Welcome to Fishing50’s look into lure painting techniques, tips, tricks and mistakes to avoid. This article is geared more for recreational, rather than commercial, interests in lure painting and primarily deals with spoons, hardbaits and jigs. I will discuss the various paints to use, which ones work best, where to get them, paint costs as well as clear coats and how to choose them. I will also talk about the best companies and websites to get hardbait and spoon blanks as well as price comparisons. At the end of the article I will have a resource section (Resources) that will list out paints, clear coats and any accessories mentioned in the article and where you can get them.
Not doubt you have already looked into or heard of the some of the more popular ways to paint and clear coat a lure. The two big ones are powder coating and vinyl. Though powder coating is certainly tough, one of the draw backs is in the process. Powder coating requires that you apply the powder coat then bake the lure, jig or spoon at 350 degrees for a set amount of time. Using this method, you would need a dedicated oven or use your own kitchen oven which the rest of the family not be so cool with and its generally more hassle (and more power usage) than other methods. Another popular material you can use that requires less process is vinyl. It comes in a small jar and can be painted on a lure or dipped (this is especially popular when painting jigs as you can easily do many of them by dipping them and hanging on a drying rack). Inherent with the process of dipping vinyl is drippage. Even though vinyl paints dry relatively quickly you will need to manually remove drips so you don’t end up with a lopsided lure or jig. Vinyl is not as strong as powder coating but it is still very resistant to the chips, nicks and scratches that come standard in the life of a lure. It can be mixed with sparkle additives to add some reflectivity, doesn’t react to many other paints (plays well with others) and comes in lots of different colors like glow, fluorescents and pearlescent colors. Behind powder coating, vinyl is the second best, affordable and easy to use lure paint and clear coat. It comes in small jars that need mixing prior to each use-I recommend keeping a small marble in the jar and shaking the jar prior to use. Another paint and clear coat that many people may not even consider but is readily available, comes in more colors than you can count and is pretty cost effective is nail polish. Nail polish is a lacquer-based paint that is pretty strong and chip resistant. The good news for fishermen is that the nail polish industry is always striving to outcompete each for the largest color selections and the most chip resistant, longest lasting nail finish. This competition only adds to the polish strength and colors available to the recreational lure painter. If you’ve ever come across forum discussions on using nail polish for lures you will see a lot of mention of using Sally Hansen’s Hard As Nails series of polishes. This is certainly a good one to use but I wouldn’t necessarily put it at the top. My recommendations for nail polishes listed in order of strength and color options are as follows:
3) Sally Hansen
As a price comparison, here are those three brands and some basic colors with listed prices. I just assume that, if you are a guy, you may not want to hang out around the nail polish section of your local Target or Wal-Greens so I’ve listed the Amazon.com prices (which are usually the lowest around anyway).
Essie (red) $5.49
OPI (red) $6.45
Sally Hansen (red) $6.77
Essie (white) $5.60
OPI (white) $6.19
Sally Hansen (white) $4.86
Essie (clear) $6.50
OPI (clear) $5.57
Sally Hansen (clear) $5.98
I also want to add here that whatever brand you choose to go with stick with that for all your nail polish paints and clear coats because even though they are all lacquer based their chemistries are slightly different and may not work well with each other across brands. You can, however, go across chemistries when it comes to vinyl and lacquer. I have, in the past, had no troubles with layering lacquer based paint, like nail polish, over vinyl base coats.
Now we move on to enamels. The enamels I’m talking about are the spray can type you get from places like home depot. They have basic color selection and nowadays have a much-improved spray nozzle that really gives you a nice, even coat. One the fancier (and pricier) side are the enamel sprays that you will find in automotive stores that give you even greater color choice and decidedly better spray nozzle technology. Sprays enamels are nice because the chances are good that you already have quite a few cans lying around the garage that can be re-purposed into painting up some lures. They are also nice because they are convenient to use in the backyard or well-ventilated shop and don’t require brushes or mixing. It wouldn’t necessarily be fair to compare the precision and detail that air brushing systems give you but spray cans can still give you a nice even coat while still being affordable and convenient. One way you can use spray cans to get some realistic detail on your lures is by getting some scale masking from someplace like Jan’s Netcraft and spraying over the masking. The effect results in a very cool and realistic scale pattern wherever the tape and spray were laid down. Another tape that works well is a painters tape called Frog Tape-it seems to yield the cleanest edges. If you happen to royally mess up a lure, you can wipe off the paint with a rag dipped in lacquer thinner or acetone (or in the case of spoons you can simply let it sit a while in a glass jar of lacquer thinner).
