Automotive Painting Guide: The Professional Job

In the previous chapters, we’ve laid a foundation covering the tools, skills and knowledge you needed to paint your own vehicle in your own garage. By now—or the second time you read this when you’re ready to do the job—you have taken care of any dings, dents, or scrapes in the body; removed all readily accessible non-painted body parts like bumpers, badges, mirrors, handles, and so on; equipped your garage with the tools you need to do both bodywork and painting; cleaned and prepared your garage; sanded, primed, and otherwise prepped the body of your vehicle for paint; learned how to mask parts or areas that aren’t easily removed, or can’t be; made friends with your local automotive paint store employees; and fig-ured out what types of paints, sealers, reducers, and so on you need to do the job you want to do on your car.

 


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The example for our complete paint job is a semi-rare 427 big-block, 4-speed, ’67 Stingray Corvette that was essentially restored, but got painted a previous-year Milano Maroon instead of the correct Marlboro Maroon. John Harvey, who does custom bodywork and painting on a limited basis in a large shop he has built on his property South of Albuquerque, New Mexico, was therefore given the job of completely repainting a car that was already painted and “finished” by someone else. This is how it looked after he repainted it in the correct color.

The example for our complete paint job is a semi-rare 427 big-block, 4-speed, ’67 Stingray Corvette that was essentially restored, but got painted a previous-year Milano Maroon instead of the correct Marlboro Maroon. John Harvey, who does custom bodywork and painting on a limited basis in a large shop he has built on his property South of Albuquerque, New Mexico, was therefore given the job of completely repainting a car that was already painted and “finished” by someone else. This is how it looked after he repainted it in the correct color.

 

If you decided that your car’s prior finish really needed to be removed, using a chemical stripper at home, you have also completed that step. If so, all the bare metal should be bodyworked, primed, blocked, and sanded down to 320 or 360 grit.

We’ve talked about things like detail-ing the undercarriage and engine now, or after the paint job. We assume you’ve decided one course or the other—but in any case for this stage of paint job you should have at least cleaned the undercarriage and engine compartment of all grease, sludge and other assorted road grungies by having them steam-cleaned, pressure-washed, or by removing them yourself with a scraper, wire brush, and lots of Gunk, Simple Green, or other degreaser. You want to get all the grease and oil off the car (top, bottom, inside, out), before you put any new paint prod-ucts on the sheetmetal.

By this point you must also know whether you are going to reupholster the car, and whether you need to replace some or all of the window glass. If you’re going to do either, do it after you paint the car—in fact, we’d strongly suggest waiting until after you color sand and rub-out the car, if that’s what you plan to do. There’s always the chance that the upholsterer or glass man might put a scratch or two in your new paint. Touch-ing up some minor paint scratches is eas-ier than trying to clean paint off of new upholstery or carpet; and, if you’re going to take glass out, it’s always best to repaint window openings before new rubber and glass is reinstalled.

 

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After removing all external trim and the interior door panels, John started by wet sanding all painted areas of the body with 360-grit paper. Note in these photos that it is masked along the rockers and rear pan to keep the already detailed chassis clean.

After removing all external trim and the interior door panels, John started by wet sanding all painted areas of the body with 360-grit paper. Note in these photos that it is masked along the rockers and rear pan to keep the already detailed chassis clean.

 

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Note a few primer spots on the body. John found a few areas that needed a bit more priming and sanding to eliminate imperfections that showed up after the first paint job shrank a bit. He is wet sanding this area with 360 paper and a rubber pad.

Note a few primer spots on the body. John found a few areas that needed a bit more priming and sanding to eliminate imperfections that showed up after the first paint job shrank a bit. He is wet sanding this area with 360 paper and a rubber pad.

 

 In Chapter 6 we talked about the necessity and difficulty of sanding in hard-to-reach places, such as door-jambs and especially around hinges. Here is a pertinent example. Since this car had been fully sanded and prepped before the recent paint job, and since he was going to use an adhesion sealer, John decided that this was adequate sanding for this job in the hinge area. If you want it Concours-perfect, you have to remove the doors and hinges, as you see in the next chapter.

