Painting is an excellent way to rehabilitate a beloved item or breathe new life into an object that has outlived its original purpose. If you want a shiny finish on a plastic item, there are several supplies and techniques you can use to achieve your desired finish. For optimum results, you must select the appropriate paint products, prepare the plastic surface for painting and execute techniques that yield high-gloss surfaces. Armed with these tools and methods, you can give the dullest plastic a lustrous new life.
Purchase spray or bottled paints that yield a high-gloss finish. "Real Simple" magazine recommends acrylic paint for shiny plastic items such as action figures. Enamel paints create a shiny finish, as well. Use metallic or mirror-effect paint to achieve shininess comparable to metal or a reflective surface. Consider paints intended for model cars and planes; they often yield a realistic, metal-like finish. Also, purchase a clear varnish to seal the paint after it dries. Varnish creates the shiniest finish of all paint products.
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Preparing the Surface
Wash the plastic item to remove any dirt or residue if necessary. Krylon recommends preparing plastic for paint by wiping it with a solvent-like rubbing alcohol or paint thinner. Sand rough edges with fine-grain sandpaper to make the surface as even as possible. Shiny paint betrays minute blemishes; you need a smooth, clean surface to achieve a uniform shiny finish. Cover any areas that you do not want to paint with a removable barrier such as blue painter's tape or petroleum jelly.
Priming the Surface
Apply a coat of primer to the surface according to the primer manufacturer's instructions. The Utah State University Cooperative Extension recommends treating plastic surfaces with primer before attempting to paint them. Primer holds paint to the exceptionally smooth surface of plastic more effectively than direct paint-to-plastic application. Allow the primer to dry thoroughly according to the instructions.
Spray Painting the Plastic
Move your hand in slow, circular motions when you apply spray paint. Apply a light, even coat to the surface; the paint should not pool or run. Allow it to dry for at least 30 minutes. Apply additional coats of paint as needed. Spray paint requires light application; achieving high-gloss finishes often requires a heavy coat of paint, making multiple coats of spray paint necessary. Allow each coat to dry for at least 30 minutes before applying another coat.
Painting the Plastic by Brush
Move the paintbrush in short, even strokes to paint a confined or detailed area. Move the brush in long, straight, sweeping strokes to paint a broad area. Continue applying paint until you cover the entire surface. Achieving a high-gloss finish requires more than one coat of paint. Prepare to layer coats of paint rather than attempting to achieve the desired finish in one application. Allow the paint to dry according to the manufacturer's instructions. Apply additional coats of paint as needed. Allow each coat to dry thoroughly before applying another coat.