Airbrushed Hood on Custom Firebird


1) Here is our canvas, a 2004 white Pontiac Firebird. The owner has installed vinyl graphics on the hood and sides of the vehicle and is now wanting to replace those vinyl graphics with some airbrushed awesomeness. He’d like a black and white shaded Firebird graphic on the hood that’s closer in style to the original 80’s Firebird graphic but with an updated feel to it. He’d also like to see what his vehicle would look like with some flames on the sides and a rear spoiler. He doesn’t want anything too extreme, just a good solid graphic that’s a step up from what he has now. Well guess what? He’s come to the right place!


2) I snag a quality reference pic of the original 80’s design from Google Images and do a pencil sketch of how I want the main outline/shape of the new graphic to look.  To save time, I draw only the left half of the image, scan it into Corel Draw, duplicate it, mirror it and then merge the duplicate with the original. (You’ll find the Corel Draw tutorial Here) A few thing to keep in mind: First, I already have a good idea of how I’m going to paint this, before I even start drawing. I.e., I know I’m going to mask the hood with transfer tape and use a projector to trace the image on the hood. So I don’t spend time adding a lot of detail to the sketch, all I need is a good dark outline. Second, I’ve added a 1/4 in. outline to the body and wings (not pictured) to give the graphic some depth and punch. If I just left it as plain basic shapes, I’d end up with a plain basic graphic not much more exciting then the original vinyl graphic he already had…and I ain’t goin out like that!


3) Imported a pic of the car into Corel Draw, added some subtle flames and a rear spoiler. (You’ll find the tutorial for this Here) The owner wants the hood graphic to fill the entire hood, doing that with this particular design is going to visually “weigh down” the front of the car and give it an overall unbalanced look, especially with the ram air hood. An ideal design here would be something more complementary to the existing shapes and lines. You can see how the original vinyl design actually “flows” with the shape of the hood a little better. In an effort to counteract the unbalanced effect we’re going to get with our new larger graphic, I’ve faded the flames away from the front of the car. This pulls some of that weight from the hood and shoots it back towards the rear. Or at least that’s what I’m telling myself.

I go over the design and layout with the owner, settle on a price and a time frame, collect the down payment and it’s off to work…


4) The owner has decided to do only the hood at this point. It is removed, washed with soapy water and rinsed. The entire top of the hood is wet sanded with 600 grit sandpaper, being especially careful on the edges and scoops not to sand through the clear coat. To ensure good, lasting paint adhesion, it’s important to take your time here and get a nice even sanding throughout. It’s a little more difficult on a white hood to see the small areas you may have missed. View it from different angles and look for any spots that still have a glossy reflection. Once you’re confident you’ve done a bang up job, wash and rinse everything again and then dry it thoroughly, using an air gun to push water from seams and cracks.

Once it’s completely dry, I cover nearly the entire hood with 15 in. transfer tape.


5) Lights out! I use an Artograph projector to project the design to the hood and then I trace over it with a sharpie marker. You can now see the 1/4 outline on the wings as well. After I’m done tracing, I turn on the lights BEFORE I move the projector to check for any areas I may have missed. If I did miss any areas, lights back off, projector is still lined up, and I trace the missing areas. If I need to make any changes after the trace is complete, I’ll use a different color marker to draw the new lines. This makes it easier to keep track of which lines to cut when the time comes.

Because I’m perfect, I didn’t miss any lines here and I don’t need to make any changes. Let’s cut this thing…


6) I use an Xacto knife with a brand new #11 blade to cut out the design. I use just enough pressure to cut through the transfer tape but not so much pressure that I cut into the clear coat. This will take some practice. Never try to cut out the entire design in one fowl swoop. I start with a small section of the wing, cut that out and then check my work by trying to peel up the tape. The edges of the tape should lift clean and easy, and there should be no score marks underneath in the clear coat. Once I know I’ve got the right pressure, I continue cutting, checking my work every third wing segment or so. Don’t be afraid to use several new blades to cut something out but do be afraid of  dying from boredom while you cut it out.


7)  Done cutting…that Xacto knife can suck it. I remove the inner portions only of the tongue, the body and the wings, mask any exposed areas of the hood and then spray in a light/medium grey base with a touch-up gun. Note: On this project I’ve just thrown away the masking I removed. I don’t plan on using it later and if I do run into a situation where It would have been nice to have it, the shapes and curves on this design are simple enough that I could use a freehand shield instead, if I needed to.


8.) Keeping it quick and conservative, I used a darker grey to add some simple shading to the inside of the wings and body of the bird.


9) Satisfied with the shading, I then remove the masking on the head and the border around the wings and body, to reveal the white beneath. At this point there is still a 1/4 in. border masked around the body of the bird. You can see this better in the finished photo below.

I switch to a lighter shade of grey (lighter then the base coat I initially used) and start to lightly fog it in on the exposed white areas. The only shading I do is a quick fade from the tips of the wings inward.


10) All masking is removed, revealing an audacious new Firebird graphic strutting it’s stuff in full effect! Off to clear coat.

To find out how long this project took, what it cost to do it and how much you should charge for it..Click Here. If you are not a Member, you will need to Register (FREE) in order to view it.

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