In Chapter 6 we talked about the necessity and difficulty of sanding in hard-to-reach places, such as door-jambs and especially around hinges. Here is a pertinent example. Since this car had been fully sanded and prepped before the recent paint job, and since he was going to use an adhesion sealer, John decided that this was adequate sanding for this job in the hinge area. If you want it Concours-perfect, you have to remove the doors and hinges, as you see in the next chapter.

 

Optimally, you would have upholstery installed after painting is done, but this car was supposedly finished before the new owner decided to correct the color. So John pro-tected the seats, dash, etc., with coverings during sanding and partial disassembly.

Optimally, you would have upholstery installed after painting is done, but this car was supposedly finished before the new owner decided to correct the color. So John pro-tected the seats, dash, etc., with coverings during sanding and partial disassembly.

 

John removed the door panels to simplify masking and painting, but also to access outside door handles for removal. Of course door windows must be masked inside and out. You may notice some remnants of weather stripping on the door, which would usually be cleaned and sanded. But this car recently had new door rubbers installed. John removed (rather than trying to mask) them, but left these areas as-is so they would glue back exactly as they came off.

John removed the door panels to simplify masking and painting, but also to access outside door handles for removal. Of course door windows must be masked inside and out. You may notice some remnants of weather stripping on the door, which would usually be cleaned and sanded. But this car recently had new door rubbers installed. John removed (rather than trying to mask) them, but left these areas as-is so they would glue back exactly as they came off.

 

 But before any painting, he sealed off both door openings completely with masking tape and paper, being sure to seal all seams in the paper with tape.

But before any painting, he sealed off both door openings completely with masking tape and paper, being sure to seal all seams in the paper with tape.

 

Of course the engine compartment was done and detailed, most of which was painted semi-flat black. So John covered or masked everything except the strip around the edges that had to be body color.

Of course the engine compartment was done and detailed, most of which was painted semi-flat black. So John covered or masked everything except the strip around the edges that had to be body color.

 

These cowl vents have chrome grilles that go over them, but they’re a good example of an opening in the body that should be masked and sealed so that (1) paint or overspray won’t enter the interior through it, and (2) no dirt or dust blows out of this cavity into your wet paint as you’re spraying the car.

These cowl vents have chrome grilles that go over them, but they’re a good example of an opening in the body that should be masked and sealed so that (1) paint or overspray won’t enter the interior through it, and (2) no dirt or dust blows out of this cavity into your wet paint as you’re spraying the car.

 

Let’s discuss glass first. If you’re working on an older car that has rubber moldings around the windshield and other areas (i.e., back glass, wind wings), and (1) the glass is broken, pitted, foggy, or otherwise needs replacing, (2) the rubber molding is cracked or brittle, or (3) the windows leak water, anywhere, then you should remove the glass and either have it replaced, or at least replace the rubber moldings—which requires removal of the glass, either way. New rub-ber—not to mention new windshields—are now available for a surprisingly wide variety of older cars. Check with your auto glass shop and peruse the ads in specialty car magazines. We talk more about glass removal and replacement in the next chapter. Read ahead if your vehicle needs this work.

 

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Most people doing the typical in-the-garage do-it-yourself repaint job are not going to be pulling all the glass out of the car. Sanding down the existing paint, including the wet-sanding process, is a much easier and cleaner job if all the glass is still in the car and shut. That means you have to mask off the windows to start painting. On older cars that have rubber moldings, one trick is to lift up the lip of the rubber and slip a small piece of rope or cord (like clothesline) underneath it all the way around, to hold the rubber away from the metal so paint can get under it. This also makes masking the windows much easier. How-ever, if this molding includes chrome or stainless trim embedded in the rubber, do not try to remove this trim. Most types can only be removed/replaced in the loose rubber molding before it is installed on the glass. Then the entire glass/rubber/trim assembly is installed as a unit, and we recommend that you let a professional glass man do this after you paint the car. We’re getting a bit ahead, but the point is if the glass has stainless trim around it, it probably needs to be masked off with the glass. See the next chapter for more details.

 

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John of course used the air gun to blow sanding dust off the exterior and to blow out the interior, under the hood, in wheelwells, and so on, before starting the masking process. But once the car is all masked, it’s time for a thorough cleaning with wax and grease remover, once again (you should have done this before sanding, too—remember?). John clearly demonstrates the wet-rag/dry-rag proper method of application.

