How to Paint Plastic Chrome: Step-by-Step Guide and Pro Tips

Painting plastic chrome can seem like a daunting task, but with the right approach, it’s entirely achievable. Whether you’re looking to update your car’s trim, refurbish household items, or customize a piece of decor, transforming that shiny chrome finish into something new can breathe fresh life into your project. I’ve tackled this process myself, and I’m here to share the steps that make it straightforward and effective.

From choosing the right materials to mastering the technique, painting plastic chrome requires a bit of preparation and patience. But don’t worry, I’ve got you covered. With just a few tools and some insider tips, you’ll be able to achieve a professional-looking finish that lasts. Let’s dive into the essentials you’ll need to get started.

Key Takeaways

  • Choosing the Right Paint: Use acrylic paints for indoor items, enamel paints for weather-exposed items, and spray paints for large or intricate surfaces to ensure durability and an attractive finish.
  • Surface Preparation: Proper surface preparation, including cleaning, sanding, and using suitable primers, is crucial for paint adhesion and a lasting finish.
  • Applying Sealant: Protect painted surfaces with clear acrylic or polyurethane sealants to prolong the paint’s life and protect against UV damage and scratches.
  • Avoiding Common Mistakes: Key mistakes to avoid include using the wrong type of paint and inadequate surface preparation, both of which can lead to poor paint adhesion and finish.
  • Maintenance Tips: Regular cleaning, applying protective coatings, avoiding harsh environments, and addressing damages immediately help keep painted plastic chrome in pristine condition.

Understanding Plastic Chrome

What Is Plastic Chrome?

Plastic chrome, a type of plastic coated with a metallic finish, mimics the appearance of chrome-plated metal. This coating achieves a reflective, shiny look commonly seen on car trim, household fixtures, and electronic device accents. The process generally involves electroplating, sputtering, or vacuum metallizing.

Common Uses of Plastic Chrome

Plastic chrome is widely used in various industries. In the automotive industry, it’s used for trim pieces, grille designs, and interior accents. In home decor, you’ll find it on faucets, handles, and light fixtures. In electronics, manufacturers use it for buttons and bezels.

Materials Needed for Painting Plastic Chrome

Types of Paints Suitable for Plastic Chrome

Choosing the right paint ensures the durability and appearance of the finished product. Three main types work best for painting plastic chrome:

  1. Acrylic Paints: These provide flexibility and adhere well to plastic surfaces.
  2. Enamel Paints: Known for their durability, enamel paints resist wear and tear effectively.
  3. Spray Paints: Specifically designed for plastic, these offer even coverage and a smooth finish.

Use acrylic paints for indoor items like decor, enamel paints for items exposed to weather, and spray paints for large or intricate surfaces.

Primers and Sealers

Primers prepare the surface of plastic chrome to ensure paint adhesion and longevity. There are two types to consider:

  1. Plastic Primers: Formulated to bond specifically with plastic, these primers create a suitable base for painting.
  2. Adhesion Promoters: These enhance the bond between the plastic and primer, especially useful for high-gloss surfaces.

Sealants are crucial for protecting the painted surface. Two options stand out:

  1. Acrylic Sealers: Provide a clear, protective layer that resists scratches.
  2. Polyurethane Sealers: Offer a tough, durable finish for high-impact areas.

Use plastic primers and adhesion promoters before painting, and apply a suitable sealer once the paint dries completely.

Sanding and Cleaning Supplies

Proper surface preparation guarantees the best results. Essential sanding and cleaning supplies include:

  • Fine-Grit Sandpaper (400-600 grit): Smooths the surface, ensuring better paint adherence.
  • Tack Cloths: Remove fine dust particles after sanding.
  • Isopropyl Alcohol: Cleans the plastic chrome, eliminating oils and residues.

Sand the plastic chrome lightly, use tack cloths to clean up, then wipe down with isopropyl alcohol for a pristine surface ready for painting.

Step-by-Step Guide on How to Paint Plastic Chrome

Surface Preparation

Proper surface preparation is crucial for a professional finish. Start by cleaning the plastic chrome surface with warm soapy water to remove dirt and grease. After rinsing and drying thoroughly, use 400 to 600-grit sandpaper to gently sand the surface to create a texture for the primer to adhere to. Wipe the surface with a tack cloth to remove any sanding dust.

Priming the Surface

Priming ensures the paint sticks well and lasts longer. Use a plastic-specific primer for the best results. Hold the primer spray can 6 to 8 inches from the surface and apply light, even coats. Allow each coat to dry completely before applying the next, following the manufacturer’s instructions on drying times. Typically, 2 to 3 coats are sufficient.

Painting Techniques

Different painting techniques yield different finishes. For instance, spray paints specifically designed for plastic chrome offer a smooth and even application. Shake the spray can thoroughly before use. Hold it 6 to 8 inches away from the surface and apply in thin, even coats to prevent drips and runs. Allow each coat to dry entirely between applications. Depending on the desired opacity, 3 to 4 coats may be needed.

