Vinyl vs Kabuki

Introduction to paint masks – Vinyl vs Yellow Kabuki

Although our Kabuki masks are slightly more expensive than vinyl ones what you actually get with Kabuki is something that will last FOREVER! You can use parts of any kabuki set years later with the same results as if they were cut today. I am happy to say that i still use large sheet of Kabuki masking strips cut in 2009, that’s SIX years now! So the bottom line is this: Get the Kabuki if you intend to use masks on more than one project, months or years later or get the vinyl for custom masks or sets that you intent to use straight away or a couple of weeks later. Also, you will notice that some of our smallest sets are available in vinyl only for a reason, vinyl is a winner for ultra small masking elements and so no need to pay more for something vinyl is good with.

First, let me throw a few quick facts on both materials:


– Thinner than vinyl
– Slightly translucent
– Pressure sensitive adhesive
– Absolute winner for all kinds and sizes of paint masks – except for ultra small elements smaller than 3 mm!
Kabuki masks will last FOREVER! Just store them back in resealable bag!
– Extremely fine masking edge.
– Can be printed on for custom design and hand cut!
– With acrylic adhesive Kabuki can be left on a model for days without interacting with paint!
– Kabuki tape is 0.06 mm thick!
– Our Kabuki is highest quality masking material – Made in Japan!


– More flexible and translucent than Kabuki.
– Thicker than Kabuki
– Vinyl shrinks after a couple of days/weeks depending on atmosphere conditions. Faster in the summer.
– Not suitable for masking elements larger than 10 mm in diameter.
– Perfect for ultra small masking elements smaller than 3 mm.
– Cheaper than Kabuki.
– After a couple of months vinyl masks are virtually unusable as adhesive become more like a gum and becomes stronger. Can peel the paint off!

There is no much point explaining the use and application of the decals while the paint masks are something relatively small number of modellers use and many more are afraid of, with no good reason actually. With the decals and masks being two different means for achieving the same thing it is only natural to make a short comparison between the two and try to find highs and lows on each. Decals have always been and currently are the most popular way of marking scale models for a few good reasons. First and foremost, every scale model that we buy comes with the decal sheet with markings for one or more aircraft. Decals also provide fast and clean way of marking application, all you have to do it to get them wet and apply them on the model. Ultra small elements like pilot names, kill marks and various servicing stencils would be impossible to achieve without waterslide or dry transfer decals. As for the low points, there are plenty of those as well. Quality of the decals is something we are never sure of, the print quality can vary from good solid colour to ultra thin and translucent, colour shades are sometimes off and there is nothing you can do about it, carrier film can be brittle and crack as soon as we try to position the decal on the model, thickness is another issue if the decal need to conform to a curved surface, adhesive being too weak and so on.

When it comes to paint masks the situation is a bit different but still not the ultimate or perfect solution for applying markings. For a start, paint mask give us the ability to control the colour which is actually a huge advantage over decals. Also if carefully stored, masks can be reused a couple of times which is another advantage. Using paint masks does involve a bit more work as each colour of masking element must be separately masked of and painted but the end results are superior to any kind of decals. No surface preparation is need for painting with masks as long as the paint layer below is properly cured. Once painted, markings can be easily weathered by sanding, paint chipping or scratching and will never produce silvering regardless of the surface condition they were painted on. After all, markings on real aircraft were also applied with paint masks. Using paint masks is easy and convenient way to achieve great results. With everything above said it seems like paint masks are the perfect solution for all of our troubles, or are they? Painting larger elements with masks is easy and effective, same goes for smaller but simpler elements. Problems start with small elements as unit badges, letter and numbers smaller than 2 mm or 3 mm in height and similar more complicated things. With today’s technology it is possible to cut almost indefinitely small masking elements but since it would be impossible to apply them, those would be pretty much useless.

Also, we need to overview an important factor in mask performance and ease of use, a material they are made of. Currently, most popular materials for die cut masks are vinyl and yellow Kabuki tape. Specially developed for masking purposes, semi transparent vinyl is flexible, easy to use and thanks to its low tack water based adhesive, very safe for any kind of painted surface. Flexibility will allow it to conform on curved surfaces, transparency will make it much easier for accurate positioning on the model and water based adhesive will not lift the paint or leave any residue on painted surface. Due to its structure, vinyl is perfect for very fine and complicated cuts with lots of detail but still, vinyl has a major drawback, it shrinks! Once cut, vinyl will retain its shape and form for some 24 to 48 hours depending on the size of masking elements, after that it will start shrinking and creating gaps along the cut lines making it unusable for most of the part. Shrinking factor is minimal or not present at all on shapes smaller than 10 mm which makes it perfect for small and more detailed masking elements. Another interesting masking material is Kabuki, the same material Tamiya masking tapes are made of. This ultra thin, paper like material is flexible, will never shrink and can be stored for years. For those wanting to make their own masks Kabuki is perfect as it can be used in any laser printer, once the masking pattern has been printed on it all you have to do is to follow the print lines with sharp pointed scalpel. The only problem with this masking material if a fact that it is made of tiny fibers which makes it impossible to cut masking elements smaller than 5 mm with precision. Now, we have a clear picture, vinyl for small masking shapes while Kabuki is just perfect for all elements larger than 5 mm. By combining the two materials, we have got precision cut paint masks good for all element sizes and shape, with no shrinkage.

PLEASE NOTE: ALL vinyl based masks shrink! Period! There are no wunder super modern and special vinyl materials that does not shrink, that’s simply what vinyl based materials do! Small elements (smaller than 10-15 mm) will also shrink but it will take longer to do so and it would be hardly noticeable.
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