Nope. That’s not a typo in our headline. Code #WA708S, the candy tri-coat Camaro color known as Synergy Green is appropriately named. But the nose-bending hue is so powerfully intense, the word “greeen” deserves its extra E—as it screams for it. On the hood and deck, however, this factory-fresh Camaro’s contrasting satin black vinyl appliques seemed to lessen the overall punch as they created a rather bland detraction. Now let’s also factor in the fading effects of a year or so’s worth o’ San Diego, California, sunshine. Except for their sharp edges, the vinyl stripes on Eddie Mata’s otherwise bitchin’ Camaro were just plain dull.
It was a friend’s word-o’-mouth recommendation that led Mr. Mata to Escondido, California’s Hot Rods & Custom Stuff, where an experienced team of custom paint perfectionists would remedy his Camaro’s conflicting contrasts. Granted, vinyl graphics are indeed here to stay, and they certainly do have their place—elsewhere. From here, you’re all invited to follow along as Hot Rods & Custom Stuff’s award-winning, yet remarkably humble painter Andy replaces sharp-edged assembly-line vinyl with seen-but-not-felt custom paint, without coloring outside the lines.
1. At this particular paint shop, sensory overload has a way of blinding the best of us, as the diversity of in-the-works hot rod and custom projects inside is overly whelming. Here, a showroom-fresh Camaro might not attract much attention. But as it turns out, that’s all about to change.
2. With an old Milwaukee heat gun, painter Andy is removing unwanted vinyl rally stripes. These assembly line hiccups are flat ugly (flat ’n’ ugly) with sharp edges, and they’re bringin’ down a potentially beautiful automobile.
3. Just a short time later on the very same day, the Camaro’s hood and decklid have been chemically cleaned and positioned in HR&CS’ state-of-the-art Garmat, downdraft spray booth.
4. What’s been shaded has not faded. Even after thorough abrasion with a new-and-improved, red 3M Scotch-Brite pad, an outline of the old vinyl remains visible. For the job at hand, however, this will soon enough prove to be a visual advantage.
5. Back in the day, before the advent of the downdraft spray booth, even the smallest of in-booth sanding operations were risky business. Here with the fan on, this small bit o’ dry-sanding residue is escorted via blowgun, directly through the exhaust grate of the booth’s floor with little worry.
6. In our particular area of California, shops must adhere to a strict set of rules governing chemical usage. So in accordance with the rules du jour, a California-compliant solvent (PPG DX330) is propelled to its target via a California-compliant pump sprayer.
7. Before the solvent can evaporate Andy wipes the panels dry with surgically clean, disposable toweling.
8. With prep-work chores out of the way, the artsy part can now begin. Here the layout gets under way, starting with 1/2-inch 3M vinyl tape. Now in a darker shade o’ blue, this is the latest addition to 3M’s family o’ Fine Line–type tapes. Held taut and accurately placed, straight lines can be accomplished in a single motion—with practice, that is.
9. Although ghostly traces of vinyl’s past presence are helpful for this layout, strategically placed bits o’ tape make gun-sighting a little easier.
10. Based on personal painterly experience, 3M’s vinyl tapes do not corner as predictably as 3M’s crepe-type tape o’ yore, and painter Andy agrees. However, the vinyl variety excels later when it’s removed. It’s thinner, sharper, and far less likely to create raggedy edges.
11. In addition to the aforementioned advantages, 3M vinyl tape can be very precisely trimmed. With a sharp, single-edge razor blade, only the slightest downward pressure is required, which in this particular instance diminishes the possibility of cutting into the factory clear.
12. Once the initial layout is established with 1/2-inch and 1/4-inch vinyl tape, Andy extends with a single stretch o’ the standard-style 3M 2-inch masking tape.
13. From here, the remaining masking chores are tended to using Carborundum brand, water-resistant, bleed-resistant masking material. Masking tape and paper ain’t what they used to be. They’re better.
14. Here’s an additional trick worth pointing out. 3M vinyl-type tapes exhibit a tendency to pucker in the tighter corners. This will usually happen once attention is focused elsewhere, like when masking the other panel. Andy doesn’t like surprises, so small backup sections of tape work well as temporary retainers—’til it’s time to spray.
