Can You Paint on Plastic? The Surprising Answer to Your Dilemma

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Can you paint on plastic? Is it a good idea, are there ways to make it work? Someone asked this question awhile back and while I did give her a “short” answer, people do ask about painting on plastic more than you realize, so I felt this subject is worthy of a full post. This is for all of you who want to make some funky garden art using “junk” like soda bottles (myself included!)

No doubt I did attempt to paint on plastic as a kid (I’m sure you can picture that…) I remember watching the paint bead up and not spread out and feeling a sense of consternation about it, but of course I didn’t realize at the time that plastic has its own makeup that makes it not well suited for what I wanted to do. (Which was…? I forgot.)

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can you paint on plastic

 

And some of us are sloooow learners, here’s an attempt I made not long ago to paint a wastecan, I was tired of all these all-white objects around. I looove color, dontcha know? I used a cotton ball and dabbed it all over with alcohol to induce sticking power, as well as remove any stains.

painting plastic wastecan

You can see the work in progress. Sorry, that’s Cosmo in the foreground, long story short, that’s a 3 or 4 gallon wastecan and I’m using CraftSmart Apple Green, as well as a sponge applicator. In my office I have mostly “cool tone” decor with a lot of greens, blues and purples , so I wanted to make the can green. It’s not perfect. I used a sponge applicator brush.

Here’s what the finished product looks like:

painting on plastic

If I accidentally got a little tape on one side, that area of paint would pull right off. That’s the breaks…I was well aware of that going in.

Here’s another object that was originally white, that I gave another color makeover to. You probably notice that it, too, isn’t perfect. It was worth it, I suppose, cause I looooves me some cheery yellow anything. It’s not recent, this is probably work I did last year…

plastic laundry basket
Even if I do a bad paint job, these cats don’t seem to care.

I thought I would try a little experiment to see if there was a distinct possibility of paint sticking better to plastic if I made a little change to the surface. So I took this wastebasket as you see here, notice that the part that would be covered by the lid I did not paint as it would be concealed anyway.

I took some of my paint (FolkArt all purpose craft paints) and just chose a random color to test. I took an emery board and ran it across one side of the area . I dabbed each side with a little rubbing alcohol. Can you see where i wrote “smooth” and “rough” on my test area? (It is kind of faint so I wrote it on the graphic)

experiment

I then applied a stroke of paint to the side that was smooth and the side I “roughed up” a little with the emery board. Then I proceeded to let it dry…I waited overnight for best results.

Next day I took a plastic knife and proceeded to rub it against each side of the dried test paint swatches to see how easily it would come off. I used the “dull” side of the knife at first. the the “toothy” side. Interestingly enough, I think the “rough” side was more resistant. Can you tell?

will paint stick to plastic

So that’s the general idea. If you are willing to use sandpaper on your object to make it more likely to “grab” the paint and adhere more strongly, you can. However you may not want to do that, so I have some other suggestions.

Krylon K02423007 'Fusion for Plastic' Satin River Rock Plastic Paint - 12 ozKrylon K02423007 ‘Fusion for Plastic’ Satin River Rock Plastic Paint – 12 ozKrylon K02423007 'Fusion for Plastic' Satin River Rock Plastic Paint - 12 oz

What kind of Paint is Good to Use on Plastic?

You can look into a certain type of spray paint made especially for plastic surfaces. Based on the reviews, I think a lot of people do like the results.I think it would be a good alternative for some object types, like lawn chairs, laundry baskets, things like that. You could use it for special effects too if you wanted and with some masking or painters tape create a two-toned effect. I like Krylon Fusion as it’s a trusted brand with good reviews.

This line has extended to Fusion For plastic and more recently, the company website has mentioned the name is being fazed out and becoming known as “All in One” But it looks like you can still find it…it is an alkyd enamel so its ability to bond to plastic is much better than what my standard acrylics (which are just water based) can do. Whether you’re working on yard art or doing a makeover on your patio furniture e.g, things like the popular Adirondack chairs) you can use this with confidence. Check out the full range of colors and finishes, too (Satin, matte.)

Does the Type of Plastic Matter?

Yes. Sometimes the kind of plastic you use will make a big difference. Without getting way off into left field talking about recycling numbers and such, there are “soft” and “hard” plastics and the latter is best to experiment on. “Hard” plastic is sometimes classified as HDPE (high density polyethelene).

Things like soda bottles and milk containers are “soft” and paint tends to bead up on them more, plus the fact that soft plastics are more delicate and have this tendency to “crinkle” making it difficult to adhere to.

bird feeder with plastic base

Here’s a good example of a project, a birdfeeder I put together using an empty margarine tub that I painted red (to be attractive to hummingbirds) After examining it for being suitable, it checked out as sturdy enough to be used. Of course, it probably helped that I painted it white first, to hide the writing, and provide a good base coat.

Of course it doesn’t hurt to do a sample test on an object first to see how it will perform, regardless of how it is classified as hard, soft or medium.

Can You Paint on CDs?

(Yes. And surprise, surprise, they’re PLASTIC!)

I love examples, so I thought I’d provide another one. CDs…music that we listen to, or games. Yes not all of us have totally gone the MP3 route on everything. But I digress. Anyway, compact discs are one of those plastic items that I’ve found is easy to paint on. How, you ask? I thought they were made of aluminum?

I thought that once, too, but actually, CDs are NOT made of metal. Just out of curiosity I looked it up and they are actually made of a substance called polycarbonate plastic. Yep, they look all shiny and such so we think they are made of metal. There is a thin coating of aluminum on the outside surface that gives them their appearance.

And yes, I spent one fine evening painting on a whole ream of these discs that were part of my late husband’s game collection (as well as computer programs he burned or recorded)

cds

I used some rubbing alcohol to remove any writing on the outside as well as dirt or smudges, then I gave each one a coat of white primer paint, and then proceeded to paint them all in glorious shades of red. It finally became a piece of wall art for the great room! Hopefully I’ll get around to publishing that on here next.

But the long and short of this is, yes, if you’ve got a cd collection you don’t know what to do with, by all means consider painting and upcycling them!

Conclusion

So…Painting on plastic…yes or no? If you get into experiment mode like i do, it’s worth a try. So don’t be afraid to try it. Maybe do a sample text on an object you’re not sure of if you need to, but within reason, you can have lots of fun creating objects d’arte this way.

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