Introduction: Turn a Toy Gun Into an Awesome Prop Weapon!

About: I'm a 20-year-old aspiring Physicist, who enjoys coding and making stuff!

After watching numerous YouTube videos, and seeing some amazing photos of costumes and props made by some incredibly talented people, I decided: "I want to try that!". So, after deliberating over what to make, I thought that it would be best to get started (as this is my first prop project) by repainting and weathering a toy space gun. This would also allow me to try a number of different painting and weathering techniques out without having to worry too much about destroying the prop itself in the process; I wouldn't have wanted to practice my painting techniques on a weapon I'd made from scratch!

Before we get started, if you are interested in making prop weapons (or costumes), then I would highly recommend the following resources:

I've learnt everything I needed to complete this project through these sources, and they also have many more tips and tricks that are invaluable when making props or costumes.

Right, now onto making!

Step 1: Things You'll Need

Obviously, you're going to need to get a toy weapon. For this, I went out and bought myself a toy space gun for this project, although you could always use an old or second hand one if you want.

I don't really have a workbench to use, so I was pleased to discover that you don't really need to use any tools for this project - I only needed some sandpaper, some spray paints, some acrylics and a paintbrush. I also tried out a neat trick from one of the prop books I have which use graphite to create a shiny, gunmetal effect for the handle, so you'll need a stick of graphite if you want to try this too.

To summarise (and provide links to where I purchased them):

Some other, non-essential items:

  • Pipe cleaners or string
  • Cardboard box
  • Latex/Nitrile Gloves

And... Don't forget your safety equipment!

  • Respirator (we're working with spray paints, so it's always best to wear a respirator)
  • Safety Goggles (spray paint in the eyes is not a good thing)
  • Some form of overalls/apron so you don't get paint on your clothes (or alternatively some old clothes you don't mind getting paint on!)

You can never be too careful!

Once you've collected all of the above, you can move onto the next step - preparing the toy for painting!

Step 2: Preparing the Toy for Painting

Before you go ahead and paint the toy, you'll need to prepare the surface for painting, and remove any "Made In China" or safety notices on the surface. To do this, you can just use a low grit sandpaper to smooth these areas so that the raised text is no longer visible.

You can see in the pictures above some of the examples of text or other areas (such as the imperfection on the trigger) you will want to sand smooth.

If you don't want to be able to open the gun up again (to get at the electronics etc. inside), then you can use body filler to fill the screw holes on the gun, and along the seam between the two halves. Once you've applied the body filler and let it dry, you'll then need to sand it smooth. I didn't do this as I wanted to still be able to get into the gun (to play around with lighting and sound at a later date), so I don't have any pictures of this process.

Step 3: Spraying the Base Colour

Before we get to spraying the base colour (silver in this case), you need to make sure that you sand the surface of the weapon with a high grit sandpaper. This will ensure that the surface has a bit of tooth so that the paint will adhere to it more easily.

First, you'll need to make sure you are wearing your respirator and goggles, and in a well-ventilated area. As I don't have a fancy spray booth, I put my gun into a cardboard box, as pictured above. I didn't manage to take a picture of my "spray booth" setup whilst I was using it, so the pictures above don't show that I actually used an old sheet underneath the cardboard box to avoid any paint getting on the table.

As these first coats (primer and base coat) needed to cover the whole gun, I couldn't really hold the gun whilst spraying it, so I opted for spraying each half of the gun separately. If you decided to cover up the screw holes and joining seam with body filler, then you'll have to come up with another way of holding the gun. Alternatively, you could spray one side, wait for it to dry (touch dry) and then flip the gun and spray the other side (which is what I did for the matte black spray paint later).

When spraying the gun, you'll need to start out by applying the plastic primer. This ensures that any later coats of paint will adhere properly. Good spraying technique is vital here - you need to cover the whole gun, moving side-to-side as you spray at a reasonable distance from the surface (~30cm).

Step 4: Masking!

