How to Paint PLA, ABS, PETG, Nylon – Best Paints to Use


Painting 3D prints is a great way of making your models unique and more accurate, but people get confused about how exactly they should be painting their 3D prints. I thought I’d put together an article that helps people to paint 3D prints from filaments like PLA, ABS, PETG & Nylon.

The best paints to use for 3D printed objects include Rust-Oleum’s Painter’s Touch Spray Paint and Tamiya Spray Lacquer. Before you start painting, make sure to prepare your print’s surface by sanding and priming it to achieve the best results. 

I’ll go through the best techniques on how to properly paint your 3D prints, so keep reading through this article to get the useful details.

What Kind of Paint Should You Use for 3D Printing? Best Paints

The best paints to use for 3D printing are airbrush sprays if you have experience because you can get amazing detail and blending. Spray paints and acrylic sprays are also great choices for painting 3D prints. You can also use an all-in-one primer and paint combo that primes and paints the surface.

The best paints are ones that don’t form thick layers and are easy to control.

For beginners, it’s best to use canned spray paints for painting 3D printed objects which is affordable and easy to use too, as compared to an airbrush or acrylic paints.

I’ve gathered some of the best spray paints that work well with plastic and can be used for 3D printing below.

  • Rust-Oleum Painter’s Touch Spray Paint
  • Tamiya Spray Lacquer
  • Krylon Fusion All-In-One Spray Paint

Rust-Oleum Painter’s Touch Spray Paint

The Rust-Oleum Painter’s Touch Spray Paint on Amazon is a high-quality product that actively adheres to popular filaments like PLA and ABS and gives you a premium-grade finish.

Rust-Oleum is a well-respected brand that the 3D printing community has great admiration for. It’s known for its wide array of acrylic, enamel, and oil-based spray paints that work like a charm for 3D printed objects.

One of the best parts about the Painter’s Touch Spray Paint is that it’s a 2-in-1 product, mixing the primer and paint together and getting rid of extra steps required to paint your model.

People who regularly use this product say that there’s no better quality spray paint out there that packs this much value for money. According to some experienced 3D printer users, this Rust-Oleum spray paint creates thin coatings and makes your models look very detailed.

One customer has said that the Painter’s Touch Spray Paint has excellent coverage and is very easy to use. They were able to paint dozens of miniatures using this spray paint and all with amazing results.

It’s available in a variety of colors, such as Gloss Black, Modern Mint, Semi-Gloss Clear, and Deep Blue. A 12 oz can of Rust-Oleum Spray Paint costs somewhere around $4, so it’s also priced very competitively.

At the time of writing this article, the product has an “Amazon’s Choice” label attached to it with a fantastic 4.8/5.0 overall rating. 87% of the people who bought the Painter’s Touch Spray Paint have left a 5-star review.

It’s definitely one of the best spray paints out there that you should use for 3D printing. Coatings of this paint provide you with long-lasting protection, low odor, and a quick drying time of 20 minutes.

Tamiya Spray Lacquer

The Tamiya Spray Lacquer is another awesome spray paint that although isn’t acrylic but many 3D printer users still recommend for its effectiveness and affordability. You can find it for a great price on Amazon.

A bottle of 100ml of Tamiya spray paint costs somewhere around $5. However, you will need to apply a primer to your model’s surface before using this spray paint because it is not an all-in-one solution, unlike the Rust-Oleum Painter’s Touch Spray Paint.

One of the best features of the Tamiya Spray Lacquer is its quick curing time. Many people say that their models dried completely within 20 minutes.

At the time of writing this article, this product has a 4.8/5.0 overall rating with 89% of the people leaving a 5-star review lauded with praise.

The Tamiya Spray Lacquer isn’t affected by enamel or acrylic paints, so you’re free to apply more coatings of paint to your print if you want to add details or remove some.

One user says that this spray paint has turned out to be ideal for their ABS models, but you can use it for other filaments as well. The finishing looks amazing and one can is enough for 2-3 19cm long objects.

Krylon Fusion All-In-One Spray Paint

The Krylon Fusion All-In-One Spray Paint (Amazon) is a staple product in the 3D printing industry. Thousands of people use it to effectively post-process their 3D printed objects, and some even call it the best paint for PLA.

