Can You Paint a Bike Helmet?

If you’re looking to express your creativity and get some exercise at the same time, painting your bike helmet can sound like a splendid idea. Online, there are plenty of great designs to choose from, however, you may still be left wondering if you can or should paint your bike helmet in the first place.

You can paint your bike helmet if you have the correct supplies. The type of paint you use will depend on the material the helmet is made from. Some paints contain solvents that will cause the plastic on most bike helmets to crack over time. The cracks reduce the visual appeal of the helmet and affect its safety. 

If you would like to get busy painting your own design onto your bike helmet today, this is the article for you. Below you will learn about helmet safety, how to pick the right paint, and how to avoid damaging your bike helmet in the process of decorating it. 

Does Painting the Helmet Weaken It?

Most bike helmets consist of a polycarbonate shell surrounding an interior layer of expanded polystyrene (EPS) foam. If you use the wrong kind of paint on your helmet, the solvents it contains can eat away at the polycarbonate and cause small cracks to form over time. This may seem superficial, however, it actually weakens the strength of the helmet.

Why Cracks in the Shell Matter

In the industry, bike helmets are referred to as “one and done” equipment because of how they work. If you’re in an accident, the polycarbonate shell of a bike helmet is intentionally designed to crack and spread out the excess energy the impact causes. The EPS foam then absorbs that energy so you remain protected.

The cracks caused by solvents in certain types of paint will significantly reduce how effectively the energy from an impact can be spread out, thus leading to a greater chance of injury.

Solvents in Paint

Solvents are generally used to decrease the time it takes for paint to dry and increase the lifespan of a coating. Not all solvents are alike, but neither are all bike helmets. There are a few simple steps you can take to make sure the solvents in your paint are compatible with the material your helmet is made from.

3 Easy Steps to Check the Compatibility Between Paint and Bike Helmets

  1. Find out the brand and model number of your bike helmet. You can find the helmet’s brand on the packaging it came in or printed on the helmet itself. The model number is often printed on a sticker placed in the interior of the helmet.
  2. Check with the manufacturer to make sure the paint you have selected is compatible with the material the helmet is made from. Sometimes the tag that contains the model number will also list what solvents are not safe to use.
  3. Check the paint you plan to use and make sure it does not contain any of the solvents the manufacturer lists as incompatible. The solvents should be listed on the can the paint comes in.

Using Water-Based Acrylic Paints on Your Helmet

Generally, it is safe to use water-based acrylic paints on all types of helmets. These paints are safe because they do not use the kinds of solvents that damage the shells most bike helmets are made from. Still, it is a good idea to double check with the manufacturer.

If you do decide to use water-based acrylic paints, ensure that you carefully apply multiple layers. This is because these paints can peel more easily than their solvent heavy counterparts. Also, make sure you let each layer of paint dry before adding the next.

Is Spray Paint Safe for Bike Helmets?

Perhaps you’d like to save some time by spray painting the helmet instead of using a brush and standard paint. This can be done, but keep in mind spray paint also includes solvents that can damage the shell of the helmet over time. You should follow the same steps to check its compatibility as you did with standard paint.

Further, “overspraying” your helmet is likely to get some paint on the foam interior, which will erode it over time. You can get around this problem by making sure you don’t overspray and by carefully covering the interior of your helmet with old newspaper before you paint. Just be careful about holes or openings in the shell. You can stuff those with pieces of paper as well.

Are Stickers and Other Decorations Safe?

Anything that touches the surface of your helmet has the potential to do damage to it. Before applying any stickers or other decorations, it is a good idea to contact the manufacturer to see if they are compatible. You can take similar steps to those outlined above for the paints when choosing what other decorations to add.

It is also important to note that there are stickers made specifically for bike helmets. They are designed not to damage the shell. You can usually buy them online or find them at most sporting goods stores.

Is it Legal to Paint Your Bike Helmet?

The legality of painting a bike helmet varies depending on where you live. If your helmet is meant for a motorized bike, you need to check local laws and ensure it is legal for you to paint it. In some places, it is illegal to paint the helmets of motorized bikes (this includes motorcycles) because of the safety issues discussed in the previous section.

Currently, there are no laws that prohibit an individual from painting a bicycle helmet, provided it does not have a motor attached to it. It is important to note however, even though it is legal to use whatever kind of paint you wish on a bicycle helmet, it is still no less dangerous to use the wrong kind.

How to Prepare Your Bike Helmet to Be Painted

  • Before you paint your bike helmet, you should make sure that it’s clean. You can clean the helmet with hot water and dish soap. You should use dish soap specifically because it is effective at removing grease that can build up over time on the surface of the shell.
  • You do not need to sand the surface of the helmet before painting. Similar to the reason you want to avoid certain paints, sanding the shell of your helmet can cause damage that will make it less effective.
  • Buy a helmet that is already plain. Following the above point, it is easier to paint a helmet that does not already include a design on it. It is recommended that you get a helmet that is plain or if possible, white. This is especially true if you are using water-based acrylic paints.

So, Can You Really Paint a Bike Helmet?

Absolutely. As long as it is legal to paint a bike helmet in your area, it’s time to get creative. Just ensure that you follow the proper procedures by cleaning the helmet and using the correct type of paint. If you want to add stickers or any other kind of decal, follow the same steps and you should be golden.

If you notice any cracks forming on the shell, or you see any deterioration of the interior foam, you should immediately begin seeking out a replacement. Though we certainly hope that the only thing you ever have to use your helmet for is decoration, it is best to air on the side of caution. Plus, once you discover that special type of paint that works, and a brand of helmet that you like, you can enjoy years of stylish safety.

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