You're reading: Tutorial: Make & Paint Your Own See-through Visor
this tutorial covers how to make a see-through reflective visor using a pair of outer visors from the us mc-2ap chemical defense mask. try your local surplus store for availability. regardless of whether you start with this item or not, the painting and finishing techniques are applicable to any hard plastic visor. the format of this tutorial will cover some of the background of the original project, very specific instructions on how i built and finished my visor, and finally, some lessons learned and some advanced techniques to take it to the next level as skills, time, and equipment allow.
the first thing to understand is how i came to the unique set of circumstances that drove this build. i was (still am) deployed to southwest asia on a one-year tour. i brought along a microsoft legendary edition helmet and some basic (to me) hobby supplies with the idea of painting and weathering it to look like the in-game helmet. my how plans change. once i’d learned that people had succeeded in making this prop wearable, i was hooked. the project started at the end of july, took on a life of its own, and ended the day before halloween in not only a wearable helmet, but a full armor build from cardboard that is well-covered in an earlier thread.
i won’t address the disassembly and basic modifications to the legendary edition helmet as others have made their mark already in this endeavor. suffice it to say that at the end of the conversion, you are left with a helmet that has either no visor, or a beautiful, but non-transparent, orange-gold visor. unfortunately, while there are gold motorcycle visors, and a few other products available, there is little that captures the correct color of the master chief visor. too stupid to settle, i decided to see what i could do myself. living in a foreign desert with few resources (especially motorcycle visors) shaped my path.
what i did have access to were chemical defense mask visors. eyeing up the one i had in my possession, it looked like it would work. i needed ones i could actually cut up though. a quick trip to supply gave me access to all the damaged and scratched visors we had slated for destruction. this gave me enough visors to experiment on with various finish techniques as well as what i needed to cut the final products. the right size of over visor for the legendary edition helmet is medium, but large will work as well. knowing that the legendary edition helmet is small, i’d guess that size large would be the best choice for most pep and molded helmets.
anyway, enough yammering, time to start damaging things.
making a mk vi visor out of the over visor from the mc-2ap chemical defense mask
mcu-2ap chemical defense mask with over visor in place
over visor removed
as i mentioned earlier, the project requires two over visors. use your nicest (scratch-free in the center of vision) visor as the main (back) visor. as you hold the uncut visor up inside your helmet, use a sharpie (permanent marker) to mark where the helmet itself needs to be reprofiled (ground down or cut) to allow the visor to fit evenly across the top and bottom. likely you will find that the curve of the visor leaves “air gaps” at the very sides (ear area). also, the visor may not be big enough to cover the upper temple region. addressing each of these items separately: the gap at the ear area is largely concealed by the black ear pieces. i would highly suggest leaving this gap as it is very hard to see and gives needed ventilation. no one on the site regularly admits it, but these helmets will fog easily as they don’t lend themselves to a great deal of ventilation. as for the gap in the temple, we’ll fix that later by adding additional pieces to fill this area and blend in the seams.
the cutting of the plastic visor works best if you use a toothed dremel attachment rather than a friction attachment, i.e., cutting wheel. you want to reduce the level of melting to the maximum extent possible to end up with as smooth and straight cuts as possible. the best way to do this is with a saw-toothed wheel that removes material (and sends it flying). this will make a hell of an unwelcome mess if not done in a shop. please, please wear safety goggles. often, the only way to cut straight is to have your eyes lined up with the rotational plane of your cutter. this is another reason to use a saw bit rather than a cutting wheel. cutting wheels shatter frequently.
cutting wheel–dangerous and wrong!
to make the pattern for the outer visor, simply lay your second chemical mask over visor on top of the legendary edition visor and trace the pattern with your permanent marker. don’t worry, we’ll remove any traces later. the raised portion of the visor is beveled into the surface of the main visor. we will replicate that effect rather than have a hard edge around our outer visor. so, be sure to trace the pattern to reflect the base of the outer visor (wide part of the bevel) rather that the edges of the upper surface or you’ll end up with too small of an outer visor. an alternative to the ‘trace directly onto the plastic’ method would be to put masking tape over the entire visor and trace the pattern on to the tape. the benefit of this would be in protecting the uncut
zones of the visor from scratching during cutting. please note: create useful spare visor material by offsetting your pattern to the bottom of the over visor. you’ll need some of the upper visor material to graft on to the temple areas later. specific to the legendary edition helmet: after tracing, hold the clear visor up inside the helmet to make sure the two upper prongs will line up with the notches in the bill of the helmet. the act of tracing tends to widen the distance between the prongs so they don’t line up with the notches in the helmet bill, resulting in poor fitting, and a requirement for additional alteration of the helmet.