This spray paint offers top-of-the-line adhesion and durability for your prints. It also protects the object from rust and can be applied to surfaces without having to sand or prime them beforehand.

With fast drying times, your 3D printed model can become ready to touch in less than 20 minutes. You can also spray painlessly in all directions, even upside down.

A customer has mentioned that the paint job turned out just as expected with their 3D printed PCL plastic with a high-quality finish and a picture-perfect result.

One more user has said that this spray paint also boasts UV resistance and is very durable as well. It has been specially formulated to bond with plastics to make the finishing look spectacular and strong too.

This is a great plus point if you’re looking to make mechanical parts with added durability and strength. Applying 2-3 coats of this paint will definitely make your print more professional, as many people have expressed.

At the time of writing, the Krylon Fusion All-In-One Spray Paint boasts a 4.6/5.0 overall rating on Amazon. It has gathered more than 14,000 ratings on the marketplace where 79% of them are thoroughly 5-star.

One person who picked this item up says that it’s very easy to use with the big button spray tip. Another user has mentioned that this spray is also aquarium safe once dried.

All in all, this fantastic Krylon product is one of the best spray paints for you to use with 3D printing. It costs about $5 and guarantees great value for money.

Can I Use an Airbrush for Painting 3D Prints?

Yes, you can use an airbrush for painting 3D prints for a great control on color blending and precision. Many people successfully use an airbrush for painting their 3D prints, usually suited to people with more experience since it can be difficult for beginners. It can require special equipment like a compressor.

It is definitely a more advanced technique than canned spray paints that you can use for effectively painting your parts.

If you’re a beginner, I highly recommend the Master Airbrush G233 Pro on Amazon that falls within the budget-friendly range and packs top quality on a consistent basis.

It comes with 3 nozzle sets (0.2, 0.3 & 0.5 mm needles) for extra detailed sprays and consists of a 1/3 oz gravity fluid cup. The G233 is loaded with features not found on other airbrushes that cost twice as much.

There is a quick disconnect coupler and plug that includes an in-built valve for controlling airflow. In addition, it also has a cutaway handle that makes it easy to flush and clear air passages.

One person who frequently uses this airbrush for painting their 3D printed parts says that once you get the hang of this device, it’s only smooth sailing with easy, effortless painting.

Another customer says that they tried their luck with this airbrush as it was their first time buying one, and it turned out to be great. They needed to paint some 3D prints and were easily able to get it done on time.

Many 3D printer users are using this airbrush consistently to paint their models, all because of how precise and easy to control it really is.

At the time of writing, the Master Airbrush G233 Pro enjoys a solid reputation on Amazon with a 4.3/5.0 overall rating, and 66% of the people who bought it have left a 5-star review.

It comes for about $40 and works great for those who aren’t well-versed with painting. Customers call it the ideal airbrush for their 3D prints that makes the job a lot easier.

How to Paint PLA, ABS, PETG & Nylon 3D Prints

To paint PLA, ABS, and PETG, you first need to smooth the surface of the print by sanding and using a primer. Once done, applying light, even coats of a high-quality spray paint is the best way to paint your prints. For Nylon, dyeing is considered to be a far better option than painting. 

Painting 3D prints belongs to the post-processing stage of 3D printing. Before you can paint your models and expect a professional finish, you first have to go through a bunch of post-processing steps to achieve the best results.

Let’s break the whole process down so you can have an easier time understanding the phenomenon of painting.

  • Support Removal & Cleanup
  • Sanding
  • Priming
  • Painting

Support Removal & Cleanup

The first stage of post-processing is the removal of support structures and small blemishes from your model. This can be easily done if the material can be removed by hand, but you might require a tool like flush cutters or a knife in other cases.

Support removal should be done with great care and detail because tips of the support structures can often leave undesirable marks on the surface of your print.

Most people use something like the X-Acto Precision Knife on Amazon for making fine cuts with ease and agility. This is a very affordable product that costs just about $5 and works like a charm for 3D prints.

If you’ve removed your supports carefully, but there are still some unsightly marks on your print, don’t worry because this is where the next step of post-processing comes in.

Sanding

Sanding is the simple process of smoothing your 3D printed parts with the help of a sandpaper. In the beginning, you want to use a low-grit sandpaper, such as 60-200 grit, and work your way up to higher grit sandpapers.

