polishing them to reveal the aluminium surface, all of which will inhibit the paint from keying to your helmet.

Standard Resin Helmets – Metallic Silver

If you have a Standard Helmet Kit you’ll want to make it look metallic first before you add the rest of the paint.  Here are a few things worth noting:

You’ll need to prime the helmet first using either a dedicated plastic priming paint, or an adhesion aid spray to allow the remaining coats to key to it.  Apply the primer as directed and, for best results give it time to not only dry but also cure.

For a great metallic finish you may want to consider a black undercoat on top of the plastic primer first – if you’re looking for an almost chrome-like finish to your fake metal, a gloss black undercoat will give you the smoothest surface to then apply the metallic paint on top of.  Like all paints, check compatibility first with the rest of your paints on a scrap of plastic, allowing plenty of time for each layer to cure.

Once you have your primer/undercoat cured, – spray over with your metallic paint.  Metallic paints can be very tricky.  Firstly they take a long time to cure – much longer than you’d think, so once applied, leave your helmet to cure for a few days.  You may be impatient to get your kit painted but you want to make sure that the paint has time to ‘degass’ which means you’re allowing the paint the time for all of the solvents and propellants within it to evaporate completely.  If you fail to do so, it may mean your top coats will flake off and spoil the work you’ve put into it.

As above – metallic paints can be particularly prone to odd reactions with top coats, so it’s really worth testing that your top coats are compatible before committing to putting them on the helmet.

By far the best metallic paints I’ve found are Alclad II Laquers  – they require an airbrush to apply, must be undercoated with their gloss black primer and then protectively sealed with their top coat. The process is quite technical but it’s the closest and most affordable method that I’ve found to creating a convincing painted metallic finish that will stand up alongside a a cold cast finish.

What’s important with the Alclad II range is to get your surface as smooth as possible with very high grand sandpaper, make sure it’s clear of dust and grease by washing with dish detergent, rinsing with clean water and drying thoroughly before you start spraying.  First prime the surface with Alclad’s gloss black base primer (Alclad II Gloss Black Base Primer Paint #305) to get a smooth black finish – the smoother the finish, the better the metallic finish.  Then go over with their metallic lacquer (I use Alclad II Airframe Aluminium #119), and finally seal it with their aqua gloss clear top coat (Alclad II Aqua Gloss Clear alc600.)  (You’ll also need to pick up the Alclad II Airbrush Cleaner alc307 too.)

This 3D printed Sith Probe Droid prop I made is entirely painted using Alclad II’s range of metallic laquers

Masking Fluid, Salt & Hairspray for Paint Chipping

These are two techniques to get really authentic-looking paint chips on your kit:

Latex Masking Fluid that can be bought from any artist materials supplier can be daubed onto your kit to mask off areas to simulate paint chips.

I usually use a cotton bud to apply the masking fluid and find the a great method to use is to have barely any masking fluid on the cotton bud and swipe it quickly across the surface – this will give you the effect on natural, thin scratches that catch edges but miss the dents like a strike from a real object.

For large areas of damage, generally dabbing with the cotton bud in a random fashion to build up an area is better than ‘painting’ it in with brush strokes – this gives you a nice, natural rough block that you can then streak out in the direction away from the impact.

Also – try not to be neat – if the masking has been painted on too carefully it won’t read as authentic – don’t try to neaten up edges – roughen them up, use another cotton bud to mess up the edges of the masking as it is drying.

To add even more authenticity to your paint chipping – a combination of Rock Salt and Hairspray can be used (and I’d say it was essential to take your work to the next level.)

Simply spray some hairspray onto the area around your patches of major damage and then drop on some rock salt, throwing in a couple of twists of the grinder so that the salt lands on the edges where the masking fluid meets the unmasked helmet.

When the masking fluid and hairspray has dried, spray over with your top coat, and then once that has a few hours to dry, scrub it away with plenty of detergent and warm water to reveal the damage effect.

(I find that it is best to take the masking off after a few hours since the paint will be still soft enough to allow you to remove the masking without rubbing your fingers to the bone!)

I can recommend is using a scrunched up ball of tin foil to rub away at the masking to remove it, and then when it comes to washing off the remainder in the sink using a scouring sponge.  Remember to try to scrub in the direction of impact (away from the centre of blast marks, across the helmet in the direction of travel) – this builds up lots of tiny micro-scratches that add to the surface effect (you can see them in the paint above) that will add even more authenticity to the weathered finish.

Once you have washed off all the masking with warm soapy water, rinse your helmet in clean water and set it aside for 24 hours before you attempt the next coat.  This will allow the paint time to cure and recover and for your helmet to thoroughly dry.

On your next coat apply more masking and salt/hairspray,  not only to the areas of ‘metal’ you want to keep unpainted, but around the edges of the first coat – be messy, think about the direction of the impact marks, and add in some new chipping to areas that on the first coat weren’t masked…

Build up your layers as you mask and paint your helmet and add a dirt wash to finish.

In the above example you can see the “damage” to the cream top coat looks devastating with a large section having apparently been ripped away by a serious blast that scorched away most of the paint – don’t be afraid to do this in a few select areas – your eye will pick up the shape of the top coat by the few bits of paint that remain.

Clear Coats

You may wish to add a clear coat to protect the paint job.  It’s not necessary, and in fact, with cold cast helmets, I wouldn’t recommend it; you want the real metal of the aluminium surface to be seen in its natural state, and allow it to, over time age.

