How do I paint a car is a looming question for most everyone reading this magazine. Since we were finally at that step in our project, we towed it down to Deuce Kustoms in Placentia, Calif., where we learned a few tips of the painting trade. The car in question is, of course, our favorite Super Beetle project car, ready to receive a new coat of Kansas Beige paint. But Ryan, you exclaim, we can't see the actual color of the car because these pages are black and white! Don't worry, you're not missing much, as Kansas Beige is as about an exciting color as regular beige. However, if you want to see the shiny stuff, check out this portion of our series on line at www.vwtrendsweb.com.
If you're not sure of what paint color you would like to get, but know that you'll pick a stock color, check out www.wolfsburgwest.com, as they have an impressive collection of stock paint colors (matched to the stock interiors) categorized by model and year.
What is Paint?
Auto paint is made up of pigments, binders and solvents. Pigments give the paint material its color. Binders are used to hold the pigment material together (and to the metal as well), while solvents are thinners or reducers that transform the solid pigment and binders into a sprayable liquid. The solvents then evaporate into the atmosphere and are the cause of most pollution concerns in the industry.
Before the advent of the high-tech urethane paint of today, cars were painted with either enamel or lacquer products. Enamel was easy to use, covering a car in one or two coats, while lacquer needed several coats and a clear coat, but it had a faster drying time.
Urethane paint combines the advantages of enamels and lacquers in that it offers quick drying times, durability and can cover in one to three coats. The basic three ingredients are the same, but their chemical composition has changed.
The terms two- and three-step paint systems are defined by the number of paints you use. For example, a base coat and a clear coat (clear paint) can be referred to a two-step paint system, while a three-step paint job is the application of two base coats, where the first base coat changes the color of the second, or toner, coat before the clear coat.
What Paint Should I Choose?
If you're taking your car down to bare metal (and for VWs, it is strongly suggested), an acrylic enamel is easiest, with only up to three coats necessary and no rubbing or buffing. However, since nicks and flaws cannot be wet sanded out, you need a dust-free environment. The three-step process described above means more spraying, more buffing, but a much more durable paint job. First timers may shy away from a urethane paint and opt for a lacquer- or enamel-based product due to the concerns over personal safety while using isocyanate hardeners with the urethane. If you have settled on a urethane paint, consider getting a fresh-air respirator. A lacquer is your best bet, as there is no need for the hardener, so you can wear a simple filter respirator and debris in the paint can be wet sanded and touched up with little problems.
Unfortunately, painting your car isn't as easy as buying a gallon of paint and applying it to bare metal. If you simply paint your car without applying any supporting chemicals, you will not get the smooth shine you would expect--and to add salt to the wound--the color will probably fade, crack and/or peel sooner than later.
Most of these extra chemicals are designed to help fix a certain problem with the surface to be painted. For example, there is a flex additive to be used when painting over urethane plastic parts (like modern bumpers) and a fish-eye eliminator will combat silicone residue still on the surface.
Primers have become general terms that describe something you do to prep the metal for paint, but they can describe any sub-base coat that protects the bare metal, fiberglass, etc. to the standards of your climate and environment. Specifically, under normal conditions, it is recommended that you use a waterproof catalyst-type epoxy primer (two coats will do) for two reasons: Since they are waterproof, they protect the metal, and it offers an excellent adhesion to metal and serve as a perfect base for color paint coats.
What Else Do I Need?
Since any surface you might be painting must be as clean and debris free as possible, you may consider purchasing a wax and grease remover. After a thorough and meticulous wash, all bare metal surfaces must be wiped down with a wax and grease remover to avoid imperfections caused from foreign chemicals contacting with the paint (or any of it support chemicals). Use two clean cloths, one dampened by the cleaner and on to dry up excess. Wipe on with the wet one and wipe off with the dry one. The cloths have to be as debris free as possible, so we suggest you buy some flannel at a fabric store, wash it and cut it into usable pieces.
As well, it is recommended that you invest in some tack cloths, which are nothing more than sticky towels that pick up any minute pieces of lint, dirt and other debris.
Let's Start Painting
Okay, we've made several trips to the paint store, the employees there know us by name now, and our wives are wondering what they charges are on the VISA. Seriously, enough talk, let's start painting.
If you're a novice at painting, no amount of equipment or instruction will help you conquer a good paint job. You must practice and learn through trial and error. Get an old hood and follow all of the steps above and below for starters. Mix the paint products according to the label instructions. Try painting with different fan patterns to see which combinations work for this part. Find out what doesn't work. Sand it all off and do it again.
Spray Guns and Fan Patterns
With high-tech paint equipment being what it is, paint guns are no different, and there are different guns for different applications. Whether you are using DeVilbiss, Binks or Sharpe guns, you'll need to be familiar with the material they are each best at painting. On these models (and most others), two control knobs are typical: one controls the fan spray, while the other controls the volume of paint that leaves the nozzle. Set up a test panel (or use some of the masking paper) to see how your nozzle sprays. When the gun is held properly--approximately eight to 10 inches perpendicular from the surface to be painted--the sprayed pattern should resemble a straight line approximately one to two inches wide. A split spray is heavy on each end of the spray and light in the middle. It is caused by two high air pressure for the viscosity of the paint. A crescent shaped pattern is because there is a clog in one of the wind ports that restricts air passage through the gun. Dissolving the material with thinner will correct this pattern. While a spray pattern that is wider at the top or the bottom of the fan indicates that material has dried around the outside of the fluid tip and needs to be cleaned.
