How to Paint Action Figures

Updated July 20, 2017

Painting action figures can restore colour to well-used action figures, or even customise action figures to give them a different appearance. Due to the small scale of action figures, painting them requires a steady hand and a moderate amount of skill. Do not paint collectable action figures in an attempt to cover nicks or scratches. Such work may destroy their value as collectibles.

Soak the action figure in a bowl of warm water and dish soap to remove dirt, oils and any adhesives from packaging.

Detach any easily removable parts, such as heads, hands or holsters to make priming and painting easier. Removal of such parts will be easier after soaking in the warm water. Prime and paint these parts separately.

Sand surfaces of the action figure with fine sandpaper to ensure primer and paint will adhere to it. Be sure to sand the joints as well, otherwise the new paint is likely to rub off if you pose the figure.

Prime the figure with a grey spray primer.

Determine the type of paint you want to use. Oil-base model paints work well, and they require cleanup with a solvent like turpentine. Acrylic craft paints also work well, and they require only water for cleanup. Acrylics are more likely to stick to some rubber or vinyl surfaces, such as superhero capes, while oil-base paints may not.

When the primer is dry, determine the look you want for the action figure, then apply a base coat of paint accordingly. For "realistic" figures with a gritty, real life appearance, apply a coat of black paint over the entire figure. For "animated" or "cartoon" style figures that will have vibrant colours, apply a coat of white paint over the entire figure.

Use a "dry brush" technique for "realistic" figures. Dry brushing is simply putting a small amount of paint on your brush, then painting over the black base coat. Allowing the black to show through in creases, wrinkles and other details gives the figure its realistic look.

Use a thicker coat of vibrant paint over the white base coat for the "animated" or "cartoon" style figure. If two coats are required, let the first one dry thoroughly before applying the second.

Hero symbols, such as chest insignia, may be hand-painted. You can also find symbols on websites, download them, scale them to fit your action figure, then print them. Cut them out and apply them to the figure with a light wash of white glue and water, which will dry transparent.

Use the same base coat technique for heads and hands that you used for the rest of the body. Then paint them with the appropriate skin tone. When that is dry, use a fine brush to paint facial features, such as eyes, lips or scars.

Reattach any parts you removed in the preparation stage.

Spray the finished action figure with a coat of matt spray sealant.


There is no one "right" way to paint an action figure. Experimenting with different techniques is the key to achieving a look you like.


Detach small parts carefully to avoid breaking ball- or peg-joints. If a joint seems to difficult to separate, paint the piece as part of the whole figure. Wear a dust mask when sanding figures. Use a filter-type respirator mask when spraying primer or matt sealant, or make sure you are in a well-ventilated area or outside.

Things You'll Need

  • Acrylic craft paint or
  • Oil-based model paint
  • Craft brushes
  • Gray spray primer
  • Fine or very fine sandpaper
  • Matt spray sealant
  • White glue (optional)
  • Dust mask
  • Filter-type respirator mask
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About the Author

Steve Jones has written professionally since 1979. He published "The Right Hand of Command" and chapters in "History of American Life," "The Handbook to Life in America" and "Beacham's Encyclopedia of Social Change." Jones has a Bachelor of Arts in journalism, a Master of Arts and a Doctor of Philosophy in history from Oklahoma State University.