3D models can be great in their natural form, but sometimes you need to spice things up. Explore this detailed guide to painting 3D prints to learn more!
Since your final prints are hardly ever showroom-ready, you sometimes need to rely on a little post-processing to take a model the final mile.
In this guide, we cover the basics of painting PLA and ABS 3D prints, from smoothing to the actual painting process, while providing some helpful tips in between. Here, we opt for spray painting over the use of a brush or airbrush because it’s less laborious and fairly affordable, as is explained later.
Paints can fall into various categories based on their solvent. The most common ones are oils, enamels, lacquers, and acrylics, most of which will work well with both ABS and PLA. As a newbie, you’d be wise to stick to acrylic paints since they dry fast and can be cleaned with water.
Usually, you have to decide whether you’re going to use an airbrush, a brush, or canned spray paint. While a brush is cheaper compared to the other options, it can be tough to accomplish an even coat of paint, with noticeable “blobs” in some spots and the underlying color appearing in others. An airbrush, on the other hand, is costly and typically has a steep learning curve.
This leaves us with spray paints, which strike a clean balance between affordability and ease of use.
This is considered the first stage, and it involves trimming rough print features, such as support stubs, before sanding.
You can use some of the following in this stage:
The key is to eliminate any protrusions and make sure the print is clean. You can peel off supports with your bare hands, or you can use a knife. It doesn’t matter, as long as the final result doesn’t have bumps or protrusions.
Begin with 120-grit sandpaper and work your way up. Use circular motions to avoid visible scratches, and pay more attention to the sides while avoiding the edges, corners, and any other fine details. After all, 120 grit can be too strong for small details.
Sanding smoothens deformities and can be time-consuming depending on the size of the print or finish you are aiming for. Sand down the support marks and make sure you’ve removed any filing or tooling marks.
Progress through the grits depending on your print, but once you’re finished with 200 grit, start using water. This prevents clogging and gives a finer finish.
While sanding, feel the surface of the print at intervals to get an idea of how smooth it is. Once the smoothness is to your liking, use a brush and water to wash away any trapped dust. Naturally, you’ll want to let the print dry before moving on to the next steps.
Check out our beginners’ guide to smoothing PLA if you need more gritty details on this process.
Priming turns your 3D print into a professional product and makes the painting process effortless by creating a flawless final surface. Priming is necessary because paints will never hide all the flaws, especially when you‘re aiming for a near-perfect object.
Go for a primer that is compatible with your plastic. We prefer using a spray-on primer because it can quickly cover the entire surface with an even coating. This is different from brush-on primers, which are better for fine touch-ups.
Allow your primer to dry before adding extra layers. Usually, two layers are sufficient for a clean surface finish.
The first two coats should be very light since we’re only using it to improve adhesion for the successive layers. But since a primer is enough to improve the surface finish and the aesthetic of the printed part, some people choose to use a primer without even doing any additional painting.
After your final primer coat is added, your part is now ready for painting.
At this point, you should have a mental image of the finish you’re trying to achieve. The painting process is quite similar to priming.
Let the paint dry overnight and clean the part the next day using a tack cloth.
Some things to keep in mind:
Below are some general pieces of advice to enhance the above steps:
Painting shouldn’t just be an afterthought – think about it as early as the design stage. It’s best to experiment to find what works best for you since there are so many different effects you can achieve.
(Lead image source: 3DWithUs / YouTube)
License: The text of "Beginner’s Guide to Painting 3D Prints (PLA & ABS)" by All3DP is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
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