Etching Breyer Horses

By Hannah Tripp

Etched ModelEtching is the art of carefully making small scratches in the paint of a model to give it a realistic pattern. It can be a great way to get into customizing because all you need to get started is a model horse and an X-acto knife!

Almost any model can be etched, but when deciding which model to etch there are some things you should consider. On some models the paint may have stained the plastic and some may be made of colored plastic to begin with so it is a good idea to scratch a small test area to check the color of the plastic before beginning. Darker models tend to give more dramatic results because there will be more contrast between the white of the plastic and the paint left on the horse.

Etched Model 2Different people like to use different tools to etch with, but when I etch, I prefer to use an X-acto knife and two different kinds of blades. I use a pointed #11 blade for all of the white hairs in roan and small white areas and a curved #10 blade for the larger white areas on pintos and appaloosas. You can use just the #11 blade, but I think that it is easier to create smooth white markings with the #10. These are readily available at almost any place that sells any sort of craft supplies. These blades are extremely sharp however, and great care must be taken to avoid injury. Etching is not recommended for young children and you should not etch while in a moving vehicle or in any situation where you are not able to concentrate on what you are doing.

Once it is time to actually start etching, I like to hold the knife much like I would hold a pencil with the sharp side of the blade pointing down and using just the tip of the blade start making small scratches starting at the head and moving back towards the tail, but you can try different ways and do it however you like. You should try to make your scratches about the size that a hair would be on a real horse. You also want to scratch just hard enough to remove the paint; you do not want to scratch down into the plastic. It is almost like you are drawing the hairs on with the knife and if you do it right the etched areas should feel smooth. When you want to remove larger areas of paint like on pintos and appaloosas, simply use the edge of the blade to scrape the paint away.

Etching SketchIt is also very important to try to make sure the scratches are blended and in a realistic hair pattern. If you are able to it is great to be able to go and groom a real horse as you can learn a lot about the hair growth patterns this way. Different horses all have different hair growth patterns, but some general things to remember are that the hair will mostly grow down and back. On the horse's flank the hair grows up and away from the flank and that a similar pattern will often appear on the chest. Horses will also usually have a little swirl behind each ear and on there forehead, and will sometimes have a swirl on the crest of their neck by their mane. The drawings to the right show a simple hair growth pattern.

Final Etched ModelAfter all of the etching is done it is time to add the last finishing touches. First, make sure you have gotten all of the paint off in any white areas. Then if your horse is a bit dirty just take an old soft toothbrush and some mild soap and gently scrub the model and rinse well. After the horse is all the way dry you can touch op any little rubs that may have happened like on the ears or the tail. Next you can repaint the eyes and hooves if you like to make them more realistic. Finally, I like to take the horse outside and seal it with a matte spray sealer to protect it and even out any difference in finish between the paint and the plastic and then gloss the eyes, nostrils, and sometimes the hooves with clear nail polish.

Finally, do not worry if your first few etched horses don't turn out as well as you would have liked. When you fist start you may need to try different strokes or different ways of holding your knife to find a style that suits you. Just relax and take your time and the more horses you do the better you will become. Good luck and most importantly remember to have fun!