Because we know it can be hard to find enough good information buried in a short four-page tech story, we decided to cut through the flowery descriptions and long-winded explanations and compile this list of 101 paint and body tips. Some of the tips are common sense items that are easily overlooked while the rest are there to help you with all things paint and body. We compiled all this information from technical stories, hands-on experience, and the advice of professionals across the country.
1. Performing an internet picture search will give you the fastest results when it comes to finding ideas. It might be hard to find any specific details about materials and techniques used, but it’s a great place to start.
2. If you are not computer savvy, then rummage through your old car show pictures. Trends recycle over time and it’s easier to envision your ride with scallops if you have a picture that represents that style.
3. Go to a Super Chevy Show. This will be the best place to find vehicles like yours, see the latest trends, and different ideas.
4. Hot Wheels are not just for collecting, they can be a great source for painting inspiration. Plus, you can use this as your excuse when your old lady starts clamoring on about how “you spend too much money on those toys.”
5. Take a trip to your local car dealer and look at the new cars on the lot. OEM paint colors have become pretty cool and this is a good place to see them on sheetmetal in the sun.
6. Of course, magazines like the great Super Chevy will be a perfect place to look for designs and styles. We try and give you the best selection every month and, heck, you might even learn something while looking for a paint style.
7. Check out your local cruise. This is another great source for information because the owners are usually never more that a few feet from their rides. You can talk about how much he paid and if he was happy with the work.
8. Go to an automotive swap meet. There should be a decent selection of paint and body materials and tools that you can pick up at a discounted rate. We would be a little leery about buying paint, but this is a great place to get things like masking tape and paper.
9. Visit your gearhead friends to get your creative juices flowing. Nothing will get your mind thinking more than a good bench racing session with a few buddies. Plus, if you come up with a hideous idea they will be there to put you in check.
10. Know your budget and don’t go too wild with your first paint job. The loftier the plans, the bigger your wallet needs to be. A light, single color is usually the cheapest route.
11. Tape out graphic designs on your car at home. Tape is cheap and it won’t damage your paint. Then you can step back and see if the design and scale of your work fits the car and or your taste.
12. Trace/draw your own rendering. Take a picture of your car and print the picture on a sheet of paper, not photo paper. Then trace it with a felt tip pen that will bleed through the paper. Flip it over and you will have a coloring book-type outline of your ride that you can make a bunch of copies of. Now you can go wild. Heck, you can even give some blank drawings to friends and see what they come up with.
13. If you have no artistic skills, then have a rendering made. Get your ducks in a row before you contact an artist though. At least have a general plan and color choices in mind before you hire an artist for a rendering.
14. If you are going to a shop, then talk about the body mods you want during the estimate. Be specific and don’t forget to mention any work you want the shop to perform. Nothing is worse than having your final bill jump up substantially from the estimate because halfway through the job you added more work and forgot about the added cost.
15. If you are going to do the body mods or fix damage yourself, then talk to the painter you plan to use and find out what materials he recommends. This will cut down on the chance the paint will have an ill reaction like wrinkling if you use the wrong primer.
16. If you unearth a lot of thick filler or more than a little rust then it might be a good idea to just replace the entire fender. Let us put that into perspective for you. A new fender will run you on average around 300 bucks and since time is money some times its better to replace the part then spend more than three hours to get it ready for blocking.
17. Look at a shop’s brag books to see the quality of work and style. This will be a great way to know if the shop can produce the idea that’s in your head.
18. Be patient and don’t decide on the first shop you stop at. Get several quotes then pick the one that best suits your needs/budget.
19. Look inside the shop to see how clean and organized it is. Some dirt is fine, but piles of trash and a foot-thick layer of sanding dust is not. Check out the booth, prep, and bodywork areas as well. If the booth is real dirty, then there is a chance this shop relies on color sanding to get the dirt out of the paint job. The crummy part of that is, they will most likely charge you for that work.
20. Go back several times. Are the same cars still there being worked on? This is a sign that the shop might take a long time to finish your work. Also, never pay for the entire job up front. A deposit to cover materials should be good enough to get the job going. This will avoid you getting burned if the shop goes out of business and/or doesn’t finish the work.
21. If you’re going to drive your car every day, it’s best to avoid complicated or detailed graphic jobs that go near the front of the hood. These will be hard to touch up or repair once the rock chips start to show up.