Applying Sealant for Protection

Sealant prolongs the life of the paint job by protecting it from scratches and UV damage. Choose a clear acrylic or polyurethane sealant suitable for plastic. Shake the sealant can well and apply it 6 to 8 inches away from the surface in thin, even coats. Let each coat dry completely before applying the next. Typically, 2 to 3 coats offer adequate protection.

By following these steps with precision and patience, painting plastic chrome can achieve a professional-looking finish.

Common Mistakes to Avoid

Selecting the Wrong Type of Paint

Using the wrong type of paint can lead to poor adhesion and finish. Acrylic paints, enamel paints, and primers are suitable choices. Always choose plastic-specific products since these adhere better and last longer. Avoid regular spray paints, as they lack the bonding agents needed for plastic chrome surfaces.

Inadequate Surface Preparation

Prepping the surface is vital for a smooth, lasting finish. Clean the plastic chrome with soap and water to remove contaminants. Sand the surface lightly using 400-600 grit sandpaper to create a rough texture. Miss these steps, and the paint may peel or chip easily. Always ensure the surface is dry before applying any primer or paint.

Tips for Maintaining Painted Plastic Chrome

Painted plastic chrome looks fantastic, but maintaining it requires care and attention. Here are some tips to keep it in pristine condition:

Regular Cleaning

Frequent cleaning prevents grime and dirt buildup damaging the paint. Use mild soapy water and a soft, non-abrasive cloth to clean the surface. Harsh chemicals and abrasive materials can scratch or deteriorate the paint, leading to premature wear.

Protective Coating

Applying a protective clear coat can shield the painted plastic chrome from UV rays, moisture, and scratches. A high-quality automotive clear coat will extend the paint’s lifespan and maintain its glossy finish. Make sure the surface is clean and dry before applying the clear coat to ensure optimal adherence.

Avoiding Harsh Environments

Exposure to extreme temperatures, humidity, or harsh chemicals can damage the paint. Keeping painted plastic chrome items in climate-controlled spaces helps preserve their finish. If used outdoors, try to minimize exposure to direct sunlight and excessive moisture.


Regular waxing provides an additional layer of protection against the elements. Use a wax specifically designed for painted surfaces. Apply the wax evenly with a soft cloth, then buff it gently to achieve a smooth, shiny finish. Waxing should be done every few months to maintain optimal protection.

Immediate Repairs

Addressing chips, scratches, or other damages immediately prevents further deterioration. Small touch-up kits are available for minor repairs. Clean the damaged area thoroughly, apply the touch-up paint, and seal it with a clear coat for best results.

Proper Storage

Storing painted plastic chrome items correctly reduces the risk of accidental damage. Use padded containers or soft covers to avoid scratches. If storing for long periods, ensure the items are dry and stored in a dust-free environment.

Gentle Handling

Always handle painted plastic chrome with care to avoid scratches and dents. Use both hands when moving large items to distribute the weight evenly. When cleaning or performing maintenance, use soft materials and gentle motions to preserve the paint’s integrity.

Following these tips ensures the durability and appealing look of painted plastic chrome. Regular cleaning, protective coatings, and immediate repairs are key to maintaining its pristine condition.


Painting plastic chrome can seem daunting but with the right preparation and materials it’s entirely doable. Following the steps for cleaning sanding and priming ensures a smooth base for your paint. Remember to use plastic-specific products for the best results and always seal your work for added protection. By avoiding common mistakes and maintaining your painted surfaces properly you can enjoy a durable and attractive finish. So take your time follow the guidelines and you’ll achieve a professional look that lasts.

Frequently Asked Questions

What materials do I need to paint plastic chrome?

To paint plastic chrome, you’ll need acrylic paints, enamel paints, plastic-specific primer, sanding materials, and a sealant for protection.

How do I prepare the plastic chrome surface for painting?

Clean the surface thoroughly to remove dirt and oils, then sand it to create a rough texture that helps the primer and paint adhere better.

Why is using a plastic-specific primer important?

Plastic-specific primer ensures better adhesion of the paint to the plastic surface, leading to a more durable and long-lasting finish.

Can I use regular paint on plastic chrome?

No, it’s best to use acrylic or enamel paints designed for plastic surfaces to ensure proper adhesion and durability.

What are the steps to painting plastic chrome?

Clean the surface, sand it, apply a plastic-specific primer, paint with acrylic or enamel paints, and seal with a protective coating.

How do I protect the painted plastic chrome?

Apply a sealant after painting, and maintain it by regularly cleaning, waxing, and storing it properly to keep the surface protected.

What common mistakes should I avoid when painting plastic chrome?

Avoid skipping sanding, not using a primer, applying thick paint layers, and neglecting the protective sealant.

How often should I clean painted plastic chrome?

Regular cleaning with mild soap and water is recommended to maintain its appearance and durability.

Is waxing necessary for maintaining painted plastic chrome?

Yes, waxing adds an extra layer of protection, helps maintain the shine, and prolongs the life of the paint job.

What should I do if the paint gets damaged?

Repair any scratches or chips immediately to prevent further damage and maintain the surface’s integrity.

How can I store painted plastic chrome items?

Store them in a cool, dry place away from direct sunlight and harsh environments to avoid damage and maintain their appearance.