This chapter is going to consist of more show than tell. The premise is pretty simple. It’s like the oneday paint job, except that you do it at home, in your garage, with your own equipment. Of course there are a few twists.
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The example we’re going to show you, which we’re pretty sure you couldn’t get at any Uncle Earl’s franchise, is how to add a classy pearl coat to an otherwise appliance-like, relatively new 4-door sedan. The vehicle in question happens to be my wife’s recently acquired com-muter car. It’s an excellent car, and she got it for a very good price, with extremely low mileage, because it’s nothing special—a utilitarian model. And since she bought it second-hand, she couldn’t choose the color for it. Of course, it’s refrigerator white. She doesn’t like that. But it’s new enough that–even though it came with a few dings and scratches—it doesn’t warrant a complete repaint just to change it to a snappier color.
The simple solution, in this case, is to add a coat of white pearl over the existing white base. Pearl, or “pearlescent,” paints used to be strictly the province of custom cars. They were tricky to mix and difficult to paint. The lore was that they were made of ground fish scales (from Sweden!). I don’t think that’s true. But today pearl is much more common and user-friendly. Many beautiful factory colors that used to be simple metallics now have pearls in them. They have a brighter, shimmering glow, and you can see the hue change slightly as the sun glints off it from different angles.
Pearl white was the first, basic pearlescent color (hence its name). Today you see it on several upscale car models like Lexus, Cadillac, Chrysler, and so on. A true pearl paint, such as pearl white, is translucent, so it must be painted over a straight base coat of the same, or similar, color—such as plain icebox white under a white pearl top-coat. Perfect!
Now you’re getting the idea. This is the quick and inexpensive way to an eye-catching custom paint job.
There is nothing wrong with the paint on our subject car other than a couple of dings that need to be filled and some scratches that need touching-up—and the fact it’s a boring, dowdy color. It doesn’t need to be stripped, block-sanded, primed, sealed, or anything else except cleaned well and thoroughly sanded with relatively fine paper (240 to 360 grit, probably wet). Touching-up the paint is really simple because (1) it’s a plain, solid color that’s simple to match, and (2) it doesn’t need to be blended or buffed out, because it gets sanded along with the rest of the car.
If, by chance, the car needed some more extensive bodywork, this type of paint job could still apply. Do the body-work yourself, block and prime the affected area, and spot-paint it the same color as the rest of the car. Then sand this area along with the rest of the car before squirting the pearl coat.
What makes this paint process so simple, especially on newer cars that have little chrome trim or other removable outer-body parts, is that you simply close the doors, hood, and trunk, mask off the windows, peel off the few adhesive emblems it might have, mask off any other trim that shouldn’t get paint on it (such as those black rubber/vinyl strips in the roof, or elsewhere, if your car has them), and spray the pearl coat. Since the existing paint is almost the same color, and the car is already completely painted with it, you don’t have to worry about getting the pearl under body parts, into nooks and crannies you can’t see, or—in this case—even in the doorjambs or under the hood or trunk. Most people see the car with the doors closed 99% of the time, and wouldn’t notice the difference in the paint when the door’s open, anyway. (If it makes a difference to you, it’s not that much harder to paint in the doorjambs and other such areas, because the base coat is already there. It just takes a little more sanding, quite a bit more masking, and more work with the spray gun—not to mention the cost of the pearl paint, which isn’t cheap. It’s not that much more work. But the point of this chapter is how to do a quick, easy, and inexpensive paint job at home that is very effective.)
Pearls and Candies
That’s about all we really need to tell you about this type of paint job. The photos walk you through the process.
But we need to tell you a little more about painting pearl and its older cousin, candy (originally candy apple, as in red). These are known as custom colors and, in their truest forms, require specific paint methods. This book is not about custom painting, per se. But if we’re going to talk about, and show, pearl painting, we must mention a few guide points.
Several new factory colors have pearl in them. Most of these are formulated as two-stage paints, so they can be sprayed as a base coat over any color of primer and then clear-coated. Some of the new factory pearls, however, are three-step paints, which require a plain-color base coat, followed by a similar-color pearl coat, and then the clear. Check with your auto paint store to see which is which, but our real point is to look in the factory color chip books when shopping for a pearl color—the factory has some pretty good ones, mostly in easy-to-paint (and touch-up) two-step base coat/clear coat. The paint store should also have plenty of shades of true pearl colors, which you find in “custom colors” paint chip books from PPG, DuPont, House of Kolor, and so on. They’re nearly all three-step, and the company recommends specific base coat colors to use under them.
