Introduction: "UPDATED W/Videos" How to Spray Paint Snake Skin Scales on Anything

Picture of "UPDATED W/Videos" How to Spray Paint Snake Skin Scales on Anything
Painting a snake skin scales effect is very a simple but effective way to dress up your vehicle, device, laptop, or pretty much anything! Requires very few materials and even no skills. Anyone can get dragon, snake, or croc scales with a couple of colors of almost any type of spray paint. Over the years I've picked up a few little tricks and for my first instructable I wanted something simple but impressive and I've found this trick to be so easy to do even my young daughter has done this to her laptop.  

The videos below took 30 minutes to make "Yes it's that easy to do"!!!

Step 1: Required Materials

Required Materials
2 Contrasting colors of spray paint (or another spray medium i.e. airbrush, paint gun)
A clear coat spray paint (I like "preserve it" for most NON-automotive projects like laptop covers)
A pair of fishnet stockings (the larger the diamond pattern the better, really any diamond shaped pattern netting will produce the effect, and you want get the weird looks like you'd get being a guy asking for stockings)
Masking tapes of different sizes
OPTIONAL: Frisket film (for additional masking off graphics)
OPTIONAL: Stencils (for additional graphics)

Step 2: Mask Off Everything

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Mask off your parts that you don't want painted
 this gives a crisp clean edge to your work

Step 3: Time to Lay Your First Color

Picture of Time to Lay Your First Color

Lay down your base coat. This will be the under shadowing of the scales, I've found a brighter color really makes the scales pop off the project and give a 3D effect

Step 4: Put Your Project in Drag!

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This is the most important step of the process. Once your base coat dries, take your fishnet stocking and stretch it over your project as evenly as possible. MAKE SURE the stocking or netting lays flat over your base coat.

NOTE: I forgot to take a pic of the Bottom coat with just the fisnet this was after I had already started adding line

Step 5: TOP COAT!!!!

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Start spraying your top coat. REMEMBER to spray lightly and straight down over the netting make a couple of light dusting passes giving each pass time to tack up until you have a good coverage of top color.

NOTE: I forgot to take a pic of the single top coat this was after I had already started adding lines

Step 6: The Showstopper

Picture of The Showstopper

Once you've allowed the whole thing to dry to the touch, simply peal back the stocking and viola scales.

Not real visible in the pics but that the effect I was looking for, I've added some of the gas tank that are more clearly defined.

Next step for the tank is to go back and shadow in under each one of the couple thousand scales to make it really pop out more.

Step 7: Be Creative Make the Design Yours

Picture of Be Creative Make the Design Yours

Being creative with paint can sometimes be a challenge but keep trying the skill will build with time!

You can use easy release masking tape or frisket film to design other artwork over the scales.

To preserve your new one of a kind paint job I suggest you make a couple of dusting passes of a clear coat to protect your artwork.


bluesquirrel (author)2015-01-26

I was hoping somebody had tried this so I could see how well it worked, and here I found this, awesome. Now I can do dragon-themed paintjobs on my nerf collection with ease!

ELITE-01 (author)2013-06-29

Hey there, Great Idea you had here.
I was wondering if you had a technique for applying the look to a pipe or cylindrical object. I'm painting a bike of my own (the pedaling type), and thought that a black base color with White scales would look Awesome. The problem at mind is that the bike's frame is so skinny that the fishnet would have to be folded or creased to get a tight fit, and when Painting, it would leave evidence of the fold line across the tubes.
This "Seam" would likely be easy to hide, but why leave an imperfection if not necessary?


LifeWarrior (author)ELITE-012013-07-02

When I'm trying to get real intricate or in smaller spaces I use string to stretch the fish net in different directions it gives a snake twisting and/or turning effect producing odd size and shapes in uniformity of scales, use an airbrush to shade and shadow imperfections. Let me know if I can help, Oh yeah and send pics when its done, love to see them!

CaseBoy (author)2011-08-15

that would look sweet on an xbox 360 controller

LifeWarrior (author)CaseBoy2011-08-15

I've never tried it on something that small, the dip in contours might create a challenge to get around but worth a try. If you do it let me know how it turns out. Oh yea and some of those contours can be painted by holding down the net then half and halfing it.

CaseBoy (author)LifeWarrior2011-08-17

ya i just got a cheap xbox 360 controller for 5 dollars, now all i need is the fish net stockings.....this should be......interesting?

LifeWarrior (author)CaseBoy2011-08-18

If I remember right I bought the one in the video at wally world for about 5 bucks being this close to "All Hallows Eve" they should be everywhere right now. I like to see how it comes out. it'll be interesting to see the effect on something so small, on flat surfaces or outward curving contours it is really amazing on something that curves in like a dimple I've had mixed results, also to really make it pop off the project in a 3 dimensional look it helps to shadow the scales and when you spay the clear get some really "fine" metal flake or glitter and spay into the clear when wet. A cheap substitute is that spray body glitter teen girls are using these days, I used my daughters glitter stuff once (without her knowing) on a customer laptop once when doing this trick came out amazing.