When painting, hold the gun perpendicular to the panel, lock your wrist and elbow and walk along the side of the car to ensure a right-angle position. Don't swing your arm or wrist back and forth; move your whole body instead. Each fan spray should overlap the previous one by at least half. For example, the center of the first spray should be centered on the masking line, half on and half off. The next pass should follow the masking line so that the top of the spray is at the line.
If you've practiced enough and feel confident, try it on the car. It should be free of runs and buildup spots. Runs are caused by too much paint landing on the surface at one time. Either your gun is too close or you are passing too slowly.
Painting a Volkswagen is a difficult thing, especially considering the various curves it has (roof, rear and front quarter panels and the pillars). This is why the doors, fenders and hoods are painted separately, to minimize the amount of corners the gun has to navigate. Plus the fan patterns will line up evenly with themselves on each piece instead of trying to match the whole car.
The Next Coat
Since solvents control the amount of time it takes a paint mixture to dry, it is important not to rush you coats and wait until the surface is completely dry. If you spray a new coat over a coat that hasn't had time to flash (dry) you'll be trapping solvents under the new coat. Those solvents will try to get through with unpleasant results (i.e. blistering, cracking, lifting or sags). Flash times are clearly indicated on the paint products. The flash times for subsequent coats may longer than the first, as they are not all the same.
The Clear Coat
The application of a clear coat helps reduce the amount of color material that has to be sprayed on car bodies, thus cutting down on the level of solvents in the atmosphere (good for the EPA). They are also good for smoothing out sharp paint lines left from custom edges as well as spot paint jobs. Its application is the same as it would be for any other paint (remember the clear coat is all of the paint chemicals without the pigment, or color). Again, wait for the base and color coats to flash before the clear coat is applied.
The Day After
Automotive paint has to dry, but how much? First off, to avoid contaminants, leave the car in the clean environment you painted it in. If you have the facilities available to you there, forced drying can be done with infrared heaters or basic heating elements. Lacquer paint systems need to "bake" the car for at 140 degrees Fahrenheit for 40 to 60 minutes or air dried in 70-degree environment for at least 16 hours. Urethane paint should bake at approximately 450 degrees, but they must be completely stripped, as all plastic and metal parts will melt at that temperature (otherwise they shouldn't exceed 160 degrees). Needless to say, whatever method you choose, allowing it to completely dry can be the difference between a good paint job and a bad one.
Wet Sanding is the process of polishing the top coat of paint, especially the clear coats, to bring out a much deeper shine and gloss (with controlled buffing and polishing). Use very fine 1000- to 1500-grit paper with water (perhaps even a splash of liquid dish soap) to smooth or remove minor blemishes on cured paint finishes. Only sandpaper designed to be used for wet sanding must be used.
Not every type of paint can be wet sanded. Enamels, for example, cure with a haze that can be damaged if scratched with sandpaper, so you have to wait a couple of months before polishing. Lacquer paint cannot be sanded directly on the color coats, otherwise it will dull the color, distort the tint and leave a blemish. Wet sanding can be done only the clear coat.
Rubbing Out and Polishing
Rubbing compounds include relatively coarse polishing grit material that is designed to quickly remove blemishes and flatten paint finishes. Because of its coarseness, light scratches and swirl marks are left behind on the paint. After an application of compound to flatten orange peel or produce a higher surface luster, paint finishes need to be buffed or polished with a very fine grit material. If you're doing it by hand, use a soft, clean cloth for rubbing out and polishing. To cut down on swirls, follow a back and forth motion, from the front of the car to the back, instead of circular motions.
Yes, you just finished. You're standing there looking at your Volkswagen, which is still probably in a million pieces, fenders here, doors there, etc. The next order of business is to put everything back together again, and that's where we leave you to your task.
Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are chemical substances that rise into the atmosphere from paint overspray and solvent evaporation. They combine with nitrous oxide to form the dreaded ozone. To combat this, government mandates have required paint booths to be equipped with down-draft ventilation systems designed to filter out these harmful VOCs. One piece of equipment used to help fight overspray (paint that bounces off of the metal and becomes airborne) are high-volume, low-pressure spray guns. These guns use low pressure warmed air to apply the paint, effectively reducing the amount of overspray and waste.
Here's the good old Super...
Here's the good old Super Beetle, sitting forlorn in the corner of Duece Kustoms, waiting for space to open in the paint booth.
It was a good opportunity...
It was a good opportunity to take the pan home and clean it up, wire wheel off all of the years of road grime and rust, re-undercoat the pan and paint everything a nice black.
Meanwhile, back at the shop,...
Meanwhile, back at the shop, the first coat of primer is sprayed on.
Since they were stock from...
Since they were stock from the factory, the doors were slightly wavy, so an extra coat of primer was added here and smoothed with varying grits of sandpaper.
After the second coat of primer,...
After the second coat of primer, the whole body is wet sanded with 400-grit paper to a dull, but smooth shine.
Notice the difference already...
Notice the difference already in the shine they've created. The finer the paper, the better the shine.
Finally, after the top coat...
Finally, after the top coat of Kansas Beige is applied, the body is put back on the pan and it is ready for reassembly. The body was color sanded, but not yet buffed and polished to a high-quality shine. We are awaiting the hoods and fenders before.