Painting Fishing Lures: A How-To Guide

Updated on:

Painting Fishing Lures: A How-To Guide

Updated on:

Many anglers who are creative decide to start painting their own fishing lures.

Thanks to having my own lure business at one point, I have gone through the learning process of painting fishing lures the hard way, and have made every mistake one can make in order to learn the proper methods in a trial by fire.

While it seems like there isn’t much to it, creating a paint job on a lure requires several processes if you want the finish to last and even more if you want the bait to look stunning.

Painting Lures to Create A Unique Look

Painting lures to create a unique look that is also appealing takes time. 

Every established lure builder or painter has their own unique style, and if you’re a part of a lure building community, you will know who painted a lure just by looking at the painting style.

When you start out painting lures, your baits aren’t going to look very good, but the more you paint, the more you will learn little tidbits to make your lures look better, and after time, trial, and error, you will create stunning baits.

Equipment

If you’re brand new to lure painting, you’re going to need the proper equipment.

Airbrushes, an air compressor, hoses, brushes, paints, hooks, and more.

Lure Blanks

You’re going to need something to paint (big surprise, right.)

You can get your lure blanks several ways; maybe you want to repaint old lures like crankbaits, topwater lures, or any other type of hard baits you might have.

Some companies sell unpainted lures specifically for anglers who want to paint them in custom colors.

And finally, the other option would be lures that you build yourself from scratch, whether they are wood lures or plastic resin lures cast from a homemade mold.

Airbrush

Using an air brush will give you the best results, and while many of us lure builders and painters will admit to using a can of spray paint for quick jobs on old beat-up lures, there won’t be any artistic detailing when using a spray can.

Air brushes range in price and quality, but when starting out, it might be a good idea to choose an airbrush that is in the middle of the road in cost.

A cheap air brush can function poorly, and you might perceive this as a user error when in reality the brush is not up to par. 

Expensive air brushes work great, but some might require you to have a bit of knowledge on how to properly set up and adjust them at a very fine level to get the best results.

Best airbrush for painting fishing lures

Paasche Talon
Paasche Talon
Paasche Talon
Our Score

This is the air brush I personally use most of the time, and I own several of them.

In my opinion, the Talon is the perfect mix of cost and quality, and it is capable of doing some pretty fine and detailed painting with proper paint thinning and manipulation.

The double-action works smoothly if you keep the airbrush clean, and the kit comes with three different head sizes for various spray patterns and a spare paint needle.

  • Three different head sizes and spare needle
  • Large .4 oz. cup
  • Capable of doing fine and detailed work
Iwata Eclipse Airbrush
Iwata Eclipse Airbrush
Iwata Eclipse Airbrush
Our Score

If you want to go with a higher quality brush right off the bat, or you’re comfortable with airbrushing, the Iwata Eclipse is a great brush that is still fairly affordable.

 I know many lure builders and painters that use this brush exclusively, and I have had the chance to tinker with the airbrush, and my impressions of it are positive.

The needle of the Eclipse is durable, being made of high-quality spring steel, which means it won’t bend out of shape like many other needles.

The Iwata Eclipse is also capable of painting wide areas due to having a pretty high paint flow, as well as being able to do very detailed work with thin spray widths.

  • Can do high flow painting and fine detail painting
  • High-quality materials
  • A good brush for a great price

Paints

There are several different types of paints you can use to paint fishing lures, such as acrylic, water-based paints, and enamel paints like what is used in the automotive industry.

The goopy craft store acrylic paint is very cheap but not suited to airbrushes. You can use it if you add a ton of thinner, but it dries quickly, and you will have to clean your airbrush immediately or it will clog up your airbrush, I personally would not recommend it.

You can use this cheap acrylic paint for any hand brushing you might want to do, or when creating interesting patterns using torn-up foam pieces or sponges.

Water-based airbrush paint is what I use the most, but you are going to want to have something tough to coat over the paint, like a 2 part epoxy . If you don’t your paint job isn’t going to hold up to the rigors of fishing.

Automotive paints work great, but they are the most expensive of the three types. I use automotive enamel paint together with water-based paint, mostly pearls, metallics, and pearl flakes.