22. When picking a color, put all the options out on the table and see which one looks the best in the sea of sameness.
23. If you plan on having your frame powdercoated to match your exterior color, it’s a good idea to pick the powder color first. It’s easier to match the paint to the powder.
24. Get everything you need at once. Some paint supply houses will give you a discount when you make a larger order and mixing paint afterwards if you run out can sometimes lead to mismatched colors.
25. Keep in mind that changing the color of the car will almost double the price over just reshooting the original color. If you still want to spend all that money and like the original color, then apply the saved money for graphics.
26. Another cool but cheaper option is having the car two-toned. That way the painter isn’t using as much material or spending as much time to complete the job. As we all know, materials and time equal money.
27. If you want to save a little cash, take the car apart yourself. Disassemble as much as you can to aid the shop and prevent any of your parts getting damaged or lost.
28. Remove audio equipment or anything of value. Bodywork produces a lot of dust and dust doesn’t mix well with audio equipment.
29. Remove the glass. Some glass is glued in and will need to be cut out. You can do it if you take your time, or just have a mobile glass guy come out and do it for you.
30. If your car has an adjustable suspension make sure the system is easy to operate. Nothing will tick off a shop as much as a car that leaks down and has to constantly be worked on in order to be moved around the shop.
31. Put old wheels/tires on your car so your new ones don’t get wrecked while at the body shop. Make sure the tires hold air as well. It makes the car difficult to move and if the worker is mad he may not be enthusiastic about doing a good job.
32. Charge your battery. The car will be started and moved quite a bit, but not driven long enough for the alternator to recharge the battery. Another tip to keeping the battery charged up is to remove all your interior lights.
33. Clean the car as much as you can in areas the shop might miss like inside fenderwells, cowl, and down in the doors. Since there will be a lot of air pressure used in the body and paint process the less dirt in the cracks and crevices the less chance of dirt on in the paint.
34. We know there are a ton of patch panels available for repairing rust, but if it is a small area then just pick up a used fender, door or deck lid from the junk yard or swap meet. You can use these to cut out any little patch panels you might need and the metal will be the same thickness making the patch a little easier.
35. Line up all the sheetmetal before you start body working the car. You don’t want to do a bunch of bodywork and then find out later that your perfectly smooth panels are going to be re-aligned after the parts are painted and re-installed, thus screwing up those perfect jambs and body lines.
36. Before lining up sheetmetal, it’s a good idea to check and/or replace the body bushings. This is the first step to a nice body gap.
37. You can drill small pilot holes where sheetmetal bolts together to make lining up during reassembly a snap. When you reinstall the part, all you need to do is use an awl or a piece of sturdy wire to push in the hole to set the proper alignment.
38. Tape all shims together when you remove them and also mark where they came from to aid in reassembly.
39. Hopefully you have all the glass out before you start body working to prevent scratching the surface of your windows with the paper or burning it with the welder. If the glass is going to stay in, make sure to double or triple mask the edges and cover large areas with a welding blanket or cardboard.
40. If the glass is out, mask the window opening shut. This will cut down on the amount of sanding dust entering the interior.
41. If you are going to block the car yourself, then get at least a small, medium, and long block. That way you will have the appropriate size for any area of the car.
42. Before spraying a new plastic or urethane part, scrub it with Ajax or Comet and a scuff pad. This will remove any mold release chemicals that might still be on the surface.
43. When smoothing plastic for painting, don’t try and sand the plastic smooth with the sandpaper. Just do a light scuff with 80-grit and then put down a few layers of high-build primer and sand that smooth.
44. Always look at the charts inside your welder to get your base setting close. This will cut down on the chance you will blow a hole in your sheetmetal because you have the welder turned up to high.
45. When MIG welding a small hole closed, you can use a piece of brass to back up the hole instead of using a patch panel. The weld won’t stick to the brass and this is much easier than cutting that small of a filler piece.
46. For filling larger holes, make a small patch piece and weld a small tab on it. This will give you a small handle so you have something to hold onto while you do the first tack-welds.
47. When replacing pieces of sheetmetal like rocker panels, make sure to have the door in place and properly adjusted before welding the rocker panel in place.
48. If you use a chemical stripper to remove old paint, make sure to rinse the part and surrounding areas thoroughly. That stuff can linger and hide in tight spaces and could come back to ruin all your fresh paint.
49. If you strip anything down to bare metal, don’t let it sit outside unprotected. Rust can start showing up in one evening because of the moisture that’s present in the air. You are better off covering the metal with spray paint or duct tape and removing that when you are ready to work the area again.
