My friend gifted me a Shoei metallic street helmet on my birthday for my love of road racing. However, I am not too thrilled about the metallic color. Most helmets in the market come in very dull colors and bland graphics. So, I wondered how I could paint my helmet to match my taste and style without breaking any laws and damaging my helmet in the painting process. After intense research, I believe I have an answer.
To paint a motorcycle helmet, you need to clean the helmet surface, buff it lightly with sandpaper, cover the fittings and openings, paint the helmet to your liking and seal the paint with a clear coat. Keep in mind that painting a helmet requires patience depending on your design’s intricacy and waiting for every coat to dry completely before adding another to allow the paint to bond well with the helmet’s surface.
Before even thinking of painting your helmet, confirm with your local safety laws on painting motorcycle helmets. Rules and regulations on motorcycle helmets vary with location; this is because some paints have petroleum-solvents that degrade the helmet’s protective shell. Once you confirm that painting your helmet is not a violation of road safety laws, you can proceed with the following process.
Things You’ll Need
- Water-based acrylic paints
- 400 grit Sandpaper
- Airbrush gun or spray gun
- Old newspapers
- Masking tape
- Markers and paintbrushes
- Stencil (if you are making a pattern)
- A raincoat or apron
- Respiratory mask
- Dishwashing soap
- Warm water
- Wear some rubber gloves to prevent marking the helmet with your fingerprints, a raincoat to protect your clothes from catching paint, and a mask to protect you from inhaling paint fumes.
- Set up your painting station in a place with plenty of ventilation and also away from dust. Dust can stick on your paint and ruin the whole process.
- Clean your helmet with warm soapy water and a sponge to remove any grease, dust, and dirt on the helmet.
- Unscrew any removable fittings of the helmet like the pull-down visor and the chin straps.
- If your helmet has a glossy coating, you should lightly sand it with a wet 400 grit sandpaper and be careful when sanding around edges and corners. Do not overdo the sanding as it might damage the helmet’s protective shell. Removing this glossy coating will help the paint adhere well to the surface and prevent peeling.
- Use a damp, lint-free cloth to wipe any paint dust that remains after sanding. Allow the helmet to air dry for about an hour before resuming to paint.
- Cover any parts of the helmet you do not want to paint with masking tape. Cover the openings with newspapers and secure them around the edges with masking tape. Make sure the paint does not get on the inside of your helmet. It is also required to cover any safety stickers on your helmet.
- Apply about two coats of primer and allow it to dry overnight. Applying primer is optional, but it gives the paint job a long-lasting effect.
- Sketch your design using a pencil on the helmet and make any adjustments before putting on the paint.
- Paint your design using water-based acrylic paints. Acrylic paints are safe to use on motorcycle helmets without damaging the fiberglass or polycarbonate base. Let each layer dry for about 2-3 hours before putting on another layer. Drying allows the paint to bond properly to the helmet’s surface and prevents peeling and unwanted mixing of colors.
- If you are using spray paint on your helmet, it is best to use an airbrush instead of an aerosol can. Airbrushing gives a more even coat of paint.
- Seal the painting with about 3-4 coats of acrylic-based clear coat and wait for about 15-20 minutes between each coat. Ensure the clear coat does not get into the helmet as it will eat away the cushioning foam inside the helmet. Vigorously shake the spray can for about a minute or two to ensure the solvents and the clear coat mix evenly.
- Hold the nozzle about a can’s length from the helmet and spray lightly as you move the can side to side.
- After an hour or two of the clear coat drying, remove the masking tape on your helmet. Do not wait until the paint is fully dry to remove the masking tape, as this will cause peeling.
- Allow the clear coat to set overnight, then screw back the fittings on the helmet.
What kind of paint do you use on a helmet?
There are various paints for painting a motorcycle helmet, but some paints have solvents that melt and damage your helmet’s protective structure. Both water-based acrylic paints and polyurethane paints are safe to use on a plastic or fiberglass motorcycle helmet. These paints are safe for the helmet as they do not have solvents that weaken your helmet’s plastic shell.
Acrylic paints contain a plastic binder; it is water-soluble when wet, dries quickly to a flexible, water-resistant, durable surface. Though it biodegrades slowly, polyurethane paint is fade-resistant, protects the helmet from corrosion, highly durable due to its tightly bound resin structure, and non-toxic when it dries up.
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Avoid paints that contain acetone or polypropylene. Pints with acetone soften and dissolve plastic surfaces, while polypropylene has low bonding properties and is highly flammable. Always check the paint label to ensure it is safe on plastic or for multi-surfaces. You can also consult the helmet’s manufacturer to know the best paints they can recommend for your helmet.
Can you repaint a motorcycle helmet?
Yes, you can repaint a motorcycle helmet; however, you have to use paint that does not erode the helmet’s protective shell. If you notice scratches or cracks on your helmet, you should forego repainting and buy a new helmet. Painting a damaged helmet will further weaken the plastic and increase your risk of head injury in case of an accident.
As long as your motorcycle helmet’s base is in good condition, there is no limit to the number of times you can repaint a helmet.
Is it OK to paint a motorcycle helmet?
Since motorcycle helmets come from the factory already painted, there is no more harm in repainting your motorcycle helmet as long as the paint is safe to use on motorcycle helmets. Helmet manufacturers do not recommend painting your motorcycle helmets unless you are using paint with plastic-safe solvents. Some paints have solvents that can corrode the helmet’s outermost protective layer, especially in older helmet models, rendering it unsafe for road use.
The only instances when painting your helmet can be unsafe is:
- If the helmet’s plastic or fiberglass shell is cracked or damaged, painting over it will weaken the base more and make it less protective.
- If you sand through the helmet’s protective clear coat and into the plastic or fiberglass, therefore weakening the surface.
- If the solvents of the paint you’re using can soften the plastic helmet. It would be best if you used paint that is labeled ” for plastic.”
Legally, there is no law in the US against painting your motorcycle helmet. Still, they warn against using just any store paint and recommend using manufacturer-recommended paints since painting your motorcycle helmet with certain paints can compromise your helmet’s safety feature.
Before starting a paint job on your helmet, call your helmet’s manufacturer to get recommendations on the safest paints to use on their helmets without infringing the road safety rules. Also, be light-handed when sanding down the helmet before painting it.
How much does it cost to paint a motorcycle helmet?
The cost of custom painting a motorcycle helmet with a professional is between $300-$1,500, including labor costs. However, the price varies with location and design. A solid color paint with a clear topcoat is less expensive compared to a more intricate design.
Painting a motorcycle helmet on your own would probably cost you between $100-$300, depending on the equipment you have and need to buy for the job. For example, buying decals, airbrushes and stencils will increase your cost. Also, it means you’ll be doing all the work by yourself, and painting a helmet can take a while as you have to wait for each paint coat to dry before adding another.
This simple step-by-step guide will help you to paint and customize your motorcycle helmet without compromising the protection feature of your helmet’s base. Always get your helmet paint from a reputable paint shop that can also recommend paints that are safe to use on your helmet. If your helmet’s shell is already damaged, avoid painting over a weak base and replace it immediately.