But here we’re doing it the other way around. Your car already has a plain color on it. It could be white, or beige, or baby blue, or sea foam green—whatever. Most people wouldn’t see a need to add pearl over a bright color like red or yellow (though it’s perfectly okay to do so), and pearls generally don’t work well over real dark colors, especially black. But whatever color your car is, your paint store can probably find a pearl to complement it. In general, you want a pearl shade (other than white) that’s just a tad darker than the existing color, because the pearl in the paint tends to lighten it slightly. But don’t stray far from the existing color, or it is hard to spray an even coat of the pearl over it.
As we said, true pearls are translucent (and candies, though colored, are transparent). Therefore, whatever is underneath is going to show through. In our case, this means that the base color (the existing color on the car), and any touch-up painting that you do, must all be exactly the same color and shade. If you leave any scratches or chips, they’ll show through the pearl. If your touch-up paint isn’t matched exactly to the existing color (say, if the car’s paint has faded some), this difference shows as light or dark splotches under the pearl. If, by chance, you want to test a pearl color over the paint on your car to see how it looks, you must recoat that test spot with matching body color before shooting the complete car.
And spraying pearl is not like spraying non-translucent colors. The more pearl you put on, the more the color changes. Most pearl colors get darker at first, then start to turn milky as you add more paint. The point is you must spray the whole car evenly: do not overlap paint coats between panels. Different painters have different methods. It helps if you’re not painting the doorjambs, because you won’t have a layer of pearl overspray around each door opening (a common problem with neophyte pearl and candy painters). But you also must not paint the car panel-by-panel in the usual manner: a front fender, then the door, then the rear quarter, and so on. If you do, everywhere you overlap paint—the fender onto the door, then the door onto the fender, etc.—gets a darker or milkier “blush” in the pearl. Most custom painters avoid this by “walking” the length of the car while spraying. Others use a crisscross pattern all over the car. Yes, it does take some practice and experience, but with pearl over a closely matching base color, it’s not as hard as it might sound. The key is not to spray too much pearl. One even coat should do it—just enough to get that pearl, shimmering effect. The more you put on, the duller the pearl effect becomes, and the greater your chances for getting uneven splotches or streaks.
If this sounds a little scary or daunting, two things: First, since you’re using catalyzed paint, if it doesn’t turn out right the first time, let it dry overnight, sand it down the next morning, and start over again. It’s not that big a deal. With a true pearl, that probably means starting with a new base coat, then the pearl coat. How-ever, the second option is to find a factory nontranslucent color, with pearl in it, that matches the existing paint on your car very closely. If you can find such a color, hopefully it is close enough that you don’t have to paint the doorjambs, and you probably won’t have to spot-in scratches and other touch-ups (though they should be primed in a shade close to body color).
Now just a brief word about candy paint for the more adventurous among you. To get the full, brilliant, candy-like effect, painters usually spray such colors over a special, highly metallic gold or silver base. Applying such a custom paint job takes the ultimate painter’s skill and experience. Only a few do it really well. However, in the last few years PPG and other companies have devised custom paint “systems” where a candy is sprayed over a similar-colored metallic base. It’s not as brilliant, but it does have that deep, true-candy look, and it’s much easier to paint (similar to a pearl color over a like-color base). I’ve tried it with success. So I’m—somewhat hesitatingly—suggesting that if your car has a metallic color on it to start with, and you’d like to “customize” it further, you could try spraying a coat of similar-color candy paint over it. The candy has to be sprayed evenly, like pearl, but adding more coats doesn’t diminish its effect, it just makes it darker and deeper in color. Now, I’ve never tried this before and I don’t know anybody who has, but I don’t see why it wouldn’t work. It could be, literally, brilliant. In either case, the pearl or candy should be followed by one or more clear coats, specifically a “UV” clear, which blocks paint-fading ultraviolet light. Pearls and especially candies are quite susceptible to fading in the sun, particularly reds and lighter colors.
