After a very warm response to my first Funko Customs post, I decided to give the subject a larger input. This was already planned as an ongoing series so I will write my tips as I dive deeper into customizing Funko Pops.
So far, basic painting is the only subject I feel quite comfortable in. This post contains all the good practices I am aware of in painting Pops to make them look as if they were Funko produced. Obviously, feel free to add some personal touch to your own customs. I am a fan of customs with a classic Pop look and I will focus here on how to make them look this way.
Any advanced painting including how to make a Pop look metallic or stone-like will be covered in the future. For now, I haven’t been doing such experiments and I don’t want to guide you without any practical experience.
As always, I am no professional so feel free to correct me if you find any mistakes in my posts. Ideas and questions are most welcome, too!
Note: If I don’t write a brand, I consider it irrelevant and/or bought it randomly.
If you haven’t read the first part yet – please do. I may repeat some things but there’s also much valuable information there that I won’t cover here.
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Have a project
Draw it. Sketch it. Cut the parts of Pops you’re about to use and picture it. I use an app on my iPad called SketchBook to visualize what I intend to make. The app is free, and it looks like a tiny version of Photoshop which is all I could ever need for a custom Pop project.
Obviously, you DO NOT need an iPad or any app. I hope it’s clear. It’s just what I’m using since I already own one. You can use any sort of paper and pencil or graphic app.
This doesn’t have to be a proper art. It’s just for you so you know how it should look. I often cut the head and body of Pops I’m using, draw on it what I intend to sculpt, and paint the whole image so I know what colors I’ll need.
This is super useful to determine how much sculpt material you may use (especially when you use one that dries fast and is not reusable) and what colors of paints I should posses or mix up. Moreover, acrylics dry super fast so knowing what exactly you want is super important
Some professionals create projects to show a commissioned custom to a client. It’s always better to visualize what the client needs and mix it with our vision instead of some disagreement later.
Clean the Pop
I use a damp cloth, sometimes with a little soap so it doesn’t have any dust or chemicals out of the factory. This will ease out everything later, you may even damage the plastic because you’ll scratch some tiny sand into the Pop. Better safe than sorry.
Remove the paint
Why? Mostly because it is a lot better looking when you paint on a clean surface. You have nothing between your painting and the plastic so it doesn’t appear as bulky afterward. Secondly, you may have color related problems. Lighter colors of original paints can be worked with but dark ones will be visible. Sure, you can prime it first but it is already a few extra coats to consider.
When I started, I didn’t remove the paint, but the longer I’m painting, the more useful it seems. It gives you the power over every single thing on the Pop. Usually, I can’t remove 100% of the paint from the tiniest gaps. No matter how long I scratch, it still is there. Just let it go. It will be covered anyway.
Acetone base acid such as nail polish remover is good for it. I also tried acrylic paint remover but it wasn’t working so well, probably because of Funko’s varnish. It works well when I need to remove my own paints, though. When I’ll test some other types, I’ll come back here.
To remove paint from a Pop, use cotton pads or ear sticks. I tried “more eco way “with a sponge but so far I haven’t found one that does the job properly. I may try with some cloth but it’ll probably be more problematic to clean smaller surfaces. Remember not to scratch too hard because you can damage the plastic.
For details, you can use a paintbrush to apply the acid. Just remember to clean it off thoroughly if you still intend to use it for paints. A separate one would be best, but it doesn’t have to be. If you have an old brush that has its hair in all directions and is not applicable to paint, it’s perfect here. I also use a very soft toothbrush sometimes.
Don’t forget that you’re working with acid here. You should cover your hands with nylon gloves – look for ones that don’t disintegrate due to acid too fast. Open the window often. Make sessions quite short and leave it for tomorrow if you’re dizzy or you feel anyhow not ok. We’re talking chemicals here.
After removing, clean the Pop again. Trust me, you do not want any reactions between paints and acid.
The tutorial of head removal is already at the bottom of the first part.
If we’re talking about smaller parts such as ears, hands, or some details like… Necklace or a pin, use sandpaper or a nail file if you have no place to get sandpaper from.