ready for marking–note the temple areas not covered by visor
where to mark
marked and ready to cut
to cut the outer visor, you may want to make a couple of passes to make the cuts all the way through. sometimes it works out best to make a shallow cut initially, focusing on getting it straight, followed by a second (or third) pass to complete the cut. try to cut with the chuck (bit holder) portion of the tool over areas you intend to discard. that way, if the spinning chuck contacts the visors surface, the inevitable gouge won’t be on a piece you want to keep. don’t worry if the cuts aren’t perfect so long as the basic results are straight. you’ll be dressing the cuts into beveled edges with a file anyway.
once all the major pieces are removed, the hard work begins, first with the hobby knife, followed by the needle files. do all the cleanup you can with the knife. next, take the needle file and make every edge beveled. look at the legendary edition helmet for the effect you are trying to achieve. if you haven’t used needle files like this before, you need to know a couple of things: do not saw back and forth–you will get a bevel with choppy, uneven cuts. only make back and forth passes where you have a specific high spot you are trying to level. for the bulk of your filing, make diagonal sweeps, removing material along several inches of an edge at a time. the minimum stroke should slide along at least three file widths to get an even finish. use a wire brush to clean out the file regularly. one of the first things you’ll discover is that you can’t file a bevel edge into a corner without destroying the bevel for the opposite side. just stop the bevel slightly short of the corner. you’ll need to hand-carve the corner bevel with a hobby knife. using a heavy duty hobby knife, whittle the corners into bevels, taking off only a small amount of material with each cut. safety note: these can be hard cuts to make. there will be a temptation to make the cut by pulling the knife toward you or your other hand. i have the stitch work to prove that this is a bad idea. getting the filing right will take a while and make your fingers sore, but the result is way cool.
basic saw cut
rough cut bevel
trimming the corners
lay the outer visor over the main visor and determine where to cut the bottom of the main visor. you’ll also need to fit the visor inside the helmet to figure where to make the upper cut. you can have excess material at the top, but not really along the bottom. make the cuts to the main visor at this time.
now back to the main visor and the challenge of adding material to the temples. you will also be adding material to the outer visor as well. taking material from the leftover pieces of visor, locate areas with the same general curvature of the piece you need to add on to. lay the corner of the visor over this piece and trace the curvature of the edge, then draw out the rest of the extension you need. repeat for all four add-on pieces. cut them out, doing as careful of a job as possible along the curve were it will mate up with the main portion. use a dremel drum sander and/or needle file to make the curve mate as evenly as possible with the main piece. carefully glue the pieces on with cyanoacrylate glue (super/crazy glue). the thick gap filling stuff is best. don’t get any excess on the front of the visor. it is fine to put a little extra on the back side. if you have any accelerator for the cyanoacrylate glue, now is a good time to use it so you don’t have to stand all day holding the pieces together waiting for the glue to set. after the glue work is done, handle the pieces carefully as they will break easily.
marked for cutting
extra piece glued to outer visor
now take modeler’s putty and put a good fillet over the top (front) of the glue seams, being careful not to get it anywhere other than the area of the glue joint. you are doing this to hide the seam and the fact that the curvature of the two pieces don’t match exactly. let this dry 24 hours. time to wet sand. wet sanding is a technique for flatting down and blending raised surfaces without gouging the material. you’ll need some 800 and 1200 grit wet or dry sandpaper–the black/dark grey stuff. you’ll also need a small block of wood and a bowl of warm water with just a drop or two of dish soap in it–no more. the water smoothes the cutting action of the paper by providing some lubrication. it also carries away the debris so it doesn’t clog the sandpaper. the soap helps with both of these actions. with a section of the 800 grit wrapped around the block, dip it in the water and begin sanding the areas with the modeler’s putty. be sure to support the piece from behind or it will break. your sanding must always be in short circles and should not be hitting and surface of the main visor more than about 3/4 inch away from the edge of the putty. keep dipping your block in the water frequently. sand with the 800 grit until you can just barely feel the edges of the puttied
zones with a fingernail. switch to using the 1200 grit and repeat the process until all the edges are blended in. you’ll usually discover that you didn’t get enough putty into one area or another, so don’t be surprised if you have to do two or three rounds of puttying/sanding to get it right. thoroughly wash and dry the parts because painting is next.
