This is a topic that comes up frequently and I’m often asked how I paint consoles, carts, controllers, and any plastic parts so that they last.
1st things first:
Prep. Properly preparing the parts for paint is by FAR the most important step. Start by cleaning the part(s). I use plain old Dawn dish soap. The easiest way is to treat the parts like dishes. Fill the sink with warm water and scrub ’em down. A firm toothbrush is a big help here for all the little nooks and crannies that these plastic parts often have.
If you’ve got one, and would rather not do the dirty work, then a dishwasher on the lowest temp setting with the parts on the top rack is also a really great way to clean em up.
Next you’ll need a dry, warm, and still, dust-free environment to paint it. A garage works fine. You’ll want to keep the door closed in order to keep it as still as possible. If the garage has a man door, then open it a put a large window fan right in the doorway. If not, leave the garage door slightly open and do the same with the fan aimed outward. If it’s a sealed floor, then make sure to mop it well. If it’s just a raw concrete floor, then I suggest getting it good and wet (leave it that way. If the dust/dirt is wet, then it can’t become airborne).
If the part has holes that a small wire can be fed through, then do so and hang the part and a height that allows you to paint all sides easily. If not, then find a way to support it so that you aren’t leaving edges to be painted on a surface. I often make cardboard stilts and hot glue the part to it. That way you can lift the part, spray all around, then place it back on whatever surface you’re using.
Just before you start painting, wipe the parts down with some sort of paint prep solvent. I like DuPont Prep-sol, but there are similar products available at auto parts stores and, in a pinch, you can use isopropyl with a lint-free towel.
Here’s the big secret for painting plastics; adhesion promoter. It’s primer specifically for plastics. I like bulldog. There are similar products at auto parts stores, but there nowhere near as effective. Spend the extra bucks on Bulldog.
Read the instructions for whatever adhesion promoter you’re using and apply as needed.
Once you’ve done that, then you’re ready for paint. Now, if you’re planning on going from a dark color, like black, to a lighter color, like yellow, white, red, etc., then you may want to consider a light colored primer. If you don’t, then you may find yourself applying many, MANY coats in order to achieve the color you’re after. I prefer Sherwin Williams rattle can for these sorts of jobs, but it can be tough to find unless you have an auto paint supply or Sherwin Williams store nearby. Duplicolor also works fine, just takes a bit longer to dry. Again, read directions and apply as needed.
You’re finally ready for a base and then top coat! Make sure you parts are dust free. Use whatever base coat (color) you want. I tend to like the little DupliColor touch-up cans and Krylon. Both dry quite quickly and are available most everywhere.
Do NOT use the Krylon Fusion crap. It’s meant to be used without a primer and I find that it produces really poor finish. I also have an aversion to Rust-Oleum. It takes FOREVER to dry and ALWAYS feels a bit tacky, even weeks and sometimes months after application.
Once you’re happy with the result, then you’ll want to apply a top (clear) coat to protect it. Again, Krylon is good, cheap, and available. They make a myriad of top coat finishes from flat to super high gloss. If you want a automotive quality high-gloss clear, then I suggest spending the extra bucks on products like Upol. Great stuff, easy to apply, and far more affordable than a proper 2-part clear.
Clear is often the hardest thing to apply in the whole process. I suggest testing on some just parts before tackling the job at hand. To little and you’ll end up with a finish that isn’t what you want, too much and you risk runs, which aren’t much fun to work out of the paint later in when it’s dry. Take your time and practice
Well, that’s about it. Wait for everything to dry (I know it’s hard to wait, but don’t risk destroying your fresh, new paint job). Then all you need to do is carefully reassemble and enjoy! Good luck!
*This FAQ assumes you don’t have access to professional paint supplies and tools, hence why I suggest employing rattle can finishes for every step.