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How to make your clear LEGO pieces shine!

by admin on April 17, 2012

in Care & Feed of LEGO

(Written by Andy Taylor) 

How to Make Your LEGO Windows, Cockpits, Canopies and Other Clear LEGO Pieces Really Pop, Shine and Sparkle!

Hello, all! I am a fairly new member of the AFOL community, having worked through my Dark Ages” via an assortment of similarly crafty hobbies such as model-railroading and plastic model-building. While none of these have brought me quite that same level of pure Zen-like peace that working through a LEGO MOC can (and without spilling paint all over the office carpet – a bonus!) They have all given me a fairly broad spread of modeling skills. While most of these tricks and techniques are something of an anathema or simply a pure opposite of everything that LEGO is (so no comparisons on glues or paints, etc). There are a few very basic tricks that seem to work well for LEGO-building, without violating any perceived rules of purity. :roll:

The most basic of these is a simple trick that the airplane-model builders have used for years. As we are all well aware, clear LEGO pieces are made of a different type of plastic than the regular colored bricks. The clear LEGO bricks are slightly more brittle. As a result, over time – or even sitting in a bag or box with other parts – the clear LEGO pieces will slowly develop micro-scratches that make them seem duller or more foggy. When it comes out of the box, the clear plastic canopy of a LEGO starfighter looks like a child’s toy. While this is in most cases appropriate to what it is, with a very simple trick, you can have it looking like a real glass canopy or window. Or turn colored translucent LEGO pieces into real gem-like shining jewels.

The secret is this. These clear LEGO pieces are made of an acrylic plastic. The fogging or dullness and loss of shine comes from minor scratches. The way to fix these scratches is to give the piece a quick dip in a bath of liquid acrylic. In short; all you need is a bottle of classic Future Floor Polish (now being marketed as Pledge With Future Shine). It is the uncolored, unscented version of the cleaning product. In the hobby-world this stuff is liquid gold! :D

Use of it is simple. Pour out some Future in a small bowl. Dip the clear LEGO pieces in the polish, making sure that the LEGO piece is fully covered. Then set the LEGO pieces aside to fully dry (I recommend setting them on baking parchment-paper). The liquid acrylic floor-polish is self-leveling and will fill any micro-scratches or minor flaws in the LEGO piece. Once fully dry you can lightly polish the LEGO piece with a soft cloth. (Really only needed for large flat pieces). Other than a light polish no special handling is needed once dry.

The end result?  The parts will be crystal-clear. Canopies will look like glass. Jedi Light-sabers will seem to glow. Windows will be sharp enough to see minifigs through and cast a reflection. Gems and jewels will sparkle as the tempting loot that they are meant to be.

I hope somebody finds this trick useful. If you have any questions or comments, or secrets of your own, please share them below. Thanks for reading my first post here! :)

You may also want to check out the Care & Feed of LEGO section for other tips on taking care of your LEGO, or a follow these links:

LEGO Brand Retail

{ 47 comments… read them below or add one }

nrg rainbow ninja of all ninjas April 17, 2012 at 10:06 AM

60 bucks no way

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Andy taylor April 18, 2012 at 11:56 PM

I’m guessing that is for a full case of the stuff. A normal bottle costs $6 and lasts for years.

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nicolas-n. April 17, 2012 at 11:28 AM

What exactly is liquid acrylic?

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admin April 17, 2012 at 11:36 AM

Nicolas, I asked Andy to come on and answer questions, and hopefully he will do so soon. In the meantime, I would just say that my understanding is that liquid acrylic is nothing more than a thin layer of warnish or polish. I know you are on your phone, so you can’t see the Amazon listings I have put in the post, but if you can click on the product-name it will take you to Amazon where you can see the polish Andy uses and read the details. :)

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Andy taylor April 17, 2012 at 4:01 PM

Liquid acrylic is basically a clear very dilute acrylic medium based floor polish used primarily on no wax floors such as linoleum. The main name it is known by in the states is Future floor polish. (I know it has a different name in the uk and Europe. ) it is a colorless perfectly clear liquid normally in a clear colorless bottle. It should say somewhere on it that it is an acrylic floor polish.

If you have ever seen a tv commercial for the special kits to repair scratched glasses or cd’s it’s the same stuff just repackaged at 1000% markup.

