Painting plastic is easy as long as you have the right supplies. Gather your materials before getting started, and create a work area that can be easily cleaned up by sweeping or vacuuming.
In this article, you will learn how to paint plastic, including tips and techniques for preparing a surface before you start painting. We also include details about the proper equipment you need to finish a DIY plastic project on your own.
Let's dive deep into this topic.
Gather your supplies
The first step in how to paint plastic is collecting the right supplies. In addition to a paintbrush, you will need acrylic paint and spray primer for plastic.
- Acrylic Paints – choose from thousands of colors
- Brushes for painting furniture or crafts – good quality brushes make all the difference.
- Sponge Brushes – any small scrubbing brushes can be used instead of sponges
- 1-inch foam roller covers (for applying primer)
- Latex or Nitrile Gloves – while you will not be working with paint directly, it's still a good habit to use gloves
Paint primer for plastic
If you are going to paint over plastic, the first step is using a spray primer for plastic to prepare any surface scrapes and smooth the material before painting. While some acrylic paints can be used as primers too, there are specific types of paints made specifically for this purpose. We recommend Krylon Fusion SP1K or Rust-Oleum Universal Plastic Primer in various colors depending on your specific project needs. It comes in matte and gloss finishes that dry quickly after applying two thin layers of coatings.
If you want additional advice on how to paint plastic and get the most out of your next project, read on.
Prepare objects for painting
Before you can paint anything, you have to prep it with sandpaper. This may seem like a simple step when it comes to painting plastic, but it's an important one. If you skip this step, then the finish will not be smooth enough for painting – which is why we always recommend sanding before starting any DIY decorating or home improvement projects.
Sanding Tips & Tricks
When you are sanding down the surfaces that you want to paint, try standing up while holding onto a piece of wood instead of being at eye level. It takes some practice getting used to this method – but over time, it can help prevent neck strain.
If you use a high-quality piece of sandpaper, then it will last indefinitely. Otherwise, sandpapers that are made from cheap materials – like newsprint – can easily tear and become useless after only one or two uses. This is why we recommend using an all-purpose paper for most DIY projects.
Moreover, it's a good idea to hand-wash your sandpaper whenever possible. This will extend the life of the product so that you will not have to spend additional money on equipment or supplies when you are working on plastic.
Primer (Spray) vs Paint (Brush)
You might be wondering which method of painting plastic is the best: spray or brush? Spray paints have good coverage and dry quickly; however, they may not work well if it's windy or cold outside.
Using a paintbrush is also more time-consuming because you have to wait for the primer to dry before applying a top coat of paint, and brushes may not apply uniform coats. In general, we recommend using spray primer for plastic if possible. That way, your pieces are ready for painting within minutes after they are sanded down.
Prepare surfaces with primer
After gathering your supplies and prepping the surface by sanding it down, you're now ready for the next step: spraying the piece with primer (or brushing on it, if you prefer). You will want to make sure that the plastic surface is clean, and that it's dry before you start.
This will help you figure out which material to use with each type of material you are painting over – like what spray primer works best when it comes to painting wood panelling or even or metal.
Choose the correct paint color
Once you've finished priming your object(s), spray or brush on two coats of acrylic paint in a matching color. Acrylic paints can be matched up very easily and they can be mixed too if desired.
Apply a top coat of paint to protect the surface
Acrylic paints are great since they have minimal odor and low VOCs – but you can still apply an additional coating of spray polyurethane or acrylic varnish if desired. These will add extra protective qualities to your final product, which is important for protecting items in high-traffic areas like living rooms.
Alternatives to painting plastic
Painting is just one of the many ways that you can give new life to an old object by enhancing its look and functionality; however, if you are worried about protecting nearby surfaces while using this technique, then there are alternatives.
For example, you can use a stencil to cover the surface of your object and give it a pattern. This can save you time since you will not have to repaint the entire product – just make sure that the adhesive is strong enough to hold up against long-term use.
Or, you can turn your item into a lamp with a new shade; this way, people won't be able to touch (and potentially scratch) its surfaces.
What are some new projects I can try next?
