Although artists typically paint on canvas, there are a wide variety of materials that artists can paint on. Some of the other common ones include wood and textured artist paper, while some unconventional materials include metal or plexiglass.
So, painting on plexiglass, what do you need to know? For painting on plexiglass, it’s best to prepare the surface with sanding and use acrylic paint. The acrylic paint needs texture to hold onto the material, and since plexiglass is a type of acrylic, acrylic paint will work best. Paint in layers and add a layer of clear sealant when finished.
If you’re interested in trying plexiglass as a new medium to paint on, then you’re in the right place. In this article, we’ll cover what to know for painting on plexiglass.
What Is Plexiglass?
Although the name may lead you to believe that the material is glass, plexiglass is actually a type of acrylic plastic – and plexiglass isn’t even its real name!
Plexiglass is a type of acrylic, which is a type of plastic. It’s commonly used in place of glass because it’s a completely clear material that can give the look of glass without being as fragile or heavy.
Although many people call it plexiglass, the misnomer comes from a company’s trademarked name, Plexiglas. There are other brands of this acrylic such as Perclax, Crylux, Acrylite, and Lucite.
It has a smooth surface and is totally translucent, making it a perfect replacement for glass in uses such as greenhouse windows, bathroom enclosures, and solar panels.
What Type Of Paint Can I Use On Plexiglass?
Although you can try different types of paint to see what you like to work with, the best paint to use on plexiglass is acrylic paint.
Since plexiglass is an acrylic material, using an acrylic paint means you’re already off to a good start on bonding the paint with the material.
Paint works best when it can chemically bond with the surface it’s applied to. You also need texture, which we’ll get into in some of the sections below, but you’ll have a good foundation if the chemicals are more easily bonded.
Some of you may be thinking, what does this even mean? An example may help give you a clearer picture of what we mean by creating a chemical bond.
Oil and water do not mix, so if you tried to use water-based paints on an oily surface, the paint will not adhere to the surface. Instead, it will rest on top, easily wiped off.
With acrylic, the chemical make-up of the material works best with water-based paints, like acrylic paint. Oil paints just don’t work as well to adhere to the surface for long-term use.
Supplies For Painting On Plexiglass
Before you get started with your painting on plexiglass, it’s important to ensure you have the right supplies at the ready. Take a look at our shopping list below:
- Acrylic paint
- Paint primer (optional)
- Paint markers (optional)
- Dish soap
- Lint-free cloths
- Painter’s tape or masking tape (optional)
- Clear sealant
You can get your plexiglass from a local hardware store or craft store if you prefer online but pay close attention to the dimensions if you’re buying online.
It can be hard to picture how big something will look in your space just off of the written dimensions, so use a tape measure to make a mock outline of the size of the plexiglass. This will give you a better idea of how it might fit in your space.
You can use paint primer, but you don’t have to. Using a primer will help the paint adhere better to your plexiglass, but it’s not a necessity.
A primer will also help you with blending. Blending acrylic paints directly on the plexiglass can be difficult, and you may not achieve smooth gradations.
If you have a layer of primer on the plexiglass, it can give your colored acrylic paints a better surface to stick to and help them blend better.
Another item that can help with painting is paint markers. Although it’s typically best to use acrylic paints, you can also use water-based paint markers to get smaller details or make lettering easier.
You can use painter’s tape or masking tape to mark off areas of your plexiglass that you want to leave clear and free of paint. This can help you keep the translucent, clear qualities in your plexiglass art, or give you smooth, clean lines in your paint.
Finally, be sure to use a clear sealant when your painting is finished and dry. The sealant layer will help your painting be more durable against normal wear and tear, fading or yellowing caused by UV, or even outdoor elements.
For protection against common outdoor elements such as rain, snow, dirt, and more, be sure to use a sealant that specifies indoor and outdoor protection.
How Do You Prepare Plexiglass For Painting?
A common question people ask before painting on plexiglass is, “Should I sand plexiglass before painting?” While there are a different opinions on this, our recommendation is yes, you should sand plexiglass before painting.
Sanding plexiglass before painting is the best way to ensure that the paint adheres fully to the plexiglass.
Since it’s a smooth acrylic surface, both sides of the plexiglass will be too smooth and slick for paint to adhere to. Paint needs a textured surface to bond correctly with its base material.
Some people may hesitate when it comes to sanding plexiglass before painting because it can ruin that clear quality they may be looking to utilize in their art.
If you still want the plexiglass to have a clear look, simply tape over the areas you don’t plan to paint. Avoid the taped areas when sanding as much as possible, and you’ll be able to preserve those areas and their crystal-clear surface.
You can also buy frosted plexiglass if you would prefer for the surface to already be prepared for paint. This is plexiglass that has already been sanded or sand-blasted to have a frosted look, so it will be more textured and ready for paint.
Even though sanding is recommended to prepare a surface for plexiglass, you will find people online who say they don’t sand the surface before painting and it works fine.
The paint may look fine at first, but without properly preparing the plexiglass by sanding it, you’re running the risk of having the paint peel and flake off very quickly.
This loses the longevity of your art, making it more of a temporary project.
