I got excited when I read some forum threads about vinyl dye (long since gone, so links removed), because I hadn’t been satisfied with the results I got from spray paint on my plastic case parts. Vinyl dye is the answer to my case modding problems.
I went to Advance Auto Parts and bought two cans of Plastikote Ultra Vinyl Color–one can Black ($4.29), and one can Flame Red ($4.49). I took a beige case bezel off, and disassembled all the buttons, drive covers and widgets to get separately paintable pieces. While I was at it, I pulled the faceplates off a floppy and a Creative 24x CD-ROM drive I had lying around. I prepped everything by using De-Solv-It to get the sticky gunk off, then wiping down with rubbing alcohol, elbow grease as needed.
I tested the way the vinyl dye handles on a plastic fan cage I had removed from my last case. The spray nozzle on the Plastikote product produces a vertically elongated elliptical spray pattern (which the can said was designed for professional results, especially on large areas). The consistency of the dye is much thinner than ordinary spray paint, and you’ll notice as soon as you shake the can.
It goes on similarly to spray paint, but without seeming to build up the surface of the work piece. I was so excited with how great it was looking, I forgot to take pictures. Or maybe that was the fumes. This stuff has very noxious fumes. However, that makes it dry very quickly. I found I was able to handle my test piece in about 15 minutes after putting the final coat on. The directions on the can say “recoat anytime.”
Vinyl dye seems to have all the advantages of spray paint (cheap, easy to apply, readily available) with none of the disadvantages of painting plastic. The prep was minimal–no sanding whatsoever, no priming required. At one point I changed my mind and recoated a red button with black, no problem. You do get a slight texture from the spray application, but it’s very fine and actually can make your piece look more like it was fabricated that color, as long as you don’t drip or run (same as with paint). The only real disadvantage I found was the smell. It’s powerful, friends. I drove my family out of the house by bringing in a mostly-dry work piece. Don’t even think about spraying vinyl dye inside.
All the work pieces came out fantastic looking. I brought the case bezel into work this morning, and it caught one of my cow orkers eye. She said “where did you order that from?” Case closed.
[click the pics for big versions]
Update: Since writing this original article on vinyl dye, I’ve used it on a huge number of plastic products and parts. You can believe what you are seeing in the pictures, it really works well. PVC and ABS plastics take the vinyl dye treatment really well. Acrylic takes it quite well also, but I recommend that you prep the surface by lightly scuffing it with a 600 grit sandpaper first.