Since I wanted to paint the gun a number of different colours, I needed to mask off some areas when spraying certain areas. For example, after spraying the whole gun silver, I wanted to spray just the barrel and the grip in a matte black paint, but leave the top half silver. Hence, I had to cover the top half of the gun in masking tape (mask) so that this area was not painted. The image above doesn't show this - it actually shows me masking the lower half, just before I sprayed the top half orange.

As you'll probably need to mask off reasonably large areas, you can save on the amount of masking tape that you use by covering larger areas with greaseproof paper or aluminium foil, and tape this down onto the gun.

In the other images, you can see that there were a couple of areas where the join was not so clean. These were actually fixed for me after I painted the top half orange, but if you wanted to clean these areas up by hand, you can always paint over them with a small paint brush. Just spray some of the paint into a pot so that you get a pool of it, and apply by hand with a brush.

Sometimes the paint you are spraying can seep underneath the masking tape that you have used, which can really ruin the finish you are trying to achieve. To avoid this, you can apply a couple of coats of clear-coat before you begin to apply the colour you wanted. This will mean that if any paint does seep through, it will be clear, so you can't see it, and the clear-coat will also seal up these small gaps, ensuring that the colour you are trying to spray doesn't seep under.

If you are having trouble with getting the masking tape to stick down into tiny corners or difficult to reach areas, you can always push the edges down with a pen lid (as seen in the photo). I found a really nice pen lid lying around with a flat edge to it that was really useful when it came to masking.

For some of the indented areas on the side of the gun, I lay a piece of masking tape over them, pressing it into the corners, and then ran a craft knife around the edge of the indent to cut off any excess tape.

Step 5: Creating a Paint Chip Effect and Painting the Barrel and Grip

Now comes one of the coolest parts of this process - the paint chip effect! Begin by fetching the toothpaste I mentioned in the parts list (it's crucial, I swear! I'm not going mad!).

Make sure that the gun is currently painted in a metallic silver. This is going to be the colour of the gun once the main (black) paint has been "chipped off".

Apply the toothpaste to areas of the gun that you want to look chipped, using a paintbrush. Imagine you are actually painting on the paint chip - so, if you want a small oval shaped chip near the trigger, paint a small oval shaped blob of toothpaste there.

Next, spray the gun (and the toothpaste-y areas) with the matte black paint. This will be the main colour of the gun grip/barrel, which we will later "chip off" once the black paint has dried. Make sure you don't smudge the toothpaste as it doesn't really dry (and you don't want it to be dry either!).

Once the main (black) paint has dried, use a paper towel (or kitchen roll, whatever you want to call it) to wipe off the toothpaste that you painted on earlier. You might have to give it a good scrub (but not too much that you remove the paint where you didn't intend to), but it shouldn't be too difficult to remove. By doing this, you should be left with areas on the gun where the black paint is no longer there, and instead, you are left with small areas of silver metal showing through.

Step 6: Emulating a "Graphite & Polymer Coating"

You'll have probably seen that the texture/finish on a gun grip is very rarely "matte black". Instead, they have a sort of shine to them. To make our prop gun look much more believable, we'll want to emulate that effect. Thankfully, you should have already sprayed the gun black, so we're already halfway there.

I learnt this wonderful technique from Volpin Props' book on Painting and Weathering - something that you should most definitely read!

For this next step, you'll need to get a soft (cotton) cloth and a stick of graphite. Start by rubbing the graphite stick onto the cotton cloth, so that you get a heavily "graphited" area, like you can in the photo. Next, rub the cotton cloth over the matte black paint, making sure that you cover all of the matte black paint thoroughly. You may need to add more graphite to the cloth as you do this.

It is important to wear some form of rubber gloves (latex, nitrile, etc.) when doing this technique. Not only will your hands get graphite all over them, but natural oils from your fingers will create blotchy marks on the surface, and ruin the effect.

When you've applied the graphite, the surface should have a more graphite-like colour to it, and should also appear shinier.

