Painting Plastic With Acrylic Paint: How To Make It Work

A young boy preparing to paint a plastic tank model with a small paint brush.

Have you ever wondered if you can paint on plastic? Will acrylic paint harm or transform plastic in a detrimental way?

What kind of steps would you need to take to ensure good results when painting on plastic? If those or similar questions have been on your mind, then you’re in the right place.

Can you use acrylic paint on plastic? Acrylic paint is an excellent choice for painting plastics. In most cases, plastic should be sanded and thoroughly cleaned first. Adding two coats of primer before painting is recommended for good results and proper adhesion. When paint is dry, a sealant can be applied to protect the paint.

If you’re interested in learning the step-by-step process for painting plastic with acrylic, then this article is for you.

Here, you will learn how to choose the right kind of paint, prep the plastic so that the paint will properly adhere to the surface, and seal the paint so that it is protected from the elements and general wear and tear. 

How To Paint Plastic With Acrylics

In order to paint plastic with acrylics, the first thing you will need to do is gather appropriate supplies. You will need:

  • Acrylic paints
  • Soap and water
  • An old rag
  • Sandpaper
  • Primer
  • Sealant
  • Paintbrushes of assorted sizes
  • Mediums or thinner depending on the viscosity of your chosen paint
  • Newspapers or a disposable tablecloth to protect your painting area
  • Old paint clothes or an apron to protect your clothing
  • Gloves (optional) to keep the paint off your skin

Safety should always be top priority. Know and follow the recommended safety precautions when using acrylic paint. If you need a reminder, check with my article here.

Step 1. Select Your Paint

You can choose acrylic paints that come in either the spray or liquid variety. Spray paint tends to be a better choice if you are looking to cover larger, more uniform areas. 

Regular liquid paint is a good option if you are painting a plastic item that needs detail work or has an interesting shape. 

If you are painting a plastic item that will see a lot of use or will be exposed to the elements, it’s a good idea to choose an acrylic paint that is designed for use on exteriors.

Exterior paint is usually more durable than other kinds of acrylic paint and can protect the plastic from harsh conditions and moisture.

Most acrylic paints have a matte finish, but if you are looking to create a little bit of shine you can also purchase acrylic paints that have satin or glossy finishes.

Step 2. Clean and Sand the Plastic

Dip a rag in soapy water, and clean any dirt, dust, or debris from the plastic item.

Once the item has been thoroughly cleaned, you will want to either let it air dry or dry it off with a clean cloth. 

If the surface of the plastic is very slick or has bumps or imperfections, you can use sandpaper to gently scuff the surface of the plastic.

This can help to grind down obvious flaws while improving the adhesiveness of the surface. 

Step 3. Apply Primer

You will want to apply at least two coats of primer to the surface. The primer helps to make the paint stick to the plastic and also helps to protect the plastic surface from damage.

Apply a thin, even coat of primer, and allow it to fully dry before applying the next coat.

Some acrylic paints have built in primer, allowing you to skip this step. 

Step 4. Paint

You want to make sure that the primer is completely dry before applying the first coat of paint.

Depending on the color and finish, acrylic paint often requires more than one coat to look its best.

Wait until each layer is dry to the touch before applying the next layer.

If you are applying very thick coats of paint, it may take several hours to several days until the paint is completely dry.

Step 5. Seal the Paint

Sealing the paint helps to protect the plastic item from damage incurred by general wear and tear as well as from exposure to the elements.

Once the paint is totally dry, you can apply a coat of sealant or varnish to the item. Sealant and varnish can come in spray or liquid versions, and drying times vary by brand.

Deciding on the Type of Acrylic Paint for Painting Plastic

For best results, you want to choose a high-quality acrylic paint.

It’s always a good idea to work in a well-ventilated space, but you might also consider picking a paint that has low Volatile Organic Compound (VOC) content.

Paints with low-VOC content tend to have less of an odor and are better for the environment (and your lungs) than their more toxic counterparts.

Best Primer for Acrylic Paint on Plastic

It’s generally a good idea to always prime the surface before applying acrylic paint to plastic.

Choosing a good quality primer will help to make your finished product look its very best. 

Rust-Oleum Specialty Plastic Primer

Rust-Oleum 209460 Plastic Primer Spray
  • The product is 12oz wht plas primer
  • Easy and simple use kit

Rust-Oleum Plastic Primer Spray is a primer specially made for plastic items.

This is a great choice for priming the surfaces of plastic mailboxes, lawn furniture, and other hard-to-paint plastic surfaces.

The Army Painter Color Primer

The Army Painter Color Primer Spray Paint, Matt...
  • PREMIUM SPRAY PRIMER: Contains 1 400ml Spray Primer Can, created with a very fine pigment that makes...
  • MATCHES COLOR 100%: Our colour primer spray paint are made to match our line of Warpaints and are...

The Army Painter Color Primer is designed for use on painted models, and comes as a colored paint and primer combo, making application fast and simple. 

Best Sealant for Acrylic Paint on Plastic

Applying sealant to your painted plastic is the best way to ensure a long-lasting finish.

Aleene’s Acrylic Sealer Spray

Aleene's 26412 Spray Gloss Finish, 6 Oz Acrylic...
  • Acrylic sealer spray provide a protective, clear finish
  • Give a glossy luster to virtually any indoor or outdoor project

Aleene’s Acrylic Sealer Spray is a fast-drying, non-yellowing sealant that can be used on both indoor and outdoor projects and dries to a glossy finish.

Americana Acrylic Sealer/Finish

Americana Acrylic Sealer/Finish Aerosol Spray...
  • Americana acrylic sealer/finish aerosol spray
  • Provides a protective coating that dries quickly and to an even durable finish

Americana Acrylic Sealer is a fast and easy spray-on finish that usually only requires one coat for total coverage.

Related Questions:

How Well Does Acrylic Paint Stay on Plastic?

If you have properly prepared the surface before applying primer, paint, and sealant, acrylic paint will stay on plastic as long if not longer than it does on other surfaces.

Choosing the right paint for the environment and usage that the item requires are the keys to durability.

How Do You Keep Acrylic Paint From Cracking on Plastic?

To keep acrylic paint from cracking, you will want to apply it in thin, even layers, and allow each layer to completely dry before applying the next.

It’s also a good idea to use a sealant that is made by the same company that manufactures the acrylic paints that you use.


Painting on plastic with acrylic paints is easy and fun and with a little bit of preparation and planning, can result in a fabulous outcome.

Take your time when applying primer, paints, and sealants to ensure even coats and a durable shell. 

Last update on 2023-06-07 at 08:58 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

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I am a writer and an artist taking opportunities every day to transform my dreams into reality. I love learning new things and am always creating and innovating. I worked as an Art Instructor, teaching painting and art techniques to artists of all levels and ages. I have hosted countless paint parties and taught children’s art classes both in my home as well as an art teacher at a Montessori school.