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Absolute Proper Way to Paint Plastic/Vinyl Interior Parts for the DIYer

I've noticed there's quite a number of posts out there with regards to painting the interior pieces (some of have even gone as far as changing the whole interior color outright i.e from that boring grey to that nice black we all lust after!) But there are those who are weary of painting interior pieces due to fear of fading, cracking, peeling etc...

I'm here to alleviate that fear :)

I'm going to outline step by step, the PERFECT way to paint any plastic interior piece, without the risk of flaking, chipping, fading etc..(may also apply to exterior pieces e.g lip, mouldings etc...)

This is a simple, fool proof process that I myself have used many many yrs ago on a Grand Am I used to drive, when I decided I couldnt stand that beige vomit color interior anymore! I painted it a 'specklestone' texture (hella cool back in those days), and anyone who ever entered the car was always 'touchy feely' with my dash and doors (because it had that 'texture'). The finish was never compromised, no matter how many times people "caressed" it. The 'speckle' coating wasn't attempted by many (usually it was left for detail shops to do) only because of its sensitive nature to flake and chip. Well mine didnt, and if my method worked on touch sensitive "specklestone", it'll definately work for regular flat based spray paints.

There's absolutely no reason why a flat based spray painted interior should peel or flake IF the task was handled correctly and delicately!
*Note* Unfortunately, although I was proud of my results and would love to show it off, I cant find the pics I took waaay back then...HOWEVER, I am going to be painting some interior/exterior pieces in my 2G soon. There's some interior pieces that I'd like to accent in Black; as well, I'm hoping to fab up some microsuede inserts for the doors and a carbon fiber overlay for the radio/hvac bezel.
All in due time....and I promise I'll post pics to follow ;-)

Here Goes....

***Before we start, it is imperative that the steps are followed to the tee!! More often than not, I've seen painted "handywork" that looked like ass (you see it in the Mustang forums all the time) only because people tend to rush when painting. They just wanna get it painted so they can throw it back on. This is a no-no....if you want a flawless job, time is crucial.

*FYI* In terms of product quality, I've had great success with SEM paint products. Hands down, their prep and application products are awesome! You can use others, but IMO, the SEM stuff proved to be the best. (And believe me, I've tried em all...Krylon, Tremclad, Duplicolor etc...)

Also, try to paint (and keep the paint cans) in optimal temps i.e room temp or above


- Plastic Precleaner- (if you cant find this, rubbing alcohol, or mineral spirits works fine. Also, only use a degreaser on pieces that are extremely dirty, greasy, oily or have been treated with protectants i.e armor all and such. After degreasing, then clean them with plastic precleaner or rubbing alcohol, as the degreaser tends to leave behind a residue that obscures bonding)

- Wet Sandpaper - 800 grit (for plastic) and 1500 grit (for vinyl)

- Tape - (in case you need to mask certain areas)


- Paint- (if it's plastic, buy plastic paint. If vinyl, make sure its vinyl paint, only because that paint contains certain elements that adhere better due to vinyl's flex properties)
Also, up to you whether you want a matte or glossy finish. Most paints also come in satin. IMO, satin works best as it is a matte finish with a nice sheen to it. Usually the paint cap gives a good indication of the type of finish.

- Primer- (any indoor/outdoor plastic primer will do)

- Adhesion Promoter - (comes in an aerosol)

- Clear Coat - (again, comes in glossy or satin finish. Go satin. Unless there's a particular piece you wanna blind your passengers with)

Step 1
Remove any pieces to be painted (pretty obvious...just makes it easier to clean and paint; and if you can, have the piece sit on something so its above ground. If its suspended, you can get a nice even spray all around, top to bottom)

Step 2
Wash the pieces thoroughly in soap and water. If extra dirty, oily or greasy, use a degreaser (brake cleaner will work). Dry everything nicely, and finally rub em down with the plastic precleaner (or rubbing alcohol) Final dry with a clean cloth.

Step 3
*Important* If it's plastic, you're going to LIGHTLY sand the pieces with 800 grit wet sandpaper. Make sure that both the piece and the sandpaper are constantly wet. Use no force or pressure, let the wet sandpaper do the work. Use circular motions, varying the circles over the entire surface of the piece. KEEP EM WET! AND NO PRESSURE! This is key to a good wet sand. Also, keep the sandpaper clean from plastic build-up; that build-up can and will scratch the surface. A good idea is to wrap the wet sandpaper over a piece of foam or sponge, that way you dont exert too much hand pressure, and it'll sand over contoured areas nicely! But if you're like me, and you wanna "feel" your work, then using your bare hand is fine too, just KEEP IT WET, CLEAN, AND NO PRESSURE!
Rinse the piece when finished....dry thoroughly.