There are draw backs to using enamels however. For example, lets say you just laid down an awesome enamel spray job and as the final touch you brush on some Essie nail polish clear coat. As you sit back and marvel at your most realistic lure paint job yet you notice the paint start to lift and crinkle. This is a scenario that I’m sure has happened quite a bit- unwittingly mixing paints that shouldn’t be mixed or strong solvents screwing up your great paint job. By and large compatibility comes down to solvents. In the example above, the solvents in the nail polish clear coat were enough to have a negative reaction with the enamel paint below. Though I have had my share of ruined enamel paint jobs there have also been some times when parts of the paint on the spoon or hardbait were fine. The reasoning for this is that when you brush on nail polish clear coat some streaks may be thicker than others and subsequently have more solvent in them. These thicker and more solvent dense streaks tend to cause the paint to lift and crinkle. One thing you could do if you really wanted to use lacquer based clear coat over enamel is to apply it really thin and do multiple coats. So what’s the clear coat solution when you aren’t sure if you will have a reaction? One word…epoxy. I will get into clear coats later in the article but the nice thing about epoxy is that it reacts with nothing (and oh yeah, its super strong).
When I first started using clear coats like CS Coatings vinyl “Seal Coat” I was skeptical but in time I’ve learned that this stuff lives up to the company’s marketing boasts as one of the toughest top coats you can buy. It’s easy to brush on or dip, it’s nice and clear with no hazing or discoloration, it’s resistant to chipping and scratches and it’s pretty inexpensive, too. It’s less reactive, chemically to other paints like lacquers or acrylics. Though it’s generally less reactive you may notice, upon applying your first coat of seal coat, that it reanimates some colors or dyes in a small way. For example, I painted a spoon with 2 or 3 coats of red CS vinyl, then added white vinyl dots followed by black dots (mimicking pupils) onto the spoon. When it was completely cured I brushed on a coat of Seal Coat and later noticed that the white dots had turned to a light pink color. The Seal Coat had reanimated the red and caused a bit to flow over the white dots turning it slightly pink. Though I have not tested this on all colors I do know from experience that red, in general, can be a finicky color (vinyl, spray cans or otherwise). My solution in this case was to do another spoon with exactly the same pattern with the only change being that I used a red nail polish instead of red vinyl.
CS Coatings also have at least one variation on its clear coat called UV Blast Seal Coat. This particular iteration has a UV additive that reflects UV light hitting the lure which allows it to be more easily detected, visually. There are several scientific studies (UV world of fishes (abstract),ocular media transmission) out there to support the idea that fish see, at least to a certain degree, UV. The idea is that your lure, coated with this UV Blast, would theoretically be seen by more fish and therefore get more strikes. Now the only problem is that every fish sees differently and there have not been vision studies done on every single fish that you will throw a lure to so I justify using it because it may just be that the UV additive puts the fish I’m targeting into a “mood” to strike as compared to the untreated seal coat. As a price comparison on a 4 ounce bottle, the regular CS Seal Coat is around $10.00 whereas the UV Blast is about $3 more. When applying Seal Coat you will want to shoot for 2-3 coats and use small, disposable paint brushes-the softer the brush the smoother the coat. These small brushes can be found in places like Hobby Lobby and Michaels for around $2 for 20.
Lacquer based (nail polish) clear coats have been touched on in this article thus far but they are worth another mention because this is another one of those clear coat systems that is readily available and fairly cheap to buy. There are certainly lots of different polishes out there and they are not all created equal. Again, I would stick to Essie, OPI and Sally Hansen and whatever brand you choose for your paint, use the same brand for clear coat. These days, nail polishes will often come with a ball bearing in the jar to make mixing easier (just as with a “rattle can”). They have really nice, fine brushes that make application to your lure a smooth process and, as with vinyl applications, you will want to do at least 2-3 coats. Besides nail polish lacquer finishes there is also a lacquer based top coat put out by Dick Nite appropriately dubbed “Dick Nite’s Top Coat”. Though I have not personally used this I imagine it is a more expensive version of a nail polish clear coat.
