How to Paint 3D Prints? [Step-by-Step Guide]

Simona Yaramova
Simona Yaramova

Updated · Aug 02, 2022

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So, you’ve printed out a 3D model, and now you want to color it? Here you’ll find out how to paint 3D prints in five practical steps.

We’ll cover the different methods for coloring your items and the materials you’ll need.

To top it all off, we’ll also share some tips and tricks to make the whole process much easier.

Let’s go!

What Paint to Use on 3D Prints?

The first thing you need to do is to choose the kind of paint you’ll use.

There are multiple varieties to pick from:

  • Oil
  • Enamel
  • Lacquer
  • Acrylics

All of them work well with PLA and ABS. However, if you’re a newbie, you’d want to start with acrylic paints. Some advantages are that they dry fast and can be cleaned with water if you make a mistake. High-quality acrylics will add a flawless finish. However, cheaper versions will also work. 

The next thing for you to do is to decide how you’ll be painting your 3D printed parts.

Your options are:

  • Brush
  • Airbrush
  • Spray paint

A simple brush is the cheapest way to go. However, it’s not the best choice if you need an even coat of color.

Airbrushes distribute the color more evenly in multiple tiny droplets. This means you can control how much paint gets applied to your object. Airbrushes can also be used to blend colors together and create interesting effects. However, they are a bit pricey and may take some time to get used to. Overall, not the best solution for a beginner.

If this is your first time painting a 3D print, the best choice for you is spray paint. It’s cheap and easy to use.

But that’s not all you’ll be needing before you start painting.

Read on to find out what other materials will come in handy.

What Other Supplies Do You Need?

To achieve perfectly painted 3D prints, you’ll need more than just a brush and paint. Before you even start coloring, you’ll have to clean the surface and make sure it’s ready for the paint. We also recommend using gloves and a mask for protection.

Let’s see what other supplies to prepare before you begin.

Rotary tools or a hand file, pliers, knife

These tools will help you cut off any unwanted edges or protruding parts from your 3D print. This step will prepare it for sandpaper polishing.

These brands are a good option:

Sandpaper

You can perform 3D print sanding with different grit sandpaper. The larger the grit particles, the smoother the surface will be.

For best results, wet the sandpaper slightly and polish the surface of the print until smooth.

Brush-on and spray-on primers

Before you start painting, you need to make sure that the surface is smooth. Using a primer will help you level out any uneven layers and repair cracks.

Popular brands to choose from are:

Gloves and respirator

Gloves and masks or respirators are a must when sanding and painting 3D prints. They protect you from inhaling solvents and airborne particles.

Masking tape

Use masking tape to cover the surfaces you don’t want to color or to protect already painted surfaces.

Delicate scrub brush

A delicate scrub brush will help you remove the dust after sanding. You can also use your old toothbrush for this purpose.

Regular or distilled water, and a soft cloth

You can simply clean the surface with water after sanding to remove any leftover dust. Pour a little water onto a soft cloth and rub. This is the gentlest method to clean the dust off your 3D print, and it fits best for models with finer details.

How to Paint 3D Prints?

It may look like a complicated process at first. But worry not. We’re here to help you with a step-by-step guide.

Although it may seem like a lot of work, the results are worth it.

Here’s how to begin:

  • Prepare the Space and the Model

Always work on a flat surface and make sure that it’s not cluttered.

Remove the support stubs and any other unwanted features from your print using the knife, rotary tools, and pliers if necessary.

Now you can start sanding.

  • 3D Print Sanding

Make sure the room is well-ventilated. Wear a mask and gloves. Some materials contain harmful chemicals, and your health should be your priority. 

There may be visible lines or patterns on your object after printing. Sand it to ensure you have a smooth surface for painting. Start with low grit sandpaper like 60-100, work your way up, and add a little water for better results.

But how to sand without damaging the model?

  • Be patient
  • Apply the sandpaper in circular motions
  • Go slowly when you sand fine details like edges and corners

When the surface is smooth enough, use an old toothbrush or water and a soft cloth to clean off the dust. Before you prime your prints, let them dry.

  • Prepare the Model for Painting

Apply a primer to make sure your print’s surface is ready for painting. It also helps cover all minor defects and fills in the holes. This way the color will adhere better too. 