50. Another bad thing to let sit out in the sun is masking tape. If you have to push you project outside for any substantial amount of time you are better off removing the tape before the glue dries out and the paper becomes brittle making it very difficult to remove.
51. To get the best coverage from your paint, you can tint the primer to a similar color. Primer is cheaper than paint so covering as much area as you can with color-tinted primer first before painting will save dough.
52. Speaking of cheap, if you’re building a mild custom, look into using single-stage enamel paint instead of two-stage. It’s much cheaper than the cost of a two stage, base coat/clear coat product.
53. Use glazing putty to fill small pinholes and light gouges for quicker results.
54. An often-overlooked area to detail is the small lip on the wheelwell openings. Make sure you get in there and sand it as well so the paint will adhere to it properly.
55. When you are finished spraying anything, make sure to clean the gun right then and there. The longer it sits the more chance the primer, paint, or clear will dry up in the small passages and turn a quick clean up into a scrubbing nightmare.
56. Read all the instructions that come with your materials! Even if you have used a product before you never know if the company made a small change in the formula that will require a different procedure for applying it.
57. Make sure all components are compatible. If you don’t know, don’t mix them. Call your supplier and make sure your sealer, primer and paint won’t react in a negative way.
58. Buy a wall thermometer and humidity gauge (hygrometer) because this will help you pick the right speed reducer so you will mix the paints properly for your temperature.
59. Also make sure the car itself is at the same temp as the booth. If it has been sitting out in the sun and you pull it in the cold garage, you have to let the sheetmetal even out with the temp in the garage before spraying.
60. Install a water trap in your air line. Nothing will screw up a paint job faster than a bunch of water entering the gun from the air line.
61. If you are having a custom color mixed, it might be a good idea to get an extra quart added to the order just in case you need to touch up something later.
62. Spray the jambs with the doors off first, then after they are dry bolt them back on and start spraying the exterior.
63. You can’t be too clean before painting. It’s a good idea to wash the car right before you plan on rolling it into the booth. Once in the booth, hit it with some wax and grease remover and then with a tack rag.
64. On your final coat of paint, go ahead and over-reduce the paint by one more part. This will help it lay flatter, but make sure to turn down the air just a bit.
65. When spraying metallics on a disassembled vehicle, make sure all the panels are orientated as if they were on the car. That way the metallic paint will lie down uniformly. This can also be applied to flakes.
66. Speaking of flake, a good way to spray it is to use a gun with a 2.0 tip. The large tip allows the flake to come out evenly. Add the flake to some clear, drop in a small, brand new nut in the paint gun reservoir to act as an agitator, and then crank up your air psi and spray away.
67. If you have never sprayed candies, then don’t try it on your ride during your first paint job. If you are going to try and spray candy paints for the first time, then cut the candy mixture a little more with an intercoat clear. This will help prevent blotches, but you’ll have to lay down more coats.
68. When spraying the candy make sure to start at one end of the car and walk the whole side as opposed to doing it in panels. This will help keep the coats uniform down the whole side.
69. When you are spraying clear, make sure your first coat is a very light coat. Let it flash off and then you can start laying on thicker coats from there.
70. If you are spraying clear over graphics that have tape lines like stripes, spray a light coat over the graphics first. Let it flash or dry, and then do another light coat over the entire car. This will reduce the chance of creating runs along the tape lines where clear will build up the fastest.
71. If you do end up with a run or sag in the clear, just let it dry and sand it off later. Some seasoned painters can keep spraying until the run drips off the bottom of the body but that is a skill learned in time.
72. Ground the vehicle. A piece of chain that drapes over the frame and down to the shop floor will cut down on the static charge the vehicle has and reduce the chance of dirt being drawn to it.
73. Know your fine line tapes. The blue plastic tape leaves a crisper edge but doesn’t bend as easily as the crepe tape. So if your design has a lot of tight curves go with the crepe but if your doing stripes, go ahead and use the blue tape.
74. Don’t lay out any graphics until the car is assembled and all the sheetmetal is properly aligned.
75. For graphic lines that carry over a seam like a door jamb, be sure to carry the line in at least a 1⁄4-inch and then cap it with tape. This will look much better than a bunch of multi-color overspray blobs.
76. Use some quick mask paper instead of small masking tape. All you have to do is cover the whole graphic and then carefully cut out what you don’t need. Trust us, this is a lot faster than filling the voids with small bits of masking tape.
