Painting Silicone Headpieces

Silicone can't be permanently painted with acrylics, body paint, or any of the materials typically used on latex headpieces. You might get them to stick at first, but they won't last long. Alcohol based body paints and well-powdered grease paints will stick for a while, but they will rub off where they brush against clothing, etc. There's just one thing that sticks really well to silicone: more silicone! To durably paint your headpiece, you will need a silicone base, color it, thin it with solvents, and then paint your headpiece with the mix before it cures. (It is also possible to seal a layer of alcohol based body paint under a layer of silicone.) There are two popular methods for painting silicone, depending on where you go shopping for your supplies:

FX Store Version:

These materials tend to be more expensive than the hardware store materials... but they have the advantage that they're MADE for doing this sort of thing. The quality of the materials will be higher, the results will probably be a bit better, and they're easier to use. My preferred source is Reynolds Advanced Materials since it's pretty close and shipping isn't bad, though many other stores sell Smooth-On products. Unless you're lucky to have a local store which sells this type of materials, you'll probably have to order them online. Psycho Paint (Psycho Paint is a two-part silicone. Be sure to follow the instructions that come with the silicone, and only mix up as much as you can apply in about 20 minutes or it will cure before you're finished using it!) Silc Pig (These awesome pigments are VERY concentrated. A single drop from a toothpick is often enough!) NOVOCS Silicone Solvent. (Be sure to get the Matte version, rather than the glossy stuff to give a more skin-like finish!) While you still need to wear a respirator, NOVOCS is generally less toxic than most solvents. To use these materials, you first mix your color tints into Part B of the Psycho Paint until you get the color you want. The color will be slightly diluted when you add the Part A, but not by much. When you have the color right, you then add an equal amount of Part A and mix thoroughly. Thin the silicone with the NOVOCS solvent if needed, and paint your lekku. Paint very thin layers, or the silicone will run and drip!

My personal preference for coloring silicone headpieces is Psycho Paint, NOVOCS Matte, and any color product I have on hand that gives me the color I need to make! I think Silc Pig gives the best color quality.

Hardware/Crafts Store Version:

These supplies tend to be the cheapest way to paint silicone. They can typically be purchased at local hardware stores such as Home Depot or Lowes, and crafts stores such as Michaels or Hobby Lobby. If you can't find them locally, Amazon always comes in handy! Believe it or not, professional FX artists use these same materials to paint prop pieces for movies. They do help keep things at a lower budget. You will need: Clear GE Silicone Caulk (Get type 1, not 2. They are usually shown with the Roman numerals I and II.) Caulk gun Naphtha Solvent Cab-O-sil (Or Talc, though it's not as good.) The caulk will make your silicone very smooth and glossy. You'll need to mix in some powder to give it more of a skin look when dry. Artist's Oil Paint. (I like the Grumbacher brand, but any will do. Be sure to get student or professional quality oils. The really cheap beginner's brands have a poor oil base or too much oil in them.) To use these materials, you first pour some Naptha into a small jar and stir in some cabosil. Shake it up until the powder is mixed thoroughly into the liquid and you don't have any more chunks of powder. It should be rather thick, like hair gel. This mix will reduce the shine of your silicone. Set it aside so it'll be ready to use later, with the lid on to keep it from evaporating. Then, cut the tip off the caulk tube. Many caulk guns have a hole for cutting the tip, or you can use a shop knife. Squeeze a small amount of caulk into a glass or plastic container (not something that the solvent will eat through!) Seal the caulk tube, and then add some of the dissolved powder mix to the caulk, perhaps a couple tablespoons. It all depends on what you're using and how much, so you have to experiment to find out what works best for you! Gradually add Naptha to your caulk and powder mix, stirring and adding more solvent until the paint is thin enough for your needs. Add color, mix thoroughly, and paint your lekku! Mix small batches, since the caulk will begin to cure once it is exposed to air and you will have a limited work time depending on the temperature and humidity of your work area. You might have ten minutes of work time before it starts to set, or you might have forty!

Tips:

- To paint with a brush, thin your silicone just enough so it will spread easily. To paint with an airbrush, the silicone will need to be water thin and it's a good idea to strain it through a paint filter before use. No matter which technique you use, apply the tinted silicone in very thin layers and gradually build it up to the color you want. Multiple thin layers are better than a few heavy layers... thick layers cause visible runs in the color!

- It's always a good idea to mix up a small practice batch of silicone before you actually paint your headpiece. Find out how to mix your materials, test their compatibility, find out how the color looks as each layer dries, find out how much working time you have before it starts to cure, and generally get comfortable with the process before you take that scary first step and start coloring your lekku. It's also a good idea to paint a small test patch on your headpiece, either inside the head area or on an area that will be covered by your forehead wrap, just to make sure that your mixture will stick well to the silicone of the headpiece once it is cured.

- Is it okay to mix and match your supplies? Yup! They all do basically the same thing, though in general they tend to work best with similar supplies. NOVOCS doesn't thin caulk as well as Naptha, so it's better to use that with Psycho Paint. The Silc Pig and oil paints both work equally well with either the caulk or the Psycho Paint.

- Additional Color Options: NO water based colorants; they don't cooperate with silicone. Dry powders are usually okay, so powdered makeup such as Bare Minerals can be blended into the silicone for a flesh tone. Alcohol based colorants also work, so if you have an alcohol based body paint such as Reel Creations, it can also be used. These materials don't create a really concentrated color so they won't color the lekku as efficiently as oil based pigments, but they do work. Be sure to do a test batch to make sure your colorant will work with the silicone. Some chemicals will inhibit the curing of silicone, and you don't want a permanently gooey mess on your lekku. Experiment!

- Just in case your painted-on layers of silicone ever try to delaminate from the surface below them, it's a good idea to make sure you paint your layers completely around the lekku headpiece. If the full surface is covered, there will be no edges that can peel away.

- Spray Naptha or NOVOCS through your airbrush to clean out the silicone mix. Do NOT use the same airbrush that you use for body paint!

- It's a good idea to wipe the headpiece with Naphtha, NOVOCS, Toluene, or Xylene before painting to remove any contaminants (mold release, skin oil, etc) from the surface. I've heard that it also opens the pores of the silicone, helping the paint stick.

- If you need to remove paint from an area before it's fully cured, a cloth dipped in solvent usually works.

- If the lekku are shiny after your silicone has fully cured, you can use baby powder or powdered makeup to knock down the shine. Don't use it on uncured silicone, because it will stick permanently in uneven clumps!

- ALWAYS wear gloves, eye protection, and a respirator when working with solvents. You need a good quality respirator that is rated for chemical vapors, NOT one of those cheap dust masks. A good respirator is needed when you're sanding and painting, too... they're important for every costumer to have on hand!