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How-To: Custom Painting – The Decoration of Vehicles


Today not only are cars and motorcycles custom painted, but so are snowmobiles, jet skis, four-wheelers, skateboards, surfboards, and bicycles-as well as the trailers they are transported on and the vehicles that pull them. This decoration is done primarily with the airbrush–by either spray painters who are artistic or artists who know how to use an airbrush and have learned to work with the materials required in custom painting.


If you know how to use an airbrush, learning how to paint on 3-D metal and plastic shapes is not that difficult. Here are some basic guidelines for airbrushing in the custom automotive field:

Surface Preparation: No matter if the surface is a motorcycle tank or a fender, it must be flawless before it can be decorated with artwork. Have a professional prepare the surface or have it supplied to you ready for painting. The process of preparing the surface can be laborious, and the artist is better off spending his energy on the artwork.

Paints: The types of paints used in the custom painting industry differ greatly from those used in the fine art field. Automotive paints, such as acrylic lacquers and polyurethanes, are commonly used. These are easy to spray, but high in toxicity (so it’s wise to invest in a high-quality mask). They vary in drying times and are not compatible with all surfaces. Visit your art supply store or library and read up on automotive paints; stop by the automotive paint supplier to gather information; and pick the brain of the guy at the body shop to glean whatever information you can (perhaps in addition to pricing guidelines.)

Designs: Create a portfolio of artwork (as if you were making a gallery presentation) to show prospective customers your capabilities and creativity. Include in this portfolio designs specific to custom painting as well as other artwork. While visiting auto shops, show them your portfolio and leave a business card. A customer may just be looking for your style of work.

Clear Coating: It is the clear coating that really brings the final project together. And, as with preparation, this should be left in the hands of the professional. If you decide to do this yourself, remember that sanding between clear coat applications is what removes any paint ridges created when developing the image with stencils or tape.

Today many custom automotive painters go on to become gallery artists, while others trained as gallery artists discover that their forte is custom painting–developing original artwork on three-dimensional surfaces. But the bottom line is that custom automotive painting is not done with a paintbrush–the airbrush is the star in this genre.

Reprinted with permission of ARTtalk.com


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Iwata Medea is the wholesale distributor of Iwata, Medea and Artool products in North and South America, and the UK, and does not sell directly to customers at this time. To purchase Iwata Medea or Artool products, please check our dealer pages for a reseller near you. Or call our customer service team at 503-253-7308 ext. 2000, and we’ll help you find a local reseller.