77. You can save a little money in the pinstriping area by painting it your self. Instead of learning how to use the brush, add the stripe during the graphics with one more taping step. After you get the graphic laid out, spray your pinstripe color along the edges of the design. Once dry tape over it with 1⁄4-inch tape and proceed to paint the graphics color. When everything is dry you can peel the tape away to reveal the pinstriped graphic.
78. To duplicate a design on the other side of the vehicle make a pounce pattern. Use some masking paper to lie over your taped area and rub it with a crayon. The crayon will leave a dark line where it goes over the tape. Remove the paper and set it on a piece of cardboard, then with a pounce wheel (mini spur-looking thing) punch holes along the dark lines. Place the pattern on the other side of the car and pat the dotted line left by the pounce wheel with a sock filled with baby powder. You’ll end up with a dotted line of powder to follow with your tape.
79. Soak all your wet or dry paper in a bucket of clean water over night to soften the papers backing. This will cut down on the chance the paper will gouge the surface of the body panels.
80. When the paint/clear is dry, use wet or dry paper to knock down the orange peel. A 1500-grit paper is fine for the initial cut, but switch to 2000-grit for the final sand. You can use more aggressive papers, but these will be the safest for the beginner.
81. If you are sanding a factory paint job, grab some 3000-grit paper and be very careful, the factory clear is very thin.
82. Have a bucket of water and a spray bottle ready when color sanding. The bucket will be used to clean your paper and the spray bottle filled with soap and water mixture will be used to lubricate the sanding process.
83. If you are color sanding a car that is already assembled, protect all your chrome and trim pieces with tape to prevent scratching.
84. Use tape to protect bodylines and seams. These areas will sand very fast and usually are the first places you will break through.
85. Sand in a back and forth motion from front to back of the panel, not in circles. Check your progress often with a squeegee. Stop sanding when the surface is devoid of shiny dots.
86. Don’t sand an area that you can’t get the buffer into unless you feel like polishing that area by hand.
87. When choosing a buffer, make sure you find one with a variable speed adjustment, like the Dewalt 849 or the Makita 9227CY.
88. The buffer is designed to be used flat so fight the urge to tip the buffer on edge. This will just increase the chance of putting in swirls and/or burning the paint.
89. Use rags, cardboard, or any other soft material to protect the paint while you re-hang things like the doors or bumpers.
90. Don’t apply wax for at least a month to let the paint fully cure. During that time you can use a quick detailing product to keep it clean.
91. For a deep clean before you put wax on, wash it with dish soap. This will remove any wax, dirt, or road grime that might have found its way on the paint.
92. Keep a close eye on your fresh paint if it gets bird poop on it. Remove it quickly because the acids in the crap will have a field day on your unprotected finish. If the poop is dry then soak a soft cloth with water and lay it over the poop for a few minutes. The water from the rag will re-hydrate the poop and make it very easy to remove.
93. Once the paint is cured and you are ready to wax, use a clay bar on the surface to remove any tiny above surface containments stuck to the paint. This will prevent you from trapping a bunch of crud under your wax.
94. After clay, take your time and lay down a very good coat of wax. This is the only thing protecting your paint from the elements and without wax that paint won’t stand a chance.
95. Invest in a good set of microfiber towels. These are the best things out there right now to prevent scratching the paint and they take wax off with less effort.
96. Primer surfacer vs. Primer sealer. Primer surfacer has better filling qualities and should be used when trying to build film thickness for blocking. A primer/sealer acts more like a barrier between the metal and the paint and is not intended to straighten the body.
97. Know your scuff pad. Scotch-Brite scuff pads grit equivalent is as follows; Gray-120-150, Maroon-360-400, Light gray-800-1000, and White-1200-1500.
98. When color sanding always wrap the paper over a color-sanding block. It’s almost certain that you will dig three small but visible gouges if you just back up the paper with your hand.
99. If you plan on spraying in your garage it’s a good idea to hose off the rafters a couple days before. That will remove any dust but give the area ample time to dry out.
100. Another water tip when spraying is to wet the floor of the garage/booth right before you spray. The water will grab and hold onto overspray instead of letting it float back up and stick to the car.
101. The last tip we can pass on is to be proud of your work no matter how it came out. No one shoots a perfect paint job the first time. Just make sure not to repeat any mistakes you might have made the next time you paint.