Some sanding and a few cans of spray paint later, this is the result: a badass hog that anyone would be proud to own!
Step 1: Find Something to Paint
A few years ago I wrote an Instructable on how to renew old children's toys. I suppose a lot of the methods used there are similar to what I'm doing here. Namely, find something cheap, clean it, mask it, and paint it. I'll go into some specifics here, focusing on ride-on toys like the Harley.
As I said in the previous step, I found this little gem in the trash on garbage day. It's likely someone else would have picked it up if I hadn't gotten there first - there are guys who drive around in pickup trucks scooping up anything of value before the garbage trucks arrive. So, definitely a lucky find! Keep your eyes peeled.
If you're having trouble finding anything of value, check out Kijiji or craigslist for something good. Remember, the appearance can be dirty and faded. All that matters is that the plastic shell is intact and the electronics aren't fried. You can probably find something used for less than 50 bucks.
Speaking of electronics, they're pretty simple. the Harley's electronics consisted of a 3x3 inch board stuffed with relays. If the electronics don't work, you should be able to fix them without too much effort. I needed to replace the battery on the Harley, which tends to cost between $35- $50 for a new battery. eBay is the best place for them. I also picked up a new charger at the same time.
Step 2: Materials
You can buy pretty much everything you need at your local hardware store.
Spray paint! I used:
- Krylon sandable primer (half a can)
- Krylon "chrome" paint (full can)
- metal specks paint (half a can)
- Duplicolor "Metalcast" anodized effect paint (full can)
Lots of masking tape
A multi-pack of "wet or dry" sandpaper (from the automotive section at walmart)
Self adhesive reflective strips (from the automotive section)
Stickers, like badges or pinstripes (optional)
Step 3: Disassembly and Cleaning
To make it easier to paint, I disassembled as much of the motorcycle as possible. I was able to remove almost everything but the front fork, which was held hostage by those annoying push-on bolt things. I was pleased to find that they used the same screw for almost everything, which meant I didn't have to label which screw went where. If the toy you're taking apart uses lots of different screws, the easiest way to label them is to wrap a piece of masking tape around the screw or group of screws and label the tape.
If you're not sure you can assemble it properly after the painting is done, take a picture of each piece as it is removed.
Peel off any decals you find - in my case, most of them are probably starting to peel off anyway. In some places the decals are used to hide screws. Be careful when removing decals you want to keep, like the fake "tachometer" from the Harley. You won't be able to reuse it, but you can scan it into a computer and reprint it later. I neglected to do this, so now I have to recreate it by hand. But in general, I find they stick on entirely too many stickers that are quite unnecessary.
With all the pieces removed, go ahead and clean them. I simply washed all the pieces in my laundry tub with warm soapy water, and a clean water rinse. Plastic toys have lots of nooks and crannies that insects like to crawl into and die, so be thorough.
To wash the main chassis of the trike or car (and any parts still attached to the chassis) wash it outside with a bucket of warm soapy water, being careful to avoid getting water on any electronics.
Step 4: Sanding
Wait, you can sand plastic? Of course! But you need to wet sand it, or it'll gunk up the sandpaper within minutes. I found a pack of automotive "wet or dry" sandpaper at Walmart that had one sheet of four different grits - 120, 200, 400, and 600. Basically, everything you'd need to sand plastic or metal to a super-smooth finish.
Start by attacking the deepest scratches and gouges with the 120 grit sanpaper. Tear off a piece roughly 3x3 inches square, and dunk it in water. Get the plastic wet, too - dunk it in a bucket of water if you wish. Then go nuts on the scratches. This poor Harley had some pretty deep ones on the exhaust pipes, presumably from some kid running it up against a curb. I wasn't able to get the scratches out completely, but they are certainly lessened. If you want to be really picky, you could fill in deep scratches with something like Bondo, then sand it smooth.
For any unscratched surfaces, start with 200 grit sandpaper. It will help remove any flaking paint and stuck on dirt. It will also remove any adhesives left behind from decals. Remember to re-dampen the sandpaper and plastic often, so that the sanded plastic doesn't gum up the sandpaper.
