case mod 101: how to paint your computer case (part 1)

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Continue to apply thin coats to the workpieces until you’ve covered them completely. You’ll see a flat, matte surface at this point. Let the primer dry (usually you can sand within a half hour, but check the directions on the can) and wet sand your primer coat with 400 grit and light pressure. You’ll almost certainly cut through the primer, especially around the edges. So after sanding we’ll do a second primer coat.

flat and matte
you can see a couple spots where it sanded through–watch out for the edges

Applying the second coat is the same technique as the first, but now you’ll see the cut-through areas, and you can direct a little extra primer towards them. Again, sand this coat with 400 grit. This will remove any overspray (paint particles that dry in midair and fall on the surface), and flatten out any dust nibs or stray insects that would mess up the flat surface.

after the second primer coat

Now break out the color coat and go insane. No, actually, you’ll want to apply thin coats again, just like with the primer. Mistakes in primer are easy to sand out, but with the color coat, things like drips or scratches will be much more work to fix. So be careful to get the edges of your workpieces, and thoroughly coat them with several thin coats, leaving a finish that looks “wet.” You’ll still see some “orange peel” texture, this is almost inevitable when using rattle cans (with practice and proper technique, you can minimize it–but if you can do that, you don’t need this tutorial). but our next steps will be to sand the orange peel flat, and apply a couple clear coats to add gloss and protect the color coat.

again, a coat of paint is a thin thin layer–use several thin coats

You can see we’re quite glossy, but not yet getting mirror-quality reflections. That’s because the slight texture in the surface distorts the reflections (we’re missing the flatness). So we need to let the color coat cure for a minimum of two days (some paints will continue to harden for up to a month actually, but usually you can sand within two to three days) and then go back for the fun part, finish sanding.

after one color coat–glossy, but not smooth

You can certainly stop here and have a really nice paint job. The time we spent on prep will make this a very durable finish, and it sure looks better than factory at this point. But in the next article, we’ll finish sand and apply clear coat (and sand and clearcoat and sand and…) to get the ultimate finish on our panels.

linear’s spraypaint secrets
+ Buy good paint. Cheap stuff is no bargain considering how much work you’ll put into finish sanding.
+ Follow directions on the can. You work hard to do all that finish sanding: don’t get impatient, shake that rattlecan vigorously. Don’t paint when it’s too cold or humid.
+ Don’t get too close to the work. Spray from eight to twelve inches from the work, and use a steady arm motion.
+ Don’t overapply the paint. Several thin coats will be more durable than a thick coat, and look better too.
+ Let your paintjob cure properly before doing finish sanding. Primer is designed to be sandable in minutes, but a color or clear coat should be allowed to cure two days before you wet sand it.
+ Always use a sanding block. It’s worth making your own from scrap 2x4 lumber if you don’t want to buy one–sanding by hand will produce uneven results.
+ Always wet sand your work. A little bit of dish soap added to the water will help the sanding block glide over the work easily.
+ Save 600 grit and above for finish sanding. If you have another color or primer coat going on, 400 grit is as fine as you need.

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