There are some pretty awesome and adorable 3D printed pets out there, such as Helga Reinhart’s elegant PureBred orientals and super adorable OLEUM aka Eve the Cat pets in ever increasing varieties of cats, dogs, rabbits, snakes and dragons. There are many others, but these two brands are the ones I’ve had the pleasure to paint. Both offer ready made (painted and assembled) BJD pets, as well as cheaper raw kits, where you get the fresh out of the 3D printer white plastic parts to process, paint and assemble.
I specialize in painting intricately patterned cats and imitating a fur like texture. It’s a time consuming process of layering colours and I’ll explain the process step by step so you can try it at home. I recommend trying with some inexpensive items first, as these raw kits are still pricey art works and because of the porous texture of the plastic it’s hard to fix mistakes. Painting 3D plastic is very similar to ink painting on rice paper. You can only cover something with a darker ink.
*Before handling the kit, make sure you have clean hands. The oils in your skin can leave fingerprint stains that change the way the paint is absorbed. I use surgical gloves while working as acrylics stain skin as well.
When you get your kit it looks like a jumble of random parts. Make sure you got all the parts right away, especially that every part has a left and right, instead of two left feet. This can be a bit of a challenge especially for Helga Reinhart cats as there are no assembly guides. You just have to look at the photos on the website to puzzle the cat jigsaw together.
Next you want to check the parts for rough textures and make sure the holes inside the parts are clear. I often have to drill the holes bigger to make space for the hooked wire I use for stringing the parts in the end. You can also do this after the painting, but it risks damaging the paint surface and you might need some touch ups after. Sometimes external surfaces need a bit of sanding too as 3D printing leaves a coarse texture to the raw kits. Most of the time I really like the texture, as it fives the surface a fuzzy look that works well for furry pets. However, on the top of the parts such as head you can sometimes see clear pixels and I soften this spot with smooth sand paper.
Note that the raw kits can be very dusty with loose powder inside the parts, so I recommend wearing a breathing mask for the prepping stage. To clear the polyamide powder inside the parts and off the surface, wash the parts by submerging them in water and soak them in water overnight.
The next step is the base painting. This is similar to wash in aquarelle painting. Get you wet 3D parts from their overnight bath and place them on a paper towel to dry. Use water based artist acrylics and dilute them with water to create an ink that you can brush as base paint. I use a tiny piece of sponge on bigger areas and a clean moist one to blend. I add several layers of gradient effect with a brush, building from lighter to darker shades. Let the parts dry over night before adding detail.
When the parts are dry I recommend arranging the unassembled kit in somewhat whole form so that the pattern size and shape flow naturally. In the picture below I actually got the left shoulder part in the right socket, but happily it did not ruin the painting. Using highly diluted acrylics (maybe 80% water 20% paint) I paint the rough patterns. The more diluted the paint, the harder it is to control, but the seeping effect creates a nice blurry edge that looks more natural. Hardest part is getting the face symmetrical, but since cats often have asymmetric patterns one shouldn’t obsess over this detail so much. Let dry completely before the next step.
You could stop here, but for extra realism and fluffiness I recommend painting individual hairs to create a fur like texture. When your patterns are dry, dilute the paint less than before (maybe only 60% water or so) and use a tiny brush to start texturing. I use the same shade or a shade darker to paint over the patterns, keeping in mind the natural direction and length of the fur. This is a lot of work. Honestly, you may spend days doing it, but it is worth it.
When you are done, let your pet dry overnight and you finally get to string it together. Eve the Cat happily has video tutorials for few different animals so I will simply link a polyamine cat assembly video here for you to see. Even if your pet is different from this you will get a good idea of the principles and tricks to be applied to other forms.
A final touch of realism is to use a tiny hand drill to make holes and glue whiskers into them.
Here are some past commissions I have made:
Click the links for more photos of Eve the Cat and Helga Reinhart 3D pets I have painted. The Flickr photos tell you the brand and size of the raw kits used. Note that all the dolls I paint are OOAK and I cannot make exact copies. Each cat has it’s own personality and coloring. No two are alike.
You can commission me to paint a OOAK pet for you. The fee depends on the size of the creature and the intricacy of the patterns. Here are some price examples:
- Basic paint and assembly start at 300usd (6cm size) or 400usd (15cm size)
- Fur texturing is 100usd more for small size (6cm) or 200usd for large ones (15cm size)
- Helga Reinhart cats can be ordered with two heads with differetn expressions. Painting and extra head is 100usd more.
- Adding whiskers is 50usd more per head regardless of the size. The technique works better for larger pets. 5cm Eve the Cat has too small face for the drilled holes.