11 Ways You Can Create A Better Paintjob At Home


Every week we get emails from readers asking questions about painting their cars. Some of the emails are specific to their projects, but many of them are similar. Based on those questions, here are 13 low-cost ways to get better painting results.

Use Sealer

Sealer is one of the items many people skip when painting. They feel if they get the primer surfacer sanded smooth and evenly, why spend the extra money and time on a sealer? The sealer provides a fresh surface over small flaws, deep sanding scratches, and bare metal areas that are visible. It evens out any different color tones on the surface, making it easier to get proper coverage with your basecoat. Depending on the sealer used, you can save time and material by using a sealer that is similar in tone or hue to the basecoat you are applying. For example, a black basecoat covers much faster and better when sprayed over a dark sealer. If you are spraying a white basecoat or any light color, spraying it over a white sealer will save time and material and help the basecoat be brighter. The white sealer under the basecoat will actually give it more luminosity.

Which sealer to use depends on the paint system being used. The Eastwood system recommends thinning down its Epoxy Primer 20 percent.  PPG’s V-Seal comes in white, light gray, and dark gray.

Test Your Paint And Technique

Don’t use your vehicle as a paint-testing area. It’s a costly mistake, both in time and money. If you’re new to painting or using unfamiliar materials or equipment, do some spray-outs. A spray-out is a test panel that is not the object you are painting. When you’re happy with the results, find an old or spare panel and paint that. See how the color lays out across that large surface. Until you’re totally satisfied with the results, keep testing.

Always test spray your color. It’s not enough for the color to look good in the can. If you’re spraying three coats on the project, spray three coats on the test area. This is where you’ll find any problems that might come up during painting. For metallics and pearl colors, change the direction you paint with each coat. Look at the test results in different kinds of light

Here are just a few of the test panels I’ve sprayed recently. Don’t use your project as a test panel.

Plan Your Painting Path

The time to think about the painting path around your vehicle is not when you’re standing there, paint gun in hand. It’s easy to get flustered in the foggy painting area. Use the priming phase to figure out the best way to get around the car. That way, by the time you’re applying color, you know exactly how you’ll do it.

Start planning the painting path around your project while spraying primer. By the time you get to the basecoat paint, you’ll have figured out the best way to get around the car.

We asked legendary painter, Tom Prewitt Jr, his advice about the best way to plan painting a car. “I’ll go around the car and paint all the hard-to-get spots first, like the edges and door jams. Get color on the edging before you spray the whole car. Some painters skip the edging of the hard-to-reach areas. Then, they end up with some light spots, possibly primer, showing through. I’ve found if you try and do those areas as you’re painting, there’s a good chance you’ll end up with a few sags.”

Tom continued, “after edging, I’ll let a basecoat dry for 30 minutes and tack off the rest of the car before I put basecoat on everything. I start on the left side of the car at the rocker panel and work my way up the side. Then I spray the hood, go back, and spray the trunk area. Next, I’ll move onto the roof and then work my way down the other side of the rocker panel. Always walk the length of the car. Practice this method when priming. By the time you’re spraying color, the technique should be automatic.”

Be Realistic

If new to painting keep it simple. A big problem new painters make is to try a tricky paint color for their first paint job. Solid colors are much more forgiving than metallic, pearl, or candy colors. If you get a run in a solid color, you can stop, let the paint dry until it’s dry enough to sand, and then sand out the run and continue with your paint job. With your first paint job, you’re learning. Mistakes are going to happen. Make it easy on yourself. Go with a solid, non-metallic color.

Don’t Rush Your Prep

It’s easy to make mistakes during the painting phase of your project because, by this point, you’re so eager to finish the project. But paint prep is the place to slow down and double or triple-check everything. Once you’re ready to spray paint, stop and look things over very closely. Make sure the surfaces are clean. Wipe everything down with a good quality tack cloth. Then look at the cloth. Is there any residue from sanding? Maybe you need to clean the surface again.

Carefully examine the tape in any recessed areas like door jams or recessed body lines. The tape tends to pull up in concave areas. If the tape is starting to lift, don’t just press it down as it will come up again and paint will sneak under the edge. Retape and make sure the new tape has enough material so that it doesn’t pull up.

