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How to make Glow in the Dark paint


I get emails all the time from people wanting to do various projects with glow paint and I will go through the most common questions here as I don't have the time to keep answering individual emails.


Painting a night sky on a ceiling. When I first started my star ceiling art I worked with many types of glow paint in an attempt to create a highly realistic night sky but soon found that the density of glow particles needed to be far higher than any glow paint could supply. This is not to say you won't be able to achieve a good result for a short duration but the night sky won't have the longevity for more than one or two hours each night and also will never have the capacity to create high level stars as there is simply not enough pigment mass in glow paint. This is the reason I went to individual mouldings for my bedroom star kits.

Painting tree branches, stumps, garden objects for outdoors. Glow paint is really poor for outdoor applications and there are no pigments on the market at the moment that I would recommend that may give you a good result. Glow castings that use a high loading of pigment can work well but they are not simple to use. I would suggest you buy a small amount of glow paint from a local supplier and test for yourself, do something small and see how it stands up to the amount of light for your application before wasting to much time, money and effort.

Driveway markers and signs. These are the same as trying to do decorative items as above and will give little or no benefit in outdoor applications. I will use my glow house numbers as an example. Take a look at this image of my glow number 5 you can see how I show the triple layers that make up the performance of the number.



Now to relate this to glow paint the glow pigment layer you see here is around 5mm thick or a little under a quarter inch thick and a single coat of glow paint is only 20 - 40 microns in thickness. It would take approximately 150 coats of glow paint to build to this level of pigment loading and even if you did something that crazy the paint would crack and craze and fall apart after a day or two once the solvents fully evaporated. Now when you consider that my numbers will glow from 6 to 12 hours in their outdoor setting depending on the level of outdoor light what hope is there for a few microns of glow paint? Once again as I mentioned above just do your own testing with a small amount of glow paint and find out whether there is any potential for your application before wasting to much time and money.

If you are wanting to paint something for indoors that will be used in darkness then glow paint can be awesome, if that is the case read on but this is not directed at outdoor use.


Basics of Glow in the Dark Paint


To make an object glow indoors you will need two basic ingredients, glow in the dark powder also known as crystals or pigment and a clear paint medium. For best results you will need a powder of around 10-30um. Now the larger the particle size the more powerful the glow but you will not want to exceed 30um for the purpose of paint as it gets very hard to work with and will most likely just block your spray gun. Take a look at my paint example here you can see the difference in the glow paints from the fine uM grade of 5um with very poor glow to the powerful glow paint using 10-30um as you can easily make yourself at home.

  glow in the dark paint  
  The glow in the dark paint on the left is the same as the stuff for sale at different places on the internet with a very small particle size or uM. This paint is made like this so that you the end user has no trouble with settling crystals and in turn using the paint. The problem here is that this easy to spray and use glow paint normally has a very low glow.  

What type of Clear Medium


Now what type of clear you choose is very important. If you are going to paint something that is exposed to the elements outdoors (Which I don't recommend, see above) then you will want a good long lasting outdoor clear like an automotive acrylic clear. If you are going to paint something indoors (Recommended) you may go with a water based clear but if you do make sure your glow powder is water proofed or you could damage the glow as soon as you add it to the water. Always follow the manufacturer directions for thinning the clear and make sure that you do it correctly by using a scale or by volume but don't guess, this paint thinning step is critical to having a usable paint.


Type of Spray Gun and job Preparation


The type of spray gun you use to paint glow in the dark paint is very important, you will need to use a gun like the one on the left which is known as a suction feed spray gun. The gun on the right is known as a gravity feed spray gun and by its very nature is not as good for this type of high powered glow in the dark painting unless you really know what you are doing.

  Spray guns for glow in the dark paint  
  Important: You need to have your job laid out and ready in front of you so that you can do all of your painting at the same time without having to put the gun down for more than a few seconds.  

Spraying the High Powered Glow in the Dark Paint


So you have your basics on glow in the dark paint and you purchased a glow powder of 10-30um from any supplier, you also have your clear mixed at the correct ratio for spraying and your job is ready for the glow in the dark coating. Now add your powder to your thinned clear at a ratio of 1 part glow in the dark powder to 3 parts thinned clear and always make as little as possible, you are better off running out and re-mixing a fresh batch than having left over as it won't keep.

Now the critical part, mix your glow liquid well and place the spray gun on the pot from this point on you want to keep splashing the glow liquid around inside the pot. Spray one or two passes over an object and then move your pot around in a circular motion to keep the liquid mixed and then spray again and so on. Never let your pot just stand still for more than a few seconds or until you have finished your job. If you have to let your gun sit between spraying take it of the pot straight after you finish your first spray coating and flush some thinners through it, then when you are ready re-mix the glow paint and start painting again.

Multiple thin passes will give you a much brighter and consistent glow than one heavy coat. This type of paint is not as easy to use as the basic glow paints available everywhere but it will give you a far better result, it just depends on what you are trying to achieve with your project?


Can you Air Brush Glow in the Dark Paint

  Well you can but unless you are doing some sort of art where you want to have finer detail than a spray gun can offer I would not recommend it. I used to air brush star ceiling planets because I could not achieve the same effect with a spray gun but it is very frustrating at times because the fine nozzle sizes and workings of the air brush clog very easy and you often spend more time cleaning the gun than doing the job. If you ever try it you will know what I mean.  
  Here are a couple of things that I painted with the same high powered glow in the dark paint that you can make yourself by following these simple steps. I painted this with the paint that you see in my paint example above.  
  Glow in the Dark Bat Image  
  Glow in the dark bat  
  Glow in the Dark Butterfly Image  
  A couple of warnings  
  Always paint over white or very bright background colours or your glow will diminish.  
  As stated above I do not recommend painting anything in glow in the dark paint that will be used outside unless it is in a truly dark location, if you want something for outside you are far better off with a much more powerful glow in the dark moulding.  
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