A Painting Guide: From Raw 3D Print to Con Ready, with Lojak

Lojak

Member
Hello Makers, Spartan, and Hell Jumpers!

I want to share my painting method with you all. From raw FDM print to convention floor ready. Pictures included. Hopefully it will be a help to someone. Also, it will be handy for me to refer to later once I start painting my Mark Vb and other future projects. I'll include a list of general materials and what they cost in USD. Documentation is great!

Please feel free to discuss and critique! I do ask that you keep in mind that throughout a creative project decisions are made for various reasons: Time, Aesthetic, Effort v. Reward, and so on. This is my general methodology, and I use other techniques as needed. Like, dry brushing bright silver over dark gun metals to increase depth of texture.

Overview
I'll be using some Mandalorian Shin armor by MysteryMaker made from PLA+ as the main canvas. The major steps are Sand & Prime, Base Color & Masking, Shadows, Weathering & Details, Wash, then Seal. Since this is supposed to be magic indestructible space metal, this makes some artistic choices easier: i.e. bottom layer can be unblemished silver.
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Sanding & Prime
Newer FDM printers can really create some incredibly smooth objects, but at this time those machines can be a bit price prohibited. To get a smooth print that is ready for base colors, you will need to knock back those pesky layer lines, especially the ones on angular surfaces and where support material was. The severity of the layer lines, plastic scarring, or glue will determine what grit of sand paper to start with. The lowest I usually go is 80 grit. Note, when I am using anything that rough I avoid sharp edges as the sandpaper will literally tear off layers of plastic. If the raw print looks okay, I start with 120 grit, then move to 220 grit.

I am using a machine hand sander for any big surfaces and using sandpaper wrapped around a sponge or wood to hand sand the details, edges, and other hard to reach spaces.

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(Dark plastic colors make it a lot easier to see where you have sanded.)

After a wash & dry to remove dust, apply 2-4 coats of sand-able spray primer, 15-30mins in between coats. The first pass doesn't need to be full coverage, just get a good layer down from 8-10 inches away, back-and-forth at a smooth rhythm. For the next coats go slower, making sure to not to leave big gaps between your passes. If you see it running, back off that spot and let it dry. This can be sanded later.

After 24hrs of letting the paint cure, I grab the Bondo putty or something similar. This dry time is required because sometimes the Bondo will reactive and strip off the paint. I slap it on any place where I can still see major layer lines (edges mainly), gouges from sanding, or seams from the glue up. Depending on the product you are using, wear gloves, a fume rated respirator, and any other PPE suggested by the product. I like to use bits of discarded EVA foam to apply the putty since the foam is flexible enough to follow a curve but rigid enough to smooth things out. If you are using Bondo, you can mix the putty with acetone to thin it out, turning it into a paint. This is very handy for dealing with complex shapes.
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After the putty sets, put on your respirator, sacrificial clothes, and go to safe place to sand. Red dust of death will coat everything! I will start at 120 grit and go up to 220 grit again. If it's a focal piece like a helmet or chest piece, I will work up to 320 grit maybe even 600 grit. You should start seeing the color of the plastic bleed back through the primer color. After a good sanding making sure to catch edges and creases, I will wash the piece and wipe it off with shop towel to remove any dust.
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And this is why this portion is called Sanding & Priming, because once you've primed it again you will putty it up and sand back down again. Go back and forth between these processes, increasing the fineness of your sandpaper each time until you are happy with the result. Again, if this is a focal piece I push to high grits, but for these shins I stopped at 320 after two rounds of sanding. And remember that weathering can hide most sins.
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Base Colors

You can start slapping these down as soon as the primer layer is tacky, roughly 15-30mins later. It helps if all your spray cans are from the same company and family line, the chemistry is more compatible. Like priming, the first coat doesn't have to cover every inch, it just helps the next coat stick better. The next coats are slower and more "wet" looking. Be aware that color spray paints are usually thicker and quicker to build up and make runs. If that happens just sand it down and spray your color back on. However, don't spray too far away as the paint will "dry" midair and create a rough speckled texture. Somewhere between 6"-10". You will probably need 3-4 coats again.
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If the base color is yellow, orange, lime green, or another light and bright color make sure to prime with grey or white. These colors have "weak" coverage and will take more coats to reach full vibrancy. For fun, experiment with your prime color and the base color, paying attention to warm and cold tones.