John of course used the air gun to blow sanding dust off the exterior and to blow out the interior, under the hood, in wheelwells, and so on, before starting the masking process. But once the car is all masked, it’s time for a thorough cleaning with wax and grease remover, once again (you should have done this before sanding, too—remember?). John clearly demonstrates the wet-rag/dry-rag proper method of application.

 

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Although John has the luxury of a spray booth, we assume you’ve cleaned and sealed your garage as much as possible already (see Chap-ter 4), and turned on your exhaust fan. Right before you start spraying, it’s best to open a fresh tack rag and use it, with your blow gun, to remove any remaining lint, dust, or dirt specs from the surface.

Although John has the luxury of a spray booth, we assume you’ve cleaned and sealed your garage as much as possible already (see Chap-ter 4), and turned on your exhaust fan. Right before you start spraying, it’s best to open a fresh tack rag and use it, with your blow gun, to remove any remaining lint, dust, or dirt specs from the surface.

 

Whether or not you’ll be reuphol-stering the car, mask off the interior at the door openings. Depending on the age of the vehicle, there’s a lot of stuff in there that’s either metal or plastic that you don’t want to get paint on. If your car happens to be of the pre-padded-dash era, and you need to repaint the dashboard as well as parts like the win-dow frames, steering column, and so on (either because they need repainting, or because of a color change) then you’ve got a bunch of extra work to do. We don’t need to tell you how. You can remove things like window frames and paint them outside the car, but in most cases you have to paint parts like the dash and steering column where they are; it’s a tedious process of disassembly, sanding, and masking, and using a small touch-up gun to do the painting so you can get into tight quarters. As with every-where else, be sure to mask carefully and thoroughly so paint doesn’t go where you don’t want it.

In all cases, the vehicle’s age greatly affects your approach. Newer cars have lots of plastic, glue-in windows, and very little rubber molding. You must do lots of mask-ing. On many older cars and pickups, even at this stage of paint, it’s easier to rip everything out of the interior (if you’re having it all redone)—headliner, wind-lace, carpet, sill strips, and so on—and not worry about masking off much inside. In some cases, glass has to be removed just to install a new headliner properly. Ask your upholsterer about this.

 

Jambing It

Any good-quality paint job should include fresh paint on the doorjambs, particularly, and any other visible painted surfaces. But if you’re going to change the color of the car from what it was originally, you must paint all previ-ously painted areas to do any decent kind of paint job on your vehicle.

One thing we haven’t discussed in this book is how to choose a color for your car, and we won’t, really. The sim-plest, quickest, easiest, and cheapest approach is to paint it the same color it was to start with. That way you can get by without painting the doorjambs, and you certainly don’t have to paint under the hood and trunk, or in the interior. One twist on this that we have discussed is to spray a coat of similar-color pearl over the existing factory paint. You can do this without painting jambs and other such areas (as we showed in Chapter 8), or you can go the extra distance and shoot the pearl elsewhere, as we show here.

Otherwise, what can we tell you about what color to paint your car? Pick any color you want. There’s virtually no limit. Look through the color chip books at the paint store. Look at all the vehicles on the freeway and streets. Look at the clothes in your closet. Look at the flowers in your garden. Choose any color you like. The only limitation is that if you change the color of the car from what it was origi-nally, to do the job right, you’ve got to paint more than the outside of the car. Much more. One painter I knew long ago, who prided himself on the thorough-ness of his work, used to bet people they couldn’t tell, by looking anywhere they wanted on the vehicle he had just painted, what color it was to start with. How far you want to go with your repaint depends on how important it is to you and how much work you want to do. You don’t have to bet anybody. Satisfy yourself.

 

Be sure to blow out anything that might have settled in the masking paper, and tack-wipe all paint surfaces, including doorjambs, hood compartment, and so on.

Be sure to blow out anything that might have settled in the masking paper, and tack-wipe all paint surfaces, including doorjambs, hood compartment, and so on.

 

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Note John doesn’t wet down the floor (which we also don’t recommend), but he does take the extra precaution of grounding the car chassis to the floor with a piece of chain. All that wiping can create static electricity, which can magnetize dust and lint to the surface, especially in a dry climate like New Mexico.

