Zimmerit: History and How-to
Survey of Zimmerit Depiction Methods
Zimmerit has the reputation of being difficult to reproduce in scale. There are several methods, each with its own advantages and disadvantages. Here is a list of all the methods which I have come across along with their pros and cons.
Cavalier Zimmerit Sheets
A new product from Australia has recently been released by Cavalier. I have not seen these parts yet but they are described as being made of a latex material in sheets with the exact panels for a particular AFV kit moulded into them. I have heard that acrylic based paints like Tamiya Color turn glossy when applied directly to these sheets; to prevent this prime with an enamel base first. Pros: Easy and realistic; Cons: Currently hard to find outside of Australia. Restricted to one pattern. Looks a little too thick.
Hot Knife Scribing Method
Often touted by Francois Verlinden, this method employs a hot knife to scribe the zimmerit pattern into the kit parts. For best results the hot knife should have a rheostat to control it's temperature. It is essential that a pattern is drawn on the model beforehand as a guide. The zimmerit is melted into the model's surface by following this pattern. The results are not very convincing, but it may have its uses for applying a pattern to thin styrene parts like schurzen which plastic putty warps. Pros: Free (assuming you have the tools.); Cons: Pattern looks fake. Only one shot at a good pattern. Easy to the destroy model. Difficult to model damage zimmerit.
Injection Moulded Styrene Sheets
Italeri started this trend with the release of their Panther Ausf. A which includes a complete set injection moulded zimmerit sheets and where appropriate, replacement parts. Italeri now include these as part of an accessory kit. At this point I believe that Academy have included a similar zimmerit set in there new Tiger I kit (however this is unsubstantiated.) The Italeri parts are a good first attempt, they are quite acceptable as is, however they should be thinned out by sanding from the back (much like a vacuform aeroplane kit.) Also the pattern is a little suspect - missing the secondary pattern of grid lines; which can be added by scribing before thinning them. Pros: Easy to use. Readily available. Cons: Expensive. Needs thinning out (at least Italeri parts do.) Need to modify for different vehicles.
By far the best method, and the one which I use exclusively, is textured model putty. This method looks the best because it is exactly the same way in which the Germans applied zimmerit to their AFVs' (in scale of course.) I can't understand why modelers are afraid of this method, it is not difficult, it just sounds difficult. Later on in this article I will fully describe the procedure. Pros: The most realistic DIY method. Free!; Cons: Intimidating at first. Time consuming.
Putty Raking - "The Tamiya Method"
This method is similar to the previous Putty Texturing method except instead of stamping the pattern in with a trowel it is made by dragging a serrated tool across its' surface. Tamiya produce a set of tools (catalogue number 35187) specifically made for this purpose - hence the name "The Tamiya Method". But any number of tools can be used including razor saws, corrugated metal, etc. The pattern produced looks good but personally I don't think it captures the true trowelled pattern well, however for those vehicles which received raked on zimmerit coats, such as on the Tiger I's hull, this method is perfect. A number of materials besides plastic and epoxy putty can be used with this method including "Spackle", which is a household patching compound similar to plaster. If mixed with Latex paint the material becomes more plastic and easier to use. The major benefit to using this material is since it is water based it can be washed off. Pros: The easiest and most fool proof of the DIY methods. Free! Cons: Only accurate for "raked" pattern, as on Tiger I hulls.
Resin Replacement Parts
Most notably, Kirin and Accurate Armour have zimmerit kits for several of the new popular kits (Tamiya Panthers and King Tigers.) While the zimmerit patterns are good, often they require more time to fix up, removing moulding lugs, filling in bubbles, and so on, than using any other method. In the case of Kirin's kit for the King Tiger, the engine deck has been simplified, so extra time in needed to reopen the air vents - fun stuff. Pros: Perfect zimmerit representation (assuming the guy who did the master was good!); Cons: Very expensive. Vehicle specific. Difficult to modify. Replacement kit parts often simplified.
R&J Products Zimm-it-rite
This material is currently available from R&J Products is very similar to epoxy putty, but it is much softer and a lot easier to work with. It is used in the same way as plastic putty in the Textured putty method. I recently obtained some Zimm-it-rite and have been testing it out. I have been most impressed, it is the best method available currently for simulating Zimmerit. Pros: Excellent material for use with the textured putty method, as it has a long working life and doesn't affect the plastic; Cons: None.
Textured Paper Dinner Napkins
This rather strange method was described in an old issue of FineScale Modeler and employs paper dinner napkins embossed with the appropriate pattern. Once a good pattern is found, cut the napkin up into roughly the shape needed and coat them with something for strength; I tried plastic goo (sprue dissolved it liquid cement) and Krazy Glue, as the goo takes forever to set, I recommend the latter. Now trim to exact size and glue to the model. Pretty simple. This is the best method for smaller scales, 1/48th, 1/72nd and 1/76th, it is thin enough and there are patterns fine enough for these scales. Pros: Almost free. Easy. Fun to use (I tried it and it was!); Cons: Pattern may look soft. Restricted to one pattern.
The Show Modelling Embossed Paper Sheets
Being more popular than deserved, thus illustrating just how fearful the average modeller is of doing zimmerit, these "quick fix" zimmerit sheets show just how much expense some people will endure to get a fast and easy passable zimmerit job. While The Show Modelling should be praised for such an innovative concept, their execution is lacking. These embossed paper sheets just don't look convincing at all, the pattern is too indistinct. Additionally it is almost impossible to get the sheets, which do not stretch, to cover an area with compound curves (a surface which curves in more than one axis.) Pros: Easy. Was the best "quick fix" method until Cavalier's Zimmerit came out; Cons: Expensive. Difficult to fit to compound curves. Looks fake - too smooth.
Zimmer-it Embossing Tools
Now available for use with plastic and epoxy putties are a set of patterned stamps, from a company called Zimmer-it. They can be used either as "combs" or "stamps" to texture the putty. I played around with them for a while but not enough to completely master them. I would recommend that you purchase them to try for yourself.
A Special Case - Early Jagdpanther Pattern
Fortunately because of the simple nature of this pattern, (see the photograph to the right), it is very easy to duplicate with scribed sheet styrene. I have tried 0.015 stock cut to the same size as the hull plate I wanted doing and scribed in the pattern with the backside of and X-Acto blade and straight edge. To finish up I roughed it up with coarse sand paper and re-smoothed with steel wool. It looks very good and is a lot easier than trying to get a smooth, uniformly thick coat of putty.