Using Rub n Buff on Plastic

Rub n Buff is a paste made from carnauba wax and metallic powder that can give plastic a very convincing reflective metal look. It is popular with the Jango Fett builders, and it’s affordable. One tube will do a full armor kit, and it comes in colors including silver, gold, and copper. The other benefit of using Rub n Buff on Mandalorian armor is that you can apply it indoors when you might not be able to spray paint outdoors. (Airbrushing also lets you paint indoors since it has less overspray than rattle can paint.)

But Rub n Buff can be tricky to apply.  You can end up with uneven spots, swirl marks, or streaks. Personally, I think it adds to the realistic metal look. If you look at real weathered metal, it’s going to have uneven spots. And Jango’s armor is weathered armor if you look closely. Even Din Djarin’s armor is not perfectly shiny chrome.  

German breastplate from 1480 and Jango plate weathering on edges.

There are different opinions on how best to apply rub n buff on plastic. It can be especially hard to spread evenly on larger pieces, like the backplate. It’s also hard to get into tight spots or crevices but a small brush will help apply the paste here. As long as you’re aware that some areas might look uneven, I think it’s a great alternative to Alclad airbrush paint, or metallic rattle-can paint. And if you enjoy waxing your car, applying rub n buff should be an easy process for you. 

I found for the best results, it’s important to prep the armor pieces really well. Apply a primer spray, and wet sand to a very fine grit. Clean off any dust, residue, or body oils.  Degreasing by lightly wiping rubbing alcohol might help. Then apply light coats in a circular or back and forth motion, spreading it as quickly, and as evenly as you can. All you need is a pea-sized amount, and work small sections at a time.  You can apply the paste with your fingers or with latex gloves. I find it’s easier to use fingers to spread it evenly and to get it into tighter areas. (Soap and water will wash the silver paste from your hands.) If you do use too much paste it will gunk up, not spread properly, and possibly leave streaks. Try to cover your armor piece as quickly and as evenly as you can before it starts to dry. Once it’s dry it becomes hard to spread.  Apply it to all your armor pieces and then set them aside to fully dry before buffing.  How long? I’m not sure it makes a difference. I’ve let it sit overnight and I’ve let it sit just minutes without any obvious difference.  Once dry, use something soft to buff your armor, like a microfiber cloth, t-shirt, or soft sock. When buffing, keep moving to a clean section of fabric, and buff using enough pressure to get a shine. Be careful not to buff too aggressively or you can end up creating marks. You want to use even pressure to avoid swirl marks. I like to apply a second or even third layer the next day to bring out a more metallic shine.

If you find that your finish is really uneven after buffing you can very lightly clean the surface with acetone (nail polish remover) or rubbing alcohol to remove any surface oils (like from your fingers) and apply another layer of rub n buff on top. Rub n Buff paste also helps to smooth out surface imperfections since it will spread into crevices or dimples. This helps if your sanding wasn’t perfect.

You can apply Rub n Buff on top of other paint colors. The paste usually has enough coverage to hide the color underneath.  But with darker colors like black, you may need to apply a few layers or apply a clear topcoat first. If you want to paint on top of Rub n Buff, for example, to add a stencil, there may be problems. Since it’s wax, the spray paint may have trouble with adhesion. I suggest either first sanding off the Rub n Buff area where you want the paint to stick, or spraying a light clear topcoat before painting. Or test the spray paint on a scrap piece first for adhesion, you might get lucky.

Rub n Buff shouldn’t need a final sealant if properly buffed clean. It also shouldn’t rub off on clothing excessively. If it does, it probably needs more buffing. If you drop some water on the armor plate you’ll notice it beads up. But if you do scratch the surface it will leave a mark. A protective topcoat spray will most likely dull the reflective finish just like it will with other metallic paints.  And like spray paint or carnauba car wax, it needs time to fully “cure”. (I’ve read it may take up to 2 days for the wax to cure.) Rub n Buff’s durability is supposed to be permanent but I assume eventually over time it will need another layer to restore its shine or cover uneven areas. I assume most Jango’s eventually reapply another layer after years of wearing their costume. 

An interesting effect you may want to try is applying graphite powder directly on top of the rub n buff. You can do this to add subtle weathering or to darken the rub n buff color. The backplate below has graphite powder rubbed into the creases and edges to add a dirty grime effect.

And another popular method of using a graphite rub is to apply it on top of black gloss paint. This video shows a Mando builder using graphite with a high quality clear coat.

Think you might want to try Alclad chrome paint instead? Here’s a good video talking about this airbrush paint and this builder’s process.

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