Monday, 15 January 2007 06:48

Using autobody painting techniques to apply graphics to a speedboat

Written by Rich Evans

While working on a radically custom '56 Chevy Hardtop called the Black Knight, I called upon Todd Oneal of Bassani Exhaust to collaborate with me on a very extreme exhaust system.

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 The starting point for this project was a design by boat owner Todd Oneal.

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 After applying several layers of white base coat, the graphic design is laid out.

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Needless to say, I owed him a big favor and - here's where the boat comes in - he called in the favor for a restoration and paint job on his Sanger hull speedboat. We don't do very many speedboats at Huntington Beach Bodyworks, but as I happen to have one myself, I knew my way around it. Our task was to repair the cracks in the hull, remove the old graphics, and apply the new custom graphics that Oneal had designed.

Before delivering the boat to the shop, Oneal removed all the hardware including the engine. This boat had seen better days. There were a lot of cracks in the hull and the old stripes were going to have to go. We started by sanding off the old lines with 36 grit sand paper. For the smaller cracks we "V"d them out with a folded up piece of 36 grit sand paper to sand the cracks themselves.

A die grinder was used for the deeper cracks. After blowing out the cracks, fiberglass matting and smoothed out resin were applied over the top of it for the deep cracks. Smaller, shallower cracks can be corrected with either Kitty Hair or Duraglass. For all the little chips and nicks, standard Polly Putty 417 made by Evercoat was used. We then feathered out the repairs with an 80 grit DA sander and finished with a block to make sure our surface was true and straight, because the block never lies.

Even after the boat was completely sanded down with 80 grit, there were still a lot of cracks that had to be repaired before moving on to spraying. The boat stayed on its trailer so it could be moved around more easily. The wheels and fenders were removed once it was in the booth for easier access.

More preparation was necessary as the trailer was masked off, making sure that the tape was well tucked under the bottom of the boat. The boat was masked just under the bottom edge so it would look natural when it was sitting in the water or on the trailer itself.

Rich tip: Made sure that all masking is tidy and taped securely to the ground and to the trailer. You don't want it to fly up into the finish while spraying.

After a little wipe down and tacking, applying sealer is next. First apply a quick coat of non-sanding epoxy sealer to help with coverage and adhesion. For my sealer, I used PPG's Non-Sanding Epoxy Primer - mixed with two parts primer, one part catalyst, and one part DT885 reducer.

Rich tip: Always test the mixture on a spray card before applying to any vehicle just to be sure the mixture is correct and free of any possible contamination.

This being a "non-sanding" epoxy primer, go right into spraying the PCL Polyprimer, which is a Hi-Fill polyester primer surfacer that is mixed by the quart with a catalyst and is not reduced. This is going to create the surface of the project and is what will be sculpted in the block sanding stages.

The epoxy primer and polyprimer stages are where you can really make a mess of your project by not mixing to exact measurements and laying down coats that are too wet. If you use too much or too little catalyst in either primer, it won't dry as fast or will dry too fast. So mix exactly as the instructions on the can direct you. Also, remember to take your time.

We chose to lay down three heavy coats of polyprimer. After it was completely dry, we applied a black guide coat and then blocked the boat with 80 grit. We started with a long block first, then moved to different sized blocks for different areas on the boat.

More sealer and three more coats of polyprimer were applied, along with another black guide coat, then blocked again with 150 grit. At this point, it was a good time to tear off old masking and apply some new tape and paper. Once more, we sprayed another black guide coat and wet sanded with 400 grit and a block.

After the wet sanding, the boat was as straight as an arrow and we sprayed a quick coverage coat of white epoxy primer (PPG DP48) and then three coats of House of Kolor white.

Rich tip: A system I use involves spraying three coats when spraying basecoats. In case a repair or touch up needs to be done, I know exactly how many layers of paint I have to work with.


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One could almost get lost in the water with this shiny ocean blue color applied first. 

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 A different view of the speedboat after the blue coats have been sprayed. Notice the masking around the bottom of the boat for protection.

Applying the graphics

Now it's time to apply the custom graphics to the boat. Oneal had given us a conceptual drawing of the paint scheme with several different perspectives of the boat. He had also given us one of the seats to use to match our colors. To apply the graphics I brought in one of our graphic and airbrush artists, Johnny Sotelo.

Almost every graphic or flame job starts the same way - laying the centerline down the middle of the boat with 3M 1/8 inch blue vinyl tape. The appropriate size for laying down the centerline is 1/8 inch because, even though the centerline is the backbone of the graphic layout, it isn't really part of the design itself. We will be modifying it as the graphics overlap and the less tape to cut away the better.

Sotelo started by laying out the largest color first - which in this case happened to be House of Kolor Majik Blue Pearl Basecoat. The graphics in this design had a combination of subtle curves and sharp ninety degree turns. With the normal curves we just laid them out with the blue vinyl tape, being careful not to stretch the tape, because it will always shrink back and the graphic will have to be done over again. Where the ninety degree turns happen - and where the graphics overlap, it is necessary to layout one graphic over the other with separate pieces of vinyl tape.