Clamps

Clamps are used to stop you from having to grab the lure when painting, and not just from ruining the paint job but before painting as well, after you have prepped and cleaned any contaminants, as the oil on your fingers and hands can cause issues.

Clamps can be anything that works really, and I use vice grips along with a PVC tube that one handle can fit in that is mounted to small squares of plywood.

This simple homemade setup allows me to set the lure that is placed into the vice grips on the table, without fear of knocking it over.

If you are painting small lures, a simple homemade setup using alligator clips for electrical wires works great, but in my case, I paint very large musky lures that are too large for the small gator clips.

Stencils

Stencils work great for quickly applying details like gill covers, fins, or even pattern designs like the markings of a crappie, pike, or the vertical dark bars of a perch.

Stencils might be available on the market for popular lures that you can buy as unpainted blanks, but I personally don’t know of any.

If you can’t find any stencils, you will have to make them.

Making stencils is as simple as drawing your design on a piece of paper and cutting it out with a hobby knife.

Paper stencils won’t last long, and soon the paper will become permeated with paint, and the edges will fail.

My favorite material for making stencils is to find plastic sleeves/protectors for paper. Plastic sleeves are thin and last a very long time if you regularly clean the paint off of them.

Sandpaper

Sandpaper is crucial for prepping your fishing lure before priming and painting. 

you will want to use very fine sandpaper grit for prepping the body of the lure before painting.

I like 180-200, but it depends on what you are trying to paint.

Accessories such as eyes

A fishing lure isn’t truly finished until you put eyes on it; that’s when the fishing lure comes to life and looks like an actual fish.

There is a variety of eyes on the market for fishing lures in various sizes and colors. Most eyes you will find for lures are stick-on eyes, which will last a little while if super glued onto the lure, unless you coat or dip the lures in epoxy.

You can also make your own eyes by taking pictures of actual fish eyes from the internet and photoshopping and printing the eyes out onto sheets of paper.

After cutting out the printed eyes, you can place them on the heads of nails, with rows of nail heads in a board, and drip a drop of two-part epoxy onto them to create the convex lens.

If you want really cheap eyes and don’t care how fancy they look, simply get the toy googly eyes that you can find at any store with a hobby section or hobby lobby, or paint them on.

Painting process

Creating a paint job on a lure requires several processes if you want the finish to last and even more if you want the bait to look stunning.

The first thing you need to do before painting a fishing lure is to prep the bait. This is the most important step in the entire painting process, and you need to ensure your bait is sanded well, as well as being free of any contaminants.

Get your chosen colors ready and ensure you have a clean airbrush, then start painting. You will find out which process works for you as you go along.

Give your fishing lures plenty of time to dry. You can create a little oven booth using light bulbs or just let them air dry.

Color Selection

Color selection is all up to you. Go with colors that fit well and create realistic fish patterns, or go off the rails and create some purple and pink abomination; there are no rules here.

Expert Tips on Lure Painting

  • You will have several layers of paint for complex color patterns, it’s important to put each layer on as thinly as possible, or you will have the paint separate from the lure, even if you use several layers of epoxy as a finish.
  • Like with using thin paint layers, if you do not prep your fishing lures well enough and have them adequately sanded, the same will happen as I stated above, and the paint will separate.
  • If you are painting wood lures or clear lure bodies, primer is essential. If the lure bodies are white resin, you can skip the priming process.
  • If you are coating the lures with a two-part epoxy, you will need some sort of lure turner to ensure the epoxy stays even and does not drip or sag.
  • Mesh netting is awesome for making scale patterns, you can find this in various places including dipper nets for minnows. (My last big netting score was from accessory bags for shop vac vacuum extensions.)

Final thoughts on how to paint fishing lures

When you start your lure painting journey, you will great some awful-looking lures, but don’t get discouraged, as it’s all part of the learning curve.

Stick with it and when you get good at it, anglers will be knocking down your door to get their hands on them.

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AUTHOR
Shawn Chapin is an experienced fishing writer and guide based in Wisconsin, where he loves targeting muskie and a range of other species.