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I love making and painting props, but painting with nice chrome paint is expensive and tedious. In this video I want to test different printing and paint methods to see which metallic processes and compare them.

  1. Print The Prop
  2. Sand, Sand, Sand
  3. Painting Shootout

1. Print the Prop

For this comparison I am printing the Thermal Detonator from Return of the Jedi. It is a handheld metal sphere with some blinking lights. For this comparison, I will printing three different props; two in PETG filament and one in a Silky Metallic PLA. The two PETG prints will be post processed and painted while the PLA print will be assembled right off the printer with no additional work.

I want to see how different these prints will end up. The control being the Silky Metallic PLA print, which is meant to look shiny and lustrous straight off the printer. The next version, I’m calling Medium Effort, will be sanded smooth, primed, and painted with a chrome rattle can paint aI got from the hardware store. The last version, Highest Effort, will be sanded the same way, primed in “better” filler primer, glossed over, and airbrushed with some very expensive specialty chrome paint.

2. Sand, Sand, Sand

Once the prints are complete, I had to remove the support material. This is a crucial stage in post processing work. Depending on the slicing software, the support material can become stuck to the print, leaving rough spot on the model. To help avoid this, use a heat gun to apply gentle heat to the supports and they remove much easier. I used PETG filament on the two I intend on sanding. PETG is a more durable plastic that sands better than PLA filament.

Once the supports are removed on the Medium and Highest Effort prints, I began sanding…for a long time. Using increasingly fine sand paper, I smoothed the spheres until I couldn’t see the layer line anymore. To help with the smoothing process, you can spray filler primer onto the surface. This thicker primer fills the small imperfections to help smooth out the surface. Apparently, there are varying qualities depending on the brand, so we got a cheap filler primer for the Medium Effort and a more expensive primer for the Highest Effort version.

3. Painting Shootout

Now that I have the two sanded and primed detonator props, I can begin the painting process. For the Medium Effort version, I used some chrome paint I found as the hardware store, nothing fancy, pretty inexpensive. I sprayed this rattle can Chrome paint on to the primed surface and it looked…okay. There was a bit of texture from the primer called “orange pealing” and it wasn’t that reflective, but it was shiny and looked good from a few feet away.

For the Highest Effort version, I painted the primed prop with a black high gloss spray paint. Amazing makers like The Broken Nerd and Coregeek, say that you should spray the part with black paint and use a 2k High Gloss Enamel Clear Coat. Either way, once you have a shiny glossy black part, you can apply the chrome paint. We used Alclad Chrome paint, which is $50 for a 4oz bottle. We also looked at Alumaluster and it was a little more expensive. So, if you plan on using this chrome paint, know that you’ll have to dish out some money. I added the chrome paint to my airbrush and started applying even coats with the gun wide open. The affect starts off subtle at first, but then you really see the reflectiveness of the chrome and it looks super cool.

Final Thoughts?

My metric for determining a winner is pretty easy; do you want a 3d print to look like metal or look like you painted it with shiny paint? The Highest Effort prop using the better filler primer and the expensive chrome paint definitely looks like metal, it is unreal. I am so happy with the Thermal Detonator that I wired up the electronics just like the movie version and I have it on my desk. Now, does that mean the other methods are a waste? No. The Medium Effort version looks really nice at a distance of a few feet, so if you needed a prop to look nice, but not be the main focus, then go this route. The Least Effort version of simply printing with shiny filament would look good for a kid’s Halloween costume or a toy that will see abuse.

I hope with comparison helped you learn a new skill. Some of you may never make cool metal-looking prop, but now you know that you can. I am a super cool dad around Halloween or school presentation time when I can whip up a 3d printed prop and make it look real. Making things is a super power and when you find out that the power doesn’t stop at cutting plywood, the world is wide open to you.