How to Paint a RC Car Body Properly

How to Paint a RC Car Body Properly

By Joe Rich

How to Paint a RC Car Body Properly

To paint a RC car body properly the main thing to do is have the right preparation. This is key get this right not only will your body look great it will save you time in the long run.

RC cars are a lot of fun to operate, and even if you didn’t spend a lot of money on the car you own, repainting the body of it is something you may eventually want to do.

Whether your car is made out of a clear polycarbonate shell or a hard body made out of ABS plastic or styrene, giving it a new look can make your hobby even more fun, but repainting it isn’t as simple as merely reaching for a can of spray paint and pushing the button.

To get the job done right, you have to take your time and know exactly what to do to get from Point A to Point B.


Before you start to repaint your RC car, keep in mind that with each step, your technique is going to directly affect how the car looks in the end, and so is properly masking the car to avoid any uneven paint spots.

Essentially, the smartest thing you can do when getting ready to repaint your RC car is to make the decision to take each and every step slowly so that nothing important is overlooked or forgotten.

Indeed, this is a process, and a very important one at that, so you’ll need to make sure you don’t rush through it and make a mistake.

The first thing you’ll want to do is make sure the existing paint is removed properly, and every bit of it must be removed.

A chemical paint-stripper works best, but you have to be careful when choosing this product because many of them do not work on plastics of any type. Once you find the right paint-stripper, make sure you follow the directions exactly as they are printed, especially when it comes to the amount of time you have to leave it on the car.

In most cases, you’ll have to leave the paint-stripper on for 3 to 12 hours, then scrape the paint off using either a sponge or a washcloth.

If you wipe it off and find there’s a little paint that didn’t come off, simply reapply the stripper and start over again. Yes, this will take time, but this is a very important step that you don’t want to mess up.

Once you’re positive that every speck of old paint has been removed, gently wipe the car body with a clean damp cloth and dry it off completely to prepare for the next step.

If the cloth doesn’t seem to be doing the trick, go ahead and wash the entire car body with mild dishwashing soap and water, because the body has to be perfectly clean before you go any further. When you dry it, make sure you use a lint-free cloth that is perfectly dry.

Moving Onto the Next Step

Naturally, one of the most important tips for repainting your RC car body is to make sure you choose the right type of paint. Most RC cars are made out of a clear polycarbonate, which is usually called Lexan because that is the name of a particular brand of polycarbonate plastic (similar to when people use the term “Kleenex” to describe any type of tissue paper). As a general rule, your standard spray paint will not adhere well to polycarbonate.

This is especially true once you’re finished painting and start to drive the car, because regular spray paint will begin to chip and come off even with regular activity. If you visit a hobby store, they’ll have spray paint that is made specifically for polycarbonate plastic, and one of the most well-known paints is one called Pactra, which is made by a company called Testors.

If your RC car body is a “hard” body made out of ABS plastic or styrene – such as those in plastic model kits – you can go ahead and use a standard spray enamel paint. Even in this case, however, you should stay away from regular spray paints that you find in hardware stores and instead use a hobby paint made for this purpose.

One of the reasons you want to make sure you use the right paint on your RC car is because with paint specifically made for these materials, you get thinner coats and a higher-quality paint, which means all of the details of your car’s body will remain intact after the paint has dried.

Also, never buy a generic spray paint to use on your RC car. After all, you likely paid a lot of money for the car, so the last thing you want is to ruin it with an inexpensive brand of spray paint.

The important thing to remember is to get a paint that is specifically made for the materials your car is made from because otherwise, you’ll get disastrous results and the paint will never stay on the car for long.

Masking the Car So it Comes Out Right

Of course, before you get started with the actual paint job, you need to take masking tape and properly cover the parts of the car you don’t want painted. This sounds easier than it actually is, but you can learn to do it correctly if you know how. Here are a few tips to follow that will make taping over your RC car a lot easier:

  • Start off by covering the parts of the car that you will not be painting over with the first color.
  • Take your masking tape and cut out different pieces for each of the colors you’ll be using; this way, you can remove them as the paint job progresses.
  • Make sure you press down the masking tape firmly so that there are no torn or jagged edges to mess up the paint job. You can use your fingernail or even a credit card to get the job done right.
  • Paint using the darkest color first, then switch to the lighter colors. This way, you won’t accidentally cover the lightest colors with the darker ones.
  • Be very careful when removing the masking tape. Never just rip it off; instead, use a sharp knife (such as an X-Acto knife) or pair of scissors so that the design is covered cleanly and neatly.

A few other things to remember is that regular masking tape usually doesn’t work great for RC car bodies. Because of this, several other tapes are usually recommended instead. You can use the 3M blue painters’ tape or the green FrogTape, but even better is tape found in a hobby store.

RC giant again, Tamiya makes tape specifically for painting over RC cars, and they even come in different widths to make taping the car a lot easier. Painters’ tapes are usually only one width (one inch) and won’t be appropriate for every part of your RC car.

If this is your first RC car painting job, you might get a little frustrated with this process, but again, take your time so that it is done right, because it will make a big difference in how your car looks once the job is finished.

Painting Your RC Car

Now that you’re ready to start the actual paint job, you should prepare for the job by donning safety goggles and a disposable respirator mask. If possible, go outdoors to paint your car, and if you instead choose to paint in the garage, make sure as many doors and windows as possible are open, and move as close to one of these openings as you can. This way, you can be better protected from the fumes that always result from the spray paints.