The sandpaper has grit numbered in tens and hundreds. The higher the number, the smoother it works. It’s good to know that there’re two standards so pay attention to it. Ones with “P” in front of the number have higher numbering. Check Wikipedia for the explanation. I’m bad at that.
Anyway, use smaller grids for the removal of elements. You can start with something around 100. To smooth a Pop, I have a set that goes from P600 to P1000. The more changes you make the better, but don’t overdo it. You can use 3-5 types and it will work just fine.
If we’re talking complete removal of a hand etc – the best solution is a hobby knife or a warm bath. Some elements are glued so check the Pop if you have to cut it or it will go by itself with a little patience.
With baths (or hairdryer) you can also manipulate the Pop and make its elements change direction. Just make it warm enough to bend and then hold it in the direction you want. Be gentle though, glue from the joints may release and the arm will fall out if you squeeze too hard.
Priming is not only to lay a basic color but also to prepare the surface of the Pop for paints. There’re a lot of different colors to use but I’d recommend starting with white. It is the easiest to work with at the beginning and it requires less painting on it.
In the case of colored primers, you have to know how to paint and mix shades so you don’t paint a fox blue or something like this (unless this is your design or something). Many painters also use black or grey primers but here you need a lot more patience and a bit of knowledge on how to work on dark priming. If I’m ever that advanced, I will tell you all about it. Right now – I suggest going with white.
There’re two types of primers: paint and spray. Both have their pros and cons. I prime with paint only and I’m using Vallejo Primer for that.
First, you need to shake it well and then slowly paint your figure. I use a slightly wet brush but I don’t thin the primer with much water. “Consistency of milk,” they say. Don’t pour much of it from the bottle. A drop or two is enough for pretty much the whole Pop (one layer), and it’s better to add more later than to throw it all away because it’s dry. And it dries fast.
Priming requires a lot of patience. Your coats should be thin so don’t put too much paint on your brush. Wait after each coat to dry. If the paint is running all around it means you took too much of it. Try to spread it or remove excesses with a brush. For bigger surfaces, I use big flat brushes, for details – small round ones.
In the case of a spray, the rules are similar – thin coats, waiting till it’s dry. There’s of course also the matter of preparing cardboard or papers so you don’t redesign your whole room. I’m only a theoretical here but you should make sharp and short repeats. I will update this section when I actually try it.
Some people also prepare the surfaces with sandpaper. I’d rather play with primers but it is a way if you want to try it. What it means is – you make it “scratchy” with low “P” sandpaper and this way the paint will stick to the plastic better.
Don’t forget to cover your figurine with a piece of paper or tissue so it won’t catch all the dust falling from the sky. I make some sort of tents or forts for my figurines so they have enough air but no dust.
I hope your primed figure is as dry as they go (I recommend at least 24h between priming and painting, but it’s up to the stuff you use too). So let’s move to the fun part.
For that, you will obviously need paints. And as a beginner, it is a hard go. If you want your Pop to look as “original”, you need proper paints used for models. There’re plenty of brands here, each has pros and cons. My personal choice is Vallejo Model Color because they’re cheaper in comparison to other paints for models and they have a huge variety of colors and shades. And quite easy to find.
You can of course use Citadel, Scale75, Vallejo Game Color, or Army Painter if you’d like. It’s up to you. There’s plenty on the market and every “artist” has their own preference. You can try out different brands and decide what you want on your own. Here, I’ll talk about Vallejo since they’re what I know best.
You can easily purchase whole sets of Model Colors, however they’re made for miniature painters. Some sets are pretty cool for beginners like basic colors or face tones but price-wise if there’s no special offer, they cost almost equal to the number of paints bought separately. And they’re very often sold out so you need to wait for them.
I started my set one by one. If you created a project, you should already know what colors you’ll need. I picked what I needed the most and then continued purchasing as I go. At the moment I have around 20 bottles and it’s sufficient for most of my projects. Remember that you can always mix them up and create shades – so black and white should be the start.
