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I have an IBM XT 286 which has essentially the same case as the original IBM PC. It has a few minor blemishes, some places where the paint has been chipped off, and some tiny spots of rust. How should I go about restoring the paint?

The case is metal and has two tones of grey/off-white. The paint is also textured. I'd like to preserve the original look as much as possible.

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    This question might get more specific answers if you add a photo of the blemishes and rust spots. I'm assuming you want to retain the original paint job, not re-paint it to look new, and that you are concerned about rust growth. – Brian H Dec 31 '17 at 20:09
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The old computer cases I saw were some pretty thick sheet metal, almost exactly like old car bodies from pre-1970s (enough metal that they can rust outside for years and still be sanded down & used without having holes everywhere). Treating it just like a car body paint repair would work fine.

It sounds like it's just a couple very small spots, so I would just use a tiny piece of sandpaper to get rid of only the rust, then paint the bare metal to match. Primer might be optional if your paint doesn't need it, but it could "fill in" more of the void if that's required. Scratches could be filled using a very fine brush or even a toothpick to just fill in the crack.

Auto paint has a rainbow of colors available, you might find a match in a tiny pen-like bottle, or get some custom colored to match. Check what house paints are available too, it might be cheaper to go to a hardware store like Home Depot, Lowes, Rona, etc for custom colors too.

Matching the texture would be more difficult. If the spots are very small & you wouldn't notice the missing texture from just looking, I'd probably just skip it. But there are techniques to get textures in paint using special paints, or additives, or using sponges or rags or brushes or combs. Again house & furniture paints have more texture options, searching for "textured paint" led to this Home Depot link on Textured Paint, definitely practice on a piece of scrap first.

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    If searching for paint, this forum thread suggests the colour you'd want is Pantone 413, which you should be able to acquire using that reference from specialist paint suppliers. – Jules Jan 5 '18 at 11:04
  • That's one of the three colors. Pantone 413 looks to be what the top color is, but besides black, there's also another shade on the majority of the front panel. – Sydius Jan 13 '18 at 19:56
  • After 20-30 years paint fading could be a concern, especially if the case was in the sun a lot, the original colours might not match anymore. Matching to colour swatches or even bringing the outside of the case to a store to get an exact custom match is possible. – Xen2050 Jan 17 '18 at 13:27
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Like you, I had an IBM PC in need of paint restoration. I used the Pantone 413 suggestion and the result.... drum roll please:

enter image description here

Repainted PC on left, factory PC on right.

TL;DR (my experience)

My PC unfortunately had large areas where rust had completely eaten away the original paint to the point that it was not save-able (pic, pic). I was able to remove the rust and to preserve as much texture as possible, sanding lightly only to even out spots before paint. It was never my intention to make this PC perfect either in an "in the past" or "historical" sense. I have two others that are in better condition so the objective was to make this one presentable. Nothing much to lose here.

Process

I ordered two spray cans of Pantone 413 U from myperfectcolor.com. A family member who is a professional graphic artist suggested using the 413 U (uncoated) rather than 413 C (coated) since the color would look less saturated and more true.

I used a sandable gray automotive primer to cover the exposed metal area and lightly sanded to remove only the most uneven parts. I then applied several light coats of the 413 U paint, allowing each to dry for 24-36 hours with very light sanding in between. After the last coat had fully cured, I applied a light even coat of paste wax as a protectant.

Results

As you can see it doesn't look exactly like the other. This isn't necessarily a bad thing - it still looks nice. There are numerous reasons why this would be of course, and here is an incomplete list that come to mind:

  1. The original paint has aged and changed color.
  2. The original paint is of a different chemical formulation than what I purchased.
  3. The underlying primer I used was a different type/color.
  4. Pantone 413 C might have been more accurate than 413 U.
  5. Variations of factory paint formulation, process or color over production span.
  6. The original color wasn't exactly Pantone 413.
  7. Any, all or none of the above.

Thoughts

It's certainly not simple to find an old reference photo of a brand new PC from the 1980's that's accurately colored. Many online photos are scanned faded magazines, advertisements or digital photographs in various lighting conditions where the colors can appear to range anywhere between the these two.

I do have another PC with original finish in addition to the one in this picture and the color is pretty consistent with the one on the factory finish (right). Also notable is that darker keys on the keyboard are much closer in color tone to the factory PC. Not sure that dyed plastic would change color over time in the exact same way as metal but who knows. FWIW, these PCs were stored for the last 25 years or so in a light-free environment (a dark attic, then a dark basement) so at least weren't subject to a lifetime of UV.

Anyway, thought I'd share my experience having done what the OP asked with the hope that it might be helpful for someone someday.

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'Original look' is at least debatable, if not a myth. If you're serious about history, then preserve the scratches as well. Clean them, and, if needed, add some conservation wax or alike. Nothing that can't be removed later on again. For storage/use in a controlled environment like home / office / museum without intense stress there is no need to be protected against more than necessary.


Your question touches a rather sensitive area: How to handle heritage. And as with any emotional topic, there are various viewpoints and answers.

Actual museum strategies are geared toward preserving the history, not just some fictitious perfect state. Every prop has a history. No matter whether they are funny stickers on a screen, holes for a reset button, or faded key caps for the most used keys. These markings carry at least as much history as a certain special edition paint job, if not more.

Especially when considering that our computers are usually a mass produced wares. Maybe compare it with a book. Lets say an ordinary 1890s physics school book. Nice find. Now take the same book with markings of a school boy. Less interesting? Shouldn't they be removed? To make a perfect book again, maybe. But what if the kid was named Albert and later became somewhat famous? Is a flower on page 32 now more important? Well, I'd say it doesn't matter, as it tells something about the user and how bored he was during that lesson. No matter if he later became famous as a scientist or lived an ordinary life as butcher.

If we want to preserve our heritage, we need to think about history, not shiny things.

Of course, being the techno-nerd I am, I will always prioritize functional restoration above everything else. But as soon as that is given, history gets priority.


P.S.: Feuer frei :))

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    What's the opposite approach? Sandblast, auto body filler, then powder coat? – snips-n-snails Jan 1 '18 at 15:48
  • @traal Well, I know of people going that way with PETs. – Raffzahn Jan 1 '18 at 15:49
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    This is a good answer, but my aim isn't to preserve it in the historical sense. I'm attracted to the aesthetic of the machine and intend to use it and make it my own; in other words, I intend to add another flower to the book that some historian a hundred years from now will debate the value of, rather than try to freeze it in time as it is today. – Sydius Jan 1 '18 at 20:00
  • @Sydius Well, but that does not include eradicating it's past before you got it, does it? I'd say, unless it's in an unuseable state, go with it. make it yours without a pseudo rewind. Ofc, YMMV. – Raffzahn Jan 1 '18 at 20:04
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    "Preserving history" vs "Going shopping in the past" are equally valid approaches IMAO... – rackandboneman Jan 2 '18 at 13:28

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