Friday, 30 June 2006 10:00

Keys to getting the job done - creating graphics on vehicles

Written by Rich Evans

A few years ago my shop flamed a Corvette convertible. It was a black 'vette with yellow pearl flames. Recently a client, who saw the car in a show on the East Coast, wanted to buy the 'vette, but it had already been sold. He proceeded to purchase a 1998 Corvette convertible and have it shipped directly to my shop - Huntington Beach Bodyworks. 

When the 'vette finally arrived, we began by removing all the hardware - handles, moldings, splash guard, signals, markers, mirrors, rubber seals in the door jams, emblems, lights, and bumpers. We then gave the car a wash, masked off the windows and other areas not being painted, wet sanded with 800 grit sand paper, and pre-cleaned the surface. This project is getting a triple stage PPG paint job. The car was already factory black, but we wanted to give it a fresh coat.

The layout

To start any flame job, first lay down the centerline across the middle of the hood. There may already be a line going down the center of the hood, but if not, measuring will be required.

Now it's time for the creativity. Begin by laying out one half of the car with 1/8" 3M vinyl tape to come up with the actual design of the flame - classic, tribal, overlapping, or some off-the-wall style of flame. When you are happy with the design, take the time to check each line and curve to ensure it is exactly as you want it because it is a lot easier to fix at this point in the process.

Cover the design with masking paper, aligning it with the centerline and making it contour 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. Also mark out the wheel wells, door handles, and body gaps. After removing the template from the car, perforate the template by following the chalked design pattern with a pounce wheel. This tool looks like a small spiked wheel with a handle and can be purchased at almost any art store. An even better and faster tool is an electric pouncer that can be purchased from a sign shop.

Okay, now for the second half of our layout. Flip the template and place it on the other half of the vehicle. Make sure to align it with the centerline, the previous layout, and the body panel markings made, then back mask the car. Wipe down the open layout and tack down.

Ready for paint

Since these flames are going to be yellow on black, I recommend first laying down a white base to help with coverage. My choice is a white sealer, because it's quicker with coverage and gives extra protection against lifting during the unmasking process.

Next I lay down a Ferrari yellow pearl base. Usually I like to have the body panels off the car when painting, but with finishes such as pearls and candies it is necessary to have the car together or the panels won't match after assembly.

Now I intercept clear the car, wait for it to dry, and then call in my artist Terry Stephens to airbrush the shadows and highlights inside the flames to give a three dimensional, almost liquid look. After unmasking the car, touch up where necessary.

With the flames and touch-ups done, it is time to clear the car by pulling off the hood and bumpers. To make reassembly a breeze, before removing the hood, drill a hole through both hinges and mounting plates. During reassembly, I placed 1/8-inch dowels through the hinge, allowing me to replace the hood in the exact same position from which I removed it. This tip also saves hours of trial and error, trying to align the flames on the hood to the fenders.

The same technique was used with the doors. Once everything was placed on stands and in the booth, I pre-cleaned, tacked, and then gave everything a coat of intercept clear, followed by six coats of clear. After the clear dried, it was time for color sanding and buffing. First, I give it a quick cut with 600 grit, then come back with 800, 1000, 1200, and 1500. With the buffer I used a 3M heavy compound with a #1 pad, then polished it off with 3M ebony polish and a gray waffle pad.

One thing that made this project so easy was the template I still had from the original Corvette. It's a good idea to save the templates of graphics you create. You never know when you might need them again.

Everything is done now except the reassembly, but because of the 1/8-inch drilled holes and the dowels, it all bolts back together in perfect alignment. Now the 'vette is in for one last wash and ready to be shipped back to its owner.

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.