Epoxy clear coats are great. They are a very strong, durable and give a nice glossy finish. They react chemically with almost nothing and are readily available in hardware stores and boat building or fiberglassing specialty shops in your area. The bad news is that it reacts with nothing chemically meaning if you want to strip a lure of its epoxy coating don’t bother with acetone or lacquer thinner because it won’t affect it. The other drawback is that it requires mixing and has a limited “pot life”. Once you mix it you will need to use it or lose it. Like vinyl, it is a slow dripper so if you are coating a hanging hard bait you will need to monitor it and remove drips as they occur. Lastly, epoxy will tend to yellow over time and especially so with exposure outdoors.
A popular epoxy that you will often see referenced on forums is Devcon’s 2-ton epoxy. This 30-minute epoxy comes in a dual cylinder dispenser with a single plunger that, when depressed, oozes out equal amounts of epoxy and hardener. This is good stuff, no doubt, but if you think you will be doing more than a few lure coating jobs I would strongly recommend heading to your local fiberglass shop and find some UV treated, 1-1 ratio epoxy. They will have gallon sizes and smaller sizes for those who don’t need that much. I believe you will also save on epoxy in the long run as buying lots of Devcon epoxy kits over time will cost more that a quart of epoxy from the fiberglass shop. This is a pretty simple set up: epoxy, graduated mixing container, mixing stick and brush if you are brushing it on. The epoxy you get from the fiberglassing shop is not going to be 30-minute stuff, its going to be 24 hour stuff. In my 10+ years of working with epoxy I can say that they are not all created equal. There is a good site I found recently that goes into great detail with several popular epoxies and even does long term tests on them. In my experience, the shorter the cure time, the weaker the bond and hardness so I wouldn’t even mess with those 5-minute epoxies. Be warned though that if you have a decent amount of epoxy left over in your mixing container it will get hot –the greater the volume, the greater the heat. You can certainly do multiple coats of epoxy but I’ve had pretty good luck doing just one coat as epoxy is generally thicker than other clear coats. One of the nice things about epoxy is that it is “self leveling” so even if a hair falls onto your epoxy work mid-cure and you pluck it out with tweezers, any mark left by the hair or tweezers will slowly but surely get filled in.
Spicing up your lures
Okay, so you have this great spoon that you have expertly painted with a nice dark color but you want to give it something flashy. I have found that pre-cut, holographic decals are a huge benefit to decorating lures. There are plenty of holographic eyes to choose from in various sizes and colors. If you already have holographic tape but want to add eyes simply use a paper punch to punch out a perfect, small circle. Black paint can be added to the center later for a pupil effect. If you aren’t ready to get into paper punches yet you can still make eyes on a lure using the paint of your choice and drill bits. If you want a ¼” white eye with a smaller black pupil simply dip the back end of a ¼” drill bit into white paint, blot onto your lure, let dry, then dip the back end of a smaller drill bit into black paint and blot onto the center of the white. Pre-cut decals can be a real asset to your lure designing, as well. As with the eyes, they come in a suite of sizes, designs, and colors. One particular type I’ve leaned on for a while are decals called “ladder backs”. At minimum, I know Jann’s Netcraft has them in packs of 25 for less than $2 but there are probably other suppliers too. As I alluded to previously, you can die cut your own holographic or micro prism decals with paper punches. At Michaels they have an assortment of shapes and sizes (although I believe the ¼”circle will be the most useful).
Another great way to give your lure something “extra” is by using glow paint. Glow Inc. has a line of glowing lure paint that stays charged for up to 24 hours. The nice thing is that because they are almost clear, you can add them over a pre-existing design. Additionally, when you couple glowing paint with UV Blast Seal Coat you really reap the benefits of the glow. “But I don’t fish at night”, you say? Then let me make the case for daytime use of glowing lures. Unless you are fishing in the gin clear shallows of Lake Tahoe or the Bahamas there is going to be some light loss due to depth and “stuff” in the water like tannins and mud. With glowing lures presented at any depth, you can essentially be a beacon in an otherwise dark environment. If you then couple the glowing assets of your lure with the noise making properties of something like a Rat-L-Trap then you’ve got yourself a real edge. It can’t hurt to have glowing lures in your arsenal if for no other reason than to have the option to throw at stubborn or finicky fish.
Metallic glitter is another way to give your lure a realistic shine of fish scales. These fine glitter bits are best presented by mixing them with your vinyl clear coat like Seal Coat. Its worth experimenting with the amount and color of glitter you add to get just the right effect for your lure.
For those of you interested in getting into something a little more technical with how you add color and design to your lures I would recommend a simple air brushing kit and some Createx paints to start with. Hobby Lobby and Jann’s Netcraft will both have everything you will need to get started. In the world of air brushing it all comes down to technique and how you use design templates. Much like the fish scale masking I described above, air brushing makes use of a lot of special templates to gain the desired look on the lure. You can certainly buy some of these templates but to really make your lures reflect your style and perspective you’re going to want to make your own.
