Tuesday, September 27, 2022
Home3D PrintingBeginner's Guide: How to Paint Your 3D Model

Beginner’s Guide: How to Paint Your 3D Model

Hello Machine Bros!
In this article, we will show how to paint a 3D model and for this case, we chose The Terminator!… And we will make that 3D model to change from this:

3D printed terminator model
Recently printed model

Into this:

Terminator 3D model
Finished model

We will guide you step-by-step on how to paint your 3D model and we will give you the necessary recommendations to achieve the results you expect.

And do not worry if you are not a professional, this is the main purpose of this article, that all people who do not have experience or have basic knowledge in painting, can achieve the coolest creations.

We recommend that you watch the video, as this is a complement to the article and we show in more detail the different steps you must do.

Video of how to paint your 3D model

You must bear in mind that to achieve a result that you are proud of, it is necessary to have basic knowledge of color mixing.

If you don’t already have it, we recommend that you look for some information before starting to paint your 3D model. Although this is essential, it does not represent a great challenge and you will surely learn it easily.

Here we will show you our technique, but each artist has his/her particular way of making creations as he/she gains experience, so feel free to experiment, and don’t forget to share your creations and experiences with The Machine Bros. Readers will appreciate it.

Good Luck

Just printed 3D model
Preparation of the 3D model
Tools for painting
Painting your 3D model
Metal efect
our paiting expert
painting the metal colors
Painting the eyes of the 3D model
Painting the skin
Paiting finished
how to paint your 3D model 3D printing
The terminator 3D model

The experience will always be an important ally, but that does not mean that you cannot achieve incredible results if you do not have it yet, in that case, DO NOT SKIP ANY STEP, IN EACH ONE THERE ARE IMPORTANT TIPS AND COMMENTS THAT YOU MUST KNOW.

3D Model Information

The 3D model we used for this article was purchased from www.malix3design.com (https://www.malix3design.com/2018/05/terminator-bust-stl-files-for-3d.html).

We recommend that you take a look at their page, they have incredible models and fairly cheap prices.

Once we downloaded the model, we followed all the instructions that come in the attached PDF to do the printing.

We used PLA filament for the 3D Printing.

List of Materials

Below are all the materials that you will need for the artistic project that you can find in AMAZON.

Although we use local brands for prices and immediate availability, you can buy the ones you want, just remember that it is essential to ensure that they are good quality materials.

Note: Some of the suggested materials come in kits, such as brushes or acrylic paints, if you want you can buy only the paints you need for a particular project.
3D model painting materials

Acrilic Paint

Acrylic paint is ideal for painting plastic-based models.


Get all the necessary sandpaper densities to make sure the polish is as good as possible.

3D Printing Coating

Protective coating for smoothing and finishing 3D printed parts that does not melt plastic.

Craft Knifes

They allow us to cut printing supports and details on the surfaces of the model.

White Primer

Another option that provides long lasting protection to the 3D printed models.

Transparent Primer

Similar to white primer, it smooths the surface and allows for a better addition of acrylic paint.

Brush Set

It is important to have different types of brushes: thick, thin, medium, etc.

Tools Kit

This kit is very useful to help remove impurities in printing and helps a lot with polishing. It also comes with tweezers to remove the supports.

Gesso Universal Primer

Allows you to sculpt details of the model that have been damaged.

Recommendations before start painting a 3D print

  • Always have all the necessary materials on hand, do not start until you have everything ready.
  • Get good quality paints and materials (Don’t save a few pennies on paints, brushes etc.)
  • In this case, we recommend that you have a model to follow (photo) so that you have all the colors and the clear final appearance, so you can compare your creation with the model to follow and adjust colors as necessary.
  • Lighting is essential, it will allow you to appreciate well the colors and details of your figure. For your health, do not work in an environment with little lighting and ventilation.
  • Be careful with your brushes, always keep them in the water while you do not use them so that they are not damaged and dry them well before and after using them.
  • Take some breaks!
  • Don’t despair if you can’t get the best result from the start, some parts will need more effort and you can always fix them.