Step 7: Painting the Main Colour

Now comes one of the easier steps of the project: painting the main colour! For my gun, I chose to go with a pearlescent orange, as I wanted a colour that would stand out, and a texture to contrast the rest of the gun. If you have also chosen a metallic or pearlescent paint, then you'll need to lightly sand the silver colour with a high grit sandpaper to smooth the surface and ensure that you get a shiny finish.

As we don't want to paint the whole gun, you'll need to mask off the lower half (grip and barrel), along with any areas that you want to remain silver. On my gun, there were some lower areas that I felt should remain silver to give the effect that the orange part of the gun was another layer of material, on top of the metal beneath. I also felt it would be good to have a range of colours on the gun, to make it look more interesting.

The paint I used recommended 3-4 coats to get a strong colour, so I went with 4, spraying them on with intervals of about 20 minutes in between coats. Once the main colour had dried, I went over the orange paint with two coats of clear gloss lacquer to make the pearlescent paint really shine.

As I wanted to paint each coat in one go (no turning the gun over or anything, as I wanted the surface to be perfectly smooth), I suspended the gun by the grip from the top of my cardboard box. To do this, I punched a small hole in the top of the box and fixed a pipe cleaner through this hole with some duct tape on the top. I then tied the pipe cleaner around the grip of the gun to hold the gun in place. Make sure you tie the pipe cleaner tightly around the grip - you don't want the gun to fall whilst it's drying and ruin the paint!

Step 8: Weathering Techniques

Weathering is one of the most important steps of the process. If you don't do any weathering, it'll look like your prop weapon has just come off the manufacturing line, which is a bit boring. So, to make the gun look used and worn, we need to apply a couple of techniques to damage and dirty the weapon.

I started out by using a silver sharpie pen to highlight some of the high areas of the barrel and grip. This gives the effect that the polymer coating (the matte black paint with the graphite effect) has been worn away to reveal the metal of the gun underneath. This is super fun, so make sure you don't go overboard.

Next, I decided to try a bit of a wash with some oil paints. I used a dark brown, a dark green and a dark yellow ochre sort of colour to apply some dirt and grime to the handle area, as this will probably be the dirtiest area of the gun. Once I had applied the oil paint, I wiped most of it away with a slightly damp cloth, so that the paint was left in the lower areas of the surface - i.e. the areas that would be hardest to clean.

Once I'd used the oil paints, I decided to weather some of the top half of the gun with some acrylic paints (dark brown and black). For these, I used a small paintbrush to apply a mix of the paints to the lower areas on the gun, and again, wiped most of the paint away to leave just a little bit of the paint in the lower areas.

I've been told that oil paints take forever to dry, so I tried to find a way to let the gun dry without disturbing any of the weathering that I applied. The solution that I came up with was to suspend the gun with some string from the handle of a cupboard over the top of the sink. This worked pretty well, although I was a bit nervous that it might have fallen into the sink and ruined everything (it didn't, thankfully)!

When weathering your props it is important to have a story behind each bit of dirt or each chipped bit of paint. For example, it wouldn't make sense for just the top of the gun to be dirty and chipped, but the handle and grip are left brand-spanking-new. The handle is going to be the area that is gripped the most, and hence dirtier and chipped. I know that weathering is super fun to do, but make sure that you are consciously deciding where it goes.

Step 9: Finishing Touches

Once you've applied all of your weathering, make sure to re-coat your entire gun in clear-coat so you seal in all of the wonderful work that you've just completed - you wouldn't want any of it rubbing off!

Now that you've finished your first prop project, be sure to take loads of pictures of your awesome work and post it all over the internet so that you can inspire others and show your friends.

If you've enjoyed this project or want to learn more about making props, I highly recommend you check out Punished Props on YouTube, and take a look at the Painting and Weathering book by Volpin Props that I mentioned at the beginning of this Instructable.

I know I've been going on about these sources a lot throughout this Instructable, so you're probably thinking I've been told to say that, or I'm being sponsored by them. In actual fact, I'm not - I just really love these channels/books and think that you should check them out because they've been so useful and helpful when I've been learning about prop making myself.

Before and After Contest 2017

First Prize in the
Before and After Contest 2017