Have you ever wanted to give your plastic items a quick makeover with some acrylic paint? Painting plastic with acrylics can breathe new life into old containers, toys, and furniture. But as you’ve probably realized, getting paint to properly stick to smooth plastic can be frustrating.
Unlike porous surfaces like wood or canvas, plastic’s non-porous nature means paint struggles to adhere. Without proper prep, your beautiful paint job can peel or scratch off.
But don’t give up! With the right surface preparation and painting techniques, you can get acrylic paint to stick to plastic for a durable, long-lasting finish. This guide will walk you through each step.
First, Clean and Sand the Plastic
Before painting, you need to clean and sand the plastic to help the paint grab onto the surface.
Give the plastic a good wash with warm soapy water to remove any residue. For extra grime, try a degreaser or even rubbing alcohol.
Once dry, sand the plastic with medium grit sandpaper. This roughens up the smooth surface so there’s something for the paint to cling to. A quick scuff with some steel wool also works.
You can also use a liquid deglosser, which both cleans and sands glossy plastic. Peroxide-based deglossers work well for this two-in-one prep.
Prime the Surface
Priming the plastic is crucial for getting acrylic paint to properly adhere.
Primers are formulated to bond to non-porous surfaces. The roughened plastic gives the primer something to grab onto. A good primer will act as a “glue” between the plastic and paint.
There are several options:
- Plastic primers – Products like Krylon’s Fusion or Rustoleum’s Plastic Primer are designed for plastic.
- Spray paint – Enamel spray paint can also be used as a basecoat primer.
- Acrylic gesso – While not a “true” primer, gesso creates a rough, paintable surface.
For best results, apply two thin coats of your chosen primer, allowing drying time between coats.
Plan Your Design
Now it’s time for the fun part – deciding what to paint!
Before jumping in, take a moment to think about your design. Making a quick sketch can help visualize how your acrylic paint job will look on the plastic surface.
Planning out any patterns or images will ensure everything fits together. Use graph paper to map out any repeating elements.
If painting something curved like a bucket or toy, account for how the design wraps around the shape.
Tape Off Sections
Unless you’re coating the entire plastic piece, use painter’s tape to mask off any areas you want to keep paint-free.
Apply the tape firmly and rub it down to prevent bleeding. Avoid low-tack masking tape which can let paint seep underneath.
Blue painter’s tape is ideal for crisp edges, especially on detailed designs. Remove it as soon as you’re done painting while the paint is still wet.
Mix and Test Your Paint
When working with acrylics, it’s smart to mix custom colors and test them out first.
Mix a few test batches on a palette to nail down the exact shade you want before painting the plastic. This prevents color surprises later on.
Brush the mixed paint onto plastic scraps or hidden areas to see how it looks fully dried. You can adjust the color or sheen as needed.
Paint in Thin Layers
Now you’re ready to start painting! Remember to apply acrylic paint in thin, even layers on the plastic.
Thick coats tend to bubble and crack. Thin applications allow each layer to dry properly before adding another.
Let each layer fully dry before adding the next – this takes 10-20 minutes. Patience pays off in smooth results!
Use soft, synthetic brushes that won’t pull on the plastic surface. Small detail brushes work well for tight areas.
Consider Adding a Sealant
Once your paint job looks perfect, consider sealing it with an acrylic sealant or spray. This adds a protective barrier against scratches and UV damage.
Water-based polyurethane, mod podge, and acrylic mediums all seal acrylic paint well. Multiple coats ensure durability.
For outdoor plastic projects, choose a sealant with UV blockers. Indoor pieces like storage containers don’t need as heavy duty of a sealant.
Take Your Time Removing Paint from Plastic
If you make a mistake or change your mind on the design, acrylic paint can be removed from plastic. But it takes some patience.
For wet paint, simply wipe it off immediately with a damp rag before it dries. No need for chemicals or scrapers.
Dry acrylic paint is harder to remove. Carefully use a plastic paint scraper to slowly lift off paint without scratching the surface.
Mineral spirits or acetone break down dried acrylic paint for easier removal. Take precautions wearing gloves and working in a ventilated area.
Avoid using paint strippers which can damage many plastics. Test removal products on small hidden areas first.
Not All Plastics Can Be Painted
Before painting, check that your plastic item can actually be coated. Most can, but plastics like polyethylene, polypropylene, polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) don’t accept paint.
Look for the resin identification code imprinted on the item – this is the recycling symbol with a number inside. Avoid painting plastics marked #5 PP or #2 HDPE.
Polyvinyl chloride (PVC), #3V plastic is paintable but may need extra prep as plasticizers can inhibit adhesion.
When uncertain, test a small paint patch. If the primer and paint stick well without peeling, the surface can be fully painted.
Preparation is Key for Painting Plastic
Painting plastic doesn’t have to be a frustrating experience. With proper preparation and technique, you can get acrylic paint to adhere smoothly for a durable finish.
Just remember these key steps:
- Clean and scuff the surface
- Apply a primer or basecoat
- Use thin layers of paint
- Let each layer dry fully before adding more
- Seal the finished paint job
Put in the prep work, have patience during painting, and your acrylic masterpiece on plastic will look great for years to come. So grab those forgotten plastic items and get creative!
Frequently Asked Questions
Does acrylic paint stick well to all plastics?
No, acrylic paint does not adhere well to all plastics. Smooth, non-porous plastics like polyethylene, polypropylene, and Teflon are very difficult to paint even with primer. On these, paint tends to peel or scratch off easily. Acrylics work best on materials like PVC, ABS, nylon, and polycarbonate. Always test paint a small area first.
Is priming plastic absolutely necessary?
Priming before painting plastic is highly recommended. Because plastic is non-porous, paint needs something to grip onto the surface. Primer bonds to the plastic and gives the paint an adherent base layer. However, on plastics like ABS that are easy to paint, you may get away with skipping primer if the object won’t be handled much.
How long does painted plastic last?
With proper preparation and sealing, painted plastic can last years with minimal wear and flaking. Using high-quality primers and paints makes a difference. Adding multiple coats of an acrylic sealer ensures the finish resists scratching, sun damage, and general use over time. With exposure to sun and frequent handling, painted plastic may start showing signs of wear after 1-2 years.
Yes, acrylic paint can be used on plastic items meant for outdoor use. Ensure the plastic is clean, primed, and has been properly sealed using an exterior-grade acrylic sealer. Look for sealants containing UV inhibitors that reduce sun damage and fading. Reapply sealant every year or two for continual protection on outdoor painted plastic. So, go paint some plastic, without fear!