Paint Plastic

There are many effects that you may be trying to achieve by adding color to your plastic item. On this page, we will mostly be concerned with the types of coloring agents available, and how to get them to stay on.


Standard Spray Paints

Easy-to-use. Great for dusting surfaces. Most spray paints will easily flake off of plastic. One of the best that was found was Dupli-color automotive primer spray paint. Apply a few thin coats, and then use the spray paint of your choice.

If painting sports equipment or similar items, please be aware that vinyl areas may not be compatible with most spray paints. You may have to prime vinyl areas with a vinyl paint, or a clear coat like Rustoleum Painters Choice matte clear.

Plastic Fusion Spray Paint

We’ve found that spray paints that were specially formulated for plastics still flaked off as much as regular spray paints.

Vinyl spray paints

These will not stay sticky on vinyl like other spray paints.

Vinyl spray dye

We were told that a lot of thin coats of vinyl dye spray work great as a paint on plastic and will absorb rather than build up. These are usually used on auto upholstery and carpets.

Acrylic and latex paint

Commonly available at home improvement and craft stores, these seem to work with anything, and seem to stick to plastic and flex better than most spray paints. The downside is that they can be time-consuming to apply with a brush. The upside is you can water them down and use sea sponges and rags to apply them in more realistic patterns.

Oil-Based Paint

Model paint like Testors, is an oil-based enamel. It offers little, if any, advantages over acrylic paint. It dries slower, and thinner is required to clean your brush.

Wood stain

Wood stains and lacquers can help create transparent yellow, brown, or other color stains.

Tips on Getting Your Paint to Stick

Preparing your Plastic

  1. Wash with soap and water (removes dirt and oils).
  2. Clean surface with acetone (removes lubricants and mold releases).
  3. Wash with soap and water (removes the acetone).
  4. Sand the surface (you can use sandpaper, an abrasive pad, or steel wool).
  5. Wipe off sanding dust with a damp towel.
  6. Heat treat the surface with a propane torch or heat gun. Get the plastic very hot, just short of melting. This will open up pores and give the plastic more tooth.
  7. Sand the plastic again.
  8. Wipe off with damp towel and allow to dry thoroughly before applying paint.

Adhesion Promoters

There may be many agents out there that help paint to stick, but one we’ve heard about a lot is Bulldog adhesion promoter. There are many others on the market, like Dupli-Color adhesion promoter spray, and SEM plastic adhesion promoter spray.

Video: Painting a Plastic Toy Gun with Weathering