Wednesday, 02 May 2007 04:07

Careful sanding and attention to detail make custom painting on chrome a possibility

Written by Rich Evans
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 The finished rim.

    One of the easiest ways to customize any vehicle is with a new set of rims. In recent years it has become popular to purchase rims with centers that match your paint and a nice chrome finish on the lip of the rim.
    If the style or brand of rim is not offered with a painted center or if the color of the center is not what you want, custom painting is the solution. Whether you choose to customize a particular set of rims on the market or decide to enhance rims you already own, both can be prepped and painted. A recent customer wanted black centers and airbrushed skulls on the center caps of his brand new set of rims, and the following steps describe how this was accomplished.




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Sand with caution
    Painting rims can be tricky at times because the chrome needs to remain intact on the lip of the wheel, so it cannot be sanded. The solution is to mask off your design and then wet sand the centers with 800-grit sandpaper. We did this with our customer’s rims and took care to sand right up to the edge of the masking. A common mistake people make in this step of the procedure is to blindly sand away without taking time to double-check the sanded area.
    When you sand over a pre-masked design, the sandpaper is at an angle since the tape is slightly higher than the surface area near the edge. This can become a big problem when the masking is peeled off after painting since the edges are not completely sanded and this will cause lifting. To sidestep this problem, we usually unmask the rims and then mask them again. Make sure that the masked edge meets up with the sanded edge. This is a must because the wet sanding may destroy the nice clean edge.
Clean and degrease
    To begin with, on this particular set of rims, we started by cleaning and degreasing the entire set. We were fortunate enough to have a brand new set of rims to work with, so this step wasn’t very hard. The hard part was to be very careful not to nick or scratch the chrome and ruin a brand new $1,500 rim.
    This set of rims was for a truck, so the dishes were fairly deep. The customer wanted the spokes of the rims painted black to match his truck. After cleaning the rims, we began by masking around the outside of the spokes with 3M fine-line tape. Then we masked off the rest of the rim with regular 3M masking tape and repeated this step with each rim.
Mask over protective cover on new rims
    Since these rims were brand new, they came with a protective plastic ring that covered the lip of the rim. I left this on and masked over it to protect the rim just in case it was bumped. I then grabbed some 800-grit wet sandpaper and a bucket of water. I usually add a few drops of dishwashing liquid to the water. This makes the sandpaper last longer and helps it cut faster. Most dishwashing detergents also remove grease, so this keeps the surface clean.
    For the back of each rim we used 600-grit sandpaper, since the back is usually a rougher surface than the front. We made sure to sand right up to the edge and when finished we unmasked each rim and masked it again with 3M fine-line tape and regular masking tape. {mospagebreak}
Ready for the paint
    After the sanding was complete, the rims were ready to be painted. We cleaned, degreased, and tacked each rim again. Then we set them up in the booth so that we could spray both the front and back of each rim at the same time.
    As our sealer and to help with adhesion, we used a black non-sanding epoxy primer, mixed 2:1:1. Then we used three coats of black basecoat and three coats of clear.
    The center caps were also airbrushed with House of Kolor Orion Silver and Huntington Beach Bodyworks stencils sold by  Kustom Shops. The talented Bob Iverson made pinstripes on the lip of the rim to hide the edge of the painted surface. This also helps to prevent lifting over time while on the road.
Sand and prep step most important
    That was a complete guide to custom painting your own set of rims. This type of project stressed the importance of a complete sand and prep. This is something that everyone with any kind of painting experience should already know, but it is particularly important when custom-painting rims or anything chrome since it is such a hardened smooth surface to begin with. The sanding steps are highlighted and more important than ever in a job like this.
    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. Evans released a signature line of custom wheels, each unique design a reflection of his trademark style. The wheels are  available nationwide. For more information, visit www.huntingtonbeachbodyworks.com.