Pink and brown paint containers opened with their lids off and used brushed lying across lids on plastic sheet

How To Paint Plastic: DIY Instructions

Originally contributed by • last updated 6/4/2021

1 hr.Active Time
BeginnerDifficulty
Courtney Nuss
|
Unsplash
1 hr.Active Time
BeginnerDifficulty

Refurbishing furniture with a fresh coat of paint or decorating an otherwise underwhelming item can be a wonderful way to refresh your home, but what do you do if the item you want to paint is made out of plastic? 

Though it’s not quite as simple as slapping on paint and calling it a day, this trick is still an easy one and will save you a bunch of headaches down the line. 

Learn how to paint plastic in a way that looks good and lasts with these simple steps:

Let's Make It

Equipment

  • Cloth/Rag
  • Fine Grit Sandpaper
  • Paint Brush

Materials

  • Soap
  • Isopropyl Alcohol (Rubbing Alcohol)
  • Acrylic Paint/Spray Paint

How To Prep Plastic For Paint

The thing with plastic and paint is that in order for paint to adhere to a surface, the surface needs to be porous enough that it has something to grab onto, which plastic is not. 

Since the smooth nature of plastic naturally repels paint, if you try to paint directly onto it without preparing the surface, the paint will fight as you do so, flaking away and chipping off once it has dried.  

This isn’t to say that painting plastic is impossible — far from it — it just takes a little bit of prep work before you begin! 

01/5

Wash

Ali Carroll
|
Makey

Using a cloth, warm water, and soap, clean the surface of the plastic to get off any dust, grime, or build-up. 

Dry the surface completely before moving on to the next step.

02/5

Sand

Using fine-grit sandpaper, gently sand the entire surface, creating a rough, porous texture and removing any smooth areas. 

Since plastic is a relatively soft material that’s sensitive to heat, the high speeds of an orbital sander could cause enough friction to melt the plastic. If possible, stick to manually sanding the surface, using circular and criss-cross motions until no more smooth areas are visible.  

03/5

Clean Again

Ali Carroll
|
Makey

When you are finished sanding, use a rag to clean the surface of the plastic with isopropyl alcohol and remove any dust that may be clinging to it. 

If you don't have any general-purpose isopropyl alcohol cleaner, rubbing alcohol is a great substitute, or even nail polish remover as long as it doesn’t contain any traces of acetone. 

Tips For Painting Plastic

  • The key things to remember when learning how to paint plastic is that a little goes a long way and patience is key. 
  • Because of the nature of plastic, if you build up the paint too quickly when applying it, the paint will stick to itself rather than the plastic. 
  • The best way to achieve a smooth finish that lasts is to apply the paint in the thinnest of layers. It may be tempting to get it over with and cover the plastic in a single application, but try to resist this urge. 
  • Applying the paint in one go will cause it to build up too quickly before properly adhering to the plastic, running the risk of chipping and flaking off later on. 

How To Paint Plastic With Acrylic Paint

When using acrylic paint, keep reminding yourself that the goal is to build up paint, not to get it all covered in one go. 

04/5

Apply The First Coat

Ali Carroll
|
Makey

Using a flat-edged paintbrush, pick up only the smallest amount of paint, then dust it onto the surface of your prepared plastic. 

Wiping in criss-cross motions to avoid streaking, you should notice that the paint immediately clings to the porous texture of the sanded plastic. 

Continue to cover the entire surface of the plastic with an ultra-thin coat of paint, then allow it to dry for a minimum of ten minutes. 

05/5

Layering

Ali Carroll
|
Makey

Apply the next coat of paint the exact same way you did the previous one, with only the barest amount of paint on your brush, building up a solid coat through patience rather than all at once. 

Allow the paint to dry between every coat, and continue to layer until you can no longer see the plastic beneath. 

Using a patient approach like this will allow you to achieve a streak-free result that won’t chip away or scratch. 

Can You Spray Paint Plastic? 

You can absolutely spray paint plastic! 

Spray painting requires the same level of patience as brush painting but tends to make applying an even coat a bit simpler. 

If you do use spray paint, make sure you are in a well-ventilated area and wearing a protective face mask to shield your lungs from toxins.

Apply The First Coat

When spray painting plastic, make sure you are holding the can at least 12 inches away, and again try to underestimate the amount of paint you apply with each coat. 

Remember, being sparing is key! Think of each layer you apply as only a thin dusting, barely hitting the surface, allowing each molecule of paint time to cling to the sanded plastic before adding any more. 

Dry And Layer

With spray paint especially, give each thin layer at least an hour to dry before applying the next. I know this sounds painstaking, but the end result will be entirely worth it and will result in painted plastic that doesn’t chip, scratch, or flake off. 

Completion

Though by no means a quick, two-minute project, learning how to paint plastic is a relatively simple process that just takes a bit of patience.

If you stick with it and remember to apply the paint in really thin layers, you have the chance to achieve some truly wonderful results!