Headlight Enhancements How to make solid molded vehicle headlights look more realistic. Adding clear acrylic lenses.
While a few more modern tank and military vehicle kits come with clear plastic headlight lenses, many kits still have the old-style solid one piece headlights. These kits' instructions usually tell you to paint the 'lens area' of the headlights white or silver. Silver usually looks a bit better than white, but it still looks like what it is - paint. These painted lights can often spoil the looks of an otherwise well molded and well detailed model.
Here are some tips for improving the headlights on military models (or some car kits) by creating more realistic looking 'glass' lenses:
A. The Simple Approach - Paint the headlights' lens areas silver. Let the paint dry completely (overnight). Apply a small drop of clear acrylic medium over the painted lens area and let it dry completely before installing the headlight on your model. 'Glassing over' the front of the lens will give a slightly more realistic appearance to the headlight by giving it a 'glassy gloss' finish and a bit of depth. This approach works best for small lights.
B. The Detailed Approach - This technique produces very realistic looking headlights, but requires time & careful work. You'll need - 1. A micro drill (size #60 bit), 2. A small standard drill bit (the drill bit should be just a little smaller than the lens area of the headlight), 3. A small ball-shaped cutting bit, 4. A small ball-shaped grinding bit (the bits should be about the same diameter as the lens).
STEP 1 - Carefully position the micro drill over the center of the lens area. Drill a pilot hole nearly to the back of the headlight part. (NOTE: If you accidentally drill through the back of the part, the hole can easily be filled with just a dab of plastic model putty).
STEP 2 - Use the pilot hole to center your standard drill bit, then drill out the lens area. Do this slowly & in stages so that you can judge the depth of the hole you are creating. The hole s/b at least half way into the headlight part.
STEP 3 - Shape the interior of the headlight. Use the ball-shaped cutting bit to clean out the hole in the front of the headlight and create a bowl shaped recess inside.
STEP 4 - Use the ball-shaped grinding bit to widen and smooth out the reflector bowl inside the headlight. The bowl area should be as wide as the inside of the lens area. Be careful when drilling and grinding to avoid reducing or eliminating the ring detail (if any) at the front of the headlight.
STEP 5 - Swab out the interior of the headlight with a wet Q-tip to remove any dust or fragments left by the drilling & grinding process. Paint the interior of the headlight bright silver. Be sure to paint the entire bowl right up to the upper edge. Set the part aside and let the paint dry completely.
STEP 6 - Secure the headlight so it sits level, with the reflector bowl facing up. Place a drop of liquid acrylic medium into the headlight. Let the acrylic medium dry until it is clear, then add drops of acrylic medium until you have formed a dome that rises just above the upper edge of the reflector bowl. Set aside and let dry completely (overnight). When the acrylic dries it will shrink - you will most likely end up with a small dimple at the center of the headlight. Simply add a few more drops of acrylic to reform the dome shaped lens surface and set aside to dry. NOTE - the acrylic will be milky when applied, but will dry crystal clear
WARNING - even when dry the acrylic is easily marred - avoid any / all contact with the new lens area.
NOTE - The step #s in the photos DO NOT correspond to those in the instructions above - follow the instructions above as they are more detailed than the general outline offered by the notations on the photos.