As far as what it is? It is the clear liquid base used in the manufacture of acrylic paints. The fact that it is essentially the same stuff as what is used in the manufacture of clear plastics allows it to work unbelievably as a filler to repair micro scratches.

I can’t completely explain the stuff. But I can vouch that it is fantastic for use on clear plastic injection molded pieces such as model airplane canopies or lego’s.

Not that this really applies to Lego, but it also airbrushes well straight from the bottle. Many modelers use it as a final protective coating for a finished project.

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Mhic Dhu Ghaill April 17, 2012 at 12:50 PM

Now you tell me after I sold off all of my LEGO© 5 years ago on Bricklink.

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Legodude19 April 17, 2012 at 1:47 PM

Very nice post. Welcome to the Brickblogger! I’m very impressed by this method!

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Mike Psiaki April 17, 2012 at 1:49 PM

are you kidding me?? I’m buying some of this on my way home.

For years I’ve kept a bag of all my old scratched cockpits and I’ve always wanted a way to fix them but never thought one existed so I never looked.

You’ve just become the best Lego blog in my eyes. Congratulations.

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admin April 17, 2012 at 3:13 PM

Mike, yeah, Andy’s suggestion is great! BTW, I LOVE your airship! Incredible design! Oh, and I have to steal your LEGO building space! :lol:

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Andy taylor April 17, 2012 at 4:30 PM

Oh wow! That airship is fantastic!

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Luca April 17, 2012 at 5:17 PM

I had 2 thoughts when I saw your airship HOLY……

GREEBLES!!!!!!!!

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Steph April 17, 2012 at 1:54 PM

Thanks, this is great! I have quite a few scratched older pieces, and I’m looking forward to trying this!

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Jacob April 17, 2012 at 3:51 PM

I am normally a strict purist, but I think I may try this. Two quick questions though: will this affect the way the part fits with other parts?(ie, is the part more likely to get stuck/ not fit where it normally would?) and when drying, does it “pool” or build up if the part is uneven?

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Andy taylor April 17, 2012 at 4:05 PM

Just dip it and let it self dry. It should be self leveling and is so micro thin that I have never noticed any fit issues. Just don’t let the part sit in a coagulating pool of the stuff. I normally lay out dipped parts on a piece of baking parchment. But a paper towel can work. Any irregularities can easily be buffed away.

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Andy taylor April 17, 2012 at 4:41 PM

Oh one other important point. When I said “dry” above, what I probably should have said is “cure”. Once dipped let the pieces cure, or fully and completely dry (chemically out gas). Not simply dry to the touch. Liquid acrylic is among other things the base medium for acrylic paints. Once it cures it is essentially platic. It cannot be chemically softened once cured, but will clean up or wash away with soap and warm water until that occurs.

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Andy taylor April 17, 2012 at 4:52 PM

In other words, let the parts sit for about 2 days to cure. (less if you have a drying booth/food dehydrator, but that’s another whole subject with probably few Lego applications).

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Jacob April 17, 2012 at 11:49 PM

Thanks. I was curious how long it would have to set up for. I have some bricks that I have had since the mid nineties, and since I was a kid, I was not too nice to them. One final question: For parts that are composed of two different elements, one clear one ABS (the old submarine windows) that are difficult to remove, would it be better to try to apply it with a cotton ear swab, lens paper, or better to avoid trying it out at all?

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andy taylor April 18, 2012 at 12:43 AM

I would use a swab or a paintbrush and then buff it with those. This method will fix the micro scratches that cause the piece to dull, fog and seem more plasticky. It will also repair or reduce minor scratches. Major deep scratches from long time rough play or outright cracks will not completely disappear.

Actual drying time will vary with temperature, humidity etc. At a minimum I would let it set overnight. To be completely safe give it two nights. Unless you have a dehydrator to use (Thank you Ronco!) in which case it only takes a few hours.

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Andy taylor April 17, 2012 at 4:13 PM

For weirdly uneven parts where possible go a little thinner and shake/knock off excess as much as possible to avoid anything pooling. This normally isn’t an issue with simple injection molded parts. The basic way the molds work almost always insures that there is a very obvious “down” side to let a part dry and drain. (normally the edges). I don’t think Lego uses any of the complicated 3+ part molding tech, at least not for clear parts?

Please note this is for clear acrylic pieces. Using it on colored abs bricks while not damaging will probably just result in a brick that feels like it has been floor polished.

