Saturday, 30 September 2006 10:00

Putting graphics on a big rig

Written by Rich Evans

One project that has brought me a lot of recognition, and was most rewarding as well, has to be the Meguiar's big rigs. At the Super Chevy Show in 2002, I displayed one of my skulled out trucks which caught the attention of Meguiar's driver John. He later approached me and explained that Meguiar's had just recently purchased two new big rigs and were looking for the right person to lay down the custom graphics. Mike Kennedy of Meguiar's asked me for an estimate or quote for the job - typical procedure for a paint shop. 

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The beginning of this enormous project -- truck and trailer sanded down with 800 grit wet sand paper.
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Both trucks were supposed to be black, but one arrived painted a bright white.

However, this particular job presented a lot of challenges and I really wanted to do it. So I boldly said something like: "Why mess with an estimate? Just tell me the budget you are willing to work with and I'll do the project." Of course, if I had known what an overwhelming task this project was about to become, I probably wouldn't have been so enthusiastic to take it on. Nevertheless, it remains one of my most memorable jobs.

To start things off, I was told that I would be receiving two black rigs and all I would have to do is prep them and apply the custom graphics. Unfortunately for me, only one arrived black and the other was a bright new white. So I was obviously going to have to paint the second rig black before starting on the graphics.

After masking and prepping the white rig, I painted the roof black, then clearcoated it so that I would be able to mask and cover the roof with a canopy. Being careful to cover my feet with plastic and masking paper and working my way from front to back, I put on a good black base. Now I was caught up to the starting point.

As with all my projects, I then began breaking down the vehicles, removing the smaller parts such as hoods, bumpers, and doors to be completed in the spray booth.

Fortunately, I have an extremely large facility at my disposal which has always been more than adequate for all the projects in progress at any given time, but there was no way these rigs were going to fit inside my building, let alone a spray booth. They were going to have to stay outside for the duration of the project and I couldn't allow weather to be a factor. With new challenges, it may become necessary to invent a new system to complete the job So I sat down and mapped out how I was going to go about completing these two behemoths. Knowing that the rigs were going to have to be done almost completely outside, I had to research what amount of spraying I was going to be allowed to do out in the open.

Rich tip: Every locale is different, so check with your local authorities before spraying any paint products outside.

To complete the temporary work space, we took off for a shopping spree at Home Depot to purchase PVC piping, pipe cutters, joints and canopies. My idea was to build a roof over the rigs and use the PVC piping as a frame for the canopies to protect the rigs from the sun, wind and rain. I tied the canopies down to anchors and bowed the ends to allow moisture and rain to flow down, over and away from the surface, rather than letting it collect on the top and possibly ruining my finish.

It was still necessary to paint the remainder of the white rig. With such a large area to paint, I was going to have to change my usual system for spraying. It was obvious that I wasn't going to be able to start at one end, have a continual spray all the way to the front and then back and forth again from top to bottom. No way - it was just too big.


Since these trailers were made up of several panels riveted together, my plan was to spray from left to right, top to bottom - one 4 ft. by 15 ft. panel at a time.

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The weather in southern California is usually mild, but It was necessary to build a canopy over the semi to protect it from the elements.
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The artist's rendering provided a starting point for creating the final design, but Meguiar's wanted it to be "cooler." Evans obliged.

I just went from panel to panel all the way down the sides of these trailers. I worked from the rear to the front end as I started top to bottom on one panel, then moved the scaffolding down and started the next panel bottom to top. I also overlapped about 1-1/2 feet into the previous panel to prevent as much dry area as possible. In total, I sprayed about eight coats of clear on the trailer.

The rest of the parts were prepared for painting in the spray booth.

Apart from filtering out VOCs, spray booths are used to prevent contamination from all the dirt in the atmosphere.

Rich tip: A trick to keeping the dirt on the ground and away from the paint job is to throw plenty of water on the ground. This keeps the dirt and other particles down on the floor and a lot of painters still use this technique - even inside a spray booth. If you don't have a downdraft booth, that is. Using about six feet of the leftover PVC pipes, I fabricated a water hose fitting to it. Then I drilled holes along the PVC pipe, making a type of "poor man's" sprinkler system, which I placed all along the underside of the rigs to give a continuous water supply keeping the floor nice and wet. This actually worked well in keeping the dirt and other deposits off the surface while I was spraying the different basecoats and clearcoats.

Simple steps like sanding, basecoating, prepping and tacking are normally quick and easy steps in the process, but with two huge trucks and trailers to deal with, basecoating an entire truck and trailer could easily take 8 to 12 hours. I always pre-clean my surfaces between steps, so wiping down these rigs takes a lot of time in itself.

Commencing the graphics

With the two rigs masked, sanded with 800, and prepped for spraying, we were ready to start with our graphics. Meguiar's provided a "close" artist rendering of the proposed graphics. Kennedy explained that Meguiar's wanted to stay close to the rendering, but wanted a cool factor added in. To accommodate this, slight changes were made in the final design to flow better with the trucks.

Next task was to lay out the flame graphics on the trucks and trailers. Flames are usually pretty simple, but it is a lot harder to get a nice smooth flow in your layout when you have to climb up and down scaffolding.

Rich tip: Use wider masking tape for larger projects. We started out by using 3/4" masking tape to lay out the flames. Once we got the lines and spacing the way we wanted, we went back in with 1/4" 3M vinyl tape to do the final layout of the flames.

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Here is the freehand flame design with computer- plotted vinyl layout of the Meguiar's logo. It can be difficult to get a nice smooth flow in your flame layout when you have to climb up and down scaffolding to apply graphics.
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Though this is only the first of several articles, here is sneak peak at the finished product. Put on your sunglasses!

Computer-assisted design

For all the different logos, graphics and lettering that went on the rigs, we used a computer with Adobe Illustrator and our vinyl plotter software, with a computerized vinyl cutter. The cost of these software programs and hardware devices can add up real quick and give you some sticker shock, but they can save hundreds of man-hours that are worth a lot more than the few bucks up front.

It's possible, of course, to complete the job without any of these state-of-the-art tools, but who knows how much longer it would have taken. Once you get the hang of the Illustrator programs, things just seem to fly. We needed a very precise rendering of the Meguiar's and Car Crazy logos that we could reproduce at any size on the fly if necessary. If you've been wanting to get a vinyl cutter to help with your paint shop, look at spending about $3,000 for a new cutter with software included. However, there are always deals out there, so it wouldn't hurt to look around

Since this project was complicated with so many steps, this article is split into parts. Next I'll explain in further detail about the flame layout, the vinyl plotter and the steps involved in painting the flames along with the airbrushing involved.

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 spe.cial techniques to other industry professionals. For more information about Evans, visit www.huntingtonbeachbodyworks.com.