Saturday, 25 August 2012

Airbrushing . . . A beginners perspective.

I see a lot of questions on various forums from people who want to have a go at painting their own body shells but don't know how to go about it.
I am still something of a novice but I enjoy painting my own shells so I thought I would share some of my limited experience in an attempt to help anyone that fancies giving it a go. 
This is how I went about a simple paint job on my Cougar SV2 shell.

The first job is to decide on the design. I decided on something flamey, as I often do.
I then freehand the design onto the outside of the shell with a sharpie marker.
I make lots of amendments at this stage and use a meths soaked tissue to remove my plentiful errors.

On this design I used a red and a black marker to help me identify the different coloured flames I intended to paint.

When I am happy with the design I mask the inside of the shell. For this I use a liquid mask. I apply 3 coats of this with a small sponge allowing each coat to dry before applying the next. Once dry I am left with a green tinted clear rubbery coating. This is easy to cut with a craft knife or scalpel and, because it is almost transparent, it is also easy to follow my pre-drawn design.

Don't feel like you must have liquid mask to be successful. I have painted many shells using good old fashioned masking tape. It's just a little more fiddly to mask up and a bit trickier to see the design when cutting.
Liquid mask also helps achieve nice crisp lines.

Time to break out the airbrushes.
I have a couple of airbrushes. For solvent based paints I use a £15 ebay special with a 0.3 nozzle but for the thicker water based paints such as Createx and Faskolor I use an Iwata Revolution with a 0.5mm nozzle.
The Createx paints seem to vary in thickness from colour to colour and the tricky part for me is thinning to the correct consistency and selecting the most effective air pressure. Experience and practice are the best teachers in this area but I find 30-40 psi to be in the right ballpark.
I always have a little practice squirt onto some scrap material (many painters use an empty soft drink bottle) before I point the brush at a shell.

The traditional approach is then to cut and paint the darkest area 1st followed by the next darkest and so on finishing with the lightest. This way each proceeding coat of paint doesn't affect the last. This rule of thumb can however be ignored in order to achieve certain paint effects but these are best attempted once a little more experience is gained.

For this particular shell I was using some chrome paint that needs backing with a black acrylic.

I use a hairdryer between coats to help cure the paint which helps to get the job done in one session.
Chrome done and backed it's time to get to work with the scalpel and remove the liquid mask from the next area to be painted, flo pink was next.

The flo pink works best when applied lightly, but evenly, and then backed with opaque white.

It's then a question of being patient and methodical. Carefully cut and remove proceeding sections of mask and paint with the appropriate colour. If you feel the colour may be affected by the next then back with white before moving on.
This is where it's handy to have another brush ready to go charged with white paint.

Remember to clean your brush between colours. I have a quick release on my airlines to help with this.
Acrylics, as opposed to solvent based paints, are great as the brush can just be given a rinse through with luke warm water.

The final colour is usually the lightest colour, nearly always white. I coat the whole of the inside of the shell with white. It makes for a neat finish and helps the colours stand out.

The last thing I do before removing the window masks is to apply a coat of 'Plasti-Kote' clear enamel. On electric cars this isn't strictly necessary but it helps make the finish a little more durable. On gas cars however it is a must as the enamel acts as a barrier from the paint eating nitro fuel that will destroy your beloved paint job in no time. 

And here it is, the finished article.
I am very far from being an expert but, as you can see, with a little time and patience I am able to produce a very reasonable looking shell that will look good on the grid of any race. It won't make me any faster but it feels like it does!

I do from time to time attempt more technical paint jobs, sometimes they work out and sometimes they don't. You will make mistakes but practice is the key and the more paint you shoot the more competent you will become.
If you do make a mistake do not despair, the chances are that by the time you are finished it will not be as noticeable as you think.
Even if it is, well the kit came with a big sheet of stickers didn't it?
Use them wisely grasshopper.

As I have already said I am no expert but if you have any questions get in touch and I will do my best to give you an answer, or at least point you to a place you can get one.

So next time you see me on track instead of driving through me remember the blood sweat and tears I shed painting my shell and treat me kindly.


  1. great blog as always and given me the temptation to do one myself. can you do it with cans not airbrushes? i guess you can, althou pricey for a many colour shell.

    1. Thanks. Cans can work well for straight forward paint jobs. You are right though, more colours equals more dosh!