Note John doesn’t wet down the floor (which we also don’t recommend), but he does take the extra precaution of grounding the car chassis to the floor with a piece of chain. All that wiping can create static electricity, which can magnetize dust and lint to the surface, especially in a dry climate like New Mexico.

 

Even if you’re not taking the car all apart, there are bound to be some extraneous parts that need painting, and it’s best to do them at the same time you’re spraying base coats and clear coats on the vehicle. Pro shops have all sorts of stands and hangers for odd-shaped parts. At home you can use boxes, sawhorses, coat-hanger hooks from ceiling beams—whatever works. Just make sure they’re clean and out of the way while you’re spraying the car.

Even if you’re not taking the car all apart, there are bound to be some extraneous parts that need painting, and it’s best to do them at the same time you’re spraying base coats and clear coats on the vehicle. Pro shops have all sorts of stands and hangers for odd-shaped parts. At home you can use boxes, sawhorses, coat-hanger hooks from ceiling beams—whatever works. Just make sure they’re clean and out of the way while you’re spraying the car.

 

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Since the surface was all painted to start with, John didn’t need an etching primer or a sealer, as such, but he wisely decided to start with a clear DuPont product appropriately called “Mid-Coat Adhesion Promoter.” He started by spraying a thin layer inside the engine compartment and doorjambs.

Since the surface was all painted to start with, John didn’t need an etching primer or a sealer, as such, but he wisely decided to start with a clear DuPont product appropriately called “Mid-Coat Adhesion Promoter.” He started by spraying a thin layer inside the engine compartment and doorjambs.

 

Then he sprayed a similar thin coat over the whole car. Note the clean wheel/tire covers he has installed.

Then he sprayed a similar thin coat over the whole car. Note the clean wheel/tire covers he has installed.

 

Since mixing paint with reducer/cata-lyst doesn’t take long (especially with marked mixing cups, as shown), and you must throw away any unused mixed paint, most painters I’ve observed mix paint one spray gun cup-full (usually one quart) at a time. John is filling his gravity-feed HVLP gun through a strainer in his home-made stand.

Since mixing paint with reducer/cata-lyst doesn’t take long (especially with marked mixing cups, as shown), and you must throw away any unused mixed paint, most painters I’ve observed mix paint one spray gun cup-full (usually one quart) at a time. John is filling his gravity-feed HVLP gun through a strainer in his home-made stand.

 

Individual painters have their own methods for spraying a car, but most start at the top and then work down and around. Starting the base-coat color, John has sprayed the top, and is working down the right door.

Individual painters have their own methods for spraying a car, but most start at the top and then work down and around. Starting the base-coat color, John has sprayed the top, and is working down the right door.

 

Then he works around the car clock-wise.

Then he works around the car clock-wise.

 

Let’s start with the doorjambs. You could prepare, mask, and sand the jambs—and under hood and trunk—first, as in the old days when painters did them in lacquer, let them dry for 20 min-utes, then shut the doors and paint the outside of the car in enamel. If you’re going to color sand and rub-out the paint, it doesn’t make much difference if you get overspray from the jambs onto the body, or vice versa. Let’s say you want to paint the doorjambs, under the hood, and in the trunk first. Fine. The first step, especially in the jambs, is to clean the area, particularly in the pockets around the hinges, of all dirt and oil. I’d recom-mend lacquer thinner here. Next, remove all rubber weatherstripping around the doors, around the trunk, wherever it might be. (If replacement weatherstrip is not available—which is rare—you must take the existing seals off very carefully, without cutting or tearing them, so you can glue them back on later.) It’s usually glued on, and takes some work to get off.

 

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Start with something like a putty knife or straight-edge razor blade in a holder. Get as much of the rubber off as you can this way. Once you get the rubber off, use a combination of 3M General Purpose Adhesive Cleaner (part no. 08984; every painter—every garage—should have a can of this stuff on hand at all times) and medium sandpaper to get all rubber and glue residue off the surface. Then, assum-ing you want to do a good paint job on your car, carefully sand the entire door jamb, as well as the areas under the hood and trunk, just as well and as thoroughly as you’ve sanded and prepped the outside of the car. Maybe you really don’t care how your doorjambs look. Hardly anybody sees them. But to those who look, it reveals the big difference between an okay paint job and a really good one. Also, since they’re hard to get into and sand properly, especially around the hinge area which may have some paint-repelling lubricant on it, this is an area that is prone to improper preparation and the first place new paint will peel back off. If you care about such things, get in there and prepare it right.

