This article was originally published in the June 2010 JoeCanuck Newsletter.
And now you know
Soaking a figure in acetone, found in nail polish remover, for about an hour can actually help the plastic absorb spray paint and dye better. I wouldn't have known about that little trick unless someone strayed from the usual macho rules to customizing. Yeah I said "macho". As customizers we're always looking out for parts from different places to customize with. Yet, for the most part, we always go straight to the craft or hobby sections for the tools we use. The Health & Beauty isles are jam packed with all kinds of things we can use to help make better customs.
*WARNING* For your own safety I advise you not "borrow" any of the items in this article from your wife/girlfriend/mother/female companion. They will cause you bodily harm if discovered. I speak from experience.
Emery boards work great on action figure plastics. The two grits (courser on the dark side, finer on the light side) help sand down parts and leave an almost smooth finish. Because they are so thin, you can break or cut them down to fit in areas where other sanding tools simply won't work. More importantly, they're super cheap. Cheaper than a pack of sand paper even.
After the emery board, I like to use a nail buffer. These come in many shapes and sizes including ones with emery boards on them. These multi-sided pads offer different levels of smoothness. They are made for real or acrylic plastic nails, so they are perfect for bringing out the factory shine on an action figure.
An additional buffer I've heard about people using is a rotary tool version. For under $20, it is a much cheaper alternative to a Dremel. Considering how valuable a tool a dremel is to most customizers, often ranked as their primary tool, this is a better than nothing option. Plus you can always get Dremel brand chucks and bits separately.
Women and doctors, and especially women doctors, have known since the creation of stainless steel that there are good tweezers and there are cheap tweezers, but there are no good and cheap tweezers. A low end hobby tweezer will run you about $6, while a high end surgical tweezer can cost over $20. However a good hair plucking tweezer will only cost between $5-10. So when placing stickers on a vehicle or holding those super small items while you paint them you can do it with the same precision and, in some cases, more comfort as well because of the ergonomic friendly designs.
Double ended paint brush
Inspiration struck me while on vacation once. The local mini-mart had craft paint, but only had cheap plastic water color brushes. I thought that was that until on my way to the register I saw a blush ad over in the make-up isle. Like paint brushes, good make up brushes' prices depend on the size, manufacturer, and bristle type. For $6 I got a double ended brush, one angled flat brush (Side A), good for detailing or shading and the other side a bushy brush (Side B), good for large areas or dry brushing. It is one of the most comfortable to hold brushes I own. It has also out lasted some more expensive hobby brushes.
Enamel paint is hard to work with on varying types of plastic. That is why most customizers prefer acrylic paint. Not all enamel is evil though. Enamel nail polish has its uses. First, it comes in every color imaginable. Glow in the dark? Check. Color changing? Check. Iridescent and metallic? Check and check. Second, it matches up price wise with Testors Model Masters and Games Workshop Citadel paints. Third, nail polish and even the clear coat, just like the commercials say, go on smooth and dry rock hard.
In summary, while I would never ditch the craft and hobby tools, it certainly doesn't hurt to have a few more weapons in your arsenal. With their prices, availability, and the results they get, they are at least worth venturing down the Health & Beauty isles for.