Professional Painting

Jason 078

Well-Known Member
The paint job is one of the most important steps that anyone can ever do. A good paint job can make poor armor look good. It can make a good armor look amazing. Or, it can make a great armor look like a pile dropped by a Grunt. In other words, you don’t want to skimp on the paint job.

I have been painting for a number of years. Not car or house painting, but painting armors and helmets for friends. Everything from Clone to Boba Fett, I’ve painted almost all of it. Not just painting, but also weathering. Compared to other paint jobs, mine have stood out as having a better look. I would like to share my secrets with you now.

Needed items:

Acrylic paint, black
Acrylic paint, brown
Acrylic paint, tan
Finish, semi-gloss or satin
Paint, aluminum color
Paint, flat black color
Paint, armor color(s)
Petroleum jelly
Primer, gray automotive self-etching
Sandpaper, 60-grit
Sandpaper, 100-grit
Sandpaper, 140-grit
Sandpaper, 180-grit
Sandpaper, 220-grit
Sandpaper, 260-grit
Sandpaper, 300-grit
Spray bottle
Windex (or other blue window washing fluid)

So, here are the steps for an amazing paint job. Remember to follow the instructions on your paint cans very carefully.

1) Sand down your armor with a 60 grade sandpaper to give it a not-smooth surface. Most people do not like to do this as they want their armor to be smooth; however this makes it easier for the primer to completely do its job. Don’t forget to do the inside of the armor too.

2) Wash the armor piece with warm water and a light detergent (dish soap) to remove all of the dust and grit. This is necessary to keep it from affecting the paint and to ensure the paint is bonding strictly to your item and not to the dust.

3) Mask off anything that you don't want to get painted. If you have already attached your straps or other non-hard part accessories, wrap them in a piece of plastic and mask them with painters tape. The plastic is meant to keep it dry and protected, as well as ensure that it is not hit with the paint.

4) Give it a layer of primer. I prefer to use an automotive self-etching primer. The self-etching primer ensures that your primer layer is strong and is able to take a beating. It is generally a good idea to primer the entire piece, inside and out. Another reason for the self-etching primer is for strength. Don't paint it until it drips, either. Just give it a single coat of paint and make sure it is dry before continuing (read the can for details).

5) Sand the primer with a 100 grade sandpaper. Be thorough, as this will ensure a professional look to your overall paint job. You should also not forget to sand down the inside of the armor piece as you aren't quite done with priming it yet. Don't sand all of the primer off, just sand down the item to make it look a little smoother.

6) Wash and dry your helmet again. Soap, water, you know the drill.

7) Give it another coat of primer. Yes, that is two coats so far.

8) Sand it down again. This time, you should up the sandpaper to the 140-grit mark. You should notice that the first sand job marks are already invisible and the item is looking rather smooth. Well, this is a good sign.

9) Wash it again. I bet you are starting to see a pattern here.

10) Three! Three coats of primer! Ah ah ah. This is your final coat of primer. Again, you need only one layer. You probably can see, as it is drying, that there are relatively no imperfections visible on your armor anywhere.

11) One more time sanding it down, this time I would suggest 180-grit. You can see and feel how smooth it has become now, can't you? Well, this isn't the best part… that comes later.

12) Wash, rinse, repe… I mean dry.

13) Now, it is time to lay down your first layer of paint. If your armor is supposed to be metal, then this should be a metallic color. Don’t use silver or anything like that, it is too bright. I would suggest a color like aluminum. However, you are actually going to paint now! Unlike the primer, you are going to put on one coat, let it dry, and then put on a second coat. Don’t paint it until it drips, just until it is covered. Oh, this time, only paint the outside and any visible inside or under parts of the piece. Most people don't want the paint fumes up in their helmet, so just do about 1/2-inch past the rim.

14) Now, you are going to sand down the first coat of your color paint. Use a 220-grit paper this time. See how smooth and soft it is starting to feel? Well, we are almost there!

15) Wash and let it dry.

16) Here comes the fun part. Take some petroleum jelly and use it to mask off any very obvious areas of battle damage. These are the kind that seemed to shoot through to the bare metal. At this stage, you should only need less than a ½” (2cm) area masked off for each piece of weathering. Look up some WWII fighter paint jobs for reference. Though the paint is ruined by a bullet hit, the actual bare metal is just the size of the bullet.

17) Now, spray your two layers of your base color paint. Most of the time, this layer will be a flat black. It gives a good contrast to your metallic layer and looks like a carbon-fiber based armored paint over the metal. Be sure to let the first layer dry before you put on the second.

