What kind of paint should I use on a Rubik's Cube?
July 9, 2006 7:43 AM   Subscribe

What kind of paint should I use to replace the stickers on a Rubik's Cube?

I'm sick of the stickers coming off after heavy use and want to paint the colors on. I hope to peel the original stickers off, remove any residue and then stencil the colors back on each face. My thoughts thus far, in decreasing order of importance:

  1. The paint must adhere to whatever plastic the cube is made of and withstand heavy use. It should not come off on the hands or scratch easily and should be cleanable.
  2. The paint should release any toxic substances on the hands (lead, mercury, plutonium, ...).
  3. I plan to lubricate the cube occasionally with silicone spray. This must not eat away at or discolor the paint.
  4. It should be fairly easy to make the paint have a fairly flat surface, i.e. without brush marks.
  5. I'd prefer not to have to put a clear-coat on top of the paint to protect it. If I do have to clear-coat, I'd like to only coat the paint square, not the edges and corners.
  6. The paint should be easily (hopefully locally) available in enough colors to provide a good approximation of the original color scheme.
It has been years since I've been inside a hobby store, but I don't remember them having a lot of paints that were meant to be handled. I have easy access to three different types of hobby stores: the ones intended for people who make scale models of tanks or RC planes; the large arts & crafts store and the weird hybrid that I'm a little afraid to go in.

Bonus points for out-of-the-box suggestions (automotive paint?) if you can point me to resources that would lead me to believe that they would adhere appropriately.

posted by Mr Stickfigure to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Oh, and before I get any snarky replies, previously there were some good alternatives, but none that match my (picky) desires very well.
posted by Mr Stickfigure at 7:45 AM on July 9, 2006

Fingernail polish or Sharpie brand markers?
posted by jvilter at 9:55 AM on July 9, 2006

If you don't want brush strokes, spray paint is the way to go. You'll need to make a template and divise a way to make sure it stays firmly pressed up against the side of the cube you're painting. A thin sheet of styrene might work for the template--you can sand the inside edges smooth. Double-stick tape might help keep it in place (carpet tape it good).

Krylon makes a line of spray paint for plastics, which you should be able to spray right on the your cube. But for best results and color accuracy, I'd go with a coat of plastic primer first. Once you've got it primed you can topcoat with any enamel.

Sand your cube down to a super-smooth finish first (1000 grit paper, and try wetsanding.) Apply the spraypaint in very thin layers in multiple coats. If you add too much, it could there's a chance it'll bleed unter your template.
posted by hydrophonic at 10:21 AM on July 9, 2006

I second hydrophonic's suggestion about spray paint. Much more durable than model paints. Problem is, spray paint isn't exactly meant for the kind of detail work you're talking about.

The easiest way to get good looking results (not a criteria on your list, but still) is to simply construct super durable labels. Cut squares of very thin syrene plastic. Sand the edges and corners round. Spray with several thin coats of paint. Glue to the original Rubik's cube.

Painting the acutal cube is tricky (that's why they use labels in the first place). It's going to be hard to construct a template to pull this off. Even if there weren't problems with underspray and adhesion of the template, there's still the problem of actually constructing one that gives you professional results. Cutting rounded corners in a 9-square grid by hand isn't going to be easy.

Here's how I'd approach the problem. You can disassemble the thing, right? Take the individual cubes off the internal rotator? If possible, I'd do that, line up nine cubes at a time of a single face in a grid with their individual sides and bottoms protected with masking tape. Let the masking tape hang over the top faces just a bit, so you can fold it over and give each face a slight border. Don't worry about the rounded corner, you can sand it round in cleanup. An emery board works well for this.

Spray that face (with several light coats) and allow to dry fully. Then do the cubes for the opposite color. Repeat for all sides then lightly sand (including touchup of the corners). Reassemble.

If it's not so good to disassemble it, then I'd work with thin strips (3/16) of masking tape to protect the gaps and give each individual face a slight border. Again working on only one color at a time, paint and allow to dry. The whole thing will take longer this way, and I think the results won't be quite as good, but it's easier to execute.
posted by Jeff Howard at 11:20 AM on July 9, 2006

Vinyl dye, no question. It's available at car parts stores (napa, pepboys, etc) and in the automotive department of larger retailers. It comes in spraypaint-can form so you'll have to mask the squares you want to paint. Do not prime beforehand. The undercolor (black in your case) will not affect the outcome.

Why is it so superior to regular paints or spraypaints? because it actually soaks through and chemically bonds to plastic like glue. It does not require clearcoat because it becomes the plastic. It can stand up to scratches as the color permeates a bit. The finish comes out satin and looks OEM. It's used by case modders and pimp-my-ride type people.

Gideontech guide to Vinyl dye use (not affiliated)
posted by datacenter refugee at 12:17 PM on July 9, 2006

Don't you perform maintenence on the cube by peeling up strategic stickers? Therefore wouldn't painting over them obstruct access to those portals?
posted by vanoakenfold at 12:35 PM on July 9, 2006

Acrylic paints from a craft store should work well.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 1:00 PM on July 9, 2006

epoxy paint
posted by hortense at 2:03 PM on July 9, 2006

Second nail polish. Cheap, available in unbelievable array of colours and specials (glitter, colour change, pearl), durable, easy to apply, fairly easy to remove, and self levels so no brush strokes. Get thee to the nearest dollar store and go wild.

Clear nail polish is an excellent protector for the printed labels on remotes, keyboards and aftermarket radios.
posted by Mitheral at 4:16 PM on July 9, 2006

Be a little careful using the nail polish on plastic not to over-do it; nail polishes contain the organic solvent acetone which can melt plastic.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 4:24 PM on July 9, 2006

You could use superglue to glue the stickers on.
posted by delmoi at 2:49 AM on July 10, 2006

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