Easy Steps to Ace the Painting of 3D Printed Models

PaintinHave you ever thought about painting 3D printed models? It is not a difficult, but rather enjoyable procedure. In this post we will get you through the steps of the painting process in a way that will make you grab the painting brush in no time.

Having a home 3D printer enlarges our horizon and allows us to create personalized things, according to our own liking. Used by hobbyists to 3D print cell phone cases with amazing patterns, household objects, office supplies, such as paper clips, of unusual shapes, and video games action figures, 3D printing has entered our lives and showed us that everything can be recreated with a 3D printer and that we can go as far as our imagination and creativity let us to.

Not far is the future when every household will have a 3D printer. It will definitely be a useful device for creative people. Already now all 3D printing enthusiasts are intrigued to discover all its functional capabilities and to employ them for their own pleasure. Their interest in 3D technology’s potential is constantly increasing for the last several years.

Although a cool stuff, 3D printed models are usually monochromatic. To make them look more like their prototype, it is possible to paint them, using any quality acrylic paint. The process can be time-consuming but, it’s worth the effort.

3D printed model of Mario right after printing

3D printed model of Mario right after printing

Painting 3D prints is not impossible. All it takes is a little effort and some imagination to get the model in the finished mode.

The process of PAINTING 3D printed Models

To paint the 3D model you will need acrylic paints, paintbrushes in different sizes (from small to bigger), a palette for color mixing, water and, of course, the 3D printed model to be painted.  Acrylic paints are perfect for PLA and Nylon filaments, and since these printing materials  are widely used for home 3D printers, we will focus our painting process description on them.

Step #1 Smoothing 3D prints prior to painting

Almost all 3D printed models need smoothing to have a polish surface. For many complex objects, support is used to avoid the collapse of overhang parts. In this case, the process starts with removing the support material from the actual 3D printed model. After having removed the support material, the surface of the model is rough. It is advised to sand it to make it polished.

Usually, the 3D print itself has visible lines and patterns from printing, depending on the layer height. These lines can also be sanded out with sandpaper. Once done with the sanding process, you can proceed to the next step of the process.

3D printed model after printing and smoothing

3D printed model after printing and smoothing

Smoothing process of a 3D printed object

Smoothing process of a 3D printed object

Step #2 Applying primer

Primer paint is used to prepare the object for further painting. It is used to ensure better adhesion of paint to the surface and covers all other small defects of the 3D printed model, filling in holes and fine lines. Depending on the color of the 3D print, you can apply from one to five coats of primer. Allow the model to dry between coats. Also, apply primer in horizontal or vertical lines and keep to the primer application pattern along the entire model.

Several hours after applying the last primer coat, and when the primer dried out completely, sand the model again with a fine sandpaper to smooth the surface before painting and to eliminate any roughness that appeared during the primer coating procedure.

3D printed helmet primer coated

Applying primer on 3D printed helmet

Step #3 Painting 3D prints

At this time, you can put your artistic skills to work. The model doesn’t necessarily have to be exactly like its prototype. This is quite the fun of having it 3D printed and painted by yourself. You can personalize it according to your own preferences. When painting the model, try to clean the brushes when shifting to a different color.

Also, it is advised to dilute the paint. You will want to avoid applying several layers of paint, especially on small details of the model, as this procedure will make them fade away and become indistinguishable.

Use gloves and goggles when painting the model. Allow paint to dry fully between coats. Start by painting bright-colored parts first, working your way to dark-colored ones. It is also advised to start painting from the center to the outward of the 3D printed model.

Painting 3d printed action figures

Painted Air CraftCredits to HellPaint

Step #4 Applying various effects

Now that you have painted your 3D printed model, you can either leave it the way it is, or you can apply different effects, depending on the type of model and what it represents. Effects that you can apply include golden, silver, worn out, opaque, or antique.

The worn out and antique effects are usually achieved by slightly scraping off the paint from the margins or some parts of the model. Goldish and silver effects can be achieved by spraying some gold or silver paint from spray cans or with an airbrush. Don’t be afraid to experiment.

Paint 3D prints with effectsCredits to HellPaint

3D printed models’ airbrushing

Airbrush is a technique of applying paint or dye on a surface, in our case on a 3D printed model. An airbrush is an air-operated tool that sprays paint on a surface in multiple, tiny droplets. The person that maneuvers the tool controls the amount of paint that gets applied on the surface of the object.

This technique allows blending two or more colors, with one color gradually becoming another color. Airbrush is vastly used for paper paints, murals and other types of painting.

The airbrush technique has become very popular among hobbyists and 3D printing enthusiasts because of its capability to apply finer coats of paint on the 3D models. This technique is preferred because it allows producing various effects, like opaque, stains, which are harder to be produced by hand-brushing.

Here is a video of a 3D printed lightsaber being airbrushed.

Why Coloring 3D PRINTs by yourself is a Great idea ?

  • Cost – 3D printed objects are expensive. 3D printed and painted objects are even more so. Of course, there are services that sell 3D printed painted models at an exorbitant price. But, why spend a fortune on an object which you can easily color according to your liking? Not all of us can afford this luxury.  However, spending several tens of dollars on 3D printing files, printing the model on your own 3D printer and painting it in your home is much more profitable and entertaining.
  • Customization and personalization – When you paint 3D prints by yourself, especially when it is a video/computer game inspired model, you have the freedom to customize its appearance, up to the smallest detail. You can decide on the dyes you will be using to give color to your model. It is also your decision to make about the type of paints that you will be using.
  • Fun – The painting process can really be fun. Enroll your friends and make them help you accomplish the task. Have fun with colors and techniques, experiment and don’t stop until you reach the desired result. You also get the chance to observe the entire process, from creation to final result, without leaving the comfort of your home.

See how DIY 3D printing is becoming a very popular trend nowadays and how delightful the all process can be.

  • Emotional value – We all know that we have a higher emotional connection to something we create with our own hands. This is also the case with the 3D printed objects. Once you know how much effort and ambition you’ve put into making the model to look the way it looks, you will be feeling proud of your achievements and will know that nothing is impossible unless you want it.

Read 8 Benefits of 3D Printing at Home and find out what other reasons can determine you to invest in a 3D printer and start printing at home. Total customization, possibility to control the printing process,  and no shipping costs are just  few of the advantages we talked about.  It’s a 10 minute reading, don’t pass by.


Accepting the challenge of painting 3D printed models can turn out into a really entertaining thing. Don’t rush into finding platforms that provide such services. Follow all the steps described above to make it easier for you to get a grasp of the basic process. With time, the activity will definitely become an enjoyable one.

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