Tips for Painting on Plastic

Tips for Painting on Plastic by @amandaformaro

Want to spruce up your plastic patio chairs or those plain flower pots? Maybe your kids have outgrown some of their plastic play animals and you’d like to repurpose them. Whatever the case, just because it’s plastic does not mean it’s a lost cause. Here are the basics of painting on plastic.

What Can I Paint?

  • Outdoor furniture
  • Bottles and jars
  • Storage containers
  • Closet organizers
  • Easter eggs
  • Toys
  • Trash cans
  • Light switch covers
  • Flowerpots
  • Mirrors and frames
  • Figurines
  • Plastic foliage and flowers
  • Décor accents
  • Furniture

Tip: Check your storage shed for those outdoor items you no longer use. Visit local thrift store for outdated plastic items such as wall hanging, frames, and figurines. Turn that trash into treasure with a fresh coat of paint.


Drop cloth, old sheet or newspapers
Fine grit sandpaper
Dish soap
Rubbing alcohol
Clean towel
Painter’s tape
Spray paint designed for plastic
Craft paint designed for plastic

How to Paint Plastic

Prep your item:

Clean your item thoroughly with warm water and mild dish soap. Be sure to remove any grime or greasy residue. Rinse with clean water and dry with a soft cloth or towel. Wipe down the entire surface with rubbing alcohol and allow to dry.

Spread out a drop cloth or old sheet in a well-ventilated area, and set your item in the center.

Use a fine grit sandpaper to remove any and all shiny surfaces from your item. Be careful not to press too hard so as not to scratch the surface. Plastic is nonporous and removing its shiny surface will help your paint to adhere. Use a soft, clean brush or cloth to remove all dust from the sanding process.

ANOTHER CRAFTY IDEA >>  French Fruit Wall Art

Paint your item:

  1. Once your object’s surface is completely clean and dry, block off areas you don’t want painted with painter’s tape.
  2. Before painting, read the directions on your can of spray paint. Generally, you’ll need to thoroughly shake the can before starting, and in-between applications.
  3. To ensure you have a good can of paint, or even that it’s the right color, do a test spray on a piece of cardboard, newspaper or your drop cloth.
  4. To apply, position the nozzle toward your object, and spray a light, thin layer of paint. With this first layer, your object should not be fully covered. Give each layer a few minutes to dry before adding the next one. It should take multiple thin, even layers to refresh your item’s color without over-painting.
  5. Allow your item to dry completely before displaying or using.

Product Tips:

  1. As an alternative to sandpaper you can purchase a product called liquid sander. Home Depot carries one called Klean-Strip. It cleans and removed shiny surfaces at the same time, helping to create a suitable surface for new paint. This product can be used indoors. There’s also one called Krud Kutter Prepaint Cleaner which cleans the surface and can be painted over after just ten minutes
  2. Use paints that are specifically formulated to adhere to plastics. There are several available on the market such as Krylon Fusion for Plastic®Valspar® Plastic Spray Paint, and Rust-Oleum Specialty Paint For Plastic Spray.
  3. If using regular spray paint then your item will need to be primed. Use a specially formulated primer such as Rust-Oleum Specialty Plastic Primer Spray or Krylon Indoor/Outdoor Plastic Primer.
  4. If you are painting smaller objects or need to add small details, you may find it easier to brush on your paint. Martha Stewart Crafts™ Multi-Surface Satin Acrylic Paint and Americana Multi-Surface Satin Paint can be used on plastic, and DecoArt Glass Stains are formulated to dry clear, making them ideal for recycled plastic bottles, clear cake stands and other see through plastic items.

ANOTHER CRAFTY IDEA >>  Beach Flag Suncatcher

Need some project ideas?

Here are a few creative painted plastic projects you might like:


These pretty painted plastic pots come from my friend Pauline’s blog.

how to crackle using glue

You might also like this post. My friend Suzy shares how to get the crackle effect using white glue.

how to use and choose glass paint

Shannon over at Madigan Made has some awesome tips for using glass paint and how to choose which one you need.

This post contains some Amazon affiliate links. If you happen to click through AND purchase something, a small commission will go toward maintaining this site.


  1. Will says

    I successfully painted a black plastic keyboard tray white several months ago. It got some nicks though from rough objects and the black was showing through. So, i grabbed the leftover can and sprayed the spots.

    Suddenly, the newly coats spots wrinkled and look terrible now. the new white is on top of crumpled paint.

    What to do? Need to keep this piece functional and working but looks terrible.

    Should I resand and repaint again? Any help would be really appreciated. THANKS!!


    • says

      Hi Will. Unfortunately you will probably have to sand and repaint. Most likely the reason the paint bubbled up like that is a reaction that it has to the oils that were most likely on the keyboard from human hands. The oils act as a repellent and push the new paint up, not letting it adhere, hence the crumpled look.

  2. Kt Boots says

    I have been unable to find the page, the link doesn’t go to the article and i couldn’t find it through a search either

  3. NANCYGRACE says

    Painting Basics: Plastic
    as of Jan 14 2014 the link does not seem to be working. In checking out the PG site (Small logo indicated it was Home Made Simple) I could not easily find your article. I would LOVE to read it! How can I get there without the link?

  4. jennette says

    I was given this plastic picture of hummging bird and the out line is black. I need paint to fill in the spaces between the black for color.

    • says

      Jennette – try one of the multi surface paints I mention in the product section above. I’m partial to the Americana brand, but have heard that martha’s is good too.