If you need to have multiple colors on one piece, don't worry! Painter's tape and the stash of grocery bags under your kitchen sink are here to help. Before applying tape, make sure the paint is completely cured, roughly 24 hours. I will use a narrower cut of tape to go down first so I can more accurately mark off the area, then I'll add wider tape on top of that. If I need to block off a huge area, I will cut up plastic bags and have them taped down. This saves on the headache of complex geometries and reduces time pulling and cutting tape. (Also, enjoy a little peelies.)
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It is very handy to have a bottle of paint that matches your spray color. You can cover up any blotches and sharpen edges. These blotches are usually caused by the tape not being sealing to the object completely, which let paint slip through. If that does happen, don't fret. Just hand paint back over the mistakes or incorporate it into your weathering. Here is an example of it going quite bad for me but was totally salvageable.
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Shadows
This step can be swapped around with Weathering & Detail. I go back and forth depending on the phase of the moon. This step does use an airbrush, but can be done with a sponge brush or clever application of a black wash. I would like to make the case that airbrushes are great for their cost - which isn't as high as you might think - and any tool investment is a good investment (not a financial advisor, stonks go up).

Depending on if the armor has a cold or warm color palate, I will spray a dark black (cold) or dark brown (warm) in the corners of any downward facing edge or any shapes that are recessed. I want to make the geometry of the armor readable from 12ft away. If the area is too narrow or small, don't worry the later wash will get it.
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If you do have any decals, I would make sure they are on before shadowing, just so the lighting looks the same. Some decals might need a spray of varnish over them before any paint goes over them, just know your material and what it needs before water or oil base paint hits it (ask me why I'm cautious about this).

Weathering & Details
*Depending on your spray paint choice, you might need to do a coat or two of matte varnish. If you try to paint over glossy finishes, the paint will just run.

Up to this point, you can use masks like tooth paste or mustard that can be dabbed over a layer of paint then washed off later to create a chipped paint effect. This is nice because it will actually create a 3d texture. However, I have found this process slow and less controllable for my tastes. It requires each color of weathering have a layer of paint applied. That is more masking, more cans of paint, more time drying. I only use this method if it will harmonize with the rest of the steps of my project.

To give a chipped paint effect by hand you will need to keep two things in mind: What is the order of paint layers you want to replicate? And, dark versus light. For these shins I had it fairly easy. The theoretical paint layers would be lighter blue, a dark blue/purple/black primer, and space metal surface.

I will start by hand brushing on the next layer down, the darker blue/purple. The shape is dependent on the damage: blaster marks, scuffs against another hard surface, claw/blade strike, or just paint flaking off edges that would see the most contact. To help sell the story of your paint job, remember that damage is usually linear, only hitting high points and skips over valleys. It would even jump to the next piece of armor if its on the same path. I will also use this dark color to add little scratches here and there with a few little brush flicks.

Inside that dark initial shape, go to next color down in the paint order, which hopefully is a high contrast color. Reminder, not every scratch needs to cut all the way down, so leave a few sections alone, and keep thinking about the path of destruction. Repeat until you are satisfied.
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Remember to have contrasting color values next to each other to help make the damage pop. A pastel yellow inside of olive green will stand out more if the in-between color is a dark brown or black. General Rule: Contrast (Bright edges next to dark recesses) = higher visibility/readability. In practice, use this technique to outline your armor. At the end of this post there is a final product picture of two costumes, look at the red and ivory shins and gauntlets to see an example of using chipping to define shapes.

Silver is also a bright color and needs a dark contrast, you can see this on the first draft of the Bo Katan weathering. When the silver is ringed by the dark blue it pops a whole lot more. Not a hard and fast rule, of course. Variation is always nice. This technique is mainly for making things pop.

Note, for these shins, I should have made the damage bigger. In my hand the damage seems sizeable, but across the room they disappear.

