Throughout the ages, many of the greatest artists painted on unconventional surfaces. By straying from more basic materials like canvas, these artists made their pieces stand out with materials like stone, wood, and glass. Today, this same creativity persists among artists and DIY crafters with a new material – acrylic plastic, also known as plexiglass. With the right knowledge, painting on acrylic can create anything ranging from amazing three-dimensional art to eye-popping signs for an event.
However, the uninitiated sometimes dive in head-first without understanding how to paint plexiglass panels. The most common mistake is using the wrong type of paint or using a perfectly smooth sheet of acrylic. This can lead to a lot of heartbreak – an artist could spend hours painting the plexiglass sheet to then realize the paint is never going to fully adhere. To avoid these mishaps, let’s take a look at a few key recommendations for painting on acrylic panels.
Why Paint on Frosted Plexiglass?
Frosted plexiglass and P95 acrylic are some of the most commonly used types of acrylic for painting. This isn’t just for aesthetic reasons – frosted and P95 acrylic have a light matte finish that gives paint the “tooth” that it needs to stick to acrylic. Tooth is extremely important – it’s one of the reasons why many artists reach for a bumpy canvas instead of a smooth sheet of paper. In the same way, smooth sheets of acrylic are slick, which can interfere with adherence and make the paint easier to scrape off.
P95 and frosted acrylic have a couple of important differences that painters and DIYers should consider before choosing their surface. Let’s take a closer look at what this difference means for you:
- Frosted Plexiglass – Frosted plexiglass has a matte finish on both sides of the plastic, which creates a frosted appearance. This means that paint will stick effectively to both sides of the acrylic sheet. However, its aesthetic appearance is a far cry from a smooth sheet of acrylic plastic – it is not recommended for multi-layered or reversible pieces of art.
- P95 Acrylic – P95 acrylic is similar to frosted plexiglass, but it only has a matte finish on one side. The other side is completely clear. This allows artists to create paintings that are layered or reversible. While the P95 matte finish can be seen when reversed, it will not completely obscure your painting as frosted plexiglass will.
However, maybe you’re not keen on using a matte finish at all. If this is the case, then think ahead and pick up some fine-grit sandpaper, and plan out what you’d like to paint. Use the sandpaper to lightly scuff the area that will be painted. This will help the paint stick significantly better while keeping a rather clear appearance.
Alternatively, you can paint directly on top of a sheet of plastic, then carefully place another sheet of plastic on top of the dry painted sheet as a form of protection. If you choose this method of framing, make sure that the frame and plastic inside are well-supported, and not bending at all. For the highest level of optical clarity, we recommend using frame-grade acrylic sheets.
Prepare the Plexiglass
Once you select the right kind of plexiglass for your art piece or project, it’s time to prepare the plexiglass sheet for painting. First, clean the acrylic using either a mixture of water and dish soap or a specialty cleaning product like Novus #1. Gently wipe any excess material off the sheet using a clean, soft cloth.
For the best adhesion properties, use an acrylic-based primer – you can commonly find these as cans of spray paint at craft or home improvement stores. To avoid inhaling fumes, only spray the primer outdoors or in a very well-ventilated room. Keep in mind that acrylic primer can damage furniture, so it’s recommended to lay down newspaper or a tarp before you begin spraying. When spraying the primer, hold it about two feet away from the acrylic sheet and try to spray the surface as evenly as possible. Once the primer has dried, the sheet will be ready for painting.
The Best Paint for Plexiglass
The best kind of paint to use on a plexiglass sheet is acrylic-based paint or ink. Acrylic paint is inexpensive, easy to find, and simple to use. It can be applied through a diverse range of methods, such as a paintbrush, a spray can, or a sponge, to name a few. Each tool can provide a different aesthetic effect.
When painting on acrylic, keep in mind that thick layers of paint may take a while to dry. Be patient and make sure the paint is completely dry before applying your next coat. If you choose to use a hairdryer to accelerate drying, be careful not to let the acrylic get too hot – this could cause warping or could damage the paint or primer.
Even once the acrylic is completely dry, it can still be scraped off with something as soft as your fingernail. For best results, we recommend using a spray-on sealer designed for acrylic, which can be found at some craft and home improvement stores. This creates a thin, clear layer that’s very difficult to remove, protecting your painting for the long haul.
Tips & Tricks for Painting on Acrylic
Need a little more direction before you get started? Here are some tips and tricks to spark your creativity:
- Create a drawing of what you hope to paint first with firm outlines. Then place it underneath the acrylic sheet – this will help you trace your design with a paintbrush.
- If you’d like a three-dimensional effect, consider purchasing many small sheets of acrylic plastic. Paint layer-by-layer on each sheet of acrylic, stacking them as you go. Once the painting is complete, glue the acrylic sheets together.
- Vinyl stickers adhere very well to acrylic paint. This can be used to make creative signage or art.
- If you purchased masked acrylic, try carefully cutting designs from the masking. This can help create firm outlines for your painting or project.
Although painting on acrylic may seem intimidating at first, it’s simple to do with the correct preparation and guidance. Once you’ve mastered painting on plexiglass sheets, the possibilities will be endless – a sheet of acrylic could be purposed into high-end wedding decorations, amazing jewelry, or a three-dimensional painting that will amaze onlookers. The only limit is your creativity!
Looking to find sheets of plexiglass for your next project? Take a look at our selection of clear acrylic sheets, or contact us today to learn more about cut-to-size and bulk options.