If the paints you own are acrylic but not designed for models, you can work with that, sure. But I cannot tell you how they may work since every brand is different. For instance, when I first bought paints, I bought “normal” Vallejo acrylics. They have very nice consistency but they are terribly shiny which doesn’t look good on a Pop in my opinion. I have nothing against it but I want to tell you how to make it look like a Funko-made. If you want to though – it’s still your Pop.
For less advanced projects, this is also the finishing color, but the more you practice, the more shades or details you’ll be able to apply. Here we focus only on applying just one.
As mentioned in priming, paint should also be “milk consistency”. This is very much personal preference and opinion and as a person of technology, I hate I cannot tell you an exact instruction. What I can tell is you should thin your paint with water always. Model Colors are quite runny right out from the bottle but it’s not enough. Play around with them and try different mixes. In my case, I haven’t had a session where I didn’t have too much or not enough water at first. It’s a process.
There’s also a special paint thinner available. I have it but haven’t yet worked with it.
Coats should be thin. Don’t worry if they don’t cover the surface with the first layer. It’ll take at least two or three. Paint slowly and pay attention to what’s going on with your brush and Pop. If it’s too runny – more paint, less water, if the opposite… You know. Pay attention to edges and changes on the surface. The paint will always try to sit there and your job is to spread it evenly.
Acrylics dry fast, but leave it for a while after a coat.
Shapes and patterns
If you want to protect a part of a Pop from the paint, you can literally fool around with pretty much everything. Try some rubber bands for a checkered coat or paper tape to split the T-shirt in stripes. Just test out how they work for you and if this certain material doesn’t get stuck with paints.
If you ask for the more professional way there’s something called liquid mask and it leaves scratchable silicone on the figurine.
I often use an automatic pencil to sketch something on the figurine. The tricky part is that some paints will cover the marks, some don’t. You need a proper rubber with a sharp end to remove it or just put tiny points that will be possible to remove later.
Honesty time: you will never find a shade that fits perfectly to your Pop. And if you mix it, you have to save the mix because later you won’t be able to reproduce exactly the same one.
There’re plenty of face shades in VMC. The light flesh one is a little bit too light (imagine Swedish skin tones), and normal skin tone… well, too dark for a “European”. Ok, it’s getting out of hand.
What I mean to tell you is – I am no expert here, I’m still searching for my own skin palette. And I feel like that dude from Hannibal just by writing that. Let’s move on.
This is a palette with water that you can keep your paints wet longer. There’re a lot of videos on how to make your own at home or you can purchase one.
This is a bit pricy but worth every penny. After long research, I chose Everlasting Wet Palette that I bought in a set (no Amazon here). You can keep your paints week after a week inside of it and they are paintable. If you want to mix plenty of colors, you should think about it (or at least make your own) because it seriously saves a lot of paint.
Aerograph – Should You?
Short answer: if you start – nope. If you work on 10 or 20 per year, again no. It is a tool for people who work on a lot of copies. It will help with the basic coating but most of the details you’ll have to do by hand anyway. So unless you’re really sure to spend the money, wait. You can always buy something cheap but I can’t help you here. At least not yet.
Oh, apparently for glow in the dark you do need it.
There’re three types of varnish: glossy, satin, and matte. If you’re on the budget, pick matte. It will make your Pop not shiny no matter what paints you use. However, if you have some cash left, glossy varnish is apparently better to secure your work. In this case, you can use 1-2 coats of glossy and 1-2 of matte (and it will look matte). Satin is something in-between. I use it sometimes to make the Pop look fancy if the character is a shining one.
Coats are thin. They dry out long. This is the ending look, you do not want to screw it up now. They are applied slowly, with an appropriate brush to the surface (bigger surface bigger brush, and so on). And I hope I don’t need to remind you about applying varnish with a clean paintbrush? Good.
I made that mistake and my Pop is sticky to this day. I think there was a bit of remover on my brush and it created a reaction. So trust me, you don’t want it to happen to you.
OK, that’s it for now, folks. It took me too long anyway. Sculpting and painting techniques coming soon. First, I have to discover them myself. Cheers!