How to Spray Paint Plastic to Look Like Metal


Last updated: July 28, 2023

Master the Art of Spray Painting Plastics to Look like Metals in this Our Comprehensive Guide.

How to spray paint plastic to look like metal.

Whether your favorite color is gold or some other rich metallic look, you don’t have to go all out for the expensive stuff

It is possible to transform ordinary plastics into beautiful vintage or contemporary accent pieces and create stunning visual effects. But that’s only if you know how to go about it. 

Plastic is typically smooth, which can present some problems when you’re trying to paint it. To successfully paint over it and get it to look like metal, you will need the right spray paint and proper prep work. 

Please continue reading to learn how to spray paint plastic to look like metal!

Can You Spray Paint Plastic to Look Like Metal

Yes, it can. All you need is the right spray paint, and you can give any plastic model a realistic metallic appearance. Good prep work is key to achieving the best possible finish. Ensure you sand lightly and prime the surface beforehand.

What Spray Paint Looks Like Metal?

If you want any item (including plastic) to look like bare metal, then you will need a metallic spray paint. Such paints usually contain tiny particles of metals such as aluminum, which help to reflect light and hence produce a shiny effect. 

Depending on the brand, they can also be used to create a chipping or similar effect that highlights the layer underneath. 

The paints typically look best indirect, natural light but still shine even in low light conditions. For the closest look to metal, choose a product that is highly reflective. 

Like other type of finishes, metallics are available in various realistic colors. The most common ones are gold, brass, burnished brass, aged brass, and silver paint.

How to Give Plastic a Metallic Look

What You Need:

  • Primer.
  • Metallic spray paint.
  • Sandpaper.
  • Clean cloth.
  • Soapy solution.
  • Paper towel.
  • Gloves and mask.

Steps to follow:

Clean the Surface

Start by removing dirt and grease on the plastic item. You can use rubbing alcohol or mineral spirits. 

After wiping the surface, rinse with a clean rag soaked in water, then allow it to air dry. 

Sand lightly

Most plastic surfaces are usually very smooth. Applying a primer directly on them might not produce the best adhesion. 

So, it’s usually a good idea to rough up the surface a bit with fine-grit sandpaper or sanding block. This will give the surface some texture and ensure the primer sticks better. 

If the plastic doesn’t look so smooth, you can skip this step.

Remove Sanding Dust

After sanding, dust the item to remove the sanding dust. You can use a large paintbrush or dry brush for this. 

Next, wash with mild soap and water. Then air dry or dry with paper towels. 

Once the surface is completely dry, mask any areas you don’t want to paint with masking tape. It’s also a good idea to cover the floor with newspaper or a drop cloth if you are spray painting indoors. 

By now, you should have your gloves, mask, and glasses on.

Apply the primer

Apply one or two coats of primer and allow at least 15 minutes in-between coats. After the second coat, leave it to dry for at least an hour, depending on the product. 

For the primer color, choose clear or black. Black primer might work better if you want the metallic color to look deeper, especially for display projects.

Make sure the primer is compatible with the plastic and paint, and ensure you follow the directions. 

Apply the paint

Once the primer dries, you can now apply the metallic paint. Make sure to follow the instructions on the label. 

Use 2 to 3 thin coat and allow each coat to completely dry before adding the next one. 

After the last coat, let it dry for at least 24 hours before you use the item. You can add a clear coat, but this is completely optional.

How to Paint Plastic to Look Like Rusted Metal

To transform plastic to look like rusted metal, you will need a reactive metal paint. Reactive metal paints contain metal flakes, which are usually iron particles or other real metals that become rusty when activated. 

The paints are typically applied with an activator or oxidization solution.

Follow the instructions on the label to apply the paint. Here are some tips:

  • We recommend two coats of the base color followed by two coats of activator.
  • The rust effect usually begins to show up after the activator has been applied. It may take up to an hour before it’s noticeable. The full impact is usually seen within 12 hours, depending on the product.
  • Make sure the surface is clean and well-prepared before applying the base coat. Use an appropriate primer that ia compatible with the substrate, and remove all sanding dust beforehand.
  • It’s always a good idea to test spray an inconspicuous area before moving on to the main project.
  • The manner in which you apply the activator will determine whether the rust or other patina effect is even or irregular. Proper positioning of the material is also important.
  • Besides plastics, most reactive metal paints will also work on glass, wood, walls, and other materials.
  • After applying the paint, you can add a transparent top coat for additional protection.