Patent Dragon (author)2011-08-02

Definitely a technique I'll be able to find useful in the near future. Thanks for sharing your work, and how you did it all!

Thanks, all of you are great and the reponse is amazing.I figured I'd post this for the painting contest and share a neat trick. At the very least if it's helpful then that's the spirit of this site.

platypuser (author)2011-07-25

super cool

LifeWarrior (author)platypuser2011-07-25


tw2sheds (author)2011-07-25

Just the thing for the snakeskin head on an erhu...chinese spike fiddle . ty

LifeWarrior (author)tw2sheds2011-07-25

Yeah that would be wild, I always thought they made those out of real snakeskin

tw2sheds (author)LifeWarrior2011-07-25

Well they do but the local snakes are kind of puny so if I ever make an erhu I'll try something like this (Mylar head with enamel paint I guess),

LifeWarrior (author)tw2sheds2011-07-25

If you build one post some pics lets us know how it comes out, one tip if the drum part curves inward towards the center, Stretch the fishnet over it and hold it down flat against the mylar and only paint the side opposite your hand when it dries hold it down again and paint the other side remember this trick works well when flat against the work.

angelabchua (author)2011-07-25

These are awesome!

LifeWarrior (author)angelabchua2011-07-25

Thank you,

jaxboy (author)2011-07-25

I really like your bike! Also, what others haven't picked up on is how the paint job is complemented by the pattern on the seat. Please do an addendum showing the bike after the shadowing! You might also want to do us all a great favor and next time show how you created the awesome flame masking. Great job!

LifeWarrior (author)jaxboy2011-07-25

I'll add it to my next instructable that I'm working on that illustrates other tricks and techniques, that is simply a base coat mask using really thin tape. When I finish the shadowing I will update possibly add it to the new article to demonstrate the effect.
As for the seat funny that you mention it I was planning on recovering it with a light green faux snake skin upholstery, however I haven't decided yet It might be too over the top.

elliespaghetti (author)2011-07-22

Great idea, the motorcycle looks amazing. Can the stockings be used more than once? I'd love to make a giant snake for Halloween, maybe using dark green & bright yellow paint for high contrast. The colors will wash out at night/in shadow/tucked under bushes. Any thoughts on materials, techniques, etc would be most appreciated!

Use reflective paint, in possibly florescent colors.

I'm a Home Haunter myself, for snakes, particularly large ones I take 1/2" pvc and bend it using a heat gun to the shape I need. Take a pool noodle, slice it length wise so that I can pop it onto the pvc. Hot glue as you go to keep it in place. l use a water based sealant on the noodle before painting because the typical spray paints will eat away at the noodle similar to styrofoam if you make your own gravestones. You could also use plaster 'mummy' wraps available at craft stores but spendy. Shape the head out of styrofoam or a Leggs egg (if they still have those) or for extra creepy, use a doll's head. Then follow Mr. Roder's method and it should look awesome!

That's a interesting idea for designing a model. Actually you brought another old school trick to mind I've never tried it but I've seen it done is to mask off a piece of Styrofoam with a design then use a solvent based spray paint (very lightly) to melt away a small layer around the mask leaving a 3d effect that could easily be sanded smooth. Use that trick with mine, skip the base coat just use the netting to lay down a gel-coat paint (something water based or solvent free) to protect the foam scales peel back the mask and spray a light coat of solvent based paint over the exposed areas, hypothetically it should produce a cut away look in each of the lines. If anybody tries this post some pics.

Exactly! I use that method for making my gravestones. Two ways, mask everything except the words and you get a carved in look. Mask a border and only the words and you get a nice 3D effect on the lettering. The heavier you paint, the more the styrofoam gets eaten away. BTW the scale pattern you made is incredible!

I considered doing the foam sculpting as an instructable with a 3D skull I made once, however I noticed you hadn't made one yet you should post your technique I'd love to see your skill, I'm always looking for bettering myself and the best way I've found is collaboration. Keep me posted if you do.

Oh yea and there really is no technique that's why I posted it it very easy to do and you get great reuslts with almost any kind of spay paint. Just dust your top coat on the first few passes and don't let the netting move while painting, soon as it's all dry then remove the netting (TIP: It's almost impossible to re-lay the netting correctly on a curved surface so don't try to look at the finished product till your done painting and its dry to the touch)

I've often thought about getting some on skin airbrush paint and doing a Halloween costume using this technique directly on someones skin. Dark green and yellow would be cool for a costume, another idea is get that glow in the dark color as your base and a mid tone green. As for if it can be reused: Yes if the paint is water based like Createx airbrush colors just throw them in the washer after you paint, however anything solvent or urethane based not really, on curves and contours you need to be able to stretch the fishnet tight enough to stay in place during top coating otherwise you'll lose the effect, and after a single use with urethane's pretty much leave the netting stiff. Then again you can use the stiffened net on "flat" projects over and over again just masking tape it down. As for materials every Halloween I go to wally word and get those (for lack of a better term) hooker costume style fishnets stocking I buy ten or twelve and use them on other motorcycles and other projects like computers cases through the year.

mauited (author)2011-07-24

Way cool technique! I've needed something new in my bag of spray art. Thanx.

