Custom X-Wings by Walter Vail

One part of X-Wing that I enjoy is seeing custom painted ships. I always have my eye out for conversions, repaints and custom mods. I came across Walter Vail’s work one day when looking for swag on eBay. I was impressed with his Y-Wings and X-Wings. What I really liked about his X-Wings were the crisp clean lines and fine detail. I was so inspired by his work I decided to contact him which led to this interview.
Custom X-Wing
Custom X-Wing
Walter is an old school veteran of modelling. Take a look at his site,, where you can find some of his X-Wings.

Here is an interview I had with Walter about his modelling expertise.

When did you get into Star Wars?
I saw the first Star Wars movie in the theater in 1977 at its initial release and was hooked from then on.  No vehicles from the movie were available so I started scratch building my own from the stills I could find of the movie – pretty limited at the time.

What was it about the movies you liked so much?
The vehicles primarily and the weathered look and aged feel of them.  I think that was the first time I had seen that effect.  I had also seen “2001: a Space Odyssey” as well as the NASA lunar landings in the late ’60s and ’70s.  All of these vehicles were perfectly clean – no grime – so the Star Wars ships looked more “natural” and used to me – more like something I would find on the farm where I grew up (and still live).  Also, the way the droids were rather ignored or treated as just another tool (as compared to HAL in 2001) made the whole Star Wars world more real.

Who was your favorite character?
My favorite “person” character was Han Solo.  I’m a big fan of Western Movies too and he seemed to be modeled after some of my favorite characters from the Westerns.  However, my favorite overall “character” is, undoubtedly, the Millennium Falcon.

When did you get into painting minis/modelling?
In 1986 I began designing Micro-Armor miniatures for CinC Soft Metal Castings.  I designed, by hand, 1/285 scale vehicles.  Through my association with CinC, I was able to design miniatures for other gaming companies like FASA and Ral Partha.  I also designed miniatures for the Model Railroad hobby for both CinC and Joe Warren at Showcase Miniatures.  In January of 2013 my wife and I took over the operation of Showcase Miniatures and it was moved from CA to AL.  I have been designing projects for 3d printing for the last several years.  I have only recently started my online gaming / mini company, ImageReplicas and will be marketing games, minis and some of my own proprietary products.

Do you get to play X-Wing regularly?
No, I seldom get to play X-Wing and while I have been involved with the game industry for decades, I enjoy designing, building, customizing and painting the miniatures more than the actual game play.

Are there other games you play, if so what are you favorites?
Probably my favorite game (or type of game) and the one I have played the most is “Angriff!” a set of micro-armor gaming rules published in 1968.  Later, in the mid ’80s, I would go to work designing micro-armor for CinC Miniatures in Minnesota.  Another rule set that I enjoyed playing was “Star Fleet Battle Manual” published in 1977 and was based around Star Trek miniatures.  These types of games are what I enjoy the most.


Wow that’s some old school gaming! Let’s talk about your modelling. Do you use movie models as a guide when you redo your X-Wings? When I do mine, I use pictures of movie models and piro models for painting guides.

I use the movie versions of the models primarily unless someone orders their own paint scheme.  The info is much more available now (more than it was in the ’70s) with the Star Wars art books and related media.
Do you strip your X-Wings of the factory paint?
No, I do not strip the paint from the X-Wing minis.  The paint already on the model is sufficient for a surface prep and I don’t want to risk damaging the model underneath.

Do you airbrush or hand paint? What paints do you use? Personally I’m  converting over to Vallejo as I find them  amazing to work with.
I use Vallejo paints almost exclusively.  We sell them through our online miniature production company, Showcase Miniatures and I have found them to be outstanding (that’s why we chose the brand to sell at Showcase).  I both spray, using an airbrush, and hand paint with them – they cover very well and seldom require more than one coat.  I also use some of the Testor’s Spray paint – their Flat Black is very fine and does not hide any surface details.

Do you use a dry palette or a wet palette? I’ve started using a wet palette and it’s changed my life when it comes to painting.
To be honest, I have never tried a wet palette but probably will very soon.


The fine detail work is amazing. Do you hand paint the red squad markings and rebel logos or do you print them as watermarks?

There are several ways to get the fine detail work – I can spray paint clear or white decal paper and then cut out the details from the sheet once it has dried or paint some of them by hand.  This will create a clear, crisp “painted” custom decal.  I design many of my original miniatures by hand using a stereo microscope (especially the 1/285 armor) and this tool is extremely helpful in painting the minis.  Almost like cheating…

How long does it take you to do an x-wing
It probably takes an hour or so to paint an X-Wing mini depending on which one it is – time can be economized if you paint more than one at a time.
Hope you guys enjoyed that. Some great hobby tips from an old pro!

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