This is because the higher the grit number, the finer your sandpaper will be. You can initially use 60-200 grit sandpaper to remove any support marks and then proceed with finer sandpapers to smooth the entire model as per your liking.

You can go with the Austor 102 Pcs Wet & Dry Sandpaper Assortment (60-3,000 Grit) from Amazon.

It’s advised to sand the model in circular motions and be gentle overall. When you move up to higher grit sandpaper, like 400 or 600 grits, you can choose to also wet sand the model for a smoother and finer finish.

After sanding your model, make sure that there’s no dust on it before moving on to priming and painting. You can use a brush and some water to wipe your model clean and then use paper towels afterward to dry it.

When your model is all dry, the next step is to either hang it somewhere dust-free and well-ventilated using a cord or drill a hole into a hidden spot of the model and mount it on a dowel, so you could prime and paint it with ease.

Priming

Now that we’ve smoothed the surface of the model and it’s ready for its first coat of primer, it’s time to grab a high-quality primer like the Rust-Oleum Painter’s Touch 2X Primer on Amazon and get to spraying your model.

For priming, it’s recommended to hold your model 8-12 inches away from the spray of the primer.

In addition, you want to prime your part quickly in rapid strokes and avoid spraying at one area for too long, since this can cause the primer to accumulate and start dripping, which is something you definitely don’t want.

You also want to rotate the part while you’re spraying the primer, so the coat is spread out evenly throughout. Keep in mind to make light coats because applying thick coats can hide the fine details of your model.

When you’re done with the first coat, let the model dry for 30-40 minutes or according to the instructions of your primer. When it has dried, inspect your model to see if any more sanding is required. It’s common for primers to leave rough textures on your model.

If you see that you have to sand, use a higher grit sandpaper like 600-grit so you can smooth out the sharper details, and be sure to clean off the dust after sanding before moving on.

Once done, it’s time to apply another coat of primer to your model using the same technique as the first coat. You want to make your sprays are quick and swift and that you’re rotating the part while priming it.

Usually, two coats of the primer are enough for a clean surface finish, but you can add more layers if you want. When you’re all finished with priming, it’s time to paint your model.

Painting

To paint your model, you’ll have to use a plastic-compatible spray paint that works as intended and doesn’t create thick layers on your part’s surface.

For this purpose, it’s wise to use any of the spray paints that were talked about earlier since all of them are highly admired by the 3D printing community and work great.

Begin by shaking your can of spray paint for as long as the manufacturer recommends. This will mix up the paint inside, which will allow your parts to get a better finish

Once done, begin spray-painting your model with quick strokes while your model is rotating. Make sure to keep the coats thin.

It’s a good idea to paint at least 2-3 coats, so the surface finish looks as good as possible. Keep in mind that you need to wait 10-20 minutes between each coating of paint for the best results.

After you’ve applied the final coat, wait for your model to dry and reap the benefits of your hard work.

Post-processing can get very confusing at times, so it’ll be very helpful to watch an informative tutorial video on this topic. The following is a great visual guide on painting your 3D printed objects.

While Nylon can also be painted with spray paints and acrylics, we can use its hygroscopic nature to our advantage and dye it instead, which is a much easier method of making your Nylon prints impressively colorful.

Nylon tends to absorb moisture more readily than most other filaments. Therefore, dyes can be applied easily to it and bring you amazing results. You can also paint PETG prints this way, as many enthusiasts have said.

However, it’s recommended to use specific dyes made for synthetic fiber like Nylon, such as the Rit All-Purpose Liquid Dye on Amazon that’s specially formulated for polyester fabrics.

This product has more than 34,000 ratings on the marketplace with a 4.5/5.0 overall rating at the time of writing. It costs somewhere about $7 and packs great value for your money, so definitely one of the best choices to go with for dyeing Nylon.

The method of dyeing Nylon is pretty straightforward. You can watch the highly descriptive video given below by MatterHackers on this topic and also check out my ultimate guide on printing Nylon for a step-by-step tutorial.

Can You Paint 3D Prints Without Primer?

Yes, you can paint 3D prints without a primer, but the paint usually won’t adhere properly to the surface of the model. A primer is used so the paint can easily stick to your 3D prints rather than coming off easily afterward. I’d recommend that you either use a primer then paint your model, or use a 2-in-1 primer.

