How To Paint Brass Properly

Brass is a very hard and durable metal. Most brass materials will keep for life and can be passed on from generation to generation. You often find brass materials in their natural element, without any paint or varnish. Just the natural color and shine of the metal, which is yellowish and somewhat similar to gold, but duller. Its shine and luster are maintained by simply polishing off the surface of the article with a chemical solution that removes tarnishing and darkening, to bring back its sparkle.

But brass can also be painted. If you want any part of brass to look differently than its natural color, brass can be painted in as many colors as your imagination can think of. Likewise, it can be painted with almost any kind of paint you can get your hands on. Moreover, brass materials can also be varnished to give it a more lasting finish. You just need to know how to paint brass properly.

Let’s look closely into the process of painting brass.

Can You Paint Brass?

Yes, you can paint brass. You can paint brass with almost any type of paint. What kind of paint will stick to brass? Paints of all kinds — water-based, oil-based, acrylic, enamel, or latex paint. However, you need to know how to properly paint brass, in order for paint to last long.

Materials made of brass often darken due to its reaction with the surrounding air. It tarnishes because of oxidation. Unless you give it a constant rub of soft cloth dipped in metal polish, the likelihood that the brass material will lose its sheen and shine is certain. One way to improve and brighten up the appearance of the brass is to paint it. Paint over brass.

In order to do this, you must first prepare your brass material for painting. Because paint will not stick too well on the smooth metal surface of brass. The likelihood of paint peeling off or chipping off the surface is certain. The first thing you need to do is to prime the brass material.

You can buy a brass primer online or at any store that sells paints. The best type of brass primer is a self-etching primer or a bonding primer. It is specifically formulated for brass and metals. Self-etching primer is an acid solution that contains zinc and will create a layer of paint that will chemically affix to the brass and provide good adhesion to a topcoat. The acid in the primer reacts to the metal and etches it out. This creates a surface layer rough enough for the primer to adhere to. This layer of primer is where the new coat of paint will affix to. This results in the layer of paint not easily peeling off. 

Water-Based Paint or Oil-Based Paint?

Brass can be painted with any kind of paint, be it water-based paint or oil-based paint.

Applying a self-etching primer before painting the brass material with a water-based acrylic paint might do the job. However, it would be best to read the manufacturer’s instructions on how to apply acrylic paint over a self-etching primer. Oftentimes, you may need to apply a coat of another primer called a surfacer to do the job. A surfacer improves the adhesion of the water-based acrylic paint to the bonding (self-etching) primer. 

But if you will paint your brass material with water-based acrylic, it is recommended that you apply a topcoat of acrylic sealer to it. This is in order to protect the water-based acrylic paint from getting wet, or from dust and scratches.

Likewise, brass can be also painted with oil-based paint. But in order for the paint to get a good grip on the brass surface, you need to do preliminary preparations before applying the oil-based paint. Much like the preparations you would do if applying water-based acrylic, you need to be sure that the primer or surfacer you will use is the right kind for oil-based paint. 

Can Brass Be Painted with Varnish?

Yes, you can varnish brass. Varnish or lacquer will stick to brass. Likewise, you can varnish brass that has been painted. If you apply varnish on top of the paint, it will seal the paint that was varnished over. This will keep the paint longer and will protect it from fading and scratches.

Look carefully and inspect the brass material if it has already been glossed over or already has a varnish coating. You will need to remove this original varnish in order to apply a new coat of varnish to your brass article. If you don’t, it might result in uneven layers of varnish.

To do this, you need to remove the existing varnish with a solvent suited to the type of varnish used. A lacquer thinner or acetone often does the job. 

Soak a clean lint-free cloth in some lacquer thinner and rub the material with it. This will loosen up the adhesion of the varnish to the metal surface. Wipe off all remaining patches of old varnish with the cloth dipped in lacquer thinner until the entire surface of the brass material is free of the old varnish. Always wear protective gloves when using lacquer thinner or similar solvents, as this may be harmful on skin contact. Likewise, you need to work in a wide open area with good ventilation and air flow to dissipate the fumes and odor, so you won’t inhale these toxic substances.

Apply thin layers of lacquer on the brass material using a pressurized spray or a fine brush. Allow the item to dry before applying a second coat of lacquer. A second coat will give your brass article a more shiny and durable finish. Remember to sand the item before applying the final topcoat, using a fine grit sandpaper (at least 400 grit).

However, if the brass material is not pre-varnished, all you have to do is clean the brass material with a piece of lint-free cloth dipped in alcohol. This is done to remove dust and oil stains that might have stuck to the surface of the brass material as a result of touching and handling. After you have wiped the brass material clean of dust and oil stains, you can already apply the varnish. 

5 Steps on How to Paint Over Brass

1) Clean The Brass Material

Use soft cotton cloth or a clean rag to wipe off dust and oil stains on the surface of the brass article. Use a little alcohol to remove oil stains. This will ensure that the surface of the brass material you will be painting is clean of any impurities that can mix with the primer or paint.

2) Sand The Brass material

Use sandpaper with medium grit (150 – 180) or not so fine sandpaper to sand the surface of the brass material you will paint. Sanding creates a little roughness on the surface, “teeth” that the paint can cling to. This helps in the adhesion of the primer to the brass metal surface.

Wipe the dust off the surface after sanding. This could affect the smooth texture of the paint if left on the surface of the article when it is being painted. Likewise, minimize touching the surface of the brass material with your bare hands, as this might leave natural oil stains from your fingers.

3) Apply The Primer

This is an important step. Applying the primer is necessary in order to produce best results in painting brass materials. Because the primer prepares the brass metal surface for the application of paint. It lays down a layer of paint for better adhesion of the topcoat. 

The smooth metal surface of brass is not too friendly to paint of any kind. You need to prepare it by applying a primer. And the best primer for brass applications would be a self-etching primer or a bonding primer. 

A self-etching primer reacts with the metal surface of the brass material by creating a strong adhesion to the metal surface. Likewise, it also creates a medium for the topcoat paint to be applied smoothly over it. However, because self-etching primers come in different formulas, it is important to read the manufacturer’s instructions on how to apply paint over the primer.

Sometimes, it is recommended to apply a coating of surfacer on top of the self-etching primer. A surfacer is a polyurethane sealer that seals the self-etching primer. You can paint the topcoat on this surfacer.

Let the first coat of primer dry. Apply a second coat as desired.

4) Paint The Brass Material

Now that the material has been prepared, it can now be painted. Brass materials can be painted with any type of paint, including acrylic, enamel, or latex paint. For as long as the brass surface has been properly prepared, you can paint brass articles to your heart’s desires.

5) Seal The Paint

If you decide to use acrylic paint on the brass material, it might be a good idea to apply a coat or two of acrylic sealer. This will protect the acrylic paint from scratches, damages, or peeling off. You can actually apply a topcoat of sealer on any kind of paint in order to give your brass article a more lasting finish.

It’s Time to Paint!

Brass are made to last a lifetime. You need to care for brass material in their natural state by polishing them regularly. However, you can also add a new and bright dimension to your brass materials if you know how to properly paint brass.