Painting plastic is a fun activity that almost anyone can do. Here are just a few examples of what you could try:
Painting a plant pot, toy car, or picture frame. If you don't have any of these items around the house, consider picking up some cute plastic figurines at your local art supply store.
You can also paint things like buckets (to keep in the garage for storing tools), garden pots (for growing new succulents), and flower vases… if you want to get fancy.
Or just find all sorts of colorful objects that are broken or no longer useful and turn them into works of art with spray paints. You could even experiment with mixing paints to match the exact tone you want.
Where can I buy plastic to paint?
If you're looking for a great, affordable source of plastic surfaces to paint, check out this selection on Amazon. These products are all highly rated and many even come with free shipping.
You could also check out your local hardware store or art supply shop. Many hardware stores like Home Depot sell garden supplies – so look for items for sale in their gardening section.
Or, find an art store in your area that carries items like blank canvases or sold paintings; these will typically have nice wooden frames that can be repurposed into new pieces.
How to paint plastic – FAQ
I have a piece that is wood with a plastic coating? Can I strip the paint or varnish off to leave the natural wood color?
Unfortunately, you cannot strip the paint or varnish off of a piece like this (without stripping the original wood finish). This is because of how plastic and wood are bound together in materials like these.
This is because wood is porous, which allows it to absorb liquids that have been painted onto it – however, unlike regular paint that holds on to its shape when dried, the liquefied plastic drips down into the pores as well.
Because of this, painting over a piece of wood with plastic will always bond the two together. So if you're looking for a way to remove paint or varnish from your DIY project without damaging its original surface, then try using this method.
I am painting my plastic item black – but when dry it looks like a dark grey?
This is probably because your spray paint does not have enough pigment in it, causing you to get a diluted appearance. To fix this, look for high-quality industrial paints that are made with heavy pigments and designed to be sprayed onto large surfaces; these may be more expensive than regular paints, but they will save you time and effort by delivering highly opaque results.
My object has dings or other minor damage on its surface – can I touch them up while painting?
Actually, yes. The sprays used for coating plastics have a primer built into their formulas, so you can use them to fill dents and holes. Just make sure that you have purchased the right type of paint for your project; some primers are designed to work on wood, others are made for metal surfaces.
My item has a glossy finish – can I spray it with an acrylic sealer?
Yes. You can create a super-shiny plastic surface by using an acrylic sealer. Just make sure to look at the packaging and follow its instructions as each one is slightly different (some require 24 hours between coats, while others need only 5 minutes).
How do I apply a layer of varnish to my object's surface?
You'll want to use a high-quality varnish with UV protection (to prevent yellowing from sunlight exposure), which you can find here.
How can I remove the paint from my fingers?
Try using acetone, which you should be able to find at your local hardware store. Just dab a little bit onto a cotton ball and wipe it off.
Also, be sure to wear rubber gloves when using spray paint. This will keep you from accidentally getting a bunch of the chemicals onto your skin.
What do I do if my object has holes or cracks? Can I repair them before painting?
If your object already has a hole in it, try filling it with hot glue (letting it dry) and then sanding down any rough edges. Otherwise, try using silicone caulk. However, be sure to choose an item that isn't broken beyond repair. For instance; if you have a cracked bowl, choose one from a thrift store that is still intact. (Such bowls are better for painting – because they offer more detail and angles to work with, rather than being smooth.)
Do I need to sand between layers?
No, you can skip sanding between coats if your paint has a high-gloss finish. However, if you are using a matte or satin coat, then you will have to make sure that everything is dust-free before adding on the next layer of paint; this means cleaning with soap and water, rinsing everything off, and allowing it to dry.
Can I use oil-based paint for my plastic project? (Or vice versa)
No; oil paints are made from natural materials which means they're not compatible with recycled plastics. If you want to start working with non-plastic materials like wood or metal, try looking into acrylics instead.
Final thoughts on how to paint plastic
In conclusion, when it comes to painting plastic, your preparation is the most important part. Double-check your model parts and mold lines, as well as do simple dry fits to see how bad or good they are.
Then get ready with some sandpaper and putty. Even if it's a small gap or two here and there you'll be amazed at how great your model will look without them once done.
Finally, if you’re looking for more painting ideas, check out this article on how to paint laminate cabinets in 10 easy steps.