Estimated painting time

There is no precise way to establish how long your creation will take, but in general, if you want excellent results be prepared to invest a considerable amount of hours.

This particular model has taken us about 36 hours to complete, but keep in mind that we have documented all the steps and this takes quite a bit of extra time so surely you will do better.

It is important that you have the necessary patience between each of the steps, especially when you apply the primers.

In this process you must wait for the proper drying time, later we will give you more information about it.

Remove printing supports of your 3D model

Depending on the complexity of the printing process, it can have multiple supports that ensure that the piece prints correctly.

But when they are detached from the 3D model they leave marks and if you do not remove them with care and patience, they can even deform or weaken the model, so take your time and use the right tools.

3D model supports
3D model supports
3D model supports
3D model supports removed
3D model supports removed
3D model supports removed

Preparation of the 3D model

It is normal that in all 3D printing there are always imperfections on the surfaces.

The final result will depend on how well you perform the polishing tasks. For this, you must use all the tools that we suggest, such as sandpaper, files, scalpel and carving tools (Check out the video for the details!)

This step itself can take as long as the painting, in the particular case of our model (THE TERMINATOR!) there are surfaces that must be as smooth as possible, with a mirror finish, so that when applying the paint it remains with the characteristic shine of the original form.

Depending on the model you want to paint, there are parts that represent more complex access due to its shape, where you will not be able to access it with sandpaper, so you must use the carving tools and scalpel to reach these difficult places.

Additionally, the skin of our model has very deep pores, so for us, it has taken a great effort to polish all the skin of the model to more closely resemble reality and give it an improved finish.

In the end, you will be able to judge the result.

Smooth the surfaces
Smooth the surfaces
Smooth the surfaces
Smooth the surfaces
Smooth the surfaces

Reconstruction of damaged parts

We know that 3D prints are really good looking!… But they are not perfect and some parts of our model can have significant damage.

In our case, when polishing one of the TERMINATOR ear imperfections, it has been slightly deformed, additionally, we want to correct some marks in the eye area.

For the reconstruction of these parts, we use the “Modeling Paste”. Remember that after applying it you will have to polish that surface again.

Reconstruction of damaged parts of a 3D print
Reconstruction of damaged parts of a 3D print

Surface smoothing of a 3D print

As we expressed previously, our model needs a mirror finish on some of the surfaces, but some of these are difficult to achieve. For this reason, the polish is not optimal.

Therefore, we must rely on products such as the GESSO Universal Primer. This will help us to have the surfaces with the desired finish.

In our case, we will apply it to the metal looking parts.

3D model surface smoothing
Surface smoothing of a 3D print

Cleaning the 3D Model

After all the polishing work you must do a thorough cleaning job.

Use soapy water to clean your 3D model and remove all residues that are still attached to the piece.

It is important that the cleaning is carried out in-depth.

Primer Application to a 3D Print

Now our piece is polished and is practically ready to be painted, but before that, we must prepare the surface so that the paint adheres well and the details that were not adequately polished due to its difficult access are corrected and we will do this with the PRIMER “Rust-Oleum”

We have chosen the white primer so that when applying the paint on the piece it is not altered.

This is very important since it will be one of the greatest challenges when it comes to giving the realism you want to your creation.

Before you apply it to your model, it is VERY IMPORTANT that you pay attention to the following recommendations, otherwise, your piece may suffer significant damage.

We make these recommendations because we have already made mistakes in previous designs and we want you to avoid the consequences of these.