Since you’re painting the door-jambs, remove the interior door panels, window frames (if any), and possibly the door glass at this stage. On older cars, removing the upholstered door panels is pretty simple. On newer cars, with power windows, power mirrors, stereo speakers, power locks, and who knows what else in the doors, it can get quite complicated. In such cases—not to mention removal and replacement of glass, body trim, “bumpers,” and other components—we strongly suggest that you purchase a factory shop manual for your specific year, make, and model of car. They can be expensive, but are well worth the time and frustration saved in many otherwise stupefying procedures.(Besides, valuable repair information is included, too.) If your car isn’t new enough to get one at your dealer’s parts counter, at least one auto specialty book-store—AutoBooks, 3524 W. Magnolia Bl., Burbank, CA 91505; 818/845- 0707—carries many in stock, can order what’s available new, and has sources for older volumes.

One way to proceed from here is to prepare and paint the doorjambs, hood and trunk areas first and let them dry a full day. Then close the doors, hood, and trunk, scuff any overspray off the outside surface around them, and paint the whole outside of the car. Some painters like to “backtape” the openings so over-spray won’t get into the jambs and other areas—in fact, there’s a special “round” type of tape for this purpose. But if you’re going to color sand the car, the overspray in these areas easily sands off in the process.

 

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After one coat on the exterior, he opens the doors and hood and sprays inside, being sure to get down under the bottoms of the doors.

After one coat on the exterior, he opens the doors and hood and sprays inside, being sure to get down under the bottoms of the doors.

 

On the Stingray, he had to tilt up the pre-masked headlights and spray the otherwise hidden areas.

On the Stingray, he had to tilt up the pre-masked headlights and spray the otherwise hidden areas.

 

Areas that far too many painters miss or spray inadequately are inside the wheelwells and at the bottom of rocker panels. You really have to get down to see what you’re doing here, and you need good side lighting to do so.

Areas that far too many painters miss or spray inadequately are inside the wheelwells and at the bottom of rocker panels. You really have to get down to see what you’re doing here, and you need good side lighting to do so.

 

A basic rule of spray painting, especially with metallic colors (and definitely with an HVLP gun, as John is using), is that two even, thin coats are better than one thick one. The base coat dries quickly, and you can usually start your second go-around as soon as you have completed all the steps we have just shown for the first one. Note particularly how John is holding his gun parallel to the surface as he sprays, and how he holds the air hose (and his body) away from the freshly painted surface.

A basic rule of spray painting, especially with metallic colors (and definitely with an HVLP gun, as John is using), is that two even, thin coats are better than one thick one. The base coat dries quickly, and you can usually start your second go-around as soon as you have completed all the steps we have just shown for the first one. Note particularly how John is holding his gun parallel to the surface as he sprays, and how he holds the air hose (and his body) away from the freshly painted surface.

 

 Finally, to finish your first color coat, don’t forget the extra parts you have hanging or propped up nearby.

Finally, to finish your first color coat, don’t forget the extra parts you have hanging or propped up nearby.

 

Another basic rule of paint spraying is not to add more paint than you need, especially for a color coat that will be clear coated. The color you’re spraying and the color(s) you’re spraying it over will determine how many coats you need for complete, even coverage (on the outer surface as well as in the jambs, etc.). In this case two coats were plenty before John started laying on the clear coat, which, as you can see, goes on very glossy compared to the matte-finish base coat.

Another basic rule of paint spraying is not to add more paint than you need, especially for a color coat that will be clear coated. The color you’re spraying and the color(s) you’re spraying it over will determine how many coats you need for complete, even coverage (on the outer surface as well as in the jambs, etc.). In this case two coats were plenty before John started laying on the clear coat, which, as you can see, goes on very glossy compared to the matte-finish base coat.

