Hangar Login
Not a member? Join today!

Painting Proper Scale Markings — Get the Stars-and-Bars right

Painting Proper Scale Markings — Get the Stars-and-Bars right

If you are one of many modelers who acquired an ARF-type model of an American airplane, the chance that its star-and-bar markings is correct is about one in 10. It’s sad but true. Among models built by usually careful modelers and displayed at meets, like the Toledo Show and Joe Nall, the situation is somewhat better, but incorrect markings still outnumber the correct ones.

What is it about the star-and-bar marking that makes it so difficult to get right and so often to be done wrong? Judging by the wide variation of ways to goof it up, there are a number of reasons. To illustrate this point, at a recent Top Gun event, one of the static judges, Rich Uravitch, and I looked in amused amazement at one particular model where the star and bar appeared in six places and each one was wrong—and each in a different way. If we take a look at a correct marking and analyze its construction, we can see how easy it is to get wrong. In doing this analysis, it must be noted that, like anything military, the markings follow a strict formula, with variations from it being virtually nonexistent.

On the positive side, the formula is extremely simple because all the dimensions are based on one measurement only: the radius of the circle enclosing the star. So let’s start.


Draw a circle with a known radius. This dimension is referred to as “R.”


Inside the circle, draw a regular five-point star. (Note: The top point faces up on the side of the fuselage and forward on the wings.)


From the shoulders of the star, draw lines outward whose lengths are the same as R.


From the ends of these lines, draw vertical lines downward whose lengths are ½ of R. (Note: This is where many mistakes are made.) From the ends of the vertical lines, draw the bottom horizontal lines back to the circle.


Around the entire figure, draw an outline whose width is equal to 1/8 R. If the marking is the postwar type, which includes the red stripe inside the white bar sections, the width of the stripe is equal to ⅙ R, and it is centered on the white bar. Note that the red stripe is slightly wider than the blue outline.

Skyraiders with correct post-WW II markings with the red stripe.

Color Specs

After learning how the U.S. aircraft insignia should look, it is also important to get the colors right. The FS (Federal Standard) 595a color reference guide identifies the colors to use as follows:

  • Insignia Blue: 35044 if matte and 15044 if glossy
  • Insignia Red: World War II: 30109; pre- and postwar: 31136 if matte and 11136 if glossy
  • Insignia White: 37875 if matte and 17875 if glossy

Special note: During World War II, Insignia White was often applied as a mix of 13 parts white to one part black. This was due to straight white being too bright and conflicting with the need for camouflage.

Obviously, the bars here are too long.

This is how it should be on a Grumman Cougar.

Examples of Wrong Markings


Note that the correct figure is not symmetrical about the horizontal centerline (see Step 4). This is the most common error and probably accounts for most of the mistakes because it is wrongly assumed that the figure is symmetrical.


Bars do not touch the star but, instead, follow the overall outline. Other mistakes can include an outline that’s too thick or, more often, too thin (or worse: varying the width!) as well as variations in the length of the bars. As indicated earlier, there are a host of ways to goof up the star and bar but only one way to have it right.


It’s easy to correct a mismarked model simply by putting a correct marking over an incorrect one. This might not be worth the trouble for a foamie, but it will help your score on a competition-scale entry. One interesting side note to this discussion is that the International Plastic Modellers’ Society (the plastic-kit modelers’ organization) never got it wrong. We surely can’t let plastic modelers outshine us!


Updated: September 25, 2019 — September 25, 2019


Add a Comment
  1. Getting the shape of the star and bars is bad but nothing compares to getting it on the wrong wing. Remember, one insignia on the upper surface of the LEFT wing and one insignia on the lower surface of the RIGHT wing in (almost) all cases. The only exception to this rule that I have seen are some rare P-47s with stars and bars on BOTH lower wing surfaces. I’m assuming that these planes were being used in a ground attack role and the pilots were concerned about friendly fire. I’ve also seen a disturbing number of national insignia applied upside down on model airplanes. Remember, one point of the star UP when placed on the fuselage and one point of the star FORWARD when placed on the wing. I can’t remember ever seeing this screwed up on a full scale aircraft.

  2. Part of the problem is applying “stickem” emblems that come with kits or models and the instructions are sparse. Star point UP or FORWARD is easy to remember. BUT, placement on the model can be a real head-scratcher. I got my P-47 foamie and the stickems appear to be correct but no idea WHERE to put ’em. I researched P-47s and also left me scratching my head. Depending on the unit, P-47 model, or pehaps just the person applying paint, there were differences. Finally, I just decided to apply them “close enough” to a compilation of “real” Thunderbolts so they look good on my plane.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Air Age Media © 2019
WordPress Lightbox