Plastic is pretty much everywhere nowadays. We have furniture made out of plastic, decorations, mugs, cellphone cases, and so on. All made out of different types of plastic. It is hard to find an area in our lives where no plastic is present. But, unlike wood or other porous materials, plastic isn´t as easy to customize with a new paint job. Most paints won´t stick properly to plastic resulting either in discolorations or the paint will just peel or crack off of the plastic after a short while. So how can you paint plastic properly and permanently?
As a general rule, spray paints that are made to stick to plastics, such as Rust-Oleum Paint for Plastic, will stick to most types of plastics except for Polyethylene. No Primer has to be applied first and no sanding is required for this type of paint. Only Plastics that don´t bend or move can be painted.
Here is a List of Paints that will stick to Plastic without Primer.
|Paint||Sticks to||Doesn´t Stick to||Primer Needed||Amazon Link|
|Rust-Oleum Spray Paint for Plastic||Most commercial plastics||Some industry-grade plastics and Poleythylene||No||Rust-Oleum on Amazon|
|Krylon All-In-One Spray Paint||Most commercial plastics, wood, metal, PVC, and more||Some non-commercial plastics||No||Krylon on Amazon|
|Rust-Oleum Painter´s Touch Spray Paint||Most commercial plastics, wood, plaster, metal, and more||Some non-commercial plastics and Poleythylene||No||Rust-Oleum on Amazon|
You can use all of these spray paints without priming the surface first but you still have to prepare the surface before you apply the spray paint by cleaning it properly.
How to Identify Different Types of Plastic
There is no paint in the world that will stick directly to every type of plastics. But that isn´t as bad as it sounds because most plastics that paint has a very hard time sticking to, are not used for commercial products. So in the end there really is only one type of plastic that you really have to look out for when you want to paint plastics and that is Polyethylene. But how can you identify the type of plastic that you are dealing with?
There are recycling symbols on every plastic item that will tell you exactly what type of plastic the item is made out of. The symbol looks like a triangle that is made out of arrows. If the Letters in the middle of the triangles say “PET” then the plastic item is made out of Polyethylene, for example.
Here is a detailed list of every recycling symbol and the corresponding plastic type.
|Recycling Symbol||Plastic Type||Commonly Used For|
|PETE or PET or PE or the number 1||Polyethylene terephthalate||Plastic Containers and Bottles|
|HDPE or PE-HD or the number 2||High-density polyethylene||Bottles, Recycling Bins, and most Plastic Outdoor Toys|
|PVC or V or the number 3||Polyvinyl Chloride||Pipes, Shower curtains, and Children´s Toys|
|LDPE or PE-LD or the number 4||Low-Density Polyethylene||Most Containers, dispensing bottles, and tubing|
|PP or the number 5||Polypropylene||Auto Parts, Food Containers, and Dishware|
|PS or the number 6||Polystyrene||Toys, General Plastic Utensils, cases, and much more|
|OTHER or O or the number 7||Other Plastics like acrylic, polyactic acid and any combinations of different plastics||Some Bottles and safety shields or glasses.|
How to Paint Plastic
The right type of paint is very important for painting plastic but it is not the only vital thing for successfully painting plastic. Even though we don´t really need a primer we still need to prepare the surface by cleaning it properly before we apply any paint to it. Otherwise, the paint might not stick properly.
As a whole, the paint will only stick to plastic if the surface was prepared properly. The plastic surface has to be cleaned from dust and debris and it is best to sand the surface with fine-grit sandpaper before applying any paint. Special paint for plastic should be used for painting plastic.
You can also use a primer in order to prepare the plastic surface for another type of paint like acrylic, for example, but I would generally not recommend that because special paint made to adhere to plastic works best, in my experience.
If you really wanted to Paint plastic with acrylic paint then you can head on over to another article of mine, where I explain exactly how to do just that. How to paint plastic with acrylic paints.
Now, let´s take a look at how to properly paint plastic.
Prepare the Surface of the Plastic for Painting
Let´s start by properly preparing the surface for the paint.
Most paints state that you can simply apply them directly on plastic but, as it turns out, it´s not really that easy.
