How To Paint ABS 3D Prints
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Found in everything from LEGO bricks to car interiors, ABS (acrylonitrile butadiene styrene) is one of the most popular plastics on Earth. Its high tensile strength and impact resistance makes it ideal for 3D printing, and it’s also pretty easy to paint!
Painting ABS parts not only allows you to change the color and appearance of the object, but it also can make the part more durable and UV-resistant. This comes in handy for outdoor parts, such as a 3D printed tent stake or bike accessory.
- TLDR: How to paint ABS plastic
- Can you paint over ABS Plastic?
- Why paint ABS? What are the benefits?
- How To Paint ABS 3D Prints: Step-By-Step Guide
- The Best ABS Paints To Use
If you want to paint an ABS part without the paint falling off, though, you’ll have to follow some specific guidelines, such as properly preparing the surface, using the right type of paint, and more. In the sections below, I’ll let you know how to finish 3D prints to achieve the best ABS paint job!
Can you paint over ABS Plastic?
Yes, ABS is one of the easiest plastics to paint over. While ABS is known for having a slick surface texture (which discourages paint from sticking), properly sanding and priming the part’s surface will fix this issue. And, from there, you can coat your ABS part in basically any acrylic-based paint!
On this note, while acrylic and other plastic-based paints work best for ABS parts, generic spray and oil paints should also work just fine. You might just have to spend more time sanding and priming the surface, and the paint job might not last as long. We’ll talk more about the process later.
Why paint ABS? What are the benefits?
Painting ABS makes it more durable by helping prevent dust and other contaminants from getting in the cracks and crevices of a part, as well as improving the print’s aesthetics. Additionally, painting ABS plastic parts will better protect them from UV rays, which can deform it.
Of course, painting ABS plastic also allows you to change the appearance of ABS parts. You can paint intricate detailing on your models however you like, but it also means if you don’t have one particular color of ABS filament, you can paint it this color.
How To Paint ABS 3D Prints: Step-By-Step Guide
Painting ABS plastic isn’t much different from painting other plastics, except that you might have to spend a little extra time preparing the part’s surface to ensure the paint sticks.
You start by heavily sanding the surface of your ABS part and applying a coat or two of a primer. Then, you apply a coat of acrylic-based paint to the surface and finish it off with a clear coat!
In the step-by-step instructions below, I’ve gone into more detail about how you can paint ABS plastic parts!
Step 1: Prepare the Surface
First, you’ll need to prepare the surface of your ABS plastic part by sanding and cleaning it. Remember that the better you prepare the surface, the longer your final paint job will last, so don’t skip this step.
To sand your part, you’ll want to start with low-grit (rough) sandpaper, and work your way up to high-grit (smooth) sandpaper.
I personally recommend:
- Beginning with 80-100 grit sandpaper
- Moving to 150-200 grit
- And stopping after 300-400 grit.
This 3-stage process works great for ABS 3D prints, as well as regular ABS parts. You can also keep a bowl of water nearby and dip the sandpaper in it for extra lubrication to speed up the process.
Once you’ve sanded the entire surface of your ABS part, make sure to properly clean it and remove any leftover bits of plastic. You can do this by running some water over the part and drying it with a cloth towel.
Step 2: Apply a Primer
Second, you should apply a primer to the surface of your ABS part.
For reference, a primer paint is a preliminary coating, applied to a surface before painting, and it provides an even and clean base for the topcoat of paint to adhere to later.
Additionally, primers seal the surface they’re applied to, enhancing the strength and durability of your part.
I recommend using a standalone primer paint that’s specifically meant for plastic surfaces, as this will make the paint stick the longest. However, two-in-one primer paints will also work just fine!
You can get away with only using one coat of primer, but I recommend two to ensure the best paint adherence.
Also, once you’ve applied the primer, let it sit in a stable environment (e.g. no rain) for at least an hour before moving on to the next step.
Step 3: Choose a High-Quality Paint
Next, it’s time to apply the actual paint to your ABS part. When choosing a paint for ABS surfaces, you should look at more than just the color, as the type of paint (what it’s based on) is very relevant to how long the paint will stick on the ABS part.
Acrylic and other plastic-based paints are perhaps the best options for ABS parts as they tend to last the longest.
It’s also worth mentioning that aerosol spray paints yield more even surface finishes than brush paints, because there aren’t any brush marks. I’ll go over more about the best paint options for ABS parts in a later section!
Once you’ve picked out your paint, it’s time to apply it! I recommend 2 or 3 coats, as any more could lead to dripping or running on the surface of your ABS part, and any fewer would be too thin and could rub off.
And, make sure to wait at least an hour between each coat, or whatever length of time is recommended by the manufacturer of the paint.
