Plastic painting tips

"Tarting up the interior."

Personalizing the interior of the car is, for many, the first thing they do.

Simple projects help to build confidence, and painting plastics is a good starting point.

Although aftermarket interior modification parts look nice a custom look is within reach if you are prepared to put in a little effort and paint the interior yourself.

Preparation is the most important part in any paint work task.

Whatever is between the part and the paint (i.e. chips, scratches, grease etc.) will show through the layers of paint. 90% of the finish is down to the preparation - the remaining 10% is down to the application of the paint and the type of paint used.

That said, some colors are more forgiving than others.

Step by step guide to painting car plastics.

Take your time. The final  job will last longer if you spend longer over it in the first place. Good preparation is VITAL!

List of items required.

Ok, first things first, you’ll need:

  1. Time. I can’t stress enough how important it is not to rush things.
  2. Paint, this will no doubt be in aerosol form. You will need some plastic primer (also known as adhesion promoter), base coat (you can use normal car paint) in whichever color you wish to paint and some lacquer (gloss or Matt, it’s your decision.)
  3. Something to ‘key’ the part. In the trade we call it scotchbrite, it’s basically a rough pad used to remove the shine from a panel, and it leaves fine scratches for the paint to sit in/grip to. You could use something like 1500 grit wet and dry paper for this, but probably the best thing I can think of would be the rough part of a washing up sponge.
  4. Warm soapy water, or preferably a solvent based cleaner (something like white spirit – if you use this, wear gloves).
  5. Hot air gun or a hairdryer. This just makes life easier.
  6. If you can get one, a Tack cloth. This is used to pick up any little hairs/bits of dust both on the panel before painting and on the paint during painting. You can make do without a tack cloth, so don’t worry if you can’t get one.
  7. A Mask, preferably a vapor one.
  8. T-Cut or another finishing compound. And a soft cloth.

Now you have the materials needed, let’s begin…

Guide to painting plastic

Typical stage 1 – Preparation

Remove whatever part you plan to paint. Be careful not to scratch or damage it, you’ll only be making yourself more work.

Once you have removed the part, start by washing it with the soapy water/solvent cleaner. This removes grease, dust or any other contaminates. If there is any damage to the part, now would be the time to sort it. Next start to ‘key’ the part, making sure there are no shiny areas left on it, the better you do this, the less likely the paint it to flake later. Once you have ‘keyed’ the part, wash it again. Make sure it is thoroughly dry before proceeding.

Typical stage 2 – Painting

The main bit of advice I have for painting with aerosols would be to warm the can(s). This enables the paint to be atomized finer as it passes through the nozzle, which results in a better finish. Bare in mind I said warm, DO NOT overheat, you are taking the chill off the can, not risking losing a hand due to an aerosol exploding while you hold it.

Make sure you give the can(s) a good shake before using them. The best technique for painting with an aerosol is to use light, overlapping strokes. You need to leave at least 5 minutes between coats to give the solvents in the paint time to evaporate.

This time can be cut by using a hairdryer. I would recommend either wearing a mask or going outside for this next bit, the vapors can be dangerous.

First apply the plastic primer, I would highly recommend you use this as it will give the paint something more to stick to than just the light ‘key’ scratches. You could skip the plastic primer stage, but if the part gets chipped the paint will start to flake off.

You may need to apply 3/4 coats of plastic primer, but you can use a hairdryer to speed the process of drying. Remember, a light coat often is better than a heavy coat less often. Plastic primer is generally quite thin, so be careful not to get any ‘runs’.

Once the plastic primer is dry it’s time to apply the base coat. Again, use light overlapping strokes. Depending on the color, it may take anything from 3 to 8 coats to cover. Again, make sure you leave enough time between coats.

Once the color has completely covered the part, you can start to apply the lacquer. This is not a necessity, but it helps to protect the base coat and adds a shine (if you chose gloss lacquer).

Apply this the same way as the base coat gradually building up the thickness of the lacquer. You’ll probably need about 4 or 5 coats of lacquer.

Leave the part for a good 3 or 4 hours before you try to polish and re-fit it. There is nothing worse than marking fresh paint work.

Good Luck

I used normal car paint. Don't waste your money on so called 'plastic paints' when all you really need is a good key and some plastic primer. Also, people must remember that paint is not indestructible.
Good Key -> Plastic Primer -> Base coat -> Lacquer is all you should need.

(Article submitted by TheNamesJames - a forum contributor)

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3 Responses to “Plastic painting tips for car interior and exterior.”

  1. sam says:

    thanks so much of for help on paint process. My problem I sanded back a plastic reversing mirror casing – blended the edges of the scratched area into existing paintwork so was very smooth – however – when I sprayed in the plastic primer – the edges of the exisintg paint bubble and lift. Ive tried it several times – could you advise what Im doing wrong?
    Thanks so much

  2. Bill Scoltock says:

    can you remove inperfections after spraying clear coat by respraying the basecoat over the clear coat

  3. TorqueCars says:

    No – flat it down and if the imperfections are still there the clear coat was applied too soon. The clear coat has to be on the top. Never apply a clear coat unless the base coat is ready and finished.

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