material color and finish for prototype models

Hello, I’m just starting to make appearance models for my design firm and I’m wondering about the best way to specify color and finish to your typically model shop. My main questions are:

  1. I’ve used pantone books to specify color, but is there a better way to specify color for painted plastics (on SLAs, ABS etc…) since the system is based on print colors? I’ve worked with several model shops that use car paints, but I’ve been unable to find paint chip books that anyone can buy to specify these type of colors and finishes. For example: one model shop has stock silver paints, but another shop is being unclear on how I can specify the type of silver paint that I want. How do I best communicate the finish I want?
  2. What is the best way to specify metallic finishes? If I want a metallic green… how can I do that the best? Do I specify a pantone color and tell them to make it metallic, or is there a better way to specify a metallic color?
  3. Since I’m in the process of specifying materials and finishes right now, I’ve resorted to going to various stores and buying products with the color and finish I desire and sending them to the model maker to match. Do other designers do this to communicate color and finish, or is there a more universal system for communicating these variables?

For basic colors, PMS still works. Even though it’s print process based, you can still communicate a color this way since they still have to match it. Yes, sending a sample is one of the best ways to assure you get what you want, but there aren’t a lot of standards for metallic finishes in plastics mainly beacuse the metallic colpackage is specific to each material manufacturer. (This doesn’t apply to metallic paints since they can be applied to many materials.)

For example, if you look at GE Plastics Color FX line, you will see metallic colors, but they are formulated to work with their material. Also, painted color vs molded-in color makes a huge difference. Add to that surface finish specs and it can be a real challenge to match what you want in production with what’s possible as a prototype.

The best advice I can give is to build a really good relationship with your prototype house as well as you material supplier. The model maker will help you understand what colors they can reproduce, but you shouldn’t necessarily limit your choices purely to what a model maker can produce. At the same time, you want to be careful not to show your client something that can’t be achieved in production.

Metallic colorant packages in plastics can be really tricky since many of them are affected by material flow. Ther has definately been a trend back to using real metal when a metallic finish is desired. This can be done with stampings, foils, inlays, etc.

Hope this helps,


I always start with a master plaque. Sometimes its just an off the shelf color. Other times I work with the painter to develop a one off finish. The painter applies the selected finish to the master plaque with all the info necessary to replicate it. I also supply an image showing exactly where I want the finish applied so there is no confusion as to what I want.

When I worked for a leading toy manufacturer, we used Pantone plastic giudes. They are very specific.

Just because you have seen one product the company makes, doesn’t mean there aren’t others.

PMS is an international system, for everything from architecture, fashion, and printing.

I re-read “painted plastic”

There, Pantone has that covered :wink: too…