painting any visor reflective orange gold
all right. for all of you who never had any intention of using a chemical defense visor in your helmet, but just wanted to know how to paint your own see-through visor, here is what you’ve been looking for. the first step is the reflective coating.
the end result you need to achieve is a very fine, very even, and very thin coating of reflective metal on the outer surface of the visor. everything you do here is driving toward that. beg or borrow the best air brush you can. i did my first attempt with an old testors brush with a leaking air valve that caused the paint to spatter. i borrowed a brush locally (apparently i’m not the only person that deploys with an airbrush) that turned out to be only slightly better. you really need top performance for your first job of applying the testors model master aluminum plate buffing metalizer. be careful not to purchase the non-buffing aluminum metalizer. you’ll need some of the special paint thinner that testors makes for their metalizer line.
Read more: How To Size A Motorcycle Helmet
here we go. with your visor and outer visor meticulously cleaned with alcohol or paint thinner, you’re ready to begin. just to be clear, the two visors are not joined at this time. they are both to be painted separately using the same process. shake the metalizer very well. you can’t afford any clumping. add some to your airbrush’s reservoir and add the special thinner to reduce the original by about 1/4 to 1/3. quick mix it inside the reservoir with a toothpick and you are ready to go. crank up the pressure so you get really good atomization, and back off the needle to get good flow. you thinned the product so that even though you get good flow, you are not delivering a lot of pigment.
spray the metalizer from 8-12 inches away such that it hits the surface and dries almost instantly. you do not want the pigment to flow. move with fairly fast strokes. you want to deliver lots of very thin coats over the entire surface, making your best attempt at even distribution. periodically hold the visor up to the light and looking through from the back. paint it just enough to look solid grey from the front, but be see-through from the back. this is easier than you think, but a failure to get even coats will result in “blind spots” that you can’t see through in the finished visor. i can’t emphasize enough to put on a thinner coat than you think you need. just because you can see through it well in the daylight outside where you are painting it doesn’t mean it will be see-through at a party, at night, or in a convention center. this is a lesson-learned that i will apply to version 3.0 if i make it. do put a thicker coat over the puttied seams and the glued on portion. these
zones will never be see-through and you do not want the putty to
show through on the outside, so coat it well.
wait at least 15 minutes after painting to begin buffing. use the
softest all-cotton rag or towel you have and very gently rub the painted
surface to bring out the luster. be very patient. if you rub hard, the
finish will come off. remember, you painted a glossy smooth surface so
adhesion of the paint is not strong. when you are satisfied that you
have made a fair approximation of home-grown mirrored sunglasses, quit
while you are ahead. these don’t have to be super shiny–the in-game
now for the amber-orange tinting. you could also opt for blue, purple,
or green variants as well. one bottle each of red and amber tamiya
clear acrylic should handle two attempts to paint your visors. start
with a 2 to 1 ratio of amber to red, but be prepared to add more red to
get the right tone. just keep doing all of your mixing in a small glass
jar. don’t do any mixing in the airbrush reservoir. if the color isn’t
right, just dump the reservoir contents back into the jar and adjust the
color ratio. that way you will have a big batch of the right color to
do both visors (and any redos). these need to be thinned substantially
because you do want this coat of paint to flow out (but not run). being
acrylics, they can be thinned with water (not recommended). i used
rubbing alcohol–the good stuff at better than 80% alcohol and a drop of
dish soap to help the flow once applied. experiment with your thinner ratio to find
the right volume that will pass though the airbrush well, but not pool
and run off the visor surface.
airbrush the color coat a little closer to the surface than you did the
metalizer. you do want this to go on ‘wet’ so that it dries with an
even glossy surface. again, the challenge is to get an even coating.
do not be terribly concerned if the finish has an orange peel texture to
it or that your visor is no longer very see-through. let this layer dry
very thoroughly. all of the water and alcohol need to evaporate to
reduce the risk of any unanticipated reactions between the color coat and the final gloss
coat (usually manifested by wrinkling).
