Resto-Mod Restorations — Part 17: Paint
Paint is an important part of any restoration, but in the Resto-Mod world, it is everything. You do not see Resto-Mods at SEMA, World of Wheels events or the Hot Rod & Restoration Show with "so-so" paint. In fact, you don't even see them with "average" paint. They all glow with the latest and greatest finishes, often set off by subtle "how-did-you-ever-do-that" ghost flames and "chameleon" colors that trick your eyes and tease your senses. When you build a Resto-Mod you're competing with the Fooses and Jesse James' of the trade and though you can't match their budgets, you've got to be at the top of your game to even play.
Jeff Noll understood a Resto-Mod has to be done right. He hired a professional to apply paint. The first orange paint was sprayed in the engine bay.
By starting your build, you've accepted the challenge of creating a car that shows off every ounce of talent you possess. Where it comes to paint, that means shooting for the extraordinary in every sense of that 13-letter word. Since you can't win by virtue of having the fattest checkbook, you've got to do it with passion and soul. You've got to approach the job of adding color to your car with the attitude that you are going to do the best job you possibly can with whatever you've got to work with. Put a lot of thought into all phases of the job ahead.
Pick your colors carefully. Read all the steps and cautions on the paint product information sheets. If you're squirting the paint yourself, review your skills. If you're having the paint done by someone you feel is more talented, buy them a nice dinner and give them the most inspiring pep talk you've ever delivered. Read articles and books about painting. Check out every Website you can find. Do your homework. All of this planning will help you to do your best.
Start with an understanding of the products you'll be using. Your reading will tell you that pigments, binders and solvents are the important ingredients in automotive paint. Pigments add color to the product. Binders hold the pigments together and help them adhere to the car body. Solvents (a.k.a. thinners or reducers) convert solid pigments and binders into a liquid that you can spray on a car with a gun. The solvents then evaporate, leaving the solids on the car.
Due to government regulation, cars are rarely painted with simple to use enamels or lacquers today. Paint manufacturers have been forced to invent other types of finishes that cost a lot more than old-time auto paints. Along the way, they have put lots of research into developing products that look great and still have the advantages of the old enamels and lacquers such as quick drying times, durability and good coverage. Though their chemical make ups are changed, these paints are still made up of pigments, binders and solvents.
The New One-Two (or One-Two-Three)
Our library contains a 1955 Popular Mechanics Do-It-Yourself Encyclopedia with an article called "Car Painting." It gives instructions on how to brush paint a car with enamel and how to paint spray a car outdoors with lacquer. How things have changed! Today we have multi-stage paint systems.
At SEMA 2010. Wanda paint company displayed a fender showing four steps of a modern multi-stage paint job: primer, color, VOC clear and final clear.
Two-stage base coat-clear coat systems are probably most popular with Resto-Mod builders today. Some modern three-stage systems involve the application of two base coats and the first base coat changes the color of the toner coat (the second coat) before the clear coat is applied. At SEMA 2010, Wanda Refinishing (https://wandarefinish.us) displayed a fender showing four steps of a modern paint job. The first step was the application of Wanda's Low VOC gray primer. The second was a color coat with Wanda Aqua Blue Pearl. Wanda Low VOC Clear was sprayed over the color in step three and the final step was the clearcoat after sanding and polishing. Another new departure in paints seen at SEMA was Wanda's waterbase VOC-compliant basecoat system. VOC means volatile organic compound, a solvent emission the EPA doesn't like.
The latest thing in automotive paint is the waterbase VOC-compliant basecoat system which body shops in some areas are using to meet regulations.
Selecting Your Paint
Acrylic enamel is easiest to use on a car that's being completely refinished, such as both Jeff's Camaro and Jim's GTO. With this type of paint you can cover with three coats or less. There's an advantage in that acrylic enamel does not have to be rubbed out or buffed out later. However, it has to be sprayed in an absolutely clean environment, since dust flaws cannot be color sanded out. Also, if you plan to topcoat your paint with, say, lacquer graphics, you will need to first apply a sealer so that the acrylic enamel will accept the lacquer on top of it.
An acrylic lacquer is a good paint choice for a hobbyist painter, since it requires no hardener. It is easy to mix and to spray at low pressure and it dries fast. Acrylic lacquer can also be color sanded and is easy to touch up. Lacquer solvents throw off high VOCs, so the use of lacquers is being controlled and down-draft paint booths with special filters and air-purification equipment may be required to spray lacquer in many locations, if it is permitted at all.
The 2011 Hot Rod & Restoration Show showcased two cars with stunning urethane enamel "hot rod" paint jobs. The first was displayed at the House of Kolor (www.houseofkolor.com) stand; the other was a race car that Sherwin-Williams Automotive (www.sherwin-automotive.com) had supplied paint for.
Urethane enamel is made by mixing pigment with a polyurethane (plastic) binder. The shiny urethanes dominate the automtive aftermarket today. All urethanes have some degree of glossiness, because they reflect light. However, semi-gloss versions have been developed and are used on many Resto-Mods.