15. The idea here is to achieve coverage with minimal material for the smallest possible edges. Using PPG’s waterborne Envirobase, Andy now applies the first of three black (PPG #9937) color coats. With due respect for our environment, HR&CS uses only California-compliant chemicals.
16. Once the basecoat has been allowed sufficient air-dry time, masking can be removed in reverse order. With paper removed first, the 1/4-inch stretches come next. This is where 3M vinyl tape truly shines, as it cuts the fresh base very much like a razor blade.
17. After all tape is cautiously removed, the paint edges will be seriously scrutinized. If any fuzzy or bleed-through conditions are spotted, they’ll be dealt with before clearcoats are applied.
18. This hood and decklid were abraded for a solid “mechanical bond” early on. The fresh black stripes and clearcoat to follow are compatible components of a “chemical bond” system. These panels are now ready for clear, with no further sanding required.
19. Here, PPG’s Global D8188 “Glamour” LV clearcoat is Andy’s clear of choice. In our area of California, such choices are often made according to VOC content of available products. For shops, there are daily limits that must be considered. Careful measurements are recorded and logged during the course of every job.
20. Triggering his loaded gun so only air escapes, Andy gives both panels a final wipe-down—once again with surgically clean, disposable toweling. It’s showtime!
21. As Andy begins to spray the first of three coats of clear, one can’t help but notice how well the downdraft spray booth exhausts. Even so, the clear is sticky stuff, so a shoot suit helps to protect the painter as well as his work.
22. Fresh from the booth, the difference ’tween new custom paint versus old factory vinyl is very much apparent. The application is clean and dust-free. However, we’re not finished ’til the texture matches that of the car.
23. Here, a wooden paint stick, wrapped in 3M 1000-grit wet sandpaper, occasionally dipped in a bucket o’ clean water, is the hot tip for smoothing away slight ridges where black now overlaps greeen. This procedure is then repeated using 1500-grit ’paper. These grits are very fine, but care must still be taken to avoid the panels’ extreme edges.
24. It wasn’t that long ago, nobody would ever consider colorsanding with a DA (dual-action) sander. Yet in better shops today, the practice has become a common standard procedure—even for high-end jobs. Here, Andy begins with Carborundum 1500-grit on this water-dampened hood. Next, he’ll switch and continue with 3000-grit.
25. Before compounding begins, the colorsanded panels are washed and dried with modern microfiber toweling. You could spend top-dollar on such specific-purpose cloth, but truthfully, the kind that comes from Harbor Freight does the job as well as the leading brand.
26. When it comes to buffing and polishing, there are different schools today. Andy is up to speed with the latest from 3M. From left to right, in the order they’ll be used: Perfect-It rubbing compound #06086, Perfect-It machine polish #06065, and Perfect-It Ultrafine machine polish #06068. These products call for different pads.
27. For a speedy demonstration, Andy will guide us through the steps on one small area of the hood. Here for the first step, he applies Perfect-It rubbing compound. Pint-size condiment bottles handle better than gallon-size jugs, so Andy transfers his compounds and polishes as he goes. This practice over time saves material.
28. After a quick spread with the attached 3M #05703 compounding pad, Andy spins his DeWalt variable-speed buffer up to 1,400 rpm and makes the first cut. Because these panels were colorsanded all the way to 3000-grit, buffing operations move along very quickly.
29. Next, Andy switches to a different condiment bottle—this one is filled with Perfect-It machine polish. For this second step, the pad has been switched as well. This foam-polishing pad is a 3M #05725.
30. We’ve now reached the stage where we’re no longer compounding—we’re polishing. This is where Andy prefers a slower buffer setting. From this point on, the variable-speed dial will remain set to 1,000 rpm.
31. Up to this point, the incremental differences from step to step have been obvious. For this third step, a 3M #05733 pad is used for Perfect-It Ultrafine machine polish.
32. Remember what we started with? Assembly-line vinyl pales in comparison to deep, ridge-free custom paint. Now we know it’s very tempting, so please just take our word—this glossy surface is perfectly smooth. At Hot Rods & Custom Stuff, rally stripes are better seen but not felt.