How To: Paint Plastic
Perk up dingy plastic by spraying on a fresh, smooth coat of paint in the color of your choice.
Whether your goal is to renew a faded surface or bring a new color into the mix, there are two main things to know about painting plastic: It’s possible, and it’s easy. Although there are traditional paints formulated for use on plastic, we recommend spray paint, as it generally results in a more natural-looking, less obviously altered appearance.
If you’ve never spray-painted before, practice a bit beforehand—on, say, a cardboard box—in order to perfect your technique. Spray painting isn’t difficult to do; it’s simply somewhat harder than it looks. Most important, be sure to purchase spray paint suitable for use on plastic. Note that the same product may also be appropriate for wrought iron, ceramic, glass, and vinyl, so you’re likely to find another use for any paint that happens to be left over.
Proper preparation is the key to a smooth and lasting finish. Begin by thoroughly cleaning the plastic surface you plan to paint, using mild soap and water. Having allowed the plastic to dry, wipe it down with rubbing alcohol. Next, to prevent accidents and minimize cleanup, set up a protected work area, lining it with newspapers, sheets of cardboard, or a tarp. If there are any parts of the plastic you don’t wish to paint, cover them up with painter’s tape.
Hold the nozzle of the spray paint can about 12 to 18 inches away from the plastic. Start spraying in a spot slightly to the side of the surface, then move the can across in a smooth motion, stopping only once you’ve gone a few inches past the edge. Continue in this way, overlapping your strokes, until you’ve coated the entire area. Avoid over-spraying; paint formulated for plastic tends to adhere quite well.
For the best results, apply a few coats, each one thin and even (avoid leaving patches of buildup). You can expect the paint to be dry to the touch within only 15 minutes, but you should wait about 30 minutes before applying each subsequent coat. Allow even longer if you are painting in a humid environment.
This is optional, but if the plastic you’re painting will spend time outdoors, we recommend protecting the job with a clear acrylic sealer. Once you’ve given the final layer of paint plenty of time to cure, spray on the sealer using the same smooth, overlapping strokes with which you applied the actual paint. A single coat of sealer may do the trick, but there’s no harm in putting on two or three. Between each, allow 30 minutes of drying time. After the final sealer coat, let the plastic sit for two hours, then you’re done!