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Vinyl Dye

by SavaTheAggie (Painting)
MCN How-To Article

A few months ago I started working on using Vinyl Dye to dye LEGO elements, particularly to change the color of KK2 armor to a more realistic color. The process worked well, creating helmets that looked very close to LEGO grey. What I did was to follow the directions I had read online about dying computer cover parts, spraying about 12 inches away in a sweeping motion. I took five minute breaks, allowing the 'coating' to dry. This stuff said it dries in 15 minutes, and can be subjected to weather in 2 hours. So the result? Here are the two visors. The red knight's visor (right) got a product called the Vinyl "Coating", while the purple knight's visor (left) got the Vinyl Dye (see below for details). Without Flash (top) / With Flash (bottom):

The purple knight's visor's color most closely resembles LEGO's old dark gray, from what I can tell. Not too bad, I must say. It's very smooth, it hardly looks like it got a color treatment at all. I didn't even have to pre-coat it in white. I know that O'Reilly's sells black, off-white, tan, dark blue, and this 'silver smoke'. There are many websites that offer a much broader color range, but their cans were each. The Stone-like 'coating' cost me .50 (right), the Vinyl Dye cost me .50 (left). Here is a picture to illustrate the color comparison (old gray on the left and new blay on the right):

Well, since then I have done two things: I vinyl dyed a suit of KK2 Euro Armor to see if the vinyl dye would cover the decal and I used Brasso to see if I could not return the shine to the elments. I used the red "bear" armor below:

And applied vinyl dye. The vinyl dye completely covered the decal, not even leaving an embossed outline of where it once was. I also applied brasso, using an old sock, and tried my best to buff the armor and helmet to their old 'stock' shine. After several minutes of furious rubbing, I was only able to get a small bit of shine to return to the suit of armor. I think if I had a dremmel available to me I would get a better result, but I'll leave that to someone else to experiment with for the moment. So the result:

This fig is wearing a vinyl dyed purple helmet and a red piece of euro armor. The armor is a slightly lighter shade of grey than the helmet. This is most likely due to the color of the plastic the dye was applied to, since the dye gets absorbed and doesn't simply coat. The red color of the armor is a lighter shade overall than the dark purple of the visor, so the lighter plastic resulted in a lighter dye job. What we've learned:


1. Vinyl Dye works perfectly to permanently change the color of LEGO elements.

2. The dye absorbs into the plastic, instead of coating it, leaving all original detail including scratches and dings.

3. The color of the plastic being dyed will determine the shade of the finished product. While the difference isn't immediately obvious, a second coat of vinyl dye may solve the problem.

4. The dye dyes LEGO elements, decals and all. Down side- you cannot retain original decals and vinyl dye without some intermediate step. Up side- there is no need to pre-brasso elements before vinyl dying.

5. The dye is so permanent that it survived minutes of furious rubbing with brasso and a follow up warm water and soap bath.

The two brands of vinyl dye I have purchased are Mar-Hyde and Plasti-Kote. The Mar-Hyde "Silver-Smoke" was used to create the dark grey color of the purple knight's armor.

Both companies offer a multitude of colors, mostly earth tones and greys. Plasti-Kote is the only one of the two that offers the color 'white'. Mar-Hyde offers a off-white that looks a lot like LEGO tan, but I've not bought nor tested it. Other colors that can be found are light grey, black, dark red, bright red, dark blue and bright blue. I've heard rumors of green and even metallic variants.

Both companies offer the rattlecans for about a piece. Custom-matched colors are available through larger retailers, but they'll run or more for a rattlecan.

Aside from the company websites, I'm not sure how you would buy them online. I found Mar-Hyde at three differen tO'Reilley Autoparts. Many autopart stores around here, especially the mom-and-pop local owned ones, carry Plasti-Kote. The larger retailers do NOT carry vinyl dye. The stuff they carry is a coating, not a dye. Make sure you read the labels carefully. The stuff that Wal-Mart carries is called Dupli-Color Vinyl and Fabric Coating.

I had a mixed result with the Plasti-Kote white vinyl dye, but until I can retest it, I'm going to blame my poor results on it being too cold outside and my vinyl dye being too old (it had dust on the cap when I bought the last one off the shelf).

Warning - the difference between Vinyl 'Coating' & Vinyl 'Dye'

As mentioned above, there are two very similar kinds of Vinyl product on the market, one is called Vinyl 'Coating', the other Vinyl 'Dye'. What you want is the Vinyl 'Dye' and not the Vinyl 'Coating'!

The Vinyl 'Coating' is the only product for Vinyl both Wal Mart and Autozone carries. I also bought a KK2 set with the red knight to experiment. The product I bought was: Dupli-Color Vinyl & Fabric Coating (coating in really tiny letters... a clue!) And here is our poor test subject:

Well, what I got resembles stone. Not bad, but definately not what I was going for. So I went to a different website, one with close up pictures, and it definately looked nothing like what I had, and everything I was trying to achieve. I obviously had not bought genuine Vinyl Dye. So once again I went out, this time to O'Reilly's auto parts. Hidden on a shelf, not with the paints, was a product called: Mar-Hyde Vinyl Color Spray This stuff looked like the real deal. The first named ingrediant? Acetone! That's right, everyone's favorite plastic-melting compound. From what I read, this is exactly what I wanted. So I bit the bullet, and subjected my favorite KK2 knight, the purple one, to the knife, so to speak.

Case Study: The Skull Knight!

Behold! The Skull Knight!

Ahh... vinyl dye... how I love thee... Unfortunately, the process of dying the visor did not go as planned, so the result was less than perfect. It's too cold outside and I believe the can of white dye was too old. These two factors have caused my visor to have slightly grainy look (but not texture), and I was not able to fully coat the inside of the visor (though I don't think that's too important).

Here's a detail shot of the visor. I tried my best to get the lighting conditions to define the grainy texture as much as possible.

It actually looks a lot better in person than it does here, since the visor is all one color, and the shadows don't show up as well. I also want to say I have not yet tried brasso-ing the visor. But let this be a lesson to you would-be Vinyl Dyers out there: make sure to never dye your elements in too cold, too hot, or too humid conditions, and always make sure your dye is fresh. Works well for 'bone' though.

Here are some more tips on working with Vinyl 'Dye':

Vinyl Dye is extremely humidity and temperature (as seen with my skull knight) sensitive. It is also very age senstitive, it seems.

Only use vinyl dye on the lowest humidity days possible, at least less than 80%, and only ever between 60 and 80 degrees F.

Always... ALWAYS spray in well ventalated areas - vinyl dye fumes are the same as spray paint, and just as dangerous.

Spray in steady, slow sweeping motions, only making one to three passes at any one time over the subject, from about 12 inches away - no closer. If you spray too close you'll get runs just like spray paint, and even though vinyl dye is absorbed, in too high quanitity it'll dry like paint.

Let the element dry anywhere between 5 and 15 minutes between coats. To get an even color, 4 or 5 passes may be required. After you have finished, allow the element to cure over night in a dry place in the ideal temperature range.

Cardboard absorbs vinyl dye pretty well, so its safe to use as a platform on which to spray - the thicker the cardboard, the better. However, too much dye on the carboard will saturate it, and you can risk glueing the elmenent to the cardboard. The best solution I have found is to bend a paperclip into a small stand to suspend the element off the cardboard entirely. This method works best with larger elements with hollow spaces, where the paperclip won't prevent coverage, like helmets and armor. Accessories such as swords and spears will be much harder to suspend.


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