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Custom painting can be defined as the process of
applying a finish to a vehicle that is different from that which came from the
factory. But generally, custom painting goes well beyond that. Flames streaking
down the side of a sports car, murals on the side of a van, and candy finishes
are examples of what comes to mind at the mere mention of the subject custom
Creating these types of finishes is not as
complicated as it appears, especially if you’re comfortable applying a
traditional basecoat/clearcoat finish. This article will focus on the different
types of custom finishes, types of refinish materials, and any special equipment
that may be required to apply a specific finish.
Types of Custom Refinish Materials
At the birth of custom painting, nitrocellulose
lacquer was the only material available. However, in the 1980s, urethane paints
became the paint of choice for most custom painters. Acrylic urethanes and
urethane enamels bond well, provide excellent protection from ultraviolet rays,
and are durable.
Even though most paints are now urethane, there
are still lacquer and enamel paints available for the restoration purist who is
looking to capture that original appearance. Regardless of which paint is
chosen, it is critical to stay with that system throughout the refinishing
process. Due to compatibility problems, mixing urethane and lacquer within a
refinish job can ruin the new custom finish.
Additionally, it is recommended to stay within one
paint maker’s system. Mixing products from different product makers may also
lead to compatibility problems due to different paint chemistries.
Types of Finishes
Common types of custom finishes include candy
coatings and pearl coats. A candy finish may be considered more of a refinish
system rather than a simple coat of material. While the actual candy coats are a
unique translucent colour midcoat applied over a basecoat colour, the final
appearance will be based on the basecoat, flake (if any are used), and
application of clearcoat. Some may compare the appearance of candy coats to that
of a tinted clearcoat. A properly applied candy coating gives the appearance of
depth in the completed finish.
Pearl is a paint additive that is made from mica
or other substance that adds colour or a metallic sheen to the appearance of a
finish. Pearls reflect light, but also allow some light to pass through and
reflect off the basecoat below. This gives the illusion of depth and alters the
hue. Pearls can also vary the appearance of the finish when it is viewed from
Many custom finishes, particularly candy finishes,
contain flakes. Flakes are basically flat, reflective metal pigment made from a
variety of materials. The use of flakes creates a sparkle-like appearance in the
finish. Types of flakes used in custom painting may include:
Flakes are either square, rectangular, or have a
polygon shape and can be very small or fairly large. Therefore, it is important
that the gun being used has spray openings large enough to accommodate the flake
Flakes that are too large for the spray nozzle
will clog the spray gun. Some of the largest flakes used in custom painting will
not fit through the nozzle of the spray gun and are blown onto a fresh finish
using very light air.
Some effects, such as pearls, provide a slightly
different appearance when viewed from different angles. In some instances, this
creates a rainbow effect.
However, within the last decade, a specific paint
is becoming more prevalent in the custom paint industry that provides a dramatic
colour shift when a panel is viewed from different angles. This paint has
different names depending on the product maker. For example, House of Kolor
calls theirs Kameleon, PPG calls theirs Harlequin, and DuPont calls theirs
When viewing a panel surface and depending on the
colour of the material, the colour will change from a deep purple to a copper
colour depending on the viewing angle.
Additional types of custom paints or specialty
paints include neon or fluorescent colours, glow-in-the-dark, chrome, and
temperature-resistant paint. Generally, these types of paints are used as
accents to an existing colour coat.
It is generally not a good idea to cover an entire
vehicle in these special-effect paints. One reason is that some paints, such as
the neons, are not very durable and have a tendency to fade over time with
exposure to the sun.
When using neon colors, it is recommended to apply
them over a white basecoat for maximum brightness. When spraying neon paints, do
not let the finish cure in the sun. The first 4–5 hours of cure time are
critical in preventing colour fade, making sure to avoid sunlight, or keeping
sunlight exposure to a minimum during this time.
Types of Designs
In addition to solid colours, many custom finishes
have a design applied over the top of a custom basecoat.
Common designs include flames, skulls, and
geometric designs to name a few. To achieve the desired detail, this type of
work is often done with an airbrush. If creating an illustration, templates are
available that can be used to help achieve the appearance. Some airbrush
artists, however, have the skills to freehand a design without the use of a
Look at the video
to see an example of how an illustration was created using a
Pinstriping is the process of using a small, thin
brush to create long, even, steady lines on a panel surface.
The brushes used are specific to pinstriping and
come in multiple shapes and sizes. In general, pinstriping brushes have longer
brush hair length and many of the pinstriping brushes are tapered on one side.
There are two main tools to choose from when it
comes to pinstriping - swords or daggers. The sword's longest hair is on the top
and then it slowly tapers back to a short length on the underside. A dagger
comes to a point and is double-edged. The dagger design provides greater control
when painting intricate designs. Depending on the complexity of the design, a
shorter haired brush may provide greater control over the longer haired
Proper pinstriping technique takes lots of
practice to achieve a straight, consistent line with the same thickness
throughout. This can be particularly challenging when laying down a stripe the
length of a vehicle.