LifeWarrior (author)mauited2011-07-25

Thanks, it is a really neat trick, the first time I tried it it blew me away how easy it is to do.

Kaisei13 (author)2011-07-21

Nice technique! I would suggest switching your main picture though. It kinda looks like a water hose instead of painting awesomeness. Maybe the 5th picture on the last step.

LifeWarrior (author)Kaisei132011-07-21

I think I was kind of going for that subtle to wow approach see the effect close up not really getting a full view of how stunning the effect is until you've read through most of the instructable. I've read a lot of these and my favorites are the ones that build up to the finish.

LOL my wife says I've got to finish shadowing the scales in to get the full 3D effect, She says the up close pic kind of looks like a turtle shell, but a garden hose that's a first.let's just hope it "washes" away the competition.

Treknology (author)LifeWarrior2011-07-24

Yes, I thought the initial photo looked a little "garden hose" too, but it's still way cool.

One idea to help with the shadowing effect would be to keep your spray aimed in one "grain" direction ALONG the netting so that each scale is extremely well defined in the corner where the spray collects, but slightly fuzzy in the opposite corner where the spray doesn't get to hit the surface directly.

LifeWarrior (author)Treknology2011-07-24


I'll have to try that with an airbrush sometime, I had tried something similar with a paint gun but controlling the over-spray even with the lowest possible pressure is difficult (atleast in my case), I am completely self taught, and one thing about this trick is if you get the fishnet too tight it starts separating the scales to far apart, however too loose and spaying at an angle has always caused the netting to lift off the work and ruin the effect. I've tried a hundred different ways to get this to work without the double work. The idea is sound and I think it could only be done with something precise as an airbrush with a very fine needle. Over spray has always been a pain, I'll get little runs trying different tricks like this and have to spend hours drying, sanding and retouching. Thanks for the tip next time I do scales I'll trying it with createx.

grumpygrady (author)2011-07-24

you can also use old lace for a nice pattern

LifeWarrior (author)grumpygrady2011-07-24

I've tried lace to airbrush the designs on a cobras back once, it came out pretty good.

grumpygrady (author)LifeWarrior2011-07-24

Yes it comes out nice ,I use the old lace in different patterns for my RC car body's which are painted from the inside out ,so you paint the details first and then go to the base color

LifeWarrior (author)grumpygrady2011-07-24

I've seen tons of techniques, I've never been able to do that from the inside out so intricately much less that small, Please do an instructable on this I'd love to see the technique

throttlehog (author)2011-07-24

Killer work and some mad creativity.

Exactly how do you go about adding the shadowing underneath the scales?

I've always wanted to paint my black Cobra with a ghost snakeskin design, but have never seen it done anywhere or on anything. Got any ideas?

LifeWarrior (author)throttlehog2011-07-24

Actually the shadowing would be directly under the point of each scale giving the illusion it coming from underneath. I'm working on another instructable that will have a bunch of commonly known tricks by auto and airbrush painters. It will deal mostly with taking a flat paint job like the bike is now and making it look more 3 dimensional.

Tricking the eyes can be tough and yet sometimes its as simple as this one its all about color and shadowing. As for ghosting it's an entirely different trick.

Ghosting requires at a minimum of three colors 1-Base, 1-Graphic coat, 1 really thinned down top coat so the graphic slightly show through the top. However the technique is the same for the snakeskin. For cars use single stage urethanes if you have never painted before its more forgiving, and if you want to go wild and really eye catching use a chameleon clear coat (color changing) instead of a thinned down top coat color.

mkunapareddy (author)2011-07-24

Wow! Great looking nice and sexy bike ... love riding it! Great work!!

LifeWarrior (author)mkunapareddy2011-07-24

Thanks, yeah i get some looks over it when riding.

Batsu (author)2011-07-24

There's a lot of forgotten photos in this Instructable. I'd love to try it, but I'd prefer a youtube version of the instructions, to follow along with.

LifeWarrior (author)Batsu2011-07-24

Yes that's probably the one thing I keep kicking myself over is forgetting to video capture the process. You have my word the next time I do anything in snakeskin I record it and add it too the instructable. I tend to get wrapped up in the painting details and forget small things like taking pictures. However don't let my forgetfulness sway you from trying the trick it's a very simple trick that works.

howdy409 (author)2011-07-24

Thank you very much for the instructions. I love your bike too. I will definately be giving this a try on some of my projects.

LifeWarrior (author)howdy4092011-07-24

Thanks, Let me know how it turns out or if I can help in some way.

curious youth (author)2011-07-24

I WANT YOUR BIKE ! its sexy :)

Fun2Hold (author)curious youth2011-07-24

Agreed - the snakeskin looks fantastic on that bike. Great job and nice 'ible!

Thanks, It's been a long process but really satisfying to see it start coming together.

LifeWarrior (author)2011-07-22


Your reply didn't come through it looks like a bunch of characters, Thanks for the reply though

skylane (author)LifeWarrior2011-07-24

That was, actually spam from russia!

About This Instructable




Bio: Called a renaissance man more times than I can count, I am the type of person who believes you can do anything you put your ... More »
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