airbrushing the amber-orange coat
for the final gloss coat, buy the best clear gloss aerosol that you can
find. go to an automotive paint shop if you can. by that, i don’t mean
autozone, pep boys or halfords (for you uk guys), but a dupont, ppg, or
similar place specializing in auto body supplies. if you are building a
costume out of any of the popular materials, these guys should already be
your friends as they are likely the best suppliers of resin, bondo, and
every tool needed to work them. anyway, back to the gloss coat. wipe
off the visor surface and shake your can of clear for several minutes.
try to paint in 70 degrees or warmer temperatures to help the gloss
flow. initially get one thin coat and let it dry for at least a half
hour. this coats the amber, but doesn’t stay wet long enough to
dissolve any part of it. this will be your barrier for the second ‘wet’
coat. the second coat needs to be pretty heavy, but sprayed from enough
distance that the blast from the can doesn’t disturb the surface. set
the visor down with the painted surface up and let it dry in a dust-free area for two days if
my first attempt (1.0) next to the legendary edition visor–version 2.0 was much more even, orange, bright, and smooth. you can clearly see the ‘orange peel’ effect on this rejected visor
with some luck, you have two beautiful visor pieces. perhaps they no
longer look as see-through as you hoped. much of this problem is caused
by stray paint attaching to the inside of the visor during painting.
use mild paint thinner (not lacquer thinner) to clean the inside of both
pieces, being careful not to let any thinner get on the glossy outer surface.
be very careful with those extra pieces you glued on. this is your
last, best chance to break them off and have to start over. it doesn’t
take much to join the visor pieces together. i used two small squares
of double sided cellophane tape to join mine. the act of gluing the
assembly into the helmet will permanently lock them together. be very
careful not to slide the pieces against each other or scrape them
against anything as you position them inside the helmet. i recommend
using a hot glue gun to glue the visor inside the helmet. do not use
cyanoacrylate glue as it causes permanent fogging of the clear surfaces
surrounding the glue.
finished helmet with painted home made visor
how well can you see through it? better than this. this is a view of my dormitory through my rejected first attempt (bad airbrush). warning–all girls may seem pretty when viewed through this visor!
advanced techniques and possible alternatives:
that turned out great, but i couldn’t help but think of ways it could
have been better if i’d had access to my full shop, a bigger budget, or
hind sight. here are my untried ideas, feel free to suggest your own
and i’ll try to assess their viability:
even at its best, a spray can gloss coat will not be glass smooth. this
condition is known in automotive circles as ‘orange peel’. all modern
cars have it. go look, i’ll wait here while you do. show cars don’t.
i’ll tell you how. wet sanding and polishing. although you can do this
with the spray can gloss, your chances of success are low because the
material is just too soft to bring back to a full gloss after disturbing
(sanding) its surface. if you have the budget and access to an
automotive spray gun, coat the visor in several coats of catalyzed clear
coat instead of aerosol clear gloss. even with no further action, you
will get a smoother, more resilient clear coat. after it is fully
cured, wet sand the surface with 1200 grit, followed by 2000 grit paper
on your block. don’t sand deep, just enough until there are no glossy
low spots. after the 1200, follow with the 2000 grit to take out the
deeper scratches left by the 1200 grit. next, using fine polish, bring the
surface back up to glass smooth. you may try an orbital polisher, but
your risk of breaking off the glued-on pieces, flinging the visor
against the wall, or tearing off your finger nails is extreme. to keep
the risk, rewards, and time spent in perspective, i would consider only
wet sanding and polishing the center (inside the octagon) of the visor.
another technique would be to spray the metalizer on the inside of the
visor and not worry about buffing it. just follow with the specified
orange coat and clear coat on the outside. the risk here is that any
rub or handling of the inside of the visor will have a strong chance of
damaging this coating–it’s that fragile. you could clear coat it, but
you would have two surfaces with orange peel, resulting in very poor
this visor project was conceived to work with a microsoft legendary
edition helmet and was cut to accommodate being able to drink from a
bottle while wearing the helmet. if you have interest in that feature
or the other mods i made to that helmet, visit my work in review (wir)
thread in the pep and cardboard forum. overall, the chemical defense
visor has potential use either as a whole, or re-sectioned for use in several
halo derivative helmets. the metalizing/painting technique will work
equally well with vacu-formed visors and energy sword projects as well.
likewise, any elite-based covenant weapon requires a translucent purple
surface. this is how i would achieve that, using clear red and blue
over metalizer to make translucent purple. if you have any questions,
just ask here, or, if you are reading this long after the thread is
dead, just pm me. thanks for looking.