If your goal is a quick, weekend project that you don’t mind falling apart within a few months, then you can leave the plexiglass as is. But if you want your art to last longer, it’s best to sand before painting.
Methods For Painting On Plexiglass
When it comes for methods to painting on plexiglass, there aren’t that many different schools of thought. Most people apply the paint the same way.
The main step in painting on plexiglass that varies by artist is the preparation step: to sand or not to sand.
Overall, the process is largely the same. In the steps below, we’ll provide a guide of how to paint on plexiglass if you plan to sand the surface first.
If you want to skip the sanding and go straight to painting on the clear surface, start with step 4.
- Sand the surface of the plexiglass with a medium or fine grit sandpaper. Try a fine grit first to see how textured you can get the surface. If it feels textured, you’re good to go. If it still feels to smooth, try using a medium grit sandpaper.
- Wash the surface of the plexiglass. This will help get rid of all the little plastic dust all over the surface. Wash with dish soap and a lint-free cloth, then rinse well.
- Dry the plexiglass as much as you can with a dry lint-free cloth, then leave to air dry for another couple hours. It’s important to ensure the surface is fully dry before painting.
- Paint a layer of primer, if desired. The primer will help the paint stick better to the plexiglass but is not required.
- Start painting!
- Once your painting is done, allow the paint to fully dry. We recommend waiting around 24-72 hours for the paint to fully cure.
- After the paint has fully dried, apply a layer of sealant. Allow the sealant to fully dry. You can add an optional second layer of sealant or leave it after one coat.
That’s it! Although the sanding, washing, and waiting for the plexiglass to dry may seem like a lot of extra steps to get through, it’s worth it when it keeps your art looking beautiful for years instead of months.
Plexiglass can be a tricky material to paint on if you don’t go through the proper steps, so taking the extra time to sand before you paint can save you time remaking your creation later on.
Here’s a great tutorial from minjoonie on YouTube.
How Easy Is It To Paint On Plexiglass?
Even though a canvas is ready to paint on as soon as you bring it home, plexiglass requires a little more preparation. The preparation steps of sanding, washing, and drying the plexiglass can be a barrier to some artists working with plexiglass.
It may seem like plexiglass is difficult to paint on because it requires so much extra work, but that’s not the case!
Plexiglass is about as easy to paint on as wood. Just as you would before painting on wood, it requires sanding and cleaning the surface before painting.
You wouldn’t wash wood with dish soap after sanding it, but it does require a wipe-down step to get rid of the lingering sawdust on the surface.
Plexiglass needs a similar process. It just requires a preparation step before it can be painted on. But once the surface has been properly prepared, it’s very easy to paint on!
How Do You Seal Acrylic Paint On Plexiglass?
Sealing acrylic paint on plexiglass is very similar to sealing acrylic paint on a canvas or other surface – use a sealant!
You can use various types of sealants. We recommended a couple of spray sealants above because they’re easy to apply quickly.
After having to take the extra steps of sanding and washing your plexiglass before you could even paint it, you may be ready to just be done with your project by the time you’re done painting.
This is when a spray sealant can come in handy! It works quickly and can be applied easily in smooth, even layers.
One thing to pay attention to when picking a spray sealant is the finish. Plexiglass has a shiny, clear surface before any sanding or painting, and many people want to keep this look for their finished painted product.
To ensure your painting still has that shiny look, use a sealant with a gloss finish. Gloss finishes will always have a shiny look that reflects a lot of light.
Stay away from finishes like matte or satin. Although satin is a middle-ground between matte and gloss, it may end up looking dull when used on a naturally shiny surface like plexiglass.
When using your spray sealant, pay close attention to the directions on the label of your canister. They often give specific directions for how far away you should hold the can and how quickly you should spray to create a smooth, even finish.
Tips For Painting On Plexiglass
Painting on plexiglass can be easy once you get started, but there are some tips that can help you be even more successful.
The first tip is to always use a base layer before trying to blend.
Whether you’re using an actual paint primer or just paint a background color like blue or green first, it’s important to get that first coat of paint before trying to blend your colors on the plexiglass.
Since the surface is so smooth, the paints won’t blend correctly. Instead of a gentle gradation, the paints will just mix together into a new color.
This usually only happens if you don’t sand the surface before painting, but it can also happen even if you sanded first.
Adding a base coat of paint will give your second layer a better surface to blend on, helping the paints to mix more gently without fully combining.
Place A Sketch Under The Plexiglass
Another great tip is that plexiglass is clear! You can use this to your advantage by creating an outline of your painting and laying it behind or underneath your plexiglass to use as a guide.
Since the outline is simply laying behind or underneath the plexiglass, it won’t be a part of the final project. Once you’ve made enough progress in your painting, you can simply pull it out and dispose of it.
A final tip is that you can use multiple sheets of plexiglass to create a layered image effect. This will require a lot of outlines and planning, but can result in a really cool and powerful image!
Take the time to grid out and plan your outlines accordingly. Think of how you want the 3D image to appear when you’re done so you can decide which parts will be on which plexiglass panes.
When you’re done, you can hold them together with magnets or hang them in front of each other along a rod.
This trick is best for display in a large space and won’t be easy to display as a simple piece of wall art, so consider where you might display it before drawing up your design.