If you do want to add a clear coat, I’d recommend doing it before you attach the visor and apply any dirt washes.  Three reasons: firstly, it’s easier – you don’t have to mask the visor, secondly, you don’t want a clear coat on top of your visor.  Finally, you want the dirt washes and grime to create a natural matte, grimy finish on top of your paint job – if you look at a car in the parking lot, the shiny paint job is dulled in places by the grime it has accumulated through driving.

And then remains the question, what kind of clear coat?

My preference is to use a semi-gloss clear coat, like Rust-Oleum Crystal Clear Semi-Gloss  since it gives enough protection, a nice sheen to the paint job but doesn’t make it look too shiny.

One word of caution though – some clear coats and some metallic paints don’t play nice together.  So, test them out on a spare piece of plastic first as some metallic paints when hit with a clear goat lose all of their metallic lustre and end up just looking like grey paint.  So be prepared to try a few combinations of paints and clear coats before you leap in and start painting.

Dirt Washing

To make your kit really stand out, after assembly you want to apply a wash of fake dirt and grime.  This is true for not only for kits that have been heavily chipped to look like they’ve been on the battlefield but also for kits that want to look like they’ve been cared for.  Trust me on this – it adds so much more depth and authenticity to a ‘clean’ kit – without it, your kit will look like what it is…plastic space armour.

To apply a dirt wash, mix up some acrylic paint – my preferred colours are Payne’s Grey, Raw Sienna, Burnt Umber and Yellow Ochre.  Mixing in plenty of water and with a large, rough brush, paint your entire helmet with a wash of this paint – be uneven, mix in browns and blacks in some areas, redder colours like raw sienna in others.  You want the whole thing to look like a riot of dirty colours all over.  (For folks that want a ‘clean’ kit – do exactly the same, just water down your paints before you apply them.)

Set your kit aside to dry for a few minutes – to allow your ‘grime’ to seep into all of the corners, dents, into the edges between your paint layers.  Then, with some paper towels and some elbow grease, set to work trying to clean all of this dirt off.

Most will come away easily, but the stuff that’s hard to get at will stay stubbornly in all of the corners, picking out the details, adding areas of shadow and grime in all the places that would be accumulated by an item in the real world.

If you have time, once the first dirt wash has had time to dry – do it a second time – the more layers of dirt you add and then scrub back, the more authentic your kit will appear.

And one final tip – cold espresso coffee is amazing.  This is a tip that I picked up from Adam Savage’s video on weathering techniques over on the Tested YouTube channel. Once you have finished several layers of dirt washing with acrylics, drizzle, splash or daub a bit of cold espresso into a few select places – it adds a richness and depth of colour to your kit and it smells great too!

Watch this video – you won’t regret it…

When your helmet has completely dried – apply scorch marks – either with a dry brush that has a tiny amount of black paint on it (rub most off on a paper towel before you dry brush) or with a bit of charcoal.  Make the marks in the direction of impact that you’d expect.

Finishing Touches

With everything complete you might want to make a few of those sharp metal edges ‘pop’.

For Standard helmets, spray a little of your metallic spray paint into a container so you can dip into it with a brush, then, using a paper towel, rub off most of the paint from the brush before you lightly ‘dry brush’ the silver onto those few select corners and edges to make them stand out.

For cold cast helmets, a little silver Rub ‘n’ Buff applied sparingly to a few select edges and then buffed to a shine will do the same trick.

Lettering and Complex Symbols

Unless you’re a master of masking, don’t try to paint these by hand, unless you’re looking for a genuinely handpainted look.

It’s better to get a few sheets of waterslide decal paper and make your own using a printer.  These can be applied to your kit and then scratched up and dirt washed to give the same kind of authenticity you see on the X-wing pilot helmets in A New Hope.  Here are some examples on our armour plates – the lettering is made using freely available ‘Mandalorian’ and ‘Aurrebesh’ fonts.

Making Your Own Waterslide Decals

If you have access to a colour printer, making your own decals couldn’t be easier.  You just need to buy some Waterslide Decal Paper and work out a design using a drawing package.  (If you’re making simple graphics, a free vector-based package like Inkscape will do the job just fine, but if you really need help in designing your logo/symbols please get in touch and for a commission fee I’ll happily help you create a design that you can then turn into your own decals.)

Once you have decided on your design, according to the instructions that come with the decal paper, print your designs out.  Allow them to dry.  Then apply several coats of clear gloss varnish spray to the designs on the paper, allowing each to dry before applying the next coat.  The idea is to seal the design over entirely with an impenetrable coat of gloss to protect the design.

When you have your finished sheet of decals, sealed with a clear coat, cut around them with scissors as close to the design as possible and soak them in water for an amount of time (see the instructions on your paper).  This soaks through the backing paper and allows the translucent layer of inks and top coat to become detached from the backing.

A sheet of water slide decals coated with several layers of clear coat, ready for application

With the decal sitting loosely on the backing paper lift it out of the water, place it in position over your helmet/armour piece and gently slide it off the backing and into position.  While the piece is still wet, you should be able to gently align the decal into position, applying a few drops of water to keep it mobile.  Gently smooth it into place and smooth out any air bubbles before allowing it to dry.

Be mindful of the fact that water slide decals made in this way are translucent and that light backgrounds such as white cannot be produced. If you wish areas to show as white in your decal, paint the surface underneath first and apply the decal on top.

(If you do get air bubbles trapped in your final decal – not to worry, use a fine needle to prick the bubble and press them out, preferably before the decal is completely dry.)

Don’t be afraid to later weather/scratch back your finished decals – in a Star War, they’ll be subject to scratches and scrapes like any other part of your armour.