*Note* For vinyl, same process, but use 1500 grit. You'll find there's vinyl on the door, armrest, dash.

Step 4
Apply the adhesion promoter, but first, SHAKE THE CAN! If the label says to shake for a minute, you better damn well do it! You want the adhesive chemical solvents in the can to be nicely blended so you get a nice uniform coat, just waiting to be primed! Apply it the same way you would paint: light, even, side to side coat. With the adhesion promoter, one coat is sufficient. Be carefeul here, because one too many coats, and this stuff will gunk up on the surface. Allow it dry
*Note* Depending on the brand of adhesion promoter you buy, its a good idea to follow the 'drying' guideline on the can before the next step. Some cans will say after 30 min it's dry...others maybe 90. Follow the can!

Step 5
*Important* Apply the primer, but first, SHAKE THAT SUCKER UP! Again, same concept, you want the paint pigments nicely blended for uniform quality. Shake before, and during. Spray one, nice LIGHT coat (And I mean light! Dont go crazy!) Wait about an hour....spray the 2nd nice LIGHT coat. Two coats should suffice here. If you still need more coverage (you shouldn't...but hey), wait about another hour, spray a 3rd, LIGHT coat.


I'm being anal about light coats and waiting 24 hours? You bet! The better the primer adheres to the surface, the better the paint will adhere to the primer.

*Note* In between coats, its a very good idea to turn the can upside down and spray until clear gas comes out. WHY? Well the can will tell you it's so the nozzle wont clog, however, the more important concept for this is that now when you go to spray coat #2, there might be dried paint obstructing the nozzle pathway, hence creating a "splurting and sputtering" of paint, thereby ruining that nice uniform smooth finish you obtained from coat #1.

Step 6
You waited 24 hours right? Time to paint! But guess what? SHAKE THAT DAMN CAN! Shake it while you paint! Same concept: nice, LIGHT side to side motion. We're gonna add 3 coats here, and it's this step that makes it or "flakes" it for the paint. After your 1st coat, I recommend at least an hour...if you can wait more, even better. With the base coat, ample drying time is crucial. Also, your method in applying the paint ultimately affects the end result. So again, 3 coats....wait a good while between coats...and keep em LIGHT! AND...between coats, invert can and spray!


Step 7
Clear coat time. You're shaking the can right? With the clear, 2-3 coats should suffice. Same concept as above...nice, uniform and LIGHT coats! With the clear, you dont have to wait as long, about half hour or so is good. As long as you keep the coats LIGHT. Let everything cure for an additional 24 hours before handling and putting back in the car.

**Additional notes**
With the freshly painted surfaces, I wouldn't use any cleaners on em for at least a week or two. As a matter of fact, I wouldn't use cleaners on them period! Reason being is most dash cleaners contain alcohol based solvents such as n-propoxypropanol, propylene glycol ether (for glass) and isopropanol. Most will contain 2 out of 3 alcohol based solvents, which if used on occassion, can deteriorate the clear coat, eventually leading to paint fade.

Good ol fashion soap and water will do...unless there's a stubborn stain that needs removing. If you gotta use cleaners, you should ABSOLUTELY protect the surface with a protectant after.

You should be using a protectant anyway, as most contain the UV inhibitors to prevent fade.
A good thing to look for is protectants that contain lanolin and natural moisturizers...and if not, then water based silicone is fine too.

Keep in mind that the pieces you chose to paint are just that...PAINTED! Extra care is required for these pieces, unlike the factory ones which are dyed (and even those can fade)

So in the end, practice good "carkeeping". Hope this article helps with anyone's interior transformations!

*** admin edit - added some links to products mentioned in the post ***
Last edited by a moderator:

'97 Cayenne

Proven Member
Mar 30, 2011
Milford, New_Hampshire
Anyone know what the right paint is to match the 2G grey plastic trim and console parts?
You can send SEM a piece that you are trying to match and they will custom make the color for you. this is what i did to change my entire interior to black to match the rest of the factory black pieces
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