Get a Great Finish on Your RC Body with Spray Paint

Use These Tips to Ensure a Great Finish

rc car
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Spray paint is one of the more affordable and easy-to-learn methods for painting the body for your RC vehicle. It's also super fast and will give you great-looking results. Just follow these tips, and you'll have a hobby car, truck, or plane you can be proud of.

Use the Right Paint

There are many types of spray paint. Some RC body painters recommend only using those products developed specifically for use on Lexan or other polycarbonate plastic used to make RC bodies. Others have good results with any old off-the-shelf spray paint or other paints such as automotive paint. Your first time out, you should probably stick with spray paints made for plastic RC bodies, such as Tamiya or Pactra.

Do Your Prep

One of the reasons some paint jobs don't look good or don't last is not because of the paint or the painting method but because of a lack of preparation before painting. Clean the body thoroughly with warm, soapy water, and then make sure to dry it thoroughly. At all times, handle the body from the outside so you don't get oils from your hands onto the surfaces to be painted. Even small amounts of oil can keep the paint from sticking.

Scuff the Painting Surface

While not a step that everyone uses, spray paint—especially kinds not specifically formulated for use on Lexan RC bodies—it will often adhere better if you scuff the body. Use very fine sandpaper or steel wool to lightly, and we mean lightly, scratch the surface to be spray painted. A series of properly applied coats will hide light scratches, but deep gouging will show. Obviously, you don't want to scuff those areas, such as windows, that won't be painted—the scratches will show.

Shake the Can

We can't emphasize this strongly enough. Most people are surprised by how long they have to shake a can of spray paint, but there's a reason for that. A thoroughly shook can (follow the directions for how long) will impart the kind of even and opaque finish that all modelers strive to achieve.

Warm up the Paint

Spray paint flows better when it's at around 70 degrees Fahrenheit, so hold the can under warm running water (you can also place the bottom in a bowl of warm water). It will be thinner and spray more evenly. But be careful to only use warm water, never hot, and don't try any other method to raise the temperature. Overheating the can could cause it to explode.

Do a Test Spray

To avoid any sudden spurts and splatters from the can and to make sure you're applying the right amount of pressure, start by spraying away from the body of your vehicle (onto cardboard or other paper). Then move toward the RC body and spray your first layer.

Spray Light Layers

Don't try to cover the surface solidly in one coat. Spray a very light, thin coat. It will be a fine, see-through misting. Let it dry. Then add another light coat. And then another. Do this as many times as it takes to build up to the complete coverage you want.

Three or four thin coats are better than one or two thick coats of paint. There will be less chance of bleeding under the masked areas and less chance of the paint running. It will also prevent the paint from chipping or flaking when dry. Some RC body painters recommend building up that first paint color in even thinner layers, like five or more. Later layers can be a bit thicker.

Don't Empty the Can

It may seem wasteful, but don't try to get every last drop of paint out of the spray can. Those last few sprays tend to come out in uneven spurts that can glob up or run and ruin your paint job before you've even finished.

However, you can use that last bit of paint in another way. If you see some small spots that could use a touch-up after the paint on the body has dried completely, spray that last bit of paint in the can into a small container and use a brush to very carefully touch up any spots you missed. Don't try this before the sprayed-on paint has dried or you'll end up with a big mess.

Let It Dry

This is true whether you use spray cans, an airbrush, or a regular brush. Let the finished paint job dry undisturbed for at least 24 hours or longer before handling, doing detailing, etc.

You can speed up the drying process by using a ​hand-held blow-dryer. Just keep it on low to medium heat (never high), hold it at least a foot or so from the body, and move it around slowly. Don't use the blow-dryer on paint that has just been applied and is still liquid because the heat may cause the paint to run. Wait for it to set up a bit before using the dryer. You'll still want to wait before handling the body, but the paint won't be tacky-wet on the outside.​