Immediately before painting, double-check your tape. Tape tends to lift, especially in recessed areas like door jams or body lines. Spend a few minutes checking the tape and save yourself hours of trying to repair places the paint snuck under the tape.

Don’t Paint When You’re Tired

You’ve been prepping all day and had hoped to be spraying the car by now. But the sun is low in the sky. You figure, there’s still a few hours of daylight. Then it takes an hour or so to get the sealer on, then after waiting the correct amount of time, you’re ready to spray basecoat color. Now it’s almost dark. Plus, you’re tired and anxious. And there are all kinds of bugs that want to come into your shop and play under the lights. It’s the absolute worst time to paint your project.

This is why, after you get your prep work done, wait until the next morning if you need to. When you’re rested and feeling sharp. You have all day to get the job done and plenty of daylight to check color. Plus, there’s much less of a chance of bugs landing in the paint.

Keep An LED Flashlight Handy

Most home painters will spray their project right in their shop. While overhead lights work great for most shop tasks, when painting a car, you need light to reflect on the sides of the car and lower areas like valances and rockers. To help on those lower dark areas, use an LED flashlight. Hold the spray gun in one hand and the light in the other. Being able to see properly as you paint is a game-changer when you want professional results.

Good lighting is essential for painting success. On the left are a few portable lights: a plug-in LED work light, the Scangrip SunMatch, and the MultiMatch 3. On the right: take an LED shop light and use 2X4s to turn it into a vertical light you can place anywhere it’s needed.

Don’t Mix Brands Of Paint

Paint systems are designed to work best together. Stick with one system. If you’re using paint from Eastwood, use Eastwood primers, sealers, basecoat, and clears. I use PPG’s Deltron system. That means for every paint material that’s sprayed, I stay within the Deltron system or use a product that’s designed to be used with it.

The same thing goes for plastic fillers. If I’m using Evercoat Optex, I use the hardener that comes with it. If I run out of hardener, I’ll order more. Now, some folks feel all hardeners for plastic filler are alike. But why take a chance? If there’s a problem, it’s one factor you don’t have to worry about because you stayed in that system.

Never use old paint material, especially old catalyst or hardener. Don’t try to save money by using lacquer-based primers. When you’re looking for a paint system to use, research it thoroughly. Then follow the directions by using the paint materials recommended for that system.

Keep Notes

It’s easy to forget a step or wonder what you did when something goes wrong. When you’re spraying the test panels, write down how you mixed the paint, how it was sprayed, and the number of coats used. Don’t trust your memory. Having this information gives you the best chance at having the paint on the car match the test panels. Another thing I do is mark the paint mixing cups with the amounts of paint, reducer, and if used, catalyst.

One way to avoid mistakes when mixing paint is to mark your mixing cups. On the sides of these SATA RPS mixing cups are mixing ratios 2:1, 3:1, and so on. I’ll draw a line down each side of the ratio I’m using, then mark off the amounts for each material going into the mix.

Don’t Make Sanding Mistakes

Make sure you have sanded with the correct grit of sandpaper. Too rough, and the sand scratches may show through. This can be a real problem with metallic or pearl colors. But paint needs a tooth to hold onto. Sanding with too fine a sanding grit can result in lamination issues. Thing is, these will not happen right away. Over time, as paint cures, it dries and wants to shrink. If the paint has not properly adhered to the surface, it will tend to pull up in any unsanded areas. Take the time to correctly prep all door edges and concave surfaces.

Take the time to sand or scuff the whole surface, even down the very bottom of the recessed areas.

Painting Parts

If painting parts like the fenders, hood, or trunk lid while they are off the car, make sure to hang them at the same orientation they would be on the car. This isn’t a big deal with solid colors, but when it comes to spraying metallics or pearls, there might be a significant difference in the way the color appears.

At Driven Restorations, they always hang the parts for painting in the same orientation as they would be on the car. This way the paint flow across the surfaces is the same.

Finally, the best tool in your shop is going to be patience. Remember this when you feel stressed or frustrated. Every painting project takes longer than thought. You get to the point where you just want to spray that paint. Even pros run into this problem.

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About the author

JoAnn Bortles

JoAnn Bortles is an award winning custom automotive painter, airbrush artist, certified welder/fabricator, author, and photo journalist with over 30 years of experience in the automotive industry.
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