Step 4: Apply a Protective Clear Coat
After you’ve waited for the last coat of paint to dry, you’ll want to add a final clear coat to your ABS part.
A clear coat doesn’t significantly change the appearance of your part and goes a long way in making it more durable and UV resistant, as well as ensuring the actual paint doesn’t fade quickly.
There are many different options for protective clear coats, but, just like for the other paint options, it’s best to use an acrylic-based paint as it’ll stick best.
One coat of clear or protective paint should work just fine. But, if your ABS part is going to face a lot of weathering, you might want to apply two coats for safety. Just make sure to wait at least 30 minutes between each coat.
Step 5: Final Sanding (Optional)
Finally, after painting your ABS part, you should lightly sand it and then let the clear coat dry.
While this might seem counterintuitive to the previous steps, a final round of sanding improves the part’s surface finish to your desired level of smoothness.
Moreover, your ABS part will be the most glossy and smooth after the final clear coat has dried, and any additional sanding at this point will only make the surface rougher. So, if your painted ABS part is a bit too smooth and glossy for your liking, you can lightly sand the surface with some high-grit sandpaper to alter its appearance and texture.
It’s critical that you don’t sand too much or too intensely at this point, because you might accidentally rip off the clear coat and even the actual paint from the ABS part. For this step, the gentler, the better.
As for what sandpaper to use: choose the grit that matches the surface texture you want the part to have. I recommend going to your local hardware store and feeling the different grit levels before choosing one. Remember: the higher the grit, the smoother the finish.
Once you sand the part, make sure to clean all of the little paint and plastic particles off of the part using a damp towel. A handheld vacuum also works very well for this process!
The Best ABS Paints To Use
Because plastics adhere best to other plastics, you’ll want to use an acrylic-based paint for ABS parts. Some great ABS plastic paints include:
- Krylon Fusion for Plastic spray paint
- Rustoleum Painter’s Touch 2X Ultra spray paint
- Krylon Fusion All-In-One Spray Paint.
General-purpose paints that work on all surfaces will also work well, but often don’t last as long as acrylic-based paints.
Krylon Fusion for Plastic spray paint is specifically meant for plastic parts, including ABS, and offers a glossy finish without any priming necessary. (Of course, it’s still recommended that you prime the surface of your ABS part as it almost always yields better results.) While this option costs a good bit more than other spray paints, it’s known to last long, look great, and it also comes in many colors.
The other two spray paints I mentioned, including Rustoleum Painter’s Touch 2X Ultra and Krylon Fusion All-In-One, are both primer paints. This means they serve as both a primer and an actual paint, which simplifies the painting process. Both options aren’t specifically meant for painting plastic, but they’re known to work well on ABS parts, and they also are very affordable.
What paint is UV resistant for ABS?
Any pigmented acrylic paint should protect your ABS plastic parts from UV rays. For the best UV resistance, you should look for dark blue acrylic paint as studies show that this color provides the most UV protection.
Additionally, you can apply a coat of special UV-resistant clear paint on top of your primary coat to further protect your ABS part from the sun and other UV rays. This option from Krylon is a great option and adds a glossy finish to your painted parts.
How do you paint ABS plastic car parts?
When painting ABS automotive parts, you’ll want to use the most durable paints, as any car part needs to be able to withstand a lot of weathering over time. It’s recommended to use an automotive-specific paint, like this Restoration Shop acrylic urethane paint which offer the most weather resistance.
However, these types of paints are very expensive, so another option is to use a mix of high-durability primers, acrylic-based paints, and clear coats. And before starting, you should heavily sand down your ABS plastic car part until it has a super smooth surface texture.
Next, you should apply one or two coats of high-durability primer before applying a few coats of your actual paint. On this note, make sure whatever paint you use is acrylic-based as well as weather-resistant; these properties should be listed on the paint bottle.
Finally, you should let the paint dry and then add one or two clear coats, or you can even dip the ABS plastic part in a resin such as polyurethane.
What is the best primer for ABS plastic?
The best primer paints for ABS are those that are specifically meant for plastic surfaces as they have better surface grip than general-purpose primers. Plastic-specific primer sprays from Rustoleum and Montana Cans are two of the best options on the market and will make applying your actual paint a breeze on any ABS part.
Additionally, you can use a general-purpose primer, such as Rustoleum Painter’s Touch Primer, though it probably won’t perform as well as one specifically designed for plastic surfaces.
It’s also worth noting that you can skip the priming process entirely by using a paint that includes a primer, such as Rustoleum Painter’s Touch 2X Ultra spray paint or Krylon Fusion All-In-One Spray Paint. Of course, using a primer beforehand will almost always yield a better and longer-lasting paint job. But, if you’re on a budget or don’t have the time, using one of these dual-purpose paints isn’t a bad idea.
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