  5. siouxz marie says

    Great info, thanks do much! One question, tho…You mentioned a cake stand at the bottom of your article – would this paint not seep any chemicals into food stored on the cake container? Would it be safe to spray a bowl for instance and then use it to display fruit? Do you know if you could you wash the item frequently and it not peel?
    Thanks in advance,

    • says

      That’s a very good question. While there are paints that are non-toxic, none (that I know of) are approved by the FDA. Therefore food should not come in contact with the painted surface. If you were going to use a painted cake plate, I would suggest using a cardboard cake circle under the cake. And as for a painted bowl, I would line the bowl with a cloth napkin before adding food. Hope that helps!

  6. Julie says

    Two days ago I painted two different storage containers each with one of the above spray paints listed. I wanted to see which brand worked the best. Before painting, I cleaned and lightly sanded them. I can take my finger nail and scratch the paint off still. Any suggestions on what to do. Do you think it needs more time to cure?

    • says

      Hi Julie. I would first refer back to the back of the spray can. There is usually important information about any prepping that needs to be done to the surface, and more importantly, the temperature of the environment in which you are spraying. If the weather is too hot and humid, the paint will not be able to dry properly.

  7. pooja says

    hi,i want to pain plastic jars for filling cookies and adding some character to the stuff….can i use acrylic paint that we use on walls.I stay in Delhi India and cant find anything else that says its acrylic.The other option is the painting ,i mean canvas painting tubes which are also acrylic.
    plz plz plz help

    • says

      Hi Pooja. I don’t know if I will be able to help in this situation because I am not familiar with the type of paint you have available to you. What I would suggest is doing a test run with one of the plastic jars. Follow the prep instructions in this article and just paint one with the acrylic painting tubes you have available to you. I’m sorry I can’t be more help!

  8. grainne casey says

    Hi, I was thinking of painting my daughters clear plastic container for her toys. I would like to paint it on the inside so that its still shiny on the outside. Do you think this is practical or do you think the paint will just get scratched?

    • says

      Hi Grainne. I do think it would get scratched, but if what you are trying to achieve is color showing through the outside by painting the inside, there is a possible solution. You could paint the inside, then line it with fabric. That way the inside is protected, but the paint will still show through the outside. HTH!

  9. Eric says

    Any special paint that would be able to be applied to plastic forks & knives – for visual purposes only? I’m trying to tint some knives so they are translucent but the paint & adhesion promoter I use eats the plastic leaving a wavy look before I can apply the color. I need smooth tinted parts. Suggestions?

  10. Shelley says

    Hi Amanda. I’m painting clear acrylic/plastic clipboards and photo frames with names/personalized things. I need a clear sealer that will leave the frames and clipboards completely clear. I will be painting just part of them, so the rest will remain clear. The sealers I’ve tried so far leave a frosty film. Do you have any recommendations? I’d prefer a spray rather than paint-on.
    Thanks so much….

    • says

      Hi Shelley. have you tried Americana acrylic sealer spray? Definitely look for a gloss finish, I think a matte finish will leave that frosty look. Hopefully you have one set aside that you can test on? I would also check the spray paint aisle, there are so many colors and finishes now, plus clear sealers. But definitely go with gloss.

  11. Lori Freese says

    Hi i was givin the standing plastic nativity figures anything special i have to do for them to repaint them i dont think ill be able to replicate the colors on there so i figured i will have to or can i remove the paint on there and repaint with colors i choose

  12. juliet bumstead says

    hi amanda
    i have a couple of large plastic animals that i am going to restore. the owner wants them to go outside. i would prefer to hand paint rather than use aerosols.what exterior paint would you recommend to go on plastic. i very much look forward to your reply. thank you amanda

    • says

      Hi Darlene. Keeping things outside, especially something that kids will be riding on, is not something that the paint will be able to hold up to very well. Your best bet would probably be the outdoor spray paint for plastic furniture. It’s formulated for the outdoors.

  13. Sam says

    Hi! I am decorating a Starbucks reusable cup (plastic) for my friend and I was wondering how I can seal in paint safely, as I am afraid to use some of the products that other people mentioned because the cup holds consumable liquid. Or is it safe to do so? Please help!
    Thanks! :)

    • says

      Any paint that you use should not come in contact with the consumable or with a person’s lips. So if you are going to paint, you would need to stop a couple of inches below the rim on the outside of the cup. There are enamel paints that are good for glass, however, those need to be baked to cure the paint. You can air cure it, but it usually takes 21 days, and that’s what you would need to do if painting on plastic. I wouldn’t recommend it if this is something they will be using and washing regularly.

  14. kim says

    Whew!!! Wiping sweat off my brow. you just saved my hide!!! Thanks for sharing all of this. AND I’m stealing the cute honey bear idea. I want that on my outside table!! you rock!!!

  15. Lisa says

    You had posted this, which I was pleased to see because I’d wanted to “stain” clear plastic to have a transparent color:
    “DecoArt Glass Stains are formulated to dry clear, making them ideal for recycled plastic bottles, clear cake stands and other see through plastic items.” I’d used Americana transparent, because that was what was available & the transparent was a desired outcome. BUT, these glass stains need to be oven-cured after drying to ensure permanence on glass, but what about plastic? Does it still need to be heat cured, but just at a lower temperature?
    Your advice will be truly appreciated ~Lisa


  1. […] I needed small ornaments. I found a package at Hobby Lobby that were the perfect size. When I got them home and pulled the hangers off to add paint inside, I found that they had the tiniest opening EVER invented. Therefore I couldn’t just squeeze the paint from the bottle into the ornaments. I needed a different solution. I had to use watered down paint fed into an icing tip using a plastic spoon. I went through an entire package of baby wipes in the process because it just didn’t want to work. I finally got a flow going, but it took me over an hour to get them done. And what a mess! Plus I didn’t use plastic friendly paint inside the ornaments so I will probably have to redo them or replace them next year. Not smart from the woman who gives advice on how to paint on plastic! […]

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