Gunpla Community Blog

I Painted An HGUC Zaku II With Pearls!

by GSquad Community Blog on Dec 15, 2020

I Painted An HGUC Zaku II With Pearls!

Estimated read time: 8 minutes

Watch my cinematic build process here:

In this article, I will cover the following:

  1. How to pearl - why I chose SMS Pearl lacquer acrylics for this project
  2. The eye of Sauron - LED Installation
  3. Mishaps - some of the challenges I encountered in the project
  4. Hand painting - the do’s and don'ts
  5. Conclusion - Takeaways



I am absolutely blown away by the finish that this paint gave my Zaku. When I was planning this project, I knew I wanted to create something awesome and unique. However, I did not want to completely change the character of the piece, so I chose colors that were close to what the original colors were in this kit.

I wasn’t immediately able to acquire a blue pearl color from SMS, but I did find this beautiful dark purple that looked amazing, so I decided to use that color instead.

When you paint with pearls from SMS, you’re in for a treat. These paints come pre-thinned and can go from the bottle, straight to the airbrush. I especially like how the white sprays… it’s so smooth and buttery!

After primer, you can start off with a white base, which will make your pearls very… pearly. I tested the purple, and I thought it was too light a color for what I was wanting to achieve, so I went for option #2 - base it with black. Like with metallics, I used AK-Interactive’s black metallic base, which is an enamel paint that not only sprays like a dream, it looks so darn good! This made my pearl purple look much darker, a little less pearly, but it gave it a more multi-chromatic metal look, which blew me away.

IG: LeoNelBuilds

IG: LeoNelBuilds



My buddy Justin (StudioG) suggested that I try to implement LED’s on my next build. I purchased a set of super tiny LED’s, the smallest ones I have ever seen, and decided to start small… start simple… by setting up a light eye on the Zaku.

This was a good project to try the LED because it’s simple, and there are several places to hide the battery pack and implement a switch system.

This HG Zaku does not have an intricate eye area… no clear lens… no multiple pieces… no visor… it’s just a piece of plastic with a round shape portrution. This was rather disappointing, because there was no way to conceal the LED itself, and no clear visor or lens to distort the light and make it look like a mean killing machine… then again, he’s pink and purple… but I digress.

My favorite part was making a small battery enclosure out of styrene, and creating a safe canal for the wires to travel from the face of the Zaku, to the backpack where the batteries and switch live. This required some engineering, and overall it was super fun watching it all come together and working.

I also purchased some mini switches, but they were still too large for the project, so I went MacGyver on it and decided to utilize one of the burners as a switch. So with some more drilling, gluing, and soldering, I was able to create a switching mechanism inside the Zaku backpack that allows the light to be turned on or off by lifting and lowering the left burner.

IG: LeoNelBuilds

IG: LeoNelBuilds


A lot of things happened in this project that jeopardized its completion, but the GSquad philosophy is NEVER STOP BUILDING… so challenges had to be overcome. I will spare you the details, but the main mishap (and lesson learned) was when I tried to clean off the white primer off of one of the leg pieces. I thought this is lacquer paint, so maybe I can safely use lacquer thinner to remove the paint. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Doing this turned a beautiful molded piece of polystyrene into Freddy Kruger himself.

At this point, I was 3 weeks into production and I was way too invested into the project, so I had to order a new kit… just for the leg. But the kit I had originally ordered wasn’t available, except on Amazon, and it was $54 which is almost $30 more than I paid for the original… so I opted for a different kit from NewtypeHQ and got it delivered within just a few days.

Needless to say, I had to replace both legs because they weren’t exactly a match. So when you see the reveal of the finished model pre-paint (in the video), that’s not the same legs you then see during the hand painting segment and the final reveal. Look closely… you can’t unsee the differences once you know what to look for.

IG: LeoNelBuilds

IG: LeoNelBuilds



I love hand painting details, but I am still learning to hand paint with lacquers, so I kept the lacquer painting to a minimum. I decided to go back to my origins, and pull a bottle of Ammo’s cool grey, which basically looks white, and hand painted a lot of the details on the backpack and the legs. This didn’t go as well as I had expected, because I was painting over a perfectly smooth, factory quality, glossy finish from the pearls… so it was a challenge. Next time I need to mask the areas and airbrush as much as I can, and make sure the other areas are primed, or have a flat clear coat on.

Overall painting flat shiny surfaces with acrylics reveal one of the main reasons why it’s just better to airbrush, if you can - the brush marks. Yes, I could’ve thinned my paint a lot more, but then it would take forever to paint a small little section and you would still get brush marks… perhaps I could try paint retarder or dilute it even more… but for what it is, I was not too upset with the results I got.

IG: LeoNelBuilds


This project was a lot of fun. Not only was the build fun, all with its ups and downs throughout the process, but also creating the video for it was REALLY fun and rewarding. So far, the response to it has been overwhelmingly positive, and I am humbled by everyone’s kind comments and feedback.

There were a lot of firsts for me, and one of the companies that makes some of the tools I used reached out and said they enjoyed the video so much, they’re sending me some free tools for me to try… you can probably guess which company this is, and if not, stay tuned for my next video which will drop toward the end of December, and find out then!

Thank you for stopping by and please, if you enjoy this type of content, don’t forget to subscribe to my YouTube channel and for BTS and other related adventures, follow me on Instagram as well.

Happy Building!

Leo Nel Builds

IG: LeoNelBuilds

IG: LeoNelBuilds

IG: LeoNelBuilds

IG: LeoNelBuilds

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