You also need to thoroughly read the directions on your spray paint can, because this will give you a list of warnings you need to be aware of before you get started.

If you get lightheaded or dizzy at any point, you should stop the process and leave the area immediately. If you continue to feel poorly, it’s recommended that you call a poison control center for further assistance.

When you’re finally ready to paint, always start by keeping the paint can two to three inches away from the car. This way, you’re close enough to coat the car properly but not so close that the paint job ends up too blotchy. Once you press on the button at the top of the spray paint can, make sure the can stays moving.

In other words, spray back and forth when covering the car and spray continuously. If you stop, it will result in too much paint in that particular area, which makes the paint job uneven.

You’ll likely end up spraying more than one coat to get the look you want. If you spray on one coat and notice that it looks uneven, simply spray on another coat and that should take care of the problem.

In most cases, you’ll need two to three coats of paint to get the look you want, and always remember to let each coat dry thoroughly before you start on another one, which generally takes from 20 minutes to one hour or more. Again, make sure you do what the instructions on the spray paint can tell you to, even if they are different from what you’re reading here.

If your paint seems to be taking a little too long to dry, you can always take a hair dryer, turn it on the cool setting, and gently use it to dry the paint on your RC car. But in the end, it will usually work best if you just let the paint dry naturally by giving it enough time to dry completely each time.

Hard-to-Reach Spots and Touch-ups: Finishing up

If you run into a hard-to-reach spot or merely need a touch-up once the paint job is complete, there is an easy way to do this.

Take the lid of your spray paint jar and spray some paint in it. Put enough in it to accommodate the job you need done, which usually means a minimum of 1/2 inch of paint. Next, take a small paintbrush and dip it in the spray paint, and use that for your touch-ups and hard-to-reach places.

There are a lot of times when an RC car has a crack or crevice that needs to be painted and the spray paint can simply won’t reach it. Or, it could be just the design of the car that results in the crevice being there. Whatever the reason, if you use a paintbrush and do the job manually, every spot of your vehicle will be covered. Once you’re finished applying all of the coats of paint and the car is completely dry, you can proceed to place your decals on the car if this is what you wish to do next.

Just like the masking tape, your decals need to be pressed down completely on all sides so that they stick properly afterward. You certainly don’t want them to start coming loose in the future. When that’s done, you can apply a coat or two of clear spray paint to “seal” everything in and make it last much longer. Again, you’ll need to go by the directions on the can so that the clear coat comes out perfect.

Tips for More Successful Spray Painting

If you’re not exactly a pro at spray painting, it may take a few trial runs to get the job done right. It’s not that spray painting is difficult per se, but you do need to follow the rules and make sure you do everything the way it’s supposed to be done. For beginners, here are a few spray-painting tips that might help:

  • Make sure you keep the nozzle of your spray paint can clean at all times. Wipe it off with a damp cloth after each use, and turn the can upside down occasionally and spray some of the paint out, just to make sure no clogs are still in there.
  • Never spray vertically. Keep your RC car on a flat surface so that you can spray horizontally because when you spray vertically, there’s a much bigger chance of paint dripping and “pooling up” on one section of the car.
  • Never spray too thick. This can cause a lot of problems, but one of the main problems is the possibility of the paint getting “cracks,” which can be almost impossible to remove. You may have to spray more coats of paint when you use thinner coats, but you’ll be able to spray paint your car without worrying about cracks and other problems associated with thick coats of paint.
  • Consider getting a spray trigger. This is a device that attaches to the nozzle of your spray paint can and makes the spraying a lot easier on your fingers and hand.
  • They are really inexpensive and easy to install, so they are well worth it. The biggest advantage, though, is that you won’t have to hold down that nozzle and make your finger sore if you have a lot of spray painting to do.
  • Place the car in a large box before you get started. Will this make spray painting easier to do? Not really, but it will make cleanup afterward much easier and quicker. After the painting and drying are complete, you can simply pick up the box and put it in the trash can – or better yet, the recycling can!
  • Always shake the can well before you get started. Not only is this important in the beginning, but the can may also need to be shaken again during the job itself. If your job is especially time-consuming, this is an even more important tip to keep in mind. If you don’t shake the can regularly, streaking is more of a possibility.
  • Never paint in direct sunlight. While it’s true that you should always be outside when spray painting, you should never be directly in the sun because the sun can actually start to dry the paint before it reaches the surface of the item you’re painting. This can result in a rough finish instead of a smooth one, which is why this step is so important. Also, never paint in the direction of the sun because you’ll get the same results.
  • Keep in mind that when it’s extra hot and humid outside, it may take your spray paints a while longer to dry. Don’t get discouraged if it takes longer than an hour for each coat of paint to dry because it may just be a reflection of the weather.


Repainting your RC car body is something you’ll likely want to do if you’ve owned the car for a while, if for no other reason than to create a different look for the car so you can feel like you have a brand-new one!

Whether you’re tired of the old look of your car or you want to repaint it because you’ve noticed a few scratches or smudges and you want to get rid of them, the job involves a lot more than picking up a can of spray paint and pressing the button.

Indeed, the right preparations are needed because every step of the process is an important one, especially if you want your RC car to look fantastic when you’re done.

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