Once sanding with 200 grit paper is complete, wash all the pieces with clean water. They will likely be pretty dirty, covered in a layer of plastic slurry. Ew.
Now, repeat with the 400 grit paper. This sanding business is a great activity to do in front of the TV, since it takes a while. May as well be entertained, right? Once complete, rinse the pieces again.
I didn't bother sanding a third time with the 600 paper. You can if you want to, but it'll probably be a waste of your time...
Step 5: Primer
To be honest, I'm not entirely convinced that primer is necessary. It's certainly a good idea if you're carrying out a drastic colour change, like from a dark colour to a light one. It will also depend on the coverage of the paint you're using. I found that the "chome" paint had remarkably good coverage, even on plastic.
Still, I decided to prime the exhaust pipes (which were black plastic being painted chrome) and the motorcycle shell (maroon plastic being painted purple). I used Krylon brown primer, which can be wet sanded. Spray it on in thin coats until the pieces are a uniform brown colour. I found that this paint dries really fast, such that some pieces developed a powdery feeling. Perhaps it's because I was using it when the temperature was about 32 celcius with 90% humidity. I guess my point is, the primer likes a cooler environment or at least should be held closer to the workpiece.
The powdery feeling is not an issue, because we're going to - you guessed it! - wet sand again! Wait at least a day before sanding the primer. With the 400 grit sandpaper (or 600 if you wish), sand the primer smooth. This is definitely a job best done outside, since the primer-infused water is basically brown paint. Also, it sands off easily, so don't dwell too long in one place. Use your fingers to feel over the entire surface for roughness.
Wash the sanded pieces in clean water and dry with a soft towel.
Step 6: "Chrome" Paint
The first thing you should know is that despite the shiny cap on the spray paint can, the paint applied to the plastic will not look the same. It will look more like polished brushed aluminum. To my knowledge, no company produces a "chrome" paint that actually looks like chrome. But hey, it still looks shiny and sparkly, and the kids will love it, so it's no big deal.
Lay out all the pieces that are to be painted chrome on a piece of cardboard. If you have a paint booth, by all means set up in there. I did all my work in the driveway on a relatively calm day, to avoid dust sticking to the wet paint. Give everything a light coat from one side, rotate 90 or 120 degrees, then spray that side. Repeat until all the sides are painted. On the hot sunny day in which I did all my painting, the paint was dry by the time I made a full circle. Do a few trips around the workpieces until you're satisfied that all the sides have been covered. Most pieces can be painted entirely from one side, though some will need to be flipped over.
The chrome paint will be dry to the touch after just a few minutes, but don't let that fool you! It's not actually dry at all. Masking tape will peel it right off at this early stage. Before handling the chrome painted pieces or adding other coats of paint (accent colours, for example) wait at least a day for the paint to dry completely.
Step 7: The Polychromatic Effect
When I first dreamt up this idea, I wasn't sure it would even work. I'm happy to announce that it looks pretty darned cool in real life! The key is to paint a bottom layer in a really bold, noticeable colour - in this case, sparkly royal blue. Then a semi-transparent top layer is added in a colour that is off by only a shade - here, an "anodized" purple. From some angles the Harley appears blue. From other angle, it's purple! Very cool.
So, to start, spray the body, gas tank, and front fender with the sparkle blue paint. Lay on several thin layers until the blue is really vibrant, and the primer is no longer visible. You may be temped to leave it like this, but trust me - it'll be even cooler with the purple in top! (if you really do want to leave it like this, add a layer of clear coat to protect the sparkle blue, and to give it a glossy look).
The purple "anodized" paint may be added once the blue paint has dried for about an hour. Or a day. I'm not sure it really matters. I did both, and there seems to be no difference in appearance. I found the purple to be... confusing to apply. Not difficult, but since it's somewhat transparent it doesn't look like it's covering right at the start. Just work in circles around the workpiece, adding on layers. In bright sunlight, the paint had dried by the time I made it around. Try to avoid "blotches" of colour if you can. Once you're done the purple may seem a bit uneven - that's OK! Give it time to dry, and you'll see that it evens out and sort of fades into the blue quite nicely. If you notice any spots that don't have enough purple, add thin layers until it matches the rest of the paint job.
