Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Experimenting with Nail Polish

Greetings fellow otakus! Despite my busy building schedule, I'm always on the lookout for budget friendly plamo ideas. I recently stumbled upon this concept of using nail polish as paint. A quick googling revealed that the car modeling community has been doing it for a while, and they've been getting really nice results. Some gunpla builders like Ghost of Zeon have also been putting it to good use. This got me super excited, because nail polish is a lot cheaper than hobby grade paints. Instead of asking a billion questions, I decided I'd give it a try myself.

For the experiment, I bought 1 bottle of nail polish (<$1), a bottle of acetone (<$1) and a small bottle of Mr. Color lacquer thinner ($2.50).  I got the lacquer thinner because according to many guides, nail polish is actually a lacquer. I prepared a couple of extra parts, one of which was primed with Mr. Surfacer 1200, and a few plastic spoons.

Click on the Read More link for the rest of this post...

The main purpose of the experiment was to see how the plastic would react to the paint - but first, I wanted to know if the nail polish could be thinned with acetone. I did a 50/50 ratio of nail polish to acetone and mixed it up with a toothpick. This didn't work out well, as the acetone was evaporating too quickly and I had to keep adding more for the nail polish to stay diluted.

Also, it didn't seem like the pigment was breaking down nicely. As you can see in the 2nd photo above, there are still some clots of paint even after raising the ratio to around 30/70 and agitating the mixture thoroughly. I didn't want those clots in my airbrush, and I knew that quickly evaporating thinner equates to a rough finish and clogs - so I decided to ditch this approach.

I prepared a new batch, doing about 40% nail polish against 60% lacquer thinner. This mixed really well, leaving no clots after a little bit of stirring with a toothpick. This blend was sufficiently thin for airbrushing, and it didn't thicken too quickly even after leaving it exposed in the paint dish for a couple of minutes.

I poured it into the airbrush, did a bit of back flowing and shot it at 15psi onto a bare plastic spoon. The paint was translucent (as you can see near the neck of the spoon), and I had to build up the color gradually - but it went on nice and smooth, with no runs or pooling even when shooting quite close to the surface. I can see why car modelers use this stuff - the finish is really glossy and looks like automotive paint.

I also sprayed the spare parts I prepared to see how kit plastic and primer would react to the nail polish. It went on nicely as well, and you can see how translucent the paint is by the way the shade is affected by the base color.

bare plastic VS primed
The last test for the night was to see just how "hot" this nail polish is. I brushed some unthinned nail polish onto a spoon, and the plastic reacted within minutes. The surface wrinkled as the paint slowly ate into the plastic, leaving it rough and feeling quite brittle. I guess this just emphasizes how important priming and proper thinning is when using this type of paint.

The acetone was relegated to cleaning duty, and in that respect it performed really well. I'd keep an eye on the rubber washers in the airbrush though. This stuff feels cold to the touch, and it might have adverse effects on rubber over time.

back flowing and cleaning with acetone...
A quick wipe with acetone to clean the paint dish...

I left the airbrushed parts and spoons to cure overnight, and they still looked fine this morning - no wrinkling or deformities were observed yet. The finish is still as glossy as it was last night, and rubbing the surface with a fingernail left no scratches. I'm really hoping this experiment is a success, so I can add good old nail polish to my painting arsenal!

This post is dedicated to this guy.
Thank's for the inspiration buddy!

That's all for now - but stay tuned for an update, as I'd like to shoot some acrylic on top of that nail polish and see how that works out.

Until next time, keep building plamo!


  1. is this applicable using brush(brush painting) or only be on spray painting?

    1. I don't think so. Judging from the way the plastic reacted when I brushed it on without thinner, this paint is really "hot" and can melt plastic. I believe the only reason it didn't do that when sprayed through the airbrush was because it was sufficiently thinned, and the thin layers dry up before the paint could eat the plastic.

  2. Great work man!!

  3. hi,
    i made a video using nail polish too, i got no reaction spraing over bare spoon nor over enamel paint.
    check out my video :
    i had a reaction on bare white plastic spoons and automotive lacquer paint, but no reaction on clear plastic spoons nor gunpla plastic.
    see ya

  4. I just happen to pass by your blog and now I bookmarked it for future reference! Great work on your articles - I learned new things specially about doing modelling better and finding alternatives to a lot of supplies (specially since some can be expensive or hard to find in the Philippines).

    By the way, not sure if you already heard this but for lacquer paints or in this case, nail polish, you can try adding 10% lacquer flo with the lacquer thinner. Lacquer flo is the retardant for lacquer paints and will help your paint behave more like enamel paints (minus the longer drying and curing times) by giving it more time to level itself. This is basically a component or Mr. Leveling Thinner. I saw some use this alone as it can thin any form of hobby paint. It smells like lacquer thinner but I saw it to behave like a thin form of oil (try soaking a piece of paper). Works well with decanted Bosny spraypaint too :D

  5. Can you use a ckear variant for topcoating?

    1. that's an interesting idea, and worth an experiment in itself!

  6. Amazing, don't mind the elitists, haha.

  7. Hi,

    Can I hand paint this on my gundam, granted that the nail polish is already thinned?

    1. I would not recommend it. My guess is if you're going to thin it down to a level where it is safe to paint with a brush, the paint would probably be too thin for hand painting anyway. Try it on some scraps or sprue first if you want to experiment.