Something I added later to all my blaster damage was lightly shooting black through my air brush along the path of the damage or around a direct hit. Then I went back in with a brush to add silver back.
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Wash
For my washes I like using oil paints, especially on metallics (See jet pack further down). For this technique, mix together some black and brown (warm) oil paints. Less black for brighter pieces. More brown for more grime. Use blue or blue-purple if you just need to increase the coldness of the wash without the desaturation and darkness of black. Lime greens or yellow for warmth. Add white spirits until to the paint the consistency of whole milk. Brush everywhere and prepare for a runny mess. The lower the quality of the paint the more grainy it will be because the paint pigment and medium breaks down faster (in general terms).
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After 15-30mins, use makeup sponges with a few drops of mineral spirts to wipe away excess and smear around the rest. Just have fun here. Pat it. Swipe it. Swirl it. I focus on moving paint toward the shadowed areas. If you take off too much paint, just slap it back on. Note, if your current finish is glossy or satin, the oil paint will run to corners and hardly stain flatter surfaces. This can be the desired effect.
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Bonus move is to take straight brown oil paint and dot it in places you want muddy. Then smear it and wipe it. You can even try to make it look streaky, like water run-off. Orange for rust effect. Oil washes are really just about going full kindergarten art time. Get messy.

Here is why oil washes are the best for metallic objects. Fight me in the comments, Brah!
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Due to the nature of most metallic paints, they often just come out glittery rather than uniform in their... shiny-ness? (I'm sure there is a word for it). The oil wash usually knocks back that glittery look by muting everything. This does mean you might need to go back and hand paint back in some sharp edges and what not.

Seal
Fairly straight forward here. Pick your finish, Matte, Satin, Gloss, or some mix, then apply 3-4 coats just like before. Make sure to give it a good 24-48 hours to fully cure to make sure your stuff is ready for a little bouncing around on the con floor. I'm a fan of matte finishes. The shinier something is the more light dances off of it creating new shapes and edges, which can muddle the shape of the armor form 12ft away.

The final product (for Bo Katan, my Captain Fordo wasn't 100%)
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Remember to take your time and that weathering hides many many sins. Best of luck as you finish your armor or hard props!

When it comes time, I'll add my technique on muzzle burn for all those barrels going BRRR!

General Materials with Estimated Cost USD
Primer Spray Paint Can $8-$12
Color Spray Paint Can $8-$12
Orbital Sander $30
Sandpaper Pack of 5 $5-$10
Fume Respirator $38 (Don't be cheap here, check to make sure your PPE is rated for what you are doing)
Medical Gloves Box $10
Safety Glasses $8
Bondo Putty Tube $13
Acetone Bottle $3
Painter Tape $5 (Price can increase for narrower rolls, but you can just cut tape into desired width)
Synthetic Paint Brush Set $4-$10
Acrylic Miniatures Paint Bottle $5-$8
Airbrush Kit $80-$150
Airbrush Clear Bottle $12-$15 (A must get if not included in kit)
Airbrush Thinner Bottle $8-$13 (A must get if not included in kit)
Oil Paint Tube $7-$$$ (Oil Paints vary a ton on color and brand, prices can reach $50 a small tube)
Mineral/White Spirits Bottle $8
Bulk Makeup Sponges $14
Varnish Spray Can $8

Add mixing bowls, cardboard boxes, toothpaste, and other household items to complete the list.
 
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Nice write up Lojak ! We can see if Cadet will move it over to the tutorial section. Though I'm not sure if we can put it in the index since it is not Halo.

In other news, it looks like you qualify to join a regiment! You just have to post in this thread and request to join the Southern Regiment:

 
Nice write up Lojak ! We can see if Cadet will move it over to the tutorial section. Though I'm not sure if we can put it in the index since it is not Halo.

In other news, it looks like you qualify to join a regiment! You just have to post in this thread and request to join the Southern Regiment:

Thread moved.

LoJack has requested Southern Reg status, but did so during the election cycle. Once the new staff are settled in the request will be processed.
 
Great thread! Love your weathering and how you added some black along the blaster damage , will definitely try that out for my project!
 

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