ABS and TPU are known to be quite challenging to paint without using a primer due to the surface properties.

By researching around in forums, I’ve found people saying that if you use acrylic paints for painting your 3D prints, there’s a good chance that you won’t need to prepare the surface with a primer beforehand.

You can probably get away without using a primer for painting 3D prints but bear in mind that the best results usually follow when you prime your models.

That is because primers fill up your print lines, and prevent the paint from settling in them as the paint has a tendency of dripping down to the lowest point of the surface of the part before it hardens.

This is why it’s pretty important to prime your models first before painting to achieve a high-quality look.

That said, I’ve come across a YouTube video by Paul’s Garage that goes over a unique method of painting 3D printed objects without a primer.

This is done using oil-based pens that do not warrant sanding or priming prior to painting. This is a relatively new way of making your 3D prints colorful and full of life.

You can get the Oil-Based Markers by Sharpie on Amazon for somewhere around $15. This product is currently decorated with the “Amazon’s Choice” label and also has an admirable 4.6/5.0 overall rating.

People who picked up this highly rated product say that the markers have a quick drying time and a medium point that conceals visible layer lines.

The markers are also made resistant to fading, smearing, and water – making the product the perfect choice for long-term paint projects.

Many people have said that these markers have proved to be excellent for custom paint jobs on their 3D prints. Plus, since there’s no added hassle of post-processing the prints now, you can quickly finish your models.

Can You Use Acrylic Paint on 3D Printed Objects?

Yes, you can successfully use acrylic paints on 3D printed objects for a great surface finish. They are cheap and can be applied to models easily, although there’s a bit more effort involved as compared to regular spray paints. 

I’ve mentioned earlier that spray paints are best for beginners, but using acrylic paints has its own set of benefits as well. For instance, acrylic paints dry faster and can be cleaned with water.

However, it can get hard to get a perfectly even coat of paint with acrylic paints. Still, if you’re very new to the field of 3D printing and you’d like to better your post-processing, acrylic paints are actually a great way to start.

You can find high-quality acrylic paints near where you live in local stores or online. The Apple Barrel PROMOABI Acrylic Craft Paint Set (Amazon) is a top-rated product that’s priced affordably and includes 18 bottles, with each of them being 2 oz in quantity.

At the time of writing, the Apple Barrel Acrylic Craft Paint Set has more than 28,000 ratings on Amazon and an awesome 4.8/5.0 overall rating. Moreover, 86% of customers have left a 5-star review at time of writing.

People who bought this acrylic paint set for painting 3D printed parts say that the colors look fantastic and the adhesion of the paint is just right.

One user has said that they didn’t even feel the need to sand or prime the model before painting. They jumped right in with these paints and a few extra coats got the job done perfectly.

Another user who mentions their zero experience with painting says that this acrylic paint set is very easy to use, and the colors have a lot of variety to them.

It’s recommended that you apply acrylic paints to your model after priming. One person mentions that after post-processing their part and then painting the model, they were able to get rid of the print lines and create a high-quality part.

It’s worth watching the following video to get an idea of how to print 3D prints with acrylics.

Best Primer for SLA Resin Prints

The best primer for SLA resin prints is the Tamiya Surface Primer that’s priced competitively and is simply unmatched for preparing high-quality models and SLA prints. When sprayed correctly, you may not even have to do extra sanding because the quality is great.

You can buy the Tamiya Surface Primer easily on Amazon. It is currently labeled as the “Amazon’s Choice” and boasts a 4.7/5.0 overall rating. In addition, 84% of the people who bought it have left a 5-star review for this product at time of writing.

One customer in their review has said that this Tamiya primer goes evenly on models and is very easy to apply. It makes sure that the follow-up paint will stick nicely to your model thereby producing a terrific finish.

It’s recommended to use the primer and paint from the same brand for the best results. Thousands of people have chosen Tamiya as their choice and they have not been disappointed.

Luckily, Amazon has a whole host of plastic-compatible Tamiya paints, so you should have no trouble finding one for your SLA resin prints.

You can see how 3D Printed Props uses a Tamiya surface primer to create a stunning model in the video below.

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