The Process of Painting Printed Pieces (Oh My)
Updated: Oct 20, 2022
When my brother started 3D printing, I was fascinated. I mean, I did study mechanical engineering for a year after all. Learning about the files and how it works engrossed me in this world about Autodesk and Solidworks I had long forgotten. While I don't possess any digital modeling skills, I knew I could turn whatever finished product a printer made into something even cooler.
Then came the Beskar steel, the Mandalorian alloy worn by the infamous warriors of the Star Wars universe. My brother printed a few, or five, ingot prototypes and I was itching to get my hands on them. Only problem was: I had no idea how to paint 3D printed objects.
My background consists of mainly of two-dimensional art taking place on flat surfaces like a desk or table and paper or canvas, and not a literal thing! Determined (more like hard-headed) to figure out how to do this, I grabbed my paints and set out to my brother's garage.
I've been interested in prop making and behind the scenes movie magic since I was a kid. Learning how talented artists, designers, engineers, and craftspeople actually make things come together for stunning results blows my mind. It doesn't detract from what I'm seeing. It enhances it.
I kept this approach in mind as I tackled painting these printed pieces of Beskar.
Step One: Know Your Enemy
I had to first observe what I was getting into (and how far in over my head I was). I surveyed the print to familiarize myself with the tangible canvas and devise an approach. I noticed the grain of the print and how the filament was laid down in order to know which direction I needed to paint so the brushstrokes would be hidden. I didn't have any spray paint, but I did have some acrylic metallics I had been dying to play with.
These Beskar prints were completed horizontally with the filament laying down along the length of it. My brother and I talked about flipping the design so it's printed vertically to better hide the grain but ran into some technical issues about achieving the Beskar's distinct pattern due to the printer's limitations. Regardless, knowing the medium is crucial to crafting a plan of attack.
Step Two: Rough 'Em Up
After a 3D object is printed, it might have some hiccups or blemishes. Most of these can be smoothed out with a little bit of sanding or epoxy to fill in the gaps.
With the Beskar printed horizontally, there was one side that was used as a base, meaning it wasn't as pretty as the other 3 sides. Having never done this before, I wasn't expecting it and didn't have any supplies on hand. I started digging around my brother's work table for something I could use to smooth out this edge.
I ended up using a glue stick. Yup. Good 'ol fashioned tacky plastic. In war, you gotta hit 'em with what they least expect.
Step Three: Handle with Care
The next obstacle was figuring out how to hold the print. With two-dimensional art, it's simple to just place your paper on the table and rotate it as needed, but with a three-dimensional canvas, each side has to be addressed. Each side has to be rotated and granted access for painting. Thankfully
my brother had a small swivel vise he printed previously. It worked nicely to keep the Beskar upright and gave me access to 5 of the 6 sides.
As I switched between painting the various prints, I ended up just holding it in my hands so that I was able to see the shadows and highlights casted from the light. Sometimes you just have to get down and dirty with the enemy, you know?
Step Four: Mix and Match
I honestly didn't know what colors would work. Trying to find the right combination that would give that dark, metallic effect was excruciating. Beskar steel is slate gray but contains waves of a lighter grey embedded within the steel.
Depending on the type of print, some designers choose to show this effect by down printing, to create small valleys, or raise the print, to create mountains. As my brother explained, a lot of this depends on the printer's capabilities, and our Beskar would be raised to show its unique pattern.
The prints were done in varying colors of filament ranging from black, white, gray, and green, and as any artist knows, the background color wildly effects the end result. After a couple different rounds, I settled with a mixture of black and silver acrylic paints from Liquitex. This combination worked best on the black filament printed Beskar, but the gray help up just as well.
The worst part, though, was waiting for the paint to dry before flipping the print and moving onto the 6th side (or even patching up the spots from where I held it). And this had to be done without scratching the work I just did.
Step Five: Seal and Deal
As I neared completing the painting portion, I did some research to know what was the best way to seal the plastic. If others are going to play and handle these tactile objects, it has to be durable. I found a recommended ploycrylic sealer and while I did use it as a top coat, I also found that it can be used to fill in those pesky blemishes for a smoother finish. Who doesn't love an unexpected win?
With the print sealed, the color from the paint absolutely stole the show. When the light hits the metallic silver and the underlying darkness of the black paint, I feel like I'm holding my very own piece of Mandalorian Beskar.
That's what it's about, right?
To feel like you're part of something? To feel like you've stepped into a world with problems bigger and badder and meaner than you could ever dream? To imagine heroes and warriors with the ability to tackle those challenges?
That's what art does for me. That's what this little brick of plastic means to me.
What does art mean to you?