  • Before using, shake the can of primer very well, this will prevent air bubbles from leaving the surfaces.
  • Apply at least 20 cm away and begin to apply not directly on the piece but from outside it so that any lumps of paint with air that there may be come out first and these do not fall on the 3D model.
  • Always apply thin layers, do not take risks, the primer could form leaks if you exaggerate with the thickness of the layer and then you would have to polish again and this is very tedious.
  • Wait the right time between layers (20 min), don’t be impatient, it’s worth the wait.
  • You must apply at least 4 coats so that the defects that you did not manage to cover in previous steps are minimized in this step.
  • After the final coat, you should give a drying time of about 12 hours. During this time the painting will contract and will remain in its final form, do not rush.
Primer application to the 3D model
Primer application to the 3D model

Additional polish

In case you still have parts in your model that you do not like, this is the last opportunity you have to polish before starting to paint your model.

In our case, we will finish polishing the TERMINATOR’s ear.

Additional polish to the 3D model
3D model polish

When finished, wipe it with a damp cloth to remove all the impurities that are left, and finally we will be ready to start painting.

Analysis of the surfaces to be painted

Now you must know exactly how are going to be the results you want, hence, you should always have an image of the model you want to paint (we had several images of The Terminator), this is to avoid improvisation.

It only remains to establish the order you want to start, although there is no exact science that determines it, our recommendations are as follows.

  • Locate a hold point for your model, from which you can hold it while painting, those hold points should be the last to paint.
  • Start with the most hidden surfaces of the model or those that are difficult to access, so if you accidentally paint another surface there would be no problem, then you can correct it.
  • Then focus on the little details that stand out ,like the eyes in our case.
  • Continue with the large surfaces of your model, once this phase is over, your model will begin to take shape
  • Connect the now painted surfaces. This is a crucial moment depending on your model, for the Terminator it is time to paint the main wound.
  • While you are painting a surface, you should make sure to finish it until you think it is as you want it. This is important because obtaining the right color is the most complex and if you have to mix again later it will be difficult to obtain the same shade.
  • Lastly, leave the surfaces where we hold the model in this way they will not wear out or get dirty while you hold it.

First brush strokes, shadows and glitters

Painting a 3D model is easier than painting on a flat surface.

While on a flat surface you should give the feeling of depth and shadows, lighting etc. changing the shades, in a 3D model this is automatic due to the nature of the piece.

The shadows, brightness and depth will be generated automatically when the light hits the model in such a way that you only have to choose the right color.

What you should keep in mind is that it is difficult for a surface to have the same color tone, for example, the skin.

It changes depending on where you apply it, such as the eye area, usually it is darker because of the eye bags. Or the chin area, usually the shadow of the beard also darkens the skin.

3D model shadows and glitters
Shadows and glitters

As the last recommendation, you should bear in mind that the human eye does not have much skill in identifying colors.

Once you mix in your palette and get the color you want, only when you apply it to the model, you will be sure if that was the desired shade.

This process can take a while while you get some experience, but if you make a mistake, you can always change the mix in the color palette until you get the desired color.

3D model shadows and glitters
Shadows and glitters

Hard to access surfaces

In our model, this corresponds to the wound that leaves the metallic part of the TERMINATOR exposed, where even the teeth can be observed.

For these little details and the fine lines tracing, you need to use the right brushes. These must be in good condition and have the necessary caliber.

Although we mentioned that the shadows and some details are automatically generated by painting on a 3D surface, you may want to highlight some edges by making contrasts that give more detail to the details you want.

In our case, we have accentuated some lines with black that had been lost due to the polishing of the piece.

Hard to access surfaces of a 3D print
Metal Surfaces

Extra shine to surfaces that need it

Sometimes it is normal that you want to accentuate the brightness of certain surfaces because acrylic paint does not give you all the shine you need.

The same thing happens to us with our TERMINATOR.

For these cases we recommend that you use a transparent canned primer for large surfaces, if it is for a small surface you can simply use nail polish.

We have used both to give more realism to the metal surface and to the eye.

Surface shinning of a 3D print
3D model eye painting

Protruding surfaces (eye)

These surfaces are the ones that are first seen when you look at your model, they are the ones that capture the attention when you look for the first time.

In our model, it is the eye and secondly some scars that will be painted later along with the skin. These should be at the right level of detail to make an excellent 3D print.