Usually the graphic that's going to be on top is laid down first. So with a lot of overlapping graphics, you should have the top graphic laid out on the bottom and the graphics furthest to the bottom should be laid out on top. This will make more sense when spraying the graphics and you begin peeling them away one by one. Since the last graphic to be sprayed has been covered during the whole process, when peeled off, it will look like it's on top of all the others. When graphics overlap each other, some cutting on the surface will be needed. This can be an uncomfortable situation for someone who doesn't have a lot of experience in this technique.

First, grab an X-acto knife with a new blade.

Rich tip: I suggest using a blade for a short time, then replacing it. I go through a ton of blades on every project, but using fresh blades is why I never get a cut mark in my finish. If you cut with a dull blade, you will definitely cut into your basecoat - guaranteed.

Cutting the graphic

The technique used for cutting a graphic which comes to a point is the same as with all overlapping graphics and graphics with sharp corners. First you cut the bottom tape, using the top tape as a kind of straight edge and guideline. Then cut the top tape - not at the edge of the graphic, but in the middle of the tape, where it overlaps the bottom tape. Be extremely careful when cutting on any painted surface. You have to be like a surgeon with a scalpel - only cutting the layer of tape and not cutting deeper into the finish. If you do, you will get a gouge in your paint, which looks ugly and could also result in lifting problems later.

Rich tip: One trick I like is to use a straight razor blade by lying the sharp side along the cut I want to make. I hold the blade with one hand and with my other hand I pull the end of the tape up, causing it to cut itself as it's pulled away. This way I don't have to apply any pressure and risk cutting my finish. I try to use this technique as much as possible. Unfortunately, it only works on a flat surface and not on a curve. So where it curves you'll still have to cut with an X-acto knife. {mospagebreak}

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 After the blues are set and dried, the second color is sprayed.

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 The boat sparkles like a diamond after six layers of clear coat.

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 After some finishing touches, all this boat is missing is the open water.

Laying out the graphics

Start by laying out the left side of the boat. When all the graphics on that side were exactly the way we wanted them, we covered that left side with masking paper - aligning it with the centerline and making it contour to the body curves as neatly as possible. If the paper folds up anywhere, make it a clean crease. Cut off the fold with a sharp straight razor blade as close to the body as possible. Be careful not to cut into the fresh paint. Then use tape to piece it back together.

Next use a piece of colored chalk or crayon and rub over the flame layout, revealing the image on the masking paper. After removing the template from the boat, perforate the template by following the chalked design pattern with a pounce wheel - a small spiked wheel with a handle and can be purchased at arts and crafts stores. A better and faster tool is an electric pouncer that can be purchased at most sign shops.

Okay, it is time for the second half of the layout. Flip the template and place it on the other half of the boat, making sure to align it with the centerline, the previous layout, and any body panel markings made. After back masking the boat, wipe down the open layout and tack down.

Painting the graphics

After the first graphic is painted, we peel off the masking and the blue vinyl tape for the graphic just painted. The second graphic is already laid out, but it's not ready to paint. It's there to represent the next graphic, because unfortunately in this project, there is no pinstriping. So we have to lay down new blue vinyl and make sure it butts up evenly and smoothly to the second graphic. The good thing about laying out all the graphics on the first side at the same time, was not having to go through the whole time-consuming process of masking, perforating, and transferring each graphic. We just did it all in one shot to be sure to have a perfect mirror image on each side.

It was imperative to make sure that the tape was laid out as exactly as possible, because any overlapping would reveal white gaps between graphics. This is something that pinstriping usually covers up, but we had to follow the concept drawings we were given. If you take your time and pay attention, you should be fine.

The second graphic was House of Kolor Passion Pearl Basecoat. Follow all the same steps as the first graphic. The third graphic was a yellow dry pearl over House of Kolor Chrome Yellow. The last graphic was House of Kolor Tangelo Pearl Basecoat. Finally, we ended with airbrushing the Huntington Beach Bodyworks logo on the rear of the boat, as we do on all our projects.

Finishing up

Once everything was peeled, the trailer remasked, and any necessary touchups had been made, it was time to finish things up. I tacked, pre-cleaned, tacked again, and then gave everything a coat of intercoat clear, followed by six coats of clear. After the clear was dry, the color sanding and buffing began. I first gave it a quick cut with wet 600 grit on a block. Then I came back with 800, 1000, 1200, and 1500. With the buffer I used a 3M heavy compound with a #1 pad. Next I polished it off with 3M ebony polish and a gray waffle pad.

Patience is key

Through the spraying process for each graphic, I had to be very careful to not rush. Since there were no pinstripes going in this project, I had to keep the edges of the graphics as low as possible. There where a few very small spots of over spray to be touched up on the white, but in all the project went pretty smoothly.

Visit Huntingtonbeachbodyworks.com or Kustomshop.com to purchase the in-depth instructional 2-disc DVD of this project demonstrating how to proceed step-by-step to apply this type of graphic.

Rich Evans, owner of Huntington Beach Bodyworks in Southern California, is an award winning painter and fabricator. Currently he is offering workshops at his facility so he can share his special techniques to other industry professionals. For more information about Evans, visit www.huntingtonbeachbodyworks.com