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Luca April 17, 2012 at 4:08 PM

Gotta try this on some bionicle heads! :mrgreen:

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nicolas-n. April 17, 2012 at 4:31 PM

Does this like only work on the panes and glasses for the cars and buildings,or does it work on bricks and other lego too?

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Andy taylor April 17, 2012 at 5:36 PM

Clear plastic only. So the clear portion of the windows, but where possible separate it from the frames.

Lego is made mainly from 2 different types of plastic. ABS for the bricks and acrylic plastic for the clear parts ( ok technically you also get some styrene in minifigs and some vinyl in special heads and torso pieces).

This trick works to repair acrylic plastic. The way it works is you are essentially painting a new micro thin layer of that same substance so it bonds to the original. This is further helped by the floor polish variant having a very low surface tension, which lets it spread out, fill and self level.

Whereas ABS plastic’s most distinctive property is being virtually indestructable and very impregnable chemically. In other words paint or similar substances tend not to stick to it. You can apply acrylic to ABS, but it may not fully dry and will quickly wear off. At best you have just coated the part in a shell that isn’t bonded to the part (think like an M&M candy) at worst you have a slightly sticky part.

Clear acrylic can be used on printed Lego canopies. The printing is just acrylic paint to begin with. Although I would recommend testing it in a limited manner first to insure that no unwanted color shifts occur.

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Andy taylor April 17, 2012 at 5:45 PM

One other warning or provision. Be cautious where the dreaded stickers are involved. In cases where you will be applying stickers to canopies, such as the newer version of the Star Wars ARC 170 Starfighter, dip the canopies and let fully dry before stickering wherever possible. I have not tested how well Lego stickers hold up under submersion.

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lego chronicler April 17, 2012 at 7:43 PM

I play with lego in my tubby, they work fine!

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faelon April 17, 2012 at 8:43 PM

LOL! I am mainly concerned with what happens if the floor polish seeps under some of the transparent plastic stickers. It may work out fine. It’s just not something that I ever had cause to experiment with. It might actually make the stickers more waterproof.

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lego chronicler April 17, 2012 at 7:45 PM

Thanks for these tips, they really work, if you use them on bionicle heads they really shine! People like to buy shiny heads y’know! =)

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Allen April 17, 2012 at 11:27 PM

This is a great post! I have a couple of old pieces that could use some polishing.

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andy taylor April 18, 2012 at 1:22 AM

One last addendum if you will. CLEAN THE PARTS FIRST IF THEY ARE DIRTY!!! You don’t want to effectively laminate decades worth of crud onto the piece.

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GalexyCommander April 18, 2012 at 2:12 AM

I couldn’t believe what I was seeing when I dropped by to check out the latest posts. I feel like I’ve won the lotto (well almost). I have bags and bags of old acrylic canopies, cockpits, windows, etc. that I had thought were pretty useless (not even good enough to sell on eBay). That is, until I read this post. In the past I’ve tried all sorts of technics to try and bring back the shine and luster to clear pieces — most of them involving trying to polish them with varying degrees of abrasive polishes (as recommended in countless other postings I’ve read on-line elsewhere). Never once did I find or had it occurred to me to try a liquid acrylic polish. THANK YOU Andy Taylor — You’ve just made my year!, because nothing else could possibly top this fabulous trick. This is an even better trick then being able to restore yellowing LEGO (imho). I’ll be picking up some liquid polish first thing tomorrow.

P.S.: Still waiting for the day when someone will announce they’ve discovered a way to do the same thing to ABS pieces. I know that it’s possible in some way because TLG uses something similar to spray on to their Miniland displays at Legoland.

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Andy taylor April 28, 2012 at 3:33 PM

While I have never tried this, or experimented with it myself. I have long suspected that the stuff they use on the professional “display case” Lego presentations to give them that gleaming shine and polish, is something not to far removed from a very dilute “Armor All” type product used on vinyl plastics and car interiors. The same sorts of stuff used to super detail the plastic and rubber elements of show cars.

It might be worth sacrificing some old pieces to figure it out.
It might be worth experimenting with on some older Lego’s.

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VIE April 18, 2012 at 12:20 PM

ahhh love these little “helpful hints”

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zane zx April 18, 2012 at 9:10 PM

this is cool

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mark April 28, 2012 at 1:34 AM

Does this also work on printed cockpits?

