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Painting the various parts of the robot that require paint was far more difficult and time consuming than I imagined. After starting the painting project in the middle of January 2003, I am still in the process of painting the robot. The primary problem is that I have made every mistakes a novice painter could possibly  make. Mercifully, I have learned from my mistakes, and I pass on my tales of trial and error to my fellow builders so that you can profit from my experiences.

Light Rod Nightmare
The first problem that I encountered was in painting the light rods. I ran a pin through the holes and suspended them from a string attached to a pole. The light bulb end of the rod was facing the earth and the narrow shaft was pointing to the sky. I discovered that the paint pooled around the registers of the bulb end. I sand the excess paint away between coats, but the pooling and mess reappeared with each application of the spray paint.

I then decided that I should have suspended the light rods in the opposite way -- with the shaft pointing to the ground and the bulb end pointing to the sky.

Unfortunately, this meant removing four layers of paint and two layers of primer. With determination and lots of sand paper, I managed to remove all the old paint. It took me about four hours to clean all seven light rods.

After suspending the light rods the correct way, the primer went on perfectly without any pooling or dripping. Once that dried, I applied the paint and achieved equally beautiful results.

Neon Backplate Nightmare
I have a Dewey Howard Styrene plastic neon backplate. To begin my painting project, I sprayed the backplate with primer (Premium Rust-Oleum Automotive Primer, Light Gray, #2081). We robot builders have been warned repeatedly to use primer on everything before applying paint. Being new at robot building (this is my first robot, after all!) I wanted to follow all directions to the letter.

As soon as the first coat of primer dried (in about 20 minutes), I was puzzled to see that the primer had cracked all over the surface of the backplate revealing the white plastic below. Assuming that I had failed to roughen up the surface of the backplate before applying the primer, I sanded off the coat of primer with 100 grit sandpaper and resprayed. When this coat dried, it too cracked. It looked just like salt flats in the desert. Frustrated, I sprayed on another coat, hoping that the new coat of primer would fill in the cracks. Not only did it fail to fill in the cracks, but it cracked as well.

As an experiment, I sprayed the unprimed backside of the backplate with the Dupli-Color Gunmetal Gray (#T177) paint I intended to use on the front over the primer. It adhered beautifully without any cracking. Apparently, primer was not really necessary, I deduced.

I decided that I would scrape and sand off all the primer from the front side of the backplate and simply spray the paint on it as I had done the back. After several hours of hard work, I discovered to my utter horror that the primer had fused with the plastic of the backplate. I was able to scrape and sand most of it away, but in all the folds of the backplate, the plastic had become soft, gooey and nasty. My sandpaper poked several holes right through the backplate. My scraper had also put some evil gouges into the styrene plastic.

Hoping to salvage the backplate, I liberally slathered it with glazing putty, thinking that this would fill in the gouges and restore a smooth surface to the think. Unfortunately, the glazing putty also developed the same mysterious cracks just like the primer. I later learned that this was because I had applied the putty too thick. Gently sanding it restored to the backplate a fairly smooth surface. The melted areas had hardened. I was greatly relieved. Perhaps I could salvage the backplate after all.

After putting out a call for help on the B9 Exchange List, I had learned from master robot builder Bill Kendzierski that the solvents in lacquer-based paints will melt styrene. The solvents in enamel paints, on the other hand, pose no danger to styrene.

Because of the damage, I needed to apply a primer to help create a smooth, paintable surface for the paint. After sanding, I sprayed the repaired backplate with a different kind of primer:  Dupli-Color Cast Coast Engine Enamel with Ceramic: Gray Engine Primer (DE1612). I  followed the directions on the can of paint to the letter. The results were beautiful. Of course, the paint had to dry for five days before I could do take any further steps. This is one of the characteristics of enamel paint.

After five days, I found that the surface was still not as smooth as it should be, so I slapped on some more glazing putty. After this dried, I sanded it smooth and applied another few coats of primer. After five days, the primer dried and I was able to apply an enamel paint. Sadly, Dupli-Color does not make an enamel paint in gunmetal. The closest match in enamel is Dupli-Color Engine Enamel with Ceramic: Cast Coat Iron (DE1651). It is not as pretty as Gunmetal, but so little of the backplate is visible anyway. Few will notice the difference.

The backplate is still not perfectly smooth, but it will have to suffice as is. Most of the flaws will be hidden behind the neon tubes. If  I am successful in locating another backplate, however, I will set this flawed one aside and begin anew -- using enamel paints.

Lesson, always use enamel paints and primers on styrene!

Claw Nightmare
Although I am building a first season robot and am planning on using a lovely set of cast aluminum claws from Bill Kendzierski , I also have a set of his resin claws. For fun, I thought I might paint these red just in case I ever wanted to transform my robot into a second or third-season robot. I followed the instructions that Bill includes with his claws The were prepared according to his exact instructions.

I applied Rust-Oleum automotive primer (as I did with the neon backplate). There was no problem with cracking. Apparently, the solvents in lacquer-based paints do not react with resin. I then applied the red lacquer paint that is recommended at the B9 Robot Builders Club (Dupli-Color Truck, Van & SUV Red T176.) The color was really a deep blood red color rather than the bright fire engine red of the original robot's claws. The Dupli-Color Red did not seem entirely authentic to me, but I loved the color and decided to keep it. After all, I have stated from the beginning of this project that I am not making an exact replica of the original robot costume. I am making something better than a mere prop. I am going to do things my way!

Realizing that the claws were likely to take lots of abuse -- what with their constant snapping open and shut, crushing metal containers, and shattering space helmets -- I felt it prudent to apply at least six layers of paint. The paint went on nicely, though there were occasional drips that needed to be sanded away between coats.

