How to Turn Blah Buttons into Bodacious Buttonscomments (21) March 20th, 2009
I love buying old tins and jars of buttons at thrift stores or on eBay. They always contain a few treasures—but they also usually contain a lot of rather uninteresting white plastic buttons. As much as I love buttons, these plain ones don't seem to lend themselves as well to crafting as their prettier counterparts. So I've been experimenting with ways to brighten them up with paint.
What you'll need:
- Plastic buttons
- Paint (see types below)
- Thinner (as needed—see below)
- Paper towels or cleaning rags
- Small paintbrush
- Round toothpicks
A couple of notes before we begin: Plastic buttons can be made from lots of different plastics, and if you get them in thrift stores, you'll probably have no way of knowing what kind of plastic you're working with. The paints I'll recommend here may perform differently on different kinds of plastics, so I recommend keeping an experimental mindset. If you like, you can make a little test spot on the back of the button first and see how it performs and how it dries.
All of the paint options I'll cover here will release fumes. Please be sure to use them in a well-ventilated room.
I subjected all four paints to a washer and dryer test: I sewed a few of each kind of painted button to some muslin, and then ran this through a cold-water wash and tumble dry along with a regular load of laundry. You'll see the results below. Overall, I would recommend that if you use painted buttons for a wearable project, it's probably best to wash it by hand or on the gentle cycle of your machine, and hang to dry.
A Great Tool for Painting Buttons
Keep a handful of round toothpicks near you when you paint buttons. They allow you to move the button around easily without touching fresh paint. I usually hold two toothpicks at a time, placing them through two of the holes in the button to hold it steady.
If you want to paint the edges of a button, just put the toothpicks through the holes, and use them as a handle. Works like a charm!
Method One: Sharpie Paint Pens
Usually, I try not to design projects that require special supplies, but I have to say that the Sharpie paint pen is my absolute favorite tool for button painting. I'm using the oil-based version here. These pens are available in lots of colors, and in fine or ultra-fine point, so you can create tiny details with ease. The greatest thing about them: no messy brushes to clean up.
Sharpie paint pens provide smooth, opaque coverage with the first coat, and the paint dries quickly with a satiny finish. It also stood up well to the washer and dryer, emerging without any chips or cracks. (You might want to seal your finished buttons with some clear polyurethane sealer.) These pens would be a good bet for buttons you want to sew to a garment, or for button jewelry and embellishment projects.
Method Two: Nail Polish
Here's an option you might already have around the house. If you're painting buttons for a nonwearable use, like a jewelry project, you might give good old nail polish a try. Depending on the formula, it will provide sheer to opaque coverage. (You can always add extra coats if you want the paint to be more opaque.) It will dry with a lovely, glossy finish, and you can experiment with pearlescent, frosty colors or saturated solids. And, since it's formulated for nails, it has a nice way of smoothing itself out as it dries. The brush that comes in the bottle may be a little large for painting a button, but you can dip a smaller paintbrush into the bottle. (You can clean it up with some acetone or drugstore nail polish remover.)
Nail polish should be left to dry overnight on your buttons, and then you can seal it with some clear top coat. Nail polish didn't perform especially well in my washer and dryer—as you might expect, it cracked on the buttons.
Method Three: Model Paints
Hobby stores carry these little bottles of glossy or matte colors for painting plastic models. The paint is very thin and runny, but it gives opaque coverage with one coat, and the glossy finish in particular looks beautiful on buttons. This is by far the most fume-intensive option and will require a couple days' drying time. The paints come with their own thinner for cleanup.
Model paints held up fairly well in my washer/dryer test. There appears to be some variation depending on the type of plastic the button is made from—some of my samples emerged from the dryer with scuffs, and some were perfect. You can seal your buttons with clear polyurethane sealer before washing.
Method Four: Enamel Paints
I tried two inexpensive craft-store enamels: one water-based acrylic enamel, and one more traditional enamel. This was my least favorite paint for buttons. While I like the opaque coverage these paints provide, they are quite thick, and covering large areas of a button smoothly can be a challenge. The good news is they clean up easily with soap and water while they're still wet. The bad news is that the package recommends a 21-day drying time.
The package also offers a quicker option: baking the paint in an oven to cure it. I tried this with some buttons, but the heat turned them yellow and brittle. However, these same buttons emerged from the washer and dryer with the paint in great shape. So if you can spare the long drying time, these paints might be a good bet for a project you'll be wearing and washing.
After you make this project, show off your work to other members!
Post your project in the gallery
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