The surface of the plastic has to be cleaned first. This will ensure that the paint sticks to the surface properly.
So use an old towel or a piece of cloth and dip it in some soapy water. Then simply clean the entire plastic item, that you want to paint, until the surface is free from any dirt, dust, and debris.
If you want to paint something that was sitting outside for a while, like a garden table for example, then you might need to wash it a few times until it is clean enough for painting.
You can usually tell how clean the piece is if you wipe over it with a fresh towel and some water. If the towel has no dust or dirt on it then you can continue on with the next step.
Otherwise, you have to give it another pass.
Sanding the surface with fine-grit sandpaper. You only need to sand the surface of the plastic if it is very shiny or if it has been sealed.
It is important to note that you can skip the sanding if you want to. Sanding the surface will ensure that the paint sticks properly to the plastic surface but most paints I mentioned in this article will adhere even if the surface wasn´t sanded.
Use some 150-grit sandpaper to lightly sand the surface.
It is important here to not overdo it with the sanding. A light pass to rough up the surface is more than enough.
After you are done with sanding, simply clean the surface one last time with some soapy water and you are ready for painting!
Painting the Plastic Surface
Finally, we are about to apply the first coat of paint.
Make sure that you paint the item in a well-ventilated area or outside. You should also wear a protective mask when painting with spray paint.
Firstly, you have to shake the spray can according to the instructions on the packaging.
Then apply a thin coat of paint to the entire item. Make sure you hold the can at the proper distance when applying the paint. Depending on the type of paint you are using the optimal distance can vary. So check the instructions on the can.
If you can´t find anything about the optimal distance then go with 12 inches.
Only lightly dust the surface and make sure that the paint is not running anywhere.
It´s always better to apply multiple thin layers than one thick layer of paint.
Let the paint dry in between coats and continue adding layer after layer of paint until the whole item is evenly coated in the new paint.
Sealing Paint on Plastic Properly and Permanently
After painting, you might want to consider protecting your new paint job. You might be surprised but it is not always necessary to seal your painted plastic afterwards.
As a whole, painted plastic doesn´t have to be sealed unless another layer of protection is required. This is the case if the item could get scratched easily, for example. A clear acrylic sealer will give painted plastic an extra layer of protection against scratches, water, and more.
I prefer a spray-on clear acrylic sealer simply because it is more convenient and I found that a spray sealer delivers the best results, especially for more complex-shaped objects.
You can get a clear acrylic sealer at your local hardware store or right here on Amazon.
You should apply the sealer in thin even coats. Dust the surface of the freshly painted plastic surface after it has dried with one thin coat of the sealer.
Then wait until the acrylic sealer is dry to the touch and apply a second coat.
I would recommend applying about 3-4 coats of the acrylic sealer for optimal protection.
Is a Primer Really Necessary to Paint Plastic?
In this entire article, I only recommended spray-on paints that don´t need a primer before you apply them. But you can use a primer instead if you want to use another kind of paint. For example, if you want to apply acrylic paint to plastic.
As a general rule, a primer is only needed for painting plastic if regular paint, that would usually not stick to plastic, is used. For example latex or acrylic paint. But a plastic surface does not need to be primed if special paints for plastic, like Rust-Oleums Paint for Plastic, are used.
So while it is possible to paint plastic with a wide variety of different types of paint if you apply a primer before painting them, I usually don´t recommend doing so.
You can apply a primer before painting your plastic item with one of the recommended paints for plastic to achieve an even smoother and more vibrant finish.
But I found that painting a primed plastic surface with paint, that is not usually meant to be used on plastic, would often give me poor and dull-looking results. Or the paint would not properly stick, even if I prime and seal the paint.
I had some success with latex-based and acrylic paints. But in the end, using a special paint for plastic is much easier and faster.
Hi, I am a passionate maker and professional prop maker for the entertainment industry. I use my woodworking, programming, electronics, and illustration know-how to create interactive props and puzzles for Escape Games and marketing agencies. And I share my knowledge and my experience on this blog with you so that you can become a maker yourself.