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The best thing about painting your cars is that you can choose how hardcore you want to get. You can go all out and treat painting your diecast as you would any other model, with detail and fancy designs, or you can just have some fun and throw a new color on your car. Painting your cars is also the easiest type of customizing. You can easily paint a car in an afternoon.
If you follow a different process that seems to work, please share your methods. This guide focuses on how to get your car ready to paint and various techniques for painting. I start with bare metal body and work my way up.
Tools and materials
- (1) Can of Aircraft Remover paint stripper (get this at AutoZone or other car parts store)
- (1) One quart jar or paint can
- (1) Coat hanger or bendable wire
- (1) Small wire brush
- (2) Small buckets for water
The CliffsNotes version
In short, you’re stripping off the original paint leaving you with the bare metal body. Then you prime the body with normal flat primer, then paint with your choice of paints. This technique requires that you disassemble your car first, do not try to follow this guide otherwise.
Stripping the original paint
So far the Aircraft Remover paint stripper is the best and fastest way to remove the paint from your cars, leaving only the diecast body. The stripper chemical has the consistency of pudding.
Always wear gloves when you use the paint stripper, it is harsh. It will burn your skin and will remove just about any type of finish from any surface. Use the paint stripper in an open area on a tarp or old bed sheet. You might also want to wear work glasses or goggles to protect your eyes from possible chemical splatter.
Fill your quart jar/can up about half way with the stripper and then take the car body (metal body, no plastic!) and hook it with a bent coat hanger. Then submerge the car body in the stripper and let it sit for at least 15-minutes. After 15-minutes, lift up the car with your hook and tap it on the edge of the can to remove the bulk of the ooze. You may see the paint slide right off the car into the can, this is okay.
Then with the car body still on the hanger, dip it into a cup or jar of water (tap water is fine). Wiggle it around to rinse off any left over paint stripper and paint flecks. Then take it and put it into a shallow bucket of water. In the bucket, take the wire brush and use it to remove any gunk that may be left in the cracks and any paint that has yet to come off. Then dry the metal body off and you should have a clean and bare metal body ready for priming.
You can reuse the paint stripper for quite a while. Your jar of stripper will start to collect paint chunks as you dip more cars, but this is okay. The paint stripper will still work. You’ll only need to add more paint stripper as you lose it when you pull out cars. It’ll get gunky, don’t worry.
Prep for paint
Once you have your bare metal body dry it’s ready for priming. I use your everyday flat-gray spray primer which can be found at just about any home store or auto store.
I took a wire coat hanger and bent it to create a support for the car while I’m spraying. The coat hanger lets the car sit even while it lets you spray from all sides, even the bottom. I sit the coat hanger on top of an old stool or box while I spray paint.
I usually give the car two coats of primer before I apply color. Primer coats should dry pretty quick, within a 15 minutes or so and they should be good to go.
When it comes to painting your cars you have several options. I’ve painted cars with acrylic paints, enamel paint, and spray paint. Each type of paint has its advantages.
Spray Paint - This is by far my favorite method of painting. Not only is it the quickest but it gives you the consistency you want. Nothing beats spraying painting your car. I use normal spray paint but if you have an air brush handy that works well too.
I’ve found that Rustoleum UltraCover 2x works the best when it comes to non-model spray paint. They are available at Home Depot and come in a good assortment of colors. They might seem pricey at about $3 a can but a single can will cover dozens of cars.
The Rustoleum paint also covers well so you should only need one good coat on your car. Be aware that if you choose to do a second coat that some of the molding details – like the door lines and trunk – may get lost if the paint is too thick. With this paint you’ll get nice color with a good gloss that may let you skip clear coating.
Acrylic Paint - Acrylic paint is more flexible when it comes to color because you can mix your own colors. And since you will be (probably) be painting acrylics with a brush, you can get detailed in the designs and colors. The one downside to acrylics is that you’ll see the brush strokes when you fill in large areas of color. You just can’t avoid this but if you want special colors or effects then this is probably your best choice. Acrylics also clean up very easily and are very forgiving, so if you mess up you can just wipe it off and start over.
Enamel Paint - Enamels are your typical model paints that usually comes in the tiny jar, like Testors paint. This paint is also applied with a brush but enamels hide your brush strokes better than acrylics. Enamels also come in varieties of gloss too so you won’t have to worry about clean coating.
You’ll find that enamels like Testors come in more automotive colors, like reds, yellows, and silvers if you’re interested in more authentic colors. On the downside, enamels require some extra clean-up with paint thinner/turpentine and are less forgiving then acrylics. If you mess up with enamels you’re likely to have to start over from scratch.
Clear coat for shine
If you used acrylics or other non-gloss paint you’ll want to clear coat your car. Even if you used a gloss-based color paint, adding a clear coat is never a bad idea for protection and it will make your car a little extra-glossy. Just grab any high gloss clear spray from your local hobby store and spray it on after your base paint has dried.
One warning about the spraying on gloss is thickness. Be aware when you spray so you don’t get too much gloss concentrated in one area so that it runs. The gloss spray may pool in corners of your car and may effect your color coat. In one case where I painted a car white and spray on too much gloss, it turned the white part yellow.
I typically give a finished car two coats of clear since I spray on each very lightly to avoid the pooling. I’m of a mind that thinks you can’t have too much clear coat. The gloss coat will protect and shine, both good things.