My motivations for painting the laptop were centered around no longer wanting to look at an unattractive two-tone grey case. While it was neither really ugly nor deteriorated, I still felt that it could draw a little more attention than it currently does. Bright red would certainly attract attention and be an excellent source of conversation.
My initial plans were to paint the interior and the exterior as well; a true red laptop. But since this was my first experience with paint, I wasn’t too sure of how resistant the paint would be. I opted for the safe option; deciding to start with only interior; so when the laptop is traveling, no painted surface will be vulnerable to damage. This guarantees that the paint will look good for a long time.
Before you start doing anything, you should check your hardware store for a color you like. Check more than one store, since they generally have a limited selection of colors. You should pick paint that bonds well to plastics. Many people recommended Krylon Fusion; it’s indeed very good. I’ve also seen recommendations of nivyl-based paint. While I didn’t use this type, I don’t think it’s a bad choice either.
I highly recommend that you consider and choose something else to paint first, other than your valuable laptop. By doing so, you will have a good idea of the finish, and you will be improving you painting skills as well.
While color is an important decision, final finish is very important as well. Would you like to have a mirror-like finish that looks killer, but also shows finger marks and dust easily? Or would you like to have something that forgives these cosmetic issues better? The first option probably looks the best, but is also the most time consuming. It requires sanding between layers of paint, and finishing with compound wax. To save time and since this was my first attempt at such a modification, I opted for the second option. Finger marks, greasy-hands and such also bother me quite a bit.
Here’s a list of the parts I used
- Krylon Fusion for plastics, red pepper
- Tremclad clear coat
- Metallic wires (for suspending the part to be painted)
- Masking Tape
- X-Acto blade
- 1000-grit sandpaper (800+ is good enough)
- Cheap nurse mask (for your safety, consider better than that!)
I picked a cordless phone as the test device, because the plastic looked similar. The plastic was kind of porous, just like the plastic Compaq used. The phone was black, the computer was silver. While I was a little worried that the color of the plastic might have changed the end result, don’t worry, it will not, so long as you apply a sufficient number of layers. I painted 4 layers of paint, with 2 layers of clear coat. When looking closely, I noticed my mistakes. I didn’t apply enough layers, and on each layer, there was too little paint. Some areas were darker; thus telling me that these areas lacked paint. The finish wasn’t glossy at all. Clear coat requires many layers to look good; so 2 was clearly deficient.
I opted to go ahead and paint the laptop, with this education in mind. After finishing the phone, I noted that the finished color didn’t exactly match the color of krylon’s cap. It was better in fact. But you’re never sure; try a test area first. It is also a good idea to test the resistance of the paint on your test device. Use some water, sharp objects, friction with your hands. The paint I used was very resistant to all.
Removing the parts
You should start by removing the parts to be painted. Some people cover only the parts that shouldn’t be painted. While this isn’t a bad idea, I do not recommend it with a notebook. If you have the time and the skills to remove the parts completely, you will rest assured that the other parts won’t be ruined by some human mistakes while painting. I suggest you follow the service guide of your laptop to be sure you don’t break anything.
Tape the area
Carefully clean all the areas to be painted with a degreaser (your hands are full of grease), and wash again with plain water. Dry well. Then proceed to cover the edges of everything you don’t want to be painted with masking tape. Use paper to cover large areas, along with the masking tape. I suggest you cover the bottom as well, if possible. It doesn’t really matter in fact; it will only look cleaner if you or somebody else removes that part later.
Use the X-acto to make sure the tape sticks to the edges. Cut the tape to round the corners. It is important to have this step performed nicely, because if you get paint where it isn’t supposed to go, it will look messy in the end. Take your time; draw straight lines with the tape. It is easier to apply the tape correctly the first time than to try to remove the paint. Do not forget to cover the other side of buttons and LEDs. Cover holes/ports on both sides to avoid surprises.
Build yourself a paint area in a well-ventilated area. The area should not have high humidity, and should be around 68 degrees or warmer. Use garbage bags to limit the spray of the paint. Suspend your parts with the metallic wires. Why suspend the parts? Less dust will stick to the surface. Be careful to not attach your wire to an area to be painted. It is a good idea to have the area cleaned before you proceed, as dust is very attracted by any surface that shouldn’t contain dust.
Start painting. Always move from side to side when painting. Never stay in position; as drips are very easy to encounter. I suggest you begin a coat with the hard-to-reach edges, and then proceed with the easier and larger area. Start with thin coat, and wait 10 minutes between them. Use 3 coats if they’re thin. Do not use excess paint, as it will probably drip. If this happens, you should wait until the paint has dried, and sand that area until it is flat again. You should wait at least 12 hours between each layer. Did I mention that you needed to paint in a well ventilated area? If you did not, then you probably noticed by now why you shouldn’t have used a cheap nurse mask lise I did. I’m not a doctor, but paint fumes are very bad, don’t inhale them.
Apply about 6 layers, or until satisfied result, whatever comes first. It should start to look like a near-final result. At this stage, you should look for spots missing paint, or edges you missed. Apply more coats if you did miss something. Better more coats than too few.
Scan the surface for defects using the flashlight. If you find defects, such as dust, bumps, holes, anything not smooth, you should sand with 1000-grit sandpaper before re-applying paint. You may also use your X-acto to carefully remove superficial dust that sticks to the surface. Apply the clear coat exactly the same way. You can never have enough coats of clear, so use plenty. That will protect your paint. If you scratch the surface later, it’s easier to re-sand the area, and re-apply clear over it, than re-painting the whole thing again.
When you’re done with this, start removing the tape. Do it slowly, as you do not want to remove paint around the tape. If needed, cut around the tape to make sure that doesn’t happen. If you find areas that have paint and shouldn’t, use paint thinner and a q-tip to remove the excess. While the paint will dry within 1 hour, it is better to wait 7 days, so the paint will fully cure and be completely chip-proof. Only after that, you should put the whole computer back together.