 

Note the doors and hood are never fully closed in any of the photos. After a clear coat over the outside, John opens all hatches and sprays inside.

Note the doors and hood are never fully closed in any of the photos. After a clear coat over the outside, John opens all hatches and sprays inside.

 

Then he does it all again for a second full coat. With clear, it’s especially important to get full coverage in hard-to-see places like the wheelwells and lower body panels. You may have also noticed John keeps a clean rag tied around the top of his paint gun cup as insurance against any drips from the lid or vent hole. It’s a habit from siphon-cup days, but one drip can spoil a paint coat.

Then he does it all again for a second full coat. With clear, it’s especially important to get full coverage in hard-to-see places like the wheelwells and lower body panels. You may have also noticed John keeps a clean rag tied around the top of his paint gun cup as insurance against any drips from the lid or vent hole. It’s a habit from siphon-cup days, but one drip can spoil a paint coat.

 

After spraying the hood stripe with gloss black, John finished the job by color sanding and rubbing out the car and then reassembling everything. Even though the owner essentially built this car for resale, after addition of the correct wheel trim rings, he had it judged by the National Corvette Restorers’ Society, which gave it the prestigious Top Flight Award. Not bad, John!

After spraying the hood stripe with gloss black, John finished the job by color sanding and rubbing out the car and then reassembling everything. Even though the owner essentially built this car for resale, after addition of the correct wheel trim rings, he had it judged by the National Corvette Restorers’ Society, which gave it the prestigious Top Flight Award. Not bad, John!

 

There are two alternatives for paint jobs that aren’t getting rubbed out. One is to either paint the jambs, etc., first, let them dry, mask them off, then paint the outside of the car. Probably easier is to paint the outside of the car with every-thing shut; then sand any overspray off the jambs, etc., fully mask around them to keep overspray off the outside of the car, and paint them. But this leaves a tape edge around all the openings and door edges.

Here’s one trick for semi-lazy painters: sand and prep the whole car, including jambs, etc. Then shut every-thing, mask off the windows, and paint the outside, either in a 1-stage color you intend to rub out, or in base coat/clear coat. Let this dry. Then open doors, trunk, and so on, scuff down any over-spray in these areas, mask off the interior openings as necessary and the inside of the door glass (and whatever else needs masking), and spray the jambs, under the hood, and inside the trunk with a glossy, 1-stage paint the same color as the outside, that doesn’t need to be rubbed out. After that dries, close every-thing again, and color-sand and rub out the exterior. Any overspray from painting the jambs gets sanded off in the process. When you’re done and have cleaned up all the mess, you have a glossy outside, glossy jambs, and no tape lines.

The above method primarily pertains to metallic or metallic-with-pearl colors where you want a base coat/clear coat/rub out on the outside, but just a single-stage gloss paint with no rub out in the “hidden” areas. Of course, you could very well follow the same process using a base coat and clear coat on the jambs and other “inside” areas, but just not rub out the clear in these areas.

 

The All-at-Once

With so many colors being base coat/clear coat these days, the method most painters are using for this level of paint job is the one we illustrate here. In fact, it works fine for 1-stage or 2-stage paints; and it works equally well if you’re going to rub out just the outside, the out-side and the jambs, or just leave the whole thing glossy-as-sprayed. What we’re talking about, very simply (as you see in the photos) is to prep and sand everything, inside and out, mask every-thing that you don’t want paint on—glass, interior, engine, etc.—and then paint everything at the same time: the outside, the doorjambs, under the hood, under the trunk, or wherever else you might need to paint. Paint as many stages as your chosen type of paint requires. Then let it all dry overnight, masked, with the doors and other parts at least partially open. The accompanying photos show how it’s done.

With all bodywork finished and the whole vehicle sanded, the cleaning, masking, base coats, and clear coats all took less than half a day for our example. This particular Corvette restoration required some black stripes painted last—that’s the way the factory did it. Then everything was rubbed out, all the weatherstrip rubber and stuff like under-hood insulation was glued back in place, parts such as outside door handles, emblems, and bumpers were bolted back on, the inside door panels and sill strips were replaced, and it was done. You can do the same in your garage, and save several thousand bucks.

 

Written by Pat Ganahl and Posted with Permission of CarTechBooks

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