Unfortunately, I soon discovered that the slightest handling of the claws would invariably cause large chunks of the paint to chip right off. Even the primer would chip away when I was gently sanding or rubbing the claws with super-fine grade steel wool. The angry gash would expose the raw ivory of the resin below.

Having learned a valuable lesson from the experiences listed above, I decided to start all over again, and this time use enamels. I spend five dusty hours sanding away all the paint and primer from the claws. I then applied the same enamel primer I had used for the neon backplate. After five days of curing, I applied several coats of red enamel. Regrettably, Dupli-Color does not manufacture a red enamel identical to their red lacquer (T176). The closest red enamel is Ford Red (Dupli-Color Engine Enamel with Ceramic: Ford Red DE1605). This color is perhaps closer to the color of the original robot's claws (post first season), but I miss the rich ruby red of the Dupli-Color red lacquer.

Wrist Innovation
Instead of painting my wrists Gunmetal like everyone else, I decided that they needed special treatment. On the original robot costume, the paint on the wrists was constantly getting chipped and cracked. Likewise, the wrists did a lot of damage to the torso as they clanked in and out of the arm bays. Since I am having my torso professionally painted, I need to make sure that the paint job stays in pristine shape. To this end, I decided to paint the wrists not with regular paint but with spray-on rubber! I found PolyShield Protective Rubber Spray Coating at my local Orchard Supply Hardware store and went to work. Unfortunaty, PolyShield,  the company that manufactures spray-on rubber, does not make a gunmetal gray color. My choices were black, clear, yellow, red, or green. Black seemed the only option. To achieve the desired gray color, I will simply dust the rubber with unscented talcum powder.

The rubber is easy to apply. It goes on just like spray paint. I applied about 10 coats in order to build up a sufficiently thick layer of protective rubber. The result was not entirely satisfactory. The surface is not perfectly smooth and, in places, is marred by tiny pock marks. I can always sand it all off and try again. If this does not result in the smooth finish I want, I will just sand it all off again and use paint.

In the meantime, I am committed to finding a way to use spray-on rubber. I am confident that this little deviation from authenticity will be a welcome improvement over the original robot costume. Of course, I realize that this action will prevent me from ever winning a "Most Authentic Robot" contest, but I really do not care. I am not building the robot to win contests. As I have petulantly said before, this is my robot, and I am building it my way. I do not need anyone else's approval, permission, or validation.

Painting Tips
1. Follow the directions on the paint can.
2. Spray primer on first, following the directions below. Once you achieve a perfect surface with the primer, you are ready to apply color.
3. Hold the can at least a foot away from the object you are spraying. Otherwise, you will apply too much paint and have runs and sags.
4. Never attempt to cover a surface entirely with paint in one coat.
5. Lots of mini coats that only give a faint hint of color are the best way to avoid runs and sags.
6. Wait at least 30 minutes before applying the next mini coat.
7. Expect it to take at least a week to complete the paint job of a single robot item.
8. It is much easier to achieve a perfect surface if the surface you are spraying is lying flat on the ground rather than suspended vertically or propped at a diagonal to the ground. For round objects, such as the microphone, you have little choice but to suspend them vertically and hope for the best.
9. If you do get runs and sags, you can try to rub them away with super fine steel wool. You can then respray the affected area. This works only if you have sanded the run or sag down to the level of the surrounding paint and if you have carefully avoided sanding away the primer.
10. If you ignore these tips, as I did before I discovered them, plan to spend several unpleasant hours removing all the paint and primer you already applied and ruined. Start all over again, vowing to increase your patience level.

Remember: Lots of successive mini sprays that apply just a light mist of paint are the only way to achieve a satisfactory surface.

Paint Chart
Here is a table of the parts I have painted along with details of the paints I used.

Click on the thumbnail image for more photos and more explanations
Part Primer Color Photograph (click on thumbnail)
Light Rods Premium Rust-Oleum Automotive Primer, Light Gray 2081 Dupli-Color Truck, Van & SUV Gunmetal  T177
Claws Dupli-Color Cast Coast Engine Enamel with Ceramic: Gray Engine Primer DE1612 Dupli-Color Engine Enamel with Ceramic: Ford Red DE1605
Neon Backplate Dupli-Color Cast Coast Engine Enamel with Ceramic: Gray Engine Primer DE1612 Dupli-Color Engine Enamel with Ceramic: Cast Coat Iron DE1651
Microphone Premium Rust-Oleum Automotive Primer, Light Gray 2081 Dupli-Color Import Auto Spray: Arctic Silver Mcc 88-00810, C2872N
Clear coat for durability
Dupli-Color Engine Enamel with Ceramic: Clear DE1636
Programming Unit: sides and roof Dupli-Color Sandable Primer: Gray Hot Rod Primer: DAP1692 Dupli-Color Auto Spray: Univ. Flat Black: DS104, C2272
Neck Bracket Dupli-Color Sandable Primer: Gray Hot Rod Primer: DAP1692 Dupli-Color Truck, Van & SUV Gunmetal  T177
Brain Cup Dupli-Color Sandable Primer: Gray Hot Rod Primer: DAP1692 Dupli-Color Truck, Van & SUV Gunmetal  T177
Brain Premium Rust-Oleum Automotive Primer, Light Gray 2081 Dupli-Color Truck, Van & SUV Gunmetal  T177
Wrists Premium Rust-Oleum Automotive Primer, Light Gray 2081 PolyShield Protective Rubber Spray Coating, non-flat Black 409, DoT2P
Wrist bands Premium Rust-Oleum Automotive Primer, Light Gray 2081 Dupli-Color Truck, Van & SUV Gunmetal  T177