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How to paint over chrome plastic

By: Leon Rhodes

This article is to help you learn how to paint over plastic chrome found on typical vehicle trim pieces. The process isn't difficult, anyone can do it with a little preparation and some patience.

How to paint over chrome plastic

You don't need expensive chrome spray paint for plastic or costly paint sprayers to get good results, an aerosol spray can and proper preparation will yield excellent results on any budget. The more time you spend preparing a plastic item for chrome paint the better the results will be and, typically, the better the results will be for cheaper paints and primers.

Let's get right into it.

  1. Carefully remove plastic chrome parts

  2. Removal of plastic chrome parts and trim is recommended for best painting results and to avoid over-spray onto surrounding areas. The process is the same for non-chrome plastic parts you want to apply a chrome finish on.

    If you would prefer not to remove the parts you intend to paint take the time to properly mask off surrounding areas with tape and paper.

  3. Degrease your plastic chrome

  4. After removal you will need to clean and degrease your parts to ensure proper paint adhesion. You can accomplish this with a simple soapy water solution and cloth or, if you prefer, you can use a degreasing spray product available at your local parts store.

    With the dirt and grime removed from your plastic chrome parts rinse off any residue by spraying the parts with water. Mud and dirt should clean easily, what you really want to make sure you remove is any oil residue.

  5. Gently scuff plastic chromed surfaces

  6. The next step involves gently scuffing the chrome layer to be painted over. Care not to rub through this layer is needed, the goal is to prepare the surface to receive a coat of primer.

    To aid in scuffing plastic chrome parts I recommend you use water, scuffing paste and gray scuffing pads available at from your auto-parts store. A low-dollar alternative is to mix a baking powder and water solution to the consistency of tooth paste and rub it over the chromed plastic until it looks dull.

    As in the previous step, when you finish scuffing the surface take the time to rinse away any impurities and wait until the parts are completely dry. A towel, fan or sunlight and a good breeze can help dry the parts.

  7. Apply an adhesion promoter

  8. For best overall results the first layer of spray should be an adhesion promoter. Adhesion promoters are available in aerosol can form also available at most auto-parts stores. Because of the glossy nature of chrome, even when scuffed, and the pliable nature of plastic, a thin layer of adhesion promoter, often called clear primer, is required.

    Follow manufacturer recommendations and apply a thin even coat over all chrome areas to be painted and allow sufficient dry time.

  9. Apply black etching primer

  10. 10-15 minutes after applying an adhesion promoter you can spray on a thin layer of black etching primer. This step is optional but recommended because if your chrome plastic parts sustain any chips it's nice to have a dark layer beneath the chip.

    For best results apply a second equally thin layer over the first layer of black etching primer to make sure the parts are completely primed.

  11. Choose your paint color and type

  12. Today's spray paint finishing options are such that you should pick a type of paint suitable for the finish type you want. For example, if you plan to apply a clear-coat finish some types of paint work better with specific types of finishes.

    For that reason it's best to consider the type of paint you want with the type of finish that works best with it. I recommend a dark metallic color, often referred to as 'black-out paint', to give a metal-like finish and to protect it with a glossy clear-coat finish.

    Again, follow the paint manufacturer's recommendation for best results. 2-3 thin coats of paint will be needed and can be applied 10-15 minutes apart.

  13. Protect the paint with a sealer

  14. After all the work you've put in so far you'll want to protect the paint with a sealing clear-coat. If you were hoping for a little more shine and sparkle from the paint itself this is where a glossy clear-coat finish shines.

    Good adhesion is required so that the clear-coat doesn't peel so it's best to use a paint and clear-coat combination from the same manufacturer. Additionally, it's safe to apply a thicker layer of clear-coat than you did paint but the drying time required will be greater, up to 45 minutes.

  15. Buff and wax the finished look

  16. When the sealing coat of paint has had sufficient time to dry and harden, which can be 2 days or more(read the paint label!), you can buff the paint with a polishing pad to remove any swirls or bumps that may have developed.

    Finally, car wax is optional with some paint types but recommended for others. I personally don't use wax but some swear by it, the choice is yours and it depends on the look you're after.

    Important: Clear coat finishes can require 2-3 days to fully harden, read the instructions carefully

    Tip: When it comes to most small chrome plastic parts you can often buy a clean unfinished low-cost replacement and skip some preparation cleaning efforts.

What paint will stick to plastic chrome?

Acrylic enamel is well suited to bind over chrome plastic surfaces. Krylon, Rust-oleum and VHT (Very High Temperature) by Dupli-colour each make aerosol spray paints specifically for chrome-based applications. Whichever paint is chosen the quality of the result is dependent on surface preparation.

Can you powder coat chromed plastic?

No because the plastic components typically can't withstand the heat required for a true powder coating to work. It has been tried extensively and warping of the plastic parts or peeling of the powder coating is typically the result.

Does etching primer work on chromed plastic?

Yes, if you follow the preparation procedures above, because chrome used over plastics differs from that used over metal. Etching primer typically doesn't work on chrome metal parts but it does on properly prepared chromed plastic parts.

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