Urethane was introduced in the mid-1960s muscle car era, which makes it a good choice for Resto-Mods. It evolved out of new plastics technologies invented back then and proved to have better durability than conventional enamels. Ultravoiolet rays have little affect on urethane enamels and it is widely liked by car painters for its shiny, glass-like appearance and extreme durability.
The downside of using urethane enamel is that it is highly toxic in its uncured state, This is why product sheets and even can labels specifically recommend use of a full face supplied-air respirator and spraying in a well-ventilated area away from all sources of heat and flame. Also recommended are full personal protection gear including gloves and a complete "spaceman" suit.
As you can see, the 1955 system of refinishing your car with a bucket of paint and some newspaper spread on the floor is out the window. In fact, even after you purchase primer, paint and clear you'll have to buy a number of other "paint system" products if you want a shiny finish that won't fade, crack or peel. The extras may include a flex and a fish-eye eliminator for silicone residues.
Remember that we recommended putting as much thought as you possibly can into painting your Resto-Mod. An important step in the process is color selection. Since your goal is to make this car look the very best you can make it look, we recommend picking a color that stands out in a crowded hall full of outstanding cars. If blue is the "in" color this year, pick another hue. You want your car to leap out—not blend in. The companies we've given you Website information for seem to have colors your local auto supply store counterman never heard of and that's the way to go. Contact them and ask to see samples.
Jeff Noll used a Dupont basecoat clearcoat paint. It was not really a system, but included the typical products used by a typical body shop. In other words, readily available materials that were not as costly as some of the more exotic brands. The sealer he used was available in four shades, No. 1 being lightest and No. 4 being darkest. The standard Hugger Orange color called for a No. 2 or 3 shade sealer, but the paint shop only had No. 1 or 4 available, so Jeff used No. 1 White. This turned out to be a great choice, because it really makes the Hugger Orange paint "pop" much more than a darker sealer would have.
Since any surface you're planning to put paint on has to be free of dirt as well as chemicals. After washing the car top to bottom, wipe down any bare metal surfaces with wax and grease remover. Have two clean flannel cloths handy, one with the cleaner on it and the other to dry with. Pick up a package of tack cloths or micro-fiber cloths to pick up lint, microscopic dirt and contaminants.
The glory days of 1955 and spraying auto paint outdoors are gone. To do things right, you need a paint booth (or access to one). For a single car, you can possibly make a temporary booth by building a "shower curtain" around the car with sheet plastic. Add a fan to vent off the fumes. Wet down the floor to reduce any dust you could kick up on the car. But, using a booth is a far better option.
Jeff Noll's Camaro was painted at Jamies Customs, in Big Bend, Wisconsin. Their big downdraft paint booth kept dust to a minimum.
Jeff Noll had his car painted at his brother-in-law's custom bike shop, Jamies Customs, in Big Bend, Wisconsin. They had a downdraft paint booth that helped keep dust to a minimum. A typical two-stage vertical air compressor was in service there and HVLP spray guns were used to apply the paint.
To prep his Camaro, Jeff used two coats of Dupont 1120S Primer Filler costing over $100 a gallon on all surfaces and dry block sanded between each coat and prior to final paint with 120-grit 3M paper. He installed joint sealer at all weld joints, like where the rear quarters meet the rockers inside the door jambs, along both sides of the rear panel above the trunk where it meets the bottom of the window and along the entire tail panel where it meets the quarter panels.
Jeff then taped off the car for paint using high-quality automotive masking tape to cover areas he didn't want paint to get on. Since the wheels and tires were mounted, he covered them carefully. Eastwood makes products specifically designed to keep paint off such parts. For large areas, use masking paper—not newspaper, which is more porous and may let some paint sneak through. Jeff washed entire car with water and wiped it down several times with thinner. He then applied two lighter coats of DuPont's No. 1 White sealer.
Small panels like the cowl and spoiler were painted separately. They were supported on a benchtop covered with masking paper taped over it.
Jeff Noll had painted one vehicle, prior to the Camaro. He and his father sprayed a '70 Chevy pickup when Jeff was in high school. It was a typical D-I-Y project and they wound up with lots of dust in the paint. The Camaro was the first time he approached painting a vehicle in terms of doing a decent job the correct way. He got lots of guidance from Bruce Young and in the end had Bruce Young, Jr. do the actual painting. Jeff did not spray the sealer, paint or clear coat. As previously covered, he did do the body work, priming and all the sanding up to prepping the car for final paint. This saved him a lot of shop time and money.
Time is money. To save himself some hard-earned dollars, Jeff did most of the masking and taping himself, before Bruce Young, Jr. squirted paint.
Jeff did most of the taping and masking with paper. He also laid out all of the body stripes. Bruce Young Jr. painted the panels that Jeff had taped off or otherwise readied for paint. Then, he let professionals spray the paint so he didn't wind up with runs. Jeff also did all of the color sanding between coats of paint, but he let Bruce buff out the final so that Jeff didn't burn through paint in spots.