How to Make Plastic Look Like Galvanized Metal

The process for painting plastic to look like galvanized metal is similar to the general steps described above. 

The key is to use a metallic spray paint that has the closest look to galvanized steel and bonds to plastic. Also, you will need a plastic primer; it could be a black or clear primer.

How to spray paint plastic to look like metal.

The steps are summarized as follows:

  1. Start by cleaning the surface. Wipe with warm soapy water and rinse off with clean water. Then let it dry completely.
  2. For every smooth plastic surfaces, lightly sand to give it a dull texture.
  3. Next, apply a primer that is compatible with the item. A black primer will help create a deeper galvanized metal look. One or two coats of primer are enough. Allow to dry.
  4. Once the primer dries, you can apply the paint according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Allow it to fully cure before using the item.

How to Make Plastic Look Like Gold

To give plastic a gold look, apply 2-3 coats of your favorite metallic gold spray paint and let it dry. Then, finish off with a gliding wax like Antique Gold Rub n Buff

The use of wax is completely optional, but it will add dimension to the product and produce the closest look to real gold. 

For the best metallic gold spray paint, we highly recommend the Rust-Oleum American Accents Metallic Gold 2X Spray, which also includes a primer and can be used on both interior and exterior surfaces. 

Besides spray paint, other ways you can transform plastic into gold look-alike include using gold paper decoupage, gold mineral paint, shiny contact paper, metallic wax finish, and genuine gold leaf.

How to Make Plastic Look Like Chrome

You can easily create a chrome effect on plastic by using a dedicated chrome spray paint. Ensure the paint is suitable for use on plastic and select a compatible primer. 

The process is pretty similar to the ones above; the only real change is that you will be using a chrome spray paint. The steps are summarized as follows:

  1. First, prep the surface by removing dirt and oil.
  2. Next, apply a black primer that is compatible with the chrome paint. One or two coats of primer is usually enough.
  3. Finally, apply the 2-3 light coats of the paint, allowing enough drying time between each coat.
  4. If you like, you can seal everything with a clear coat, but this is optional.

What is The Best Paint to Make Plastic Look like Metal?

The best paint to make plastic look like metal is a metallic spray paint. This could be a regular metallic spray or one that comes with an oxidation solution depending on the type of metal look you want to achieve.

FAQs -How To Spray Paint Plastic to Look Like Metal

Does spray paint last on plastic?

This depends on the type of spray paint, surface preparation, and environmental conditions. For instance, some spray paint might peel sooner after you apply them without a primer. In general, most specialty spray paint can last up to 3 years or more when correctly applied.

Can you spray paint plastic without primer?

Some metallic paints include primer; if you’re using any of such products, you can skip priming the plastic. In general, we highly recommend priming plastic before painting, even if the product you’re using already includes a primer. This should be done after you’ve sanded and cleaned the surface. For the best results, use a plastic-specific primer. 

Can you paint plastic to look like chrome?

Yes, chrome paint can be used on any surface, including plastic. Also, chrome paint has a higher reflection rate than regular paint because it contains silver nitrate. This makes it great for plastic. Besides plastic, you can also use the paint on glass, metal, wood, and even ceramic. One way to be sure is to check the product label.

Does chrome spray paint work on plastic?

Yes, chrome spray paint works well for plastic surfaces. However, make sure the product is meant to be used on plastic. It’s also a good idea to test spray a small area just to be sure. Make sure the plastic surface is completely dry and clean before using the chrome paint.

How long does spray paint take to dry on plastic?

This depends on the type of spray paint and prevailing weather. In general, most spray paints dry to touch in 20-60 minutes. But full curing usually occurs after at least 24 hours. So, don’t be in a hurry. 

Content Summary – Spray Painting Plastic to Look Like Metal

To conclude, you don’t need to spend a lot of money on metal-finished items. Instead, you can transform your everyday plastics into beautiful accent pieces or furniture. 

This works well for plastic bins, boxes, baskets, vases, lamps, bookends, and other items. 

Besides making your plastic look like metal, painting it will give it a new life and restore its shine. It is the fastest way to achieve a dramatic makeover. 

Of course, preparation is key to achieving the best possible finish. So, make sure to clean and prime the surface beforehand. 

Let us know if you have any more questions, and we will try our best to help.

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