Give them the time and patience necessary to achieve the best result. It is very important that they have the greatest possible realism since they will give character to your creation.

Paint of the eye of the 3D model
Painting the eye of a 3D model
The Terminator eye painting

Large surfaces (Skin)

The time has come for the largest surface of our model, which corresponds to the skin.

Remember that usually, these surfaces are not just about mixing colors and applying them to the entire surface.

You must play with the imperfections of the models, the shades of what you are painting, analyze very well the example images you have of your model so that you do not make mistakes, and subtract realism from your creation.

3D model sking painting
3D model sking painting
3D model sking painting
3D model sking painting
3D model sking painting

Remember that colors usually look different on the color palette.

The human eye sometimes deceives you and the colors are not what they seem.

For example in the following image, both blocks seem to have different colors, but in reality, it is the same color. To check it, just place your finger in the middle of both blocks.


Effects similar to this are those that can deceive you so that you can overcome this, you will have to mix and apply the colors on your model until you are sure that the tone is the right one.

You can see in the video of the article the effort that the artist has to make to paint the skin.

It is up to her to repeat the layers several times because she is not comfortable with the color obtained until she finally achieves the desired color.

Surely you will have to do paint several times and with different color mixes so that you can get a great result, but do not be discouraged by this Machine Bros, it is something completely normal and only the experience can make you excel.

how to paint your 3D model 3D printing
how to paint your 3D model 3D printing

Surface Connection

After you paint the large surfaces of your model, it is time to connect them.

This is usually a challenge because you must make a proper transition between two different colors, but if you have already overcome the challenge of the skin, surely this will not be something to worry about.

For our model, it is time to paint one of the most interesting parts that define our model and by this, we mean the Blood!

We will try to give it a vivid color as if the wounds were recent, so at the end, we will add a little clear nail varnish. With this, we will add freshness and additional shine.

The recommendation is the usual one, start mixing colors until you find the right shade.

In the case of blood it is simple, but depending on what you are painting you must be very careful so that between the union of layers of different colors you achieve proper realism.

3D model surface connection paint
3D model surface connection paint

Model attachment points (Hair and Base)

Well Machine Bros, at this point we have already advanced a lot. Your model should already be taking a great appearance. It is time to give it the last strokes but in the same way, you must continue giving all your effort.

For our model, the attachment points were always the hair of the TERMINATOR and the base of the Bust.

We paint the hair with a brush and the base of the bust we will do with a silver spray can because it is a completely homogeneous surface.

The hair, as well as the skin, must be painted with great care and preserving the details.

In the video, you can see how the artist gives small highlights to the hair with a lighter brown that gives it a quite real appearance.

Attachment points of the 3D model
Attachment points of the 3D model
Attachment points of the 3D model

To paint the bust with the spray can you must be very careful and isolate the surfaces you do not want to paint, it would be a shame if the paint falls on surfaces that have already been painted at this point.

Remember the previous recommendations for painting with spray cans, patience is an important ally.

Isolate surfaces of your 3D model
Isolate surfaces of your 3D model
Isolate surfaces of your 3D model

Final touch to give your 3D model some originality

We have finished, but you may want to give your creation a final touch.

You may have already noticed that on the right side of the face there are small wounds on the skin.

These do not correspond to reality, they are not part of the original model, but we add them because it gives the TERMINATOR a little more aggressiveness, but we did not stop there, to personify our model a little more, we added additional wounds to the neck, chest and back.

You can do the same with your model and give it that touch that will make it unique in the world.

Painted 3D model
Back part of the 3D model
3D model painting expert

Finally, you have achieved it! We hope you are proud of your work.

It has been a great experience and we have enjoyed every moment of making this article for you and it would be great if we could count on your feedback.

Please leave us your comments and also share your creation, we would like to see this community grow with your help.

Terminator 3D model 3D printing
The Terminator

Other 3D Printed Models

If you liked this article and want to check more 3D models printed and painted, we recommend you the following articles:




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