The best option is to use a spray-on primer to quickly apply an even coat over the whole surface. 

First, shake the 3D print primer until you hear the mixing ball inside the can. 

Then, apply a thin layer. Spray from a distance of 10-12 inches while rotating the model.

The next step is to check whether the first coat needs more sanding. If that’s the case:

  • Sand it
  • Clean the dust off
  • Spray another layer

Always wait for the primer to dry before applying another coat. 

  • 3D Model Painting

Before painting your 3D printed models, make sure they are 100% dry.

There are two different methods of applying paint - spray painting and hand painting; read on to decide which best suits your needs.

  • Spray painting

Grab that masking tape we discussed earlier and cover the parts you don't want to color. Start applying the spray paint to your 3D print. Two thin layers should be enough but wait thirty minutes between each new coat.

If you’re unsatisfied with the color, spray on more layers until the color is bright enough.

  • Hand painting

This method is pretty simple. Dip your brush into the color and start painting directly over the PLA. You can use some water to dilute the paint or use a palette to mix different shades. Give it enough time to dry before applying another coat. 

If you want to use multiple colors, cover the areas you’ve already painted with tape. This way you won’t ruin your work.

  • Finishing a 3D Print

You can create interesting sparkling effects with a silver or golden spray. Or use an antique finish if you’re aiming for a vintage look

Adding worn-out and rush effects or shadows and highlights to your painted 3D prints are some further options.

If you use oil paint, it can take up to five days to dry. For other paints, leave the object to dry overnight.

Finish the surface with a matte or shiny top coat to make it last longer. Always check the top coat’s compatibility with the other paints. Apply one to two layers and wait about 10 minutes between each.

Tips and Tricks for Best Results

Here are some things to keep in mind if you’re looking for the best way to paint 3D prints:

  • Use wire to hang your object or put it on a stand to rotate it without leaving fingermarks.
  • If you’re rotating the object by hand, apply primer and paint last on that section. This way, you won't ruin the paint’s surface.
  • Make sure there are no drafts or strong wind when using spray paint. 
  • Don’t spray too close to the object to avoid drips.
  • Always start spray painting with thin layers; multiple thin coats make for a smoother surface than one thick layer.
  • If you use spray paint, always complete each layer in a single session to spread the color evenly.
  • Start painting from the center of the model and move outwards.
  • The best way to paint your 3D prints is to start coloring the largest parts and leave the details until the end.

Wrap Up

If you own a 3D printer or 3D pen, you would want to know how to color your prints.

Overall, painting a 3D print isn’t difficult. Just prepare your items and tools carefully and don’t hurry.

Make sure you choose the right paint, primer, and top coat. Also, check if they are compatible. 

No matter what painting method you choose, applying three thin layers instead of one thick coat is always better.

When you’ve painted your 3D prints, leave them to dry overnight. And that’s it!

FAQ.


Can you paint 3D printed items?

Yes, you can color 3D printed objects.

How to paint 3D prints with acrylics?

  1. Polish the object with sandpaper;
  2. Clean it from the dust with water and an old toothbrush or a soft cloth;
  3. Apply a primer;
  4. Start painting and wait around thirty minutes before placing another coat;
  5. Leave it to dry for about thirty more minutes;
  6. Use a top coat;
  7. Leave the object to dry overnight.

Can you spray paint 3D printed objects?

Yes. This is the easiest way to color a 3D printed item.

How to paint PLA?

You can use oil, enamel, lacquer, acrylics, or spray paint. The process of how to paint 3D prints is the same for all the options:

  1. Polish the surface with sandpaper to remove any imperfections;
  2. Apply a primer and leave it to dry;
  3. Use your preferred paint and wait for about thirty minutes between the coats;
  4. When you finish coloring, use a top coat;
  5. Wait until the object is dry, and you're ready.

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Simona Yaramova

Simona Yaramova

Simona’s desire to be a content writer came pretty randomly. But now, she’s dedicated to learning everything about technology and becoming the best at her job. Her favorite gadget is her iPhone, so she has all the know-how about it. She’s currently pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in English Philology. She is a dog person and dreams of having a Corgi (don’t we all?). She likes to cook, read books, and spend time with her family and friends.

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