Painting plastic materials is a lot harder than painting regular wood, metal, or glass. Paint will not quickly adhere to the surface of your plastic product – leaving paint marks and drips all over it. 

Further, not all paints work on plastic. While painting might seem like it should be easy enough for anyone holding a brush and following directions, there are many considerations involved in making sure your plastic painting comes outright. From the paint to the brushes you use, all the way down to its surface -all of this matters if you want a nice looking final product!

Read this guide to help you learn how to paint plastic materials with ease.

What Kind of Paint Will Stick to Plastic?

Spray paint works well on plastic. Because plastics were so difficult to paint, manufacturers created spray paint with the intention of creating a paint that applies more smoothly, sticks well, and resists peeling better than standard paint. You can also use acrylic, enamel, and brush-on paints on plastic, but each of these will require priming. 

Avoid using latex paints because most of them are not plastic-friendly. They contain harsh ingredients that can strip plastic and leave it looking dull, chalky, or peeling.

How Do You Prepare Plastic For Painting?

Proper preparation is essential for a smooth and long-lasting finish. First, the plastic must be cleaned so there is no grease or dirt, which can interfere with the adhesion of the paint, and then the plastic should be primed for the paint application. If neither of these steps are done properly, then the plastic may not last as intended. So how do you prepare plastic for painting?

Choose the Plastic Item

Not all plastic will allow plastic to adhere to it, including polyethylene and polypropylene. To determine the type of plastic, check for the recycling symbol on the bottom of your item. Also, the most difficult varieties to paint contain the numbers 2, 4, or 5 printed inside the triangle.

Clean the Plastic Item

Fill half of a bucket with warm water and a little dish soap. For flat surfaces, use a soft cloth or sponge, and for textured surfaces, use a scrubbing brush to scrub the plastic. Get rid of any oily residue or dirt. Then, rinse thoroughly with clean water and pat dry with a soft cloth or towel.

Sand the Plastic Item

The next step is to roughen the plastic so that the paint has more texture for adhering. Paint sticks to rougher surface plastics way better than glossy plastics. Next, remove all shiny surfaces from your item using 180 to 220 fine-grit sandpaper. To avoid scratches, use a gentle touch and a circular motion.

After sanding, dust the surface with a gentle, clean brush or cloth to remove debris and wash the plastic with a damp towel. Let your item dry thoroughly before proceeding to the next step.

Apply Alcohol or Mineral Spirits

One last cleaning is essential to eliminate tiny dust particles created by sanding. Wipe off the surface with a clean rag after soaking it in rubbing alcohol. Repeat the process as needed until the rags are completely free of any residual dust. Some dirt may have been missed during your initial scrubbing sessions.

Apply Painter’s Tape to Create Design

Cover any areas of the plastic that you do not want to paint with painter’s tape. Use it also to draw a line if you’re going to use various colors on separate parts. More so, a painter’s tape will assist you in creating a clear, defined boundary between the painted and unpainted regions.

Do I Need to Prime Plastic Before Painting? 

If you’re using plastic spray paint, you may skip the priming step. But, if you’re going to use ordinary spray paint, you’ll need a primer developed particularly for plastic. The specialized primer will lay down a base that will aid in the adhesion of the paint. Here are the basic steps in priming plastic before painting. 

  • Shake the priming can for three to four minutes before using it.
  • Then, begin spraying back and forth across the plastic to be spray painted. Apply a thin layer of primer evenly over the whole item.
  • Let the primer dry before proceeding with painting.

Pro Tip: Check the primer can to see how long it takes to dry. If you applied the recommended thin coat, it should dry in an hour or less.

How to Paint Plastic Items

Adequate preparation is required, as is taking the time to spray evenly. Before starting spray painting, go over the following tips and techniques to become familiar with the application procedure.

How to Spray Paint Plastic

  • Before you begin painting, read the instructions on the can of spray paint. Some varieties of paint are ready to use, while others require some prep work. Check the label on your paint can or bottle for any special directions before you begin painting.
  • Hold the can 8 – 12 inches away from the plastic. Tilt the can at a 45-degree angle.
  • Perform a spot test by shaking the can vigorously. Then, spray on a scrap piece of material until the paint sprays freely and finely. It will show you how the paint will appear when you spray paint your plastic item. 
  • Start spray painting your plastic item with a thin layer of paint on it. To ensure uniform coverage, keep the nozzle at the same distance while you spray the item’s surfaces. Completely dry the paint before applying the second layer.
  • Apply a second layer of paint on the plastic. Resist the urge to apply a heavy coat of paint. Shake the container completely before beginning and between applications. Next, allow the plastic material to dry for at least a few hours before applying a final layer of paint to the surface.
  • You may sand down any dried-on droplets to make them flat. The paint must be completely dried and firm for this. 

Pro Tip: The time it takes to dry is determined by the type of paint used. It should only take at least 30 minutes for spray paints. After that, allow the final coatings to dry for 24 hours.

How to Paint Plastic by Brush

The only difference between the brush-on and spray-on variants is the distribution mechanism. Brushing paint can cause smears or brush marks.

On the other hand, spray paint produces a smoother surface with no risk of brush traces. But with detailed plastic items, a brush-on is recommended. The following are the procedures for painting plastic with a brush.

1. To paint a detailed area, use small, steady strokes with the paintbrush. To paint to a large extent, use long, straight, sweeping strokes with the brush.

2. Continue painting until the entire surface is covered.

3. Apply many coats of paint rather than attempting to attain the desired finish in a single application. A high-gloss finish necessitates more than one layer of paint.

4. Allow the paint to dry as directed by the manufacturer. As needed, apply additional coats of paint. Have each coat dry completely before applying the next.

Finishing Touches

Examine your item thoroughly and with a brush, fill in any bare spots. Fill up any empty areas or cracks with more paint. If you used spray paint in the previous stage, you might want to use acrylic paint in a similar color and finish for this step.

Apply Sealer Coat

It’s an optional step, but it’s recommended to seal it if the plastic you’re painting will be exposed to the elements. It can help the effects last longer, especially if you’re painting something outside. Here’s how you apply a seal coat to your painted plastic item. 

  • After allowing the last layer of paint to set, spray on the sealer the same way, you used to paint it. 
  • One layer of sealer is generally sufficient, but you may need to apply more if the object is exposed to severe weather. Have each layer dry before adding another.
  • Allow the plastic to set for two hours after the last sealant layer, and you’re done!

You may get a smooth painted surface on your favorite plastic materials with the right paint and technique. The fresh paint gives your plastic objects a new life and ensures that they will last.

Editorial Contributors
Matt Greenfield

Matt Greenfield

Matt Greenfield is an experienced writer specializing in home improvement topics. He has a passion for educating and empowering homeowners to make informed decisions about their properties. Matt's writing focuses on a range of topics, including windows, flooring, HVAC, and construction materials. With a background in construction and home renovation, Matt is well-versed in the latest trends and techniques in the industry. His articles offer practical advice and expert insights that help readers tackle their home improvement projects with confidence. Whether you're a DIY enthusiast or a seasoned professional, Matt's writing is sure to provide valuable guidance and inspiration.

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