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Big Blue Saw Blog

Making Polycarbonate Parts Any Color

Unlike acrylic plastic, which is available in dozens of colors and styles, it's difficult to color match polycarbonate plastic. Polycarbonate sheet is generally available in small quantities in one of only a few colors: clear, gray, bronze, white, and black.

Above is a photo of my robot "Big Blue Saw Presents Flipper 720". You may notice that the top is a lovely semi-transparent blue. It's waterjet cut from polycarbonate for extra toughness. How did I create the top without buying an entire truckload of blue-tinted polycarbonate? Read on.

I wanted a robot that would stand out from the typical metal and plastic creations of Robot Battles. A blue top would help with that. After some research, I learned about several common techniques for coloring clear plastic:

  • Coloring with a permanent marker
  • Applying window tinting film
  • Dying with clothing dye
  • Spray painting

Spray paint seemed like the least fuss way to go. It turns out that Tamiya, the plastic model kit and RC company, makes spray paints specifically for polycarbonate. They typically sell to hobbyists painting polycarbonate shells for RC cars. It's available in a large variety of colors and styles, including metallic, transparent, and irridescent hues.

I ordered a can off of Amazon in an appropriate color, "Translucent Light Blue", part number PS-39.

Here's a closer look at one of the smaller pieces after painting.

I'm quite pleased with the finished product. It leaves the inside of the robot visible while adding the flair of a bright color.

My tips for using spray paint:

  • Make sure the surface to be painted is clean.
  • Paint in a well ventillated area away from dust or wind.
  • Begin spraying next to the piece to be painted. Starting the spray with the can pointed right at the workpiece can lead to clumpy or uneven paint.
  • Move in a steady, even motion across the workpiece. Follow through and stop the spray only after the end of the stream is off of the part.
  • Apply in layers and use less paint than you think you need on each layer.

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Waterjet and Laser Cut Custom Parts.
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