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Andy taylor April 28, 2012 at 3:25 PM

In short yes. It should not harm the acrylic paints used for most of them. I would do a small test on a piece with Large printed area firs t, such as the Jedi Interceptor cockpit, just to make sure it doesn’t darken or color shift. But it should not otherwise harm the printing. It is actually the preferred protective sealant used by professional modelers. They spray it over all kinds of paint and decaling.

Please note this applies to stuff printed directly on the plastic. Glue based stickers, especially paper backed ones are altogether different.

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Håkan, Sweden September 16, 2012 at 6:43 AM

How do you leave a piece to dry? Can you just leave it on an old newspaper or will it stick to the paper? Would it be better with some kind of sift or a dish rack? It might not be so complicated, but it’d be nice with an answer.

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admin September 16, 2012 at 10:23 AM

Hakan, I just spread them out on a towel, and direct a portable fan on them. They dry quite fast. ;)

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Håkan, Sweden September 18, 2012 at 4:54 PM

Thanks, it wasn’t that difficult, apparently.

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Sarah August 20, 2013 at 1:08 AM

Can I do this to a brand new gem I unboxed today to make it sparkle, or is it just for damaged pieces ? I want to say yes, but not sure..

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admin August 20, 2013 at 9:52 AM

Sarah, this method is to bring LEGO gems to their original condition. I guess you can try to see if you can make them shinier, but plastic will only have a certain shine. It won’t ever sparkle like real gems. ;)

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Sarah August 20, 2013 at 1:47 PM

Thanks for the fast reply ! I was divided and kept thinking along the lines of “yes, no.. but how could it.. maybe..?”. ;)

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admin August 20, 2013 at 4:59 PM

Yeah, no harm in trying, maybe you will discover something interesting! :)

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LEGO LOVER March 8, 2014 at 9:57 AM

Will this fix large scratches in the Galidor TDN’s cockpit?

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admin March 8, 2014 at 10:41 AM

I would say if it is the same plastic as what LEGO uses for its clear pieces, then yes.

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Stephan August 18, 2014 at 6:45 PM

Please,please help, urgent! I finished a very long,laborious and expensive project and I used gorilla super glue to attach the bricks. One day later I saw this “dust” appearing on the bricks which irreparably “stained” them, I have a feeling it came from the superglue evaporating. Now the luster of the bricks is gone (the bricks are laid flat so that the pegs are exposed), I tried to clean them but a few hours later the dust reappeared!!! I am asking if anybody knows a way to polish the bricks so that they may regain their luster and shine. I am afraid of using wax or anything else that may accumulate between the pegs, should I try a varnish? I really appreciate your help, I could send jpegs of the problematic areas so that you may see better of what I’m talking about…

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admin August 18, 2014 at 7:09 PM

Stephan, so sorry to hear about your experience. Unfortunately any super-glue like product is going to damage LEGO. The white haze you see on the bricks is the damage done by the glue. It is not possible to clean it. If the damage is not too deep you may be able to sand it off with Brasso (yes, the brass polish). Brasso is often used to remove printing from LEGO elements and also to give them back their shine. You just pour some on a piece of cloth and buff up the LEGO element. Make sure you wash it off very well afterwards.

Again, this will ONLY work if the damage done by the glue is just on the surface. If it went deeper within the plastic, the damage is permanent and you won’t be able to buff it off without shaving off quite a bit of the brick. Even if you are able to buff off some of the damaged sections expect that the brick will be much more prone to further damage and breaking. Basically the integrity of the plastic was destroyed by the super-glue. This is not something that can be fixed.

May I ask why you were gluing LEGO in the first place? LEGO is meant to be attached and taken apart. Unless you are building a large public display where safety and liability can be an issue, LEGO elements should not be glued. If you do need to glue something, just use simple white school-glue. It will keep the LEGO elements together sufficiently, will dry clear so it is not visible, and won’t demage either your LEGO bricks or your healt. Many LEGO sculptors use it as a safe alternative to harsher methods that require training to handle and protective gear.

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Allie November 13, 2014 at 10:29 PM

This looks great.

Does anybody know what this product is called in Australia and where it can be purchased? Thanks…

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admin November 13, 2014 at 10:36 PM

Allie, I wish I would know for sure, but this is what I read on Wikipedia: Pledge is a cleaning product made by S. C. Johnson & Son. In other countries it is known as Pronto, Pliz, and Blem. I hope that helps because this method really works. I have just recently tried it myself and I was amazed by the result!

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