Wait at least a day before handling the pieces.
Step 8: Masking
Some pieces will require masking with masking tape. The biggest job here was the frame of the motorcycle itself - I decided I wanted the engine to be chome too, instead of just a few accent pieces. I layed on masking tape as close to the contours of the "engine" as I was able, then proceeded to cover up everything that I didn't want to be chome. Do not underestimate how much overspray a can of paint will generate - if a section is within two feet of what's being sprayed and you don't want it that colour, cover it up! Large areas may be covered with newspaper taped down on all sides.
Some other pieces of the motor cycle needed to be painted two colours. The gas tank is a good example. I wanted the body of the gas tank to be polychomatic purple, but the badges and gauge to be chome. So, I painted the chrome parts first and masked them off. Just remember, wait at least a day before applying masking tape to a freshly painted surface, or the tape could peel off the paint!
I wasn't able to remove the front fender or the front fork assembly, for that matter. I had to paint them while still attached to the frame of the motorcycle. I painted the chome parts first, leaving the fender (which would eventually be purple) unmasked. The wheel was specially masked as well, so that the area occupied by the "spokes" would also be painted silver. Once the chrome paint had dried* I masked off all the chome painted parts and added the polychomatic purple.
*actually, I was impatient and masked the chome before it was dry, which is how I learned the one-day-rule for masking fresh paint...
Step 9: Unmasking
Oh, this is always the fun part! When the paint is dry (so that you don't accidentally scuff wet paint with strips of masking tape), do a quick inspection to make sure you really, really didn't miss anything. It would be a pain to reapply all that masking paint just for a few spots here and there, wouldn't it? Yes, it would be a pain. So when you're satisfied, peel off all that masking tape and revel in the moment I like to call "The Great Reveal!" "Ta-Daaa" you'll announce to anyone within earshot. Hopefully they'll come running over and pat you on the back, lauding your epic spray painting skillz.
Step 10: Reassembly
So, you remember where everything goes, right? If you did all this work within the span of a week or two, chances are you will. Otherwise, refer back to those photos you took during disassembly. I found the Harley Deluxe to be fairly straightforward to put back together. Thing don't really fit where they don't belong, so it's hard to mess up. Basically, work in reverse order, first installing the main body and then strapping on all the little extra pieces. Again, I must reiterate my kudos to the designers of this toy for using the same screws pretty much everywhere. Perhaps it was a money saving thing for them, but it sure makes assembly easier!
TIP: When turning screws into plastic, turn them backwards at least 180 degrees first. You might feel a small "click" as the thread of the screws drops into the existing thread in the plastic. Drive the screw back instarting from there - this will avoid cutting new threads into the plastic, which will preserve the strength of the joint.
Step 11: Final Touches
Remember when you tore off all those ratty looking decals? You may want to add a few of them back. On the Harley Deluxe, I painted the ends of the exhaust pipes black using matte black paint. I also added black accents by hand here and there elsewhere on the motorcycle.
The front and rear "lights," previously just lookalike decals, were replaced with real reflective tape from the automotive section. I measured the size of the lights, and cut the tape to match. Now, the lights look cool AND they're functional. You could take things one step further and install LED lights if you wanted to...
I've also got some official "Harley Davidson" stickers coming that I'm planning to apply to the gas tank. Unfortunately they didn't arrive in time for the writing of this instructable!
Of course, you may customize your ride-on toy however you like. Pinstripes or racing stripes, custom logos, whatever you like!
Step 12: The Presentation
Now it's time to show off your hard work to the intended recipient. Go ahead, make a big deal of it! You worked hard on this. But remember: if it's being given to a child, it will not stay looking "factory fresh" forever. They'll run that toy into trees, dump dirt on it, leave it out in the rain, cover it in stickers, and play bumper cars with large concrete surfaces. If you can accept that, then super! Just take pictures before you hand it over. If not, then perhaps you should have painted something else instead. ;)
Runner Up in the
2nd Annual Krylon Summer Contest