As I mentioned in the beginning of this article one of the strongest and durable paints is powder paints. Because they are baked on the lure they are attached extremely well and harden to a super durable finish. You can experiment with this type of lure treatment by looking into a dedicated powder paint oven for baking, a fluid bed for even paint application and trying various powder paints like the ones at Jann’s Netcraft and Mudhole.
For blank lead head jigs try Bass Pro, Tackle Warehouse or Sportsmanswarehouse as Jann’s Netcraft and Mudhole.com have very limited selection. Below is a comparison between the 3 previously mentioned companies for a ¼ oz. darter head jig blank (5-pack)
Bass Pro: $4.29
Tackle Warehouse: $4.99
For those interested in trying your hand at painting spoons, the two companies I have dealt with in the past are MudHole.com and Jann’s Netcraft.
Here are some comparative prices of similar 2 ¼” steel blank spoons (smooth nickel finish)
Jann’s Netcraft: $4.79/10
Though they both have a lot of pieces and parts for making various fishing gear and tackle, MudHole.com is really geared toward rod making and Jann’s is more generally diverse in its offerings. If you want to make a rod, MudHole is your place but for the purposes of spoons and everything else definitely go with Jann’s. Originally, I wanted to paint a spoon shaped most like the famous Dardevle so that I could paint a few with that pattern. To track down the right shaped spoon I emailed both companies and they responded fairly quickly but Jann’s had what I was looking for and had more size/weight selection. If spoon painting is your thing and you’re looking for high volume purchases of spoons look into “Worthco“. Based on the spoon pictures and recycled product descriptions it would appear that this is where Jann’s is getting their spoons. You can get them at a super low price-per-unit with the only catch being that you have to order a lot of them.
Jann’s and Mudhole has blank, ready-to-be-painted hardbaits but you may want to try predatorbassbaits.com. This site is gaining a lot of traction with water tight blank lures that have all the action you expect out of a well-made hardbait. Here are some price comparisons between comparable hardbaits found at Jann’s, Mudhole and predatorbassbaits:
Jann’s Netcraft: $2.32 ($4.65/ 2pack)
Mudhole: all lure making accessories
Jann’s Netcraft: all lure making accessories including die-cut ladder backs
Predatorbassbaits: jig heads, hardbaits, split rings, hooks
Glow Inc.: Glow powder and paint
Worthco: wholesale spoons
Amazon: nail polishes
CS Coatings: Seal Coat, UV Blast, etc. (don’t bother emailing them questions though, customer service is all but non-existent)
Home Depot: various enamel spray paints
Ace Hardware: Devcon 2-ton epoxy
Michaels: small paint brushes, paper punches
Hobby Lobby: small paint brushes, paper punches, Createx paints
Fiberglass supply shops: epoxy resin, measuring cups etc.
Dick Nite: Dick Nite’s Top Coat
Though this article seemed to be long-winded it really is only scratching the surface of the world of lure painting and lure design. There are lots of other kinds of artificial baits that you can experiment with like spinners, soft plastics, balsa wood baits and even making your own lures with molds and melting plastic. Some of the techniques I described called for brushing on vinyl or some other paint with brushes when those same baits from the factory are expertly airbrushed. As a fisherman, I wouldn’t get too caught up in trying to achieve perfection in the paint job because a big part of why companies want to present a perfectly airbrushed product to the customer is “shelf appeal”. Their first objective is moving their product and they can’t do that if they don’t look perfect. The reality is that fish don’t care. Think about it –a fish predator that encounters a school of baitfish is going to instinctively go after the slowest and weakest fish and those fish are typically the ones that don’t necessarily look the best. They are slower than the rest because they may be sick or beat up from other predator encounters and at the end of the day, the bait that get eaten first are those that usually look the worst. One of the reasons you will see baits with red painted on them is to resemble blood as if it’s an injured bait and by extension I would argue that a better artificial bait is one that looks beat up with tattered fins, blood etc. In short I wouldn’t be too concerned that your diving hardbait or spoon shows paint brush marks ‘cuz fish don’t care!
Good luck and please contact me with anything you’d like to share (stories, techniques, pictures) relating to lure painting and I will add it to this article as it comes in. In the meantime, just think about the satisfaction of catching a great fish on a lure that you painted…