What we’ve described is the quick trick to put a cool paint job on a plain-Jane car. But let’s get totally basic. The only thing wrong with your car is that the paint is faded, scratched, or worn. Maybe it has some road-rash or shop-ping cart contusions or abrasions. You don’t want or need to change the original color. You just want to make it look, once again, like the shiny car it once was. Simple. Find the color code for your year, make, and model car (it should be on a tag in a door jamb, or on your new-car receipt if you still have it), and order up about a gallon (or less, depending on the size of your car) of that color at your auto paint store, along with necessary additives. Then sand the car, mask it, and shoot it. Since you’re painting it the original color, you don’t need to paint doorjambs, window frames, under the hood, or anything else (assuming they’re all in decent condition). If the outside needs a little minor bodywork, spot putty, or just some high-fill primer and block sanding, that’s covered elsewhere in this book. If you want to color-sand and rub it out after it’s painted, we cover that, too. If it’s a metallic color, you’d probably want to go base coat/clear coat, but you don’t have to. These are all options.
I personally don’t see why any straight, non-metallic color needs a clear coat (other than, possibly, for UV protection if you’re going to leave it out in the sun). Straight colors, metallics, and even metallics with pearls can all be ordered in one-stage paints that dry very glossy, like new-car paint from the factory. If that’s all you need, sand the car, mask it, and shoot it (with the doors shut) in its original color, and you’re done. Even if you choose base coat/clear coat, you don’t have to rub out the clear if you can spray it on smooth and glossy enough. On the other hand, since you’re using catalyzed paint, you can rub out either a clear coat or a one-stage color coat a day or two after you paint it, or maybe a year or two later, when the paint job needs a “tune-up.” See how much you’re learning from this book?
Even More Basic
Okay, let’s say you’ve got an old bomb of some sort that you want to fix up some, or are in the process of fixing up, but you’re not ready for (or maybe don’t even want) a full, glossy paint job. The original color is immaterial—if you can even tell what it was. But you’re not a fan of the “patina” or polka-dot look. You’d like the car at least all one color or shade. Why not do like the hot rodders in the old days did—primer it? It’s an in look again, often referred to as “suede.” But, unlike the old days when the basic choices were grey, black, or red-oxide lacquer primers, which happened to be water-absorbant, we have much better choices today.
The most practical, if you really are in the process of fixing up the car, is to spray the whole vehicle with a good, catalyzed, high-fill primer. Different brands come in different colors, usually some shade of gray. My advice here is don’t put the primer over dirty, flaky, unsanded, or otherwise unstable paint, and especially not over rust, unless you fully intend to strip the car (and fix the rust) before painting it for real.
If you’re not into shiny paint at all, I’d still recommend cleaning, sanding, and at least moderately prepping the surface. But choices of easy-to-paint suede finishes are now almost limitless, and are universally catalyzed-type paints that do not absorb water, and therefore protect the metal from further rust. The simplest way to suede paint is just to spray a base coat—in whatever color you want, from black to metallics or pearls—without adding a clear coat. Done! For even less-glossy blacks you can try an “antiglare” black or something called “Trim Black,” as used on hoods of ’70s muscle cars and other areas of newer cars. Finally, the automotive paint shop can add a “flattener” or “flattening agent” to any paint you choose, including clears, and they can add more or less of it to “adjust” the gloss to the percentage you want. As I said, make friends with the people at your local automotive paint store. They can probably do things with paint you never thought of.
On the other hand, maybe you like glossy, but you’re not too particular about the color. Whatever finish is on the vehicle now, you could always scuff it down, quickly mask it off, and shoot it with a clear coat. Since it’s clear, how much you mask is your choice. Now, I must admit I’ve never done this, and I don’t think I’ve seen anyone else do it. But why not? If the paint is just faded, scuffing it down and clearing it would actually be easier (and longer lasting) than buffing it out as we show in Chapter 1—and you wouldn’t have to worry about buffing through the color. Just remember that whatever is on the surface—including previous clear that is now peeling or chalky—shows through a new layer of clear. At the other extreme, if the vehicle is old and has a nice patina, and you want to keep it looking the way it is, you could squirt it with a coat of clear with flattener in it to “arrest the decay.” These are just possibilities. They’re not guaranteed.
Written by Pat Ganahl and Posted with Permission of CarTechBooks