Painting a 3D Printed Prop
Painting a 3D Printed prop has it's challenges. There are lots of questions: can paint adhere to the plastic? Do I have to wash the object with detergent first? What paint can I use?
A lot of folks stay back from purchasing a 3D Printed prop because of the unknowns. In reference to painting, most of the plastic used in the DioWarriors props are paint friendly. There's a whole world of various kinds of paint, and although we haven't tested every kind of paint possible under the Sun, we have tested and used many types commonly used with Action Figure customs and fine scale model building. This article is a brief rundown of our experiences.
Here are a few tips:
Popular among Action Figure collectors who customize is the use of acrylics. Acrylics are great. They tend to be water soluble and easy to clean up and very friendly to the various plastics used in an Action Figure. Acrylic paint can also be modified easily to yield a unique look.
Acrylics are also a great choice for using with a 3D Printed item. Although we have found a base coat first applied to the object before painting with acrylic yields the best results. What happens is plastic like PLA, which is the most common for desktop 3D Printers, tends to be paint resistant concerning acrylics. Several thick coats might need to be applied before the paint starts to look good. So priming the object first with spray paint is advised.
One nice thing about acrylics is that they are easy to modify with non-painting materials. Example: combining Future Floor polish (acrylic formula) with acrylic paint can make a stronger coating. Mixing acrylics with metals also work well to make a brilliant finish. For example some props like the DW gold bullion look good when painted with gold, but look better when gold powders are added to the paint. There are many brands of metal powders that you can use to enhance metallic paint.
Less popular with the Action Figure collector, but more popular with fine scale model enthusiasts are enamels. Enamels tend to dry with a hard shell-like coating making the paint resistant to rubbing off from handling. When enamels dry they also tend to have a glossy coat. However, with action figures, not all enamels play well with the various plastics used in an action figure construction. Some enamels dry well on the various plastics while others leave a tacky surface, and still others may dissolve the plastic.
However, when it comes to painting a 3D Printed item with enamel, we have had no issues thus far. In fact we have gotten much better results with enamel than acrylics. At DioWarriors we often apply a spray paint primer when dealing with PLA plastic and acrylics. But with enamel we often paint directly onto the plastic, completely skipping the priming step. It may take several coats of enamel to get a good surface, but this is not the norm. Usually just the first coat is enough.
Much of the time we like using an enamel paint pen.
The best results for paints we use tend to be lacquer. We treat lacquer paint about the same as enamel to a 3D Printed item, but adheres stronger. We often don't need to prime the object first, but some lacquer paint brands tend to be less thick than others, so it really depends on the brand. Anyway, we would rather use lacquer for all our painting needs.
Lacquer dries/cures quicker than enamel. We don't recommend painting a large area with lacquer unless you have a really wide brush. You'll find that you'll have to go over parts because the paint is drying too quickly. Then you'll have streaking to deal with.
When it comes to spraying a DioWarriors 3D Printed model, we use three basic brands: a cheap $3 brand of gray at Walmart for priming, Krylon, and Rust Oleum. Basically, we don't prime very often before painting. The exception is when the model is made of multiple parts that are different colors, or the part is printed in a plastic too dark for a light color we plan to us. Spray painting a multi-color model with a grey (or white) primer is advised as it'll make the overall painting process easier and quicker.
Krylon spray paint tends to have no problem with the plastics used with 3D Printing, although the drying time does take a bit longer. But, all-in-all no serious problem. There was one incident worth noting that is mentioned above.
Rust Oleum is another brand we like to spray our stuff with. It dries quickly, especially the metallic colors like "Oil Rubbed Bronze" and "Antique Copper." Everything we've tried has had success.
Here are some brands we use every day at DioWarriors. We list these out incase you also use them, but are unsure how they might perform with a 3D Printed prop.
In summary, at DioWarriors we love to use lacquer paints for all the painting, but all the 3D Printed props play well with acrylic and enamel too. Still, with so many brands of paints around the world, always take caution before painting something. You never know when something simply won't mix well, or, like in the case of enamel, not all enamels are truly enamels as the term is now morphing into a marketing gimmick.
If you're still wondering, no, you really don't have to wash a DioWarriors 3D Printed prop in detergent before painting. You can, although maybe rubbing alcohol might be better. But no oil or grease ever comes in contact with the plastic during the printing process. Just keep your props as dry as possible and cared as a fine scale model, because that is basically what they are. Not a toy, but a 1:18 scale model prop.
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