18) Use a wet cloth to wipe off the masking agent. You will notice that the edges of the paint seem to want to come up with the agent, but don’t worry about it. If they do let them; it will help ensure the realism.

19) Sand it down again using the 260-grit sandpaper. That's right; you are upping the grit for this cycle again. You will notice that the edges of your impact points seem to be evening out and that the paint of the corner pieces of your armor are thinned in places to show the metallic color, as if it is highly used.

20) Wash and let dry.

21) Lay down the petroleum jelly around your original masked areas. This time give it another ½” around. If you wanted to add the realism, make one side a little longer and thinner than the other, kind of a comet-shape. This will give it a directional effect, like the shot came from an angle and struck. Also, mask off a couple of small places to show lighter battle damage that didn’t penetrate to the metal (again, smaller is generally better). Finally, use masking tape to section off anything you want to stay black, such as recessed areas, vents, control boards, etc. Be careful and use a hobby knife to make sure the edges are crisp looking.

22) This is your final coat of paint for your item. This time, use whatever color you want the world to see as your own. If you are a pink Spartan, then make it pink. As before, two layers. Make sure that each one is dry before applying the next.

23) Again, wipe off the masking agent. You will notice that the edges around the metal look a little more ragged and might tear back a little. Again, this is all part of the plan.

24) Sand it down using 300-grit sandpaper. You are almost done. This is your last time sanding your armor. Sure, the 300-grit is akin to rubbing your armor down with a piece of silk, but it is still necessary to give it the smooth-yet-lived-in look.

25) Remove all of the masking tape (including the inset areas) and wash it again.

NOTE: If your armor does not have any accent colors or stencils, skip to Step 32.

26) Mask off any spaces for your accent color and/or lay your stencil. If it is a stripe, then mask off the entire length. If your accent is two colors, then use the wider of the two colors as the first layer. Also, use the petroleum jelly to mask off any battle damage by at least 1/4-inch (1cm) but no more than 1/2-inch around any previous battle damage (or to weather the accent).

27) Now, you are going to use one or two coats of your accent color. Let each one dry before the next.

28) Wipe off the petroleum jelly from the shape, but be careful not to remove the tape/stencil.

29) Sand it down using the 300 grade sand paper just as you did with the primary paint. Be careful not to sand through the stencil or tape to the lower paint job.

30) Remove the stencil and/or tape and wash it, letting it dry before continuing.

31) If you have a two-color stripe (such as a red stripe inside of a white one—ala Mass Effect N7 armor) or multiple colors on your stencil (such as the Boba Fett shoulder with a white background and red skull), then repeat steps 26 through 30.

32) Take the black paint and a damp cloth. Spray a thin layer of the black across any grooves, indentations, and battle damage and wipe it off immediately after. This is called black-washing, and is used to accentuate the detail of your armor. Try to wipe it off as well as you can, as the lighter the look, the better. Let it dry.

33) Give it one last wash and let it all dry.

34) Use a semi-gloss or flat finish and give it two coats. Let the first dry before the second.

35) Stand it up as if you were wearing it (mannequin, hanging from a painting string, leaning on a door, etc.). Make sure each piece is situated as if it were on your body.

36) Take your spray bottle. For every one cup (8 ounces) of window washing fluid in it, add three drops of black acrylic paint, two drops of brown acrylic paint, and one drop of tan (or your choice) acrylic paint. Shake well.

37) Spray the armor down making sure everything gets a nice even coat of the spray. After that, let it dry. You will see some of the acrylic “grit” left behind after it dries. Repeat as much as you want until you get the look you are hoping for.

35) Spray twice as much on the boots and lower shins as you did on the rest of your armor. Let each set dry before spraying the next. This will give you the appearance of walking through more gunk than you actually got on the rest of your armor.

36) Using a damp cloth, wipe your armor down lightly. This will remove the dried alcohol from the window washing fluid, but will leave the acrylic weathering.


LongShot X

Well-Known Member
I could not agree more with your process. That is a very detailed and easily understood procedure.
I really like your paragraph about how important the paint job is.
In fact, I'd like to stress that point more: The paint job is actually what the observer is seeing.

A friend of mine could not have said it better:

"Making costumes (in this case "Halo Armor") is such an art that you should be called illusionists. You make things out of stuff that I know nothing about and in such ways that it ends up looking exactly what I have seen in the video game. Take your armor. I look at the outside of the armor and then on the inside. The inside looks nothing like the outside. I expect to see REAL metal on the inside, not paper that has been reinforced with fiberglass. The paint job and detailing is what convinced me it was real metal. It really did." -- <a friend>

Best advice... Don't skimp out on the detailing of the paint job.

Thanks Jason-078 for taking the time to explain, in detail, the painting process. :)