logo

Most commonly, weapons are sealed with several coats of liquid latex. Sealing is required to give the weapons a tough and damage resistant finish, but also to let it look good.

Liquid latex can be pigmented with acrylic paints, so the sealing also functions as the painting/colouration of the weapon. Though it’s not strictly necessary, latex really needs a final sealing with a transparent flexible top coating, typically Isoflex Special Primer in the UK (designed as a roof repair product).

However, about 6 years ago I went over to using Plastidip instead of latex as my coating material. For a while, I used both, but now I use Plastidip exclusively.

Plastidip was originally designed as a liquid rubber coating for tool handles. It is an air drying liquid rubber and is solvent based, whereas liquid latex is ammonia and water based.

 

  Pros and Cons

 

Pros:

Drying time – this is probably the largest single reason I went over to using Plastidip. Living in a very wet and cold climate, the drying time for non-assisted latex, particularly where it pooled, was very long for me. Normally, I’d only be able to paint 2-3 coats a day, if I was around at the right time to be able to space those coats out. Plastidip dries much faster as it’s solvent based, and is a lot less effected by the moisture content of the air. Even if pooling, I’d expect Plastidip to be ready to recoat in 1 hour, often it is ready to recoat almost as soon as the previous coat is done. This means, if I need to, I can finish sealing and painting a weapon in a day rather than the week it would take me with latex.

Chemically Inert – Latex suffers adverse chemical reactions from other materials, particularly copper. This can happen from contact with copper piping or jewellery (including brass and bronze both of which contain copper) that can be common in Larp kit, and also from copper based pigments in a lot of gold/copper paints. These all react badly with latex leaving a sticky green/blue finish. Plastidip is a synthetic rubber and doesn’t have these issues.

Latex allergy – Though I’ve never had to check it, Plastidip is likely a better product for people who suffer latex allergies.

Non-tacky – uncured latex sticks very well to itself, as anyone who has left a couple of latex weapons drying on a rack outside can attest when they discover the wind has blown them together. Separating weapons stuck together like this can be very difficult. Plastidip is non-tacky through-out its life. Once a latex-weapon is fully skinned, it can be finished off to avoid the tackiness issue, but I’m pleased not to have to worry about it.

Better Control – I find Plastidip to have much better viscosity to liquid-latex when painting. This lets me produce much better paint effects than latex does.

Curing – within a few weeks of applying latex, it cures and cannot be easily recoated with other layers of latex. This makes taking a break from a project or lifetime repairs very difficult.

Top-coat – for various reasons covered above, latex needs an Isoflex or similar top coat. Plastidip doesn’t need this. Isoflex is expensive (and for not a great shelf-life), is chemically pretty nasty (isocyanate based fun) and very strong smelling – which in general makes me glad not to have to use it anymore.

Paintable – latex is very resistant as a coating to being painted. Plastidip is far closer to plastic when finished and can be painted with plastic appropriate spray paints (like Plastikote – which, despite the name, is a separate company). Painted on paints do wear slightly over time but the result is far more effectively and can be easily touched up.

Advanced Painting - Weathering with acrylic paints and inks is difficult with latex because the Isoflex top coat needs a clean surface to bond directly to the latex to be effective. Plastidip can be effectively weathered to give much better finishes. Additionally, advanced painting techniques can be used that don’t work with latex.

Matt Finish – Plastidip, once dry, produces a matt finish. Isoflexed latex has a distinct sheen. I much prefer the matt look for all my weapons, particularly for modern/real-world props.

Thin-able – Plastidip can be easily thinned with white-spirit. This makes it a bit more effective when it comes to painting some areas/applications. Latex can be thinned with distilled water, but I’ve never had great results with that method.

Thinner Skin – In my experience, Plastidip requires fewer coats and leaves a thinner finish than latex. This means that carved details show up better in Plastidip. Also along with the faster drying times, weapons can be made ever faster.

Cleaning – Plastidip can be cleaned from brushes with white-spirit. I’ve never found a way to clean latex from brushes, so even with careful rinsing, brushes used with latex will only last for a short while.

Finish Quality – Due to the cleaning issues and thicker coats skin required for liquid latex, I find that latex sealing often suffers from attracting debris and dried latex from the brushes used. Once stuck into the latex these are very hard to remove and often can detract from the finished paint job.

Bonding – Over time and combat, the latex skin will separate from the weapon foam. I have never found this to be the case with Plastidip and it does seem to form a better bond with the foam surface.

 

Cons:

Shelf-life – The faster dying times for Plastidip’s solvents become a problem in storage. Unless stored carefully, Plastidip has a shorter shelf-life than latex. Particularly as the smaller cans don’t have the ‘paint-tin’ hard seal around the top. Shelf-life can be extended by storing cans upside down and ensuring the lids are tightly closed (and ideally using sealing clips). If the can is very empty, then it can be worth decanting the Plastidip to a smaller container with less air-gap. I would expect latex, if well stored, to last years, whereas a half-full sealed can of Plastidip might only last 6 months. Partially dried Plastidip can be thinned as discussed above. Unopened cans don’t have as big a problem.

Price – by volume Plastidip is more expensive than latex. Though I don’t make weapons for sale, I find, however, that the time saving more than makes up for the additional cost. Also, avoiding the need for Isoflex keeps the overall cost down.

Colours – Latex can be easily mixed with acrylic paints to give almost any colour required. Plastidip doesn’t have that luxury. It can be coloured with special pigments, but these can be expensive and the colour ranges take a lot more practice. However, you can paint over Plastidip with other paints, something you cannot easily do with latex, which, for me, makes up for this problem. Plastidip is available in a lot of premixed colours – I use black for most of my work.

Wrinkles – Plastidipped foam, particularly with a Plastikote spray paint colour-layer can wrinkle with use. Latex has a thicker finish and doesn’t wrinkle in the same way. I don’t find this too bad for the other benefits I get, and the wrinkles are pretty slight but I would prefer not to have it happen.

Solvent – though latex produces ammonia when it dries, the fumes off Plastidip are from solvents and noticeable (though I’ve never found them that bad). However, they are a lot better than those off impact adhesive, also used in weapon making, so your work space should already be well ventilated.

 

  Wrapping up

Regardless of the name, I don’t dip weapons in Plastidip, instead I brush exclusively – though one can buy Plastidip in aerosol cans. I don’t see why one couldn’t dip with Plastidip and I am aware that some people do dip latex weapons, though I have never found it to be an effective skinning method (maybe because I’ve only ever done small batches of personal or group weapons). Though, as Plastidip does dry a lot faster, and requires fewer coats, I suspect that it wouldn’t be much of a time saving to dip a Plastidip weapon.

I’ve tried to be as objective as possible in the above points and certainly liquid latex saw me good for probably 10+ years before I made the change, but I don’t think I’d ever latex a weapon again now. Plastidip isn’t perfect, but I couldn’t get the finishes I like without out it.

I’ll close by saying that I think everyone who makes weapons should try Plastidip and for those starting off, it’s worth using over latex as it’s a bit more forgiving as a material and gives some easy options when it comes to painting that can lead to a better looking finish. Also, as it is can be used faster, you don’t have to be so patient when learning processes and can therefore practice quicker. All I would say is to make sure that you order a larger can (750ml) as some of the small ones don’t have a well sealing lid, so there is a risk the can will dry out unless you plan to use it very quickly.

Give it a try, and have fun.