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Project: Face-Lift

One of the simplest and most effective changes you can make is to paint the exterior of your case. Many people have the mistaken impression that if they paint their case, they'll do an awful job. You can do a great job of painting your case without spending a lot of money. By following a few simple steps, you will see that you can do this easily. As long as you have some free time, you can paint like a pro with a spray can.

Whether you have several thousand dollars in professional equipment or are using a $10 spray can, the basics are the same. How good a job you do depends solely on how well you've prepared for the job.

Here's what you'll need to get started:

  • Respirator

  • Rubber gloves

  • Sandpaper

  • Sanding block

  • Sandable primer

  • Paint color of your choice

  • Rubbing compound

  • Soap

Each item in the list deserves a bit more detail to help you make an informed purchase.

  • Respirator. This device is not cheap (usually $30 to $200, depending on features), but your lungs will thank you for it. The price of a respirator depends on whether the respirator covers your entire face or just your nose and mouth. It's reusable, but the filters need regular replacement. I recommend investing in a full-face model to protect your eyes from paint fumes. If you do not use a full-face model respirator, you should still have proper eye protection.

  • Rubber gloves. You'll need gloves to protect your hands from the paint and solvent, and to protect the painting surface from the oils on your hands. Rubber gloves cost approximately $5 for a package of 100.

  • Sandpaper. Be sure to purchase the wet/dry variety. The grits you'll use are 400, 600, 1,000, 1,500, and 2,000. Sandpaper has an average cost of $3 to $6 per package of five sheets.

  • Sanding block. These blocks can be made of either hard rubber or foam and have varying levels of flexibility. They typically cost $5 to $20.

  • Sandable primer. Be sure to use the same brand of primer and paint. The primer can cost anywhere from $4 to $10, depending on whether you're using an automotive brand.

  • Paint color of your choice. Use the same brand of paint as your primer. Typical cost is $3 to $10.

  • Rubbing compound. This product is used to remove the fine sanding marks from the paint. Rubbing compound costs about $20.

  • Soap. Use any mild dishwashing detergent to wash your case before you paint it. A clean surface will better hold the paint. I prefer to use Plastic Prep, which is made specifically for preparing plastic for painting. You should be able to purchase Plastic Prep for about $10.

Painting consists of three simple steps: sanding, painting, and finishing. Your work area should have a good water supply and plenty of ventilation. You'll also want a clean, dust-free area to help minimize the amount of sanding you'll need to do during the finishing stage. All sanding referred to here is wet sanding.


As with any project, always practice good safety habits. Wear proper clothing and eye protection. If you don't have experience in performing some of these preparation and painting tasks, find someone with experience to help you.

Now it's time for the first step: sanding the original paint, as shown in Figure 3.4.

Figure 3.4Figure 3.4 Sanding the original paint.

Preparation is by far the most important step. By using 400-grit sandpaper in conjunction with the sanding block, you will make the dull and uneven finish on your case as smooth as satin. See Figure 3.5.

Figure 3.5Figure 3.5 After sanding the original paint.

Sand the case with even strokes in the same direction across the entire case. This helps minimize scratches that might show through the finish. Depending on the color of your case, you might have trouble determining how smooth the surface is.

You do not need to completely sand through the original paint on the case. Just sand until the surface is smooth. After you've achieved the desired finish, wash the case with soap and water or with Plastic Prep and let it air dry.

Next, you need to apply the primer, as shown in Figure 3.6. The purpose of a primer is to seal the surface so the finish coat of paint will adhere, producing an even sheen.


When using spray paint, place the can of paint in a bowl of warm water (not boiling) for a few minutes before painting. This warms up the paint, which thins it out and allows for the paint to atomize better. This makes thinner, smoother coats of paint easy.

Figure 3.6Figure 3.6 Applying primer.

Before applying the primer, be sure to shake the can well. Stop painting every few minutes and shake the can. Paint with sandable primer and sand with 600-grit sandpaper after it has dried. Depending on the primer you use, drying time can take up to four hours. Wash the case with soap and water and let it air dry. Repeat the priming and sanding process until the surface is smooth and even. Be sure to follow the manufacturer's instructions concerning drying times.

Now you're ready for your paint color.

For best results, paint several thin coats rather than a single heavy coat. With your spray can raised about eight inches from the surface, use even strokes to apply the paint. Lightly mist the first layer, and then let this layer dry for 15–30 minutes. Apply another layer and let it dry. Repeat this process over the course of an hour until you have good color coverage. See Figure 3.7.

Figure 3.7Figure 3.7 Painting the color.

Don't worry about how thick the coat of paint is. Thinner is better, as long as it is even. You want to apply several thin coats. If you try to get a single thick coat, the paint might run. Also, remember that really thick paint chips or cracks more easily on flexible panels. Thinner paint will flex, allowing panels to flex naturally and not crack or chip the paint. Let the case dry for 24–48 hours (this is important).

Next, lightly wet sand the case with a 600-grit sandpaper until you have an even, smooth, satiny surface. Wash it with soap and water, and let it air dry. Repeat the painting and sanding process until you have no thin areas of color when sanded with 600-grit sandpaper. See Figure 3.8.

Figure 3.8Figure 3.8 Sanding the paint.

Before you start the final stage of sanding, you need to decide whether or not you can let the final coat of paint properly cure for 30 days. As paint cures, it also settles, causing the surface to distort and no longer be completely smooth.

Letting it cure at this stage will ensure that your finish stays as smooth as glass. If you don't wait, you will have to repaint the case to recapture that glasslike luster.

After you have let the paint cure for 30 days, and you have an even 600-grit surface with your color of choice, wet sand the case again using finer sandpaper, such as 1,000 grit. Wash the case. It is important that you wash the case between changing grits of sandpaper. If you don't, pieces of debris left over from the coarser sandpaper will scratch the surface. Continue this process until you reach 2,000 grit. See Figure 3.9. At this point, you'll see just how smooth the finish is going to look.

Figure 3.9Figure 3.9 Repeat the sanding.

The next step in the process is to use the rubbing compound to remove the fine sanding marks. Follow with a swirl remover—a very fine finishing compound that removes the fine scratches from the rubbing compound—and you're done.

The rubbing compound you use should be designed for removing 2000-grit sanding marks; the swirl remover should remove up to 5000-grit sanding marks. If desired, you can then wax the case, but remember not to wax the case immediately. You must let the paint cure for at least 30 days before you wax it. The finish should be as smooth as glass. A smooth finish is especially easy to see with dark-colored finishes because scratching shows up very easily on them. See Figure 3.10.

Figure 3.10Figure 3.10 Note the reflections in the black paint.

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