If you're also novice, but want to apply the paint yourself, the product and equipment you use is not going to ensure a good paint job. Only repeated practice sessions will do that. You'll learn that you have to mix the paint products according to instructions on the cans. You should test different fan patterns to see which combinations work best for you or on the part you're painting.
The high-tech equipment available today is of pretty much even quality. Whether you buy an Eastwood gun or one from DeVilbiss, Binks or Sharpe, you'll need to get familiar with using it to spray different materials. Most guns have two adjustments, one for fan pattern and the other to control the amount of paint. Spray test panels before testing your newly-developing skills on an actual car.
Hold a gun about eight to 10 inches from the surface you're painting and perpendicular to it. Spray using a straight-line movement that creates a band of color an inch or two wide. If the band looks heavy on each end and light in the middle, lower the pressure setting. Clogs will create a wedge shape. A pattern that looks wide at the upper or lower edge means your spray tip is dirty. Move up and down the side of the car, holding the gun in place and spraying paint at a right angle to the car. Move your body—not your wrist or arm. Each band of paint spayed on the car should go over about half of the one sprayed just before it. If you spray one spot too long or spray too much paint on a spot, you'll get a run.
Since solvents control drying time, it is important not to rush. Wait until a surface is fully dry before spraying another coat. Painting over a layer that hasn't flash dried will trap the solvents and cause solvent popping later. Paint product labels list flash times, which may be longer for each subsequent coat.
Using a clear coat cuts down the amount of solids needed to paint a car. Clear coats also smooth out edges. Clear is applied like other paint. You must wait for the previous coat to flash over before putting the clearcoat on.
The Camaro's rear end was masked off so that the rear panel could be painted black. Note how the black is carried over the rear lip of the truck.
The process of painting Jeff's Camaro was affected by the way he applied racing stripes on the car. Bruce Young, Jr., first painted the car with Dupont base coat Hugger Orange, putting on three or four light coats to get good coverage. He then added three medium coats of Dupont clear. Since Hugger Orange is not a metalluic color, it was possible (and best) to paint the hood, doors, trunk lid, cowl and upper/lower front valences separately. After the paint cured for about a week, Jeff carefully color sanded (wet sanded) the entire body of the car.
Twin black racing stripes also set off the orange paint on the car's hood. The center of the hood was left orange for a dramatic affect.
Jeff re-installed the hood, cowl and trunk so he could properly tape-off the rally stripes. He used a kit from Classic Industries (www.classicindustries.com) to create the black rally stripes. Then, he once again removed the hood, cowl and trunk lid so the rally stripes could be painted. After the basecoat black rally stripes were painted, Jeff removed the tape and used an airbrush to touch up some of the bad corners where tape did not make a sharp line at the curve. He then clear coated the car with three more medium coats of Dupont clear to "bury" the rally stripes. After the clear cured for about a week, he color sanded the entire car again. Finally, he buffed the entire car out using a wool buffing pad.
At the rear of the car the racing stripes were taped off on three panel: the one under the window, the trunk lid and the spoiler. Professionalism shows here.
Color Sanding Tips
Color sanding a car with special sandpaper that can be moistened is a technique used to polish paint topcoats to a deep shine and gloss. Very fine 1000- to 1500-grit sandpaper is used with water to smooth out very minor flaws. Not every type of paint can be color sanded. Enamel will be damaged by even minute sanding scratches. With multi-stage lacquers, such as Wanda displayed at SEMA 2010, only the clear coat can be color sanded or polished.
As opposed to color sanding, true polishing of paint is done with a rubbing compound that has a relatively coarse grit to it. After an application of compound to flatten orange peel or polish paint to a shine, the finish must be buffed out with a very fine grit material. Use a microfiber cloth for polishing. Reduce swirls by using a front-to-rear back and forth motion rather than circular movements.
Wrapping a vehicle with 3M™ Scotchprint® Series 1080 Wrap Film is a new way of "coloring" a vehicle without spraying paint. The clean-air cops really like that last part. You have probably seen trucks or buses that were wrapped to put billboard graphics or logos on them for advertising or corporate recognition.
Resto-Mod builders have also used these wrap films to completely refinish show cars in Matte Black and Military Green. Matte White and Matte Silver wrap films are also available. There are Black and Anthracite (gray) Carbon Fiber films, too. Plus four Series 600 textured films including Light and Dark Wood Grains and Black and Anthracite Carbon Fiber. Experts are predicting that future production cars may be wrapped, rather than painted, to eliminate spray painting.
Currently, wrap films and textured films are being used mainly for customization. 3M Corporation (www.3M.com) hints that it can add an endless array of head-turning finishes, textures and colors to cars by using such films and the installs will be cheaper than an expensive paint job. It does require some training and a few very simple, but unique tools to properly wrap a car with a film. An adhesive is activated with a watery spray and the film is then stretched into shape, as the moisture is squeezed out and the excess film is carefully trimmed. And, in case you're wondering, films can be removed if the car owner does not like the way the vehicle is being transformed before his or her eyes.