Custom Airbrushed Graphics on Nissan Altima
1) We start with a freshly body-worked, primed and wetsanded Nissan Altima courtesy of Juan’s Body Shop. Whether you’re into the sport compact scene or not, you gotta respect a guy that takes his time and does a good job. Seamlessly molded front and rear bumpers, nicely done. The plan is to give it a two tone paint job with a tribal style graphic separating the two colors. Our job is to design and apply the graphic to help transform this regular Altima into a custom painted, head turning, fire breathing, death dealing monster Altima. Or in other words, just another day at Sid Vicious Art & Airbrush.
Normally, I’d start by laying down the graphic color, taping out my graphic, back masking it, then spraying the two colors. But in this case, because my schedule is a bit hectic and the car was ready for basecoat, I stop in and simply run a divider line with some 1/4 in. blue fine line tape. I designed the graphic ahead of time in Corel Draw, so I knew where to run the line…or at least that’s what I’m saying anyways.
2) Would you look at that! I guess I did design it on paper first. CorelDraw can be an awesome tool for doing pre sketch work. Giving your customer a good idea of what the finished product will look like before you begin painting it, is a great way to set expectations and avoid misunderstandings. Making changes in Corel Draw is much easier than making changes in real life.
3) Juan sprayed the basecoats and we’re ready for graphics. There’s a couple different ways to get the design from paper to vehicle. One option is to take some measurements on the car, scale the vector file from Corel Draw to match, send it to the plotter and create a large vinyl stencil for each side of the car. However, when working with this size/style of graphic, I prefer to lay them out by hand with 1/4 & 1/8 in. blue fine line tape. This gives me more control over the design and better versatility to make “on the fly” adjustments for things like body lines and door handles.
4) I start by pulling the longest lines first. Always pull the full length of a line from start to finish. Using my original division line as a reference, I work from the front of the vehicle to the back and proceed to layout the entire graphic. A comfortable chair or stool on wheels really helps here but there are few spots where I know I’m going to have to take off my shirt and lift the car high above my head with one hand so I can layout certain lines just right. Be careful and lift with your legs.
5) Once my graphic is layed out in fine line tape on the drivers side, I trim everywhere the graphic overlaps with a new Xacto knife, then run 16 in. transfer tape across it and cut away the inside. After masking the rest of the car, this side would be ready to spray but if we did spray it, we’d get a nasty line going through our graphic from that original division line for the two tone. I use 400 grit sandpaper to feather the division line between the two colors until there’s no ridge at all. I should have done this before I started taping off the graphic but oh well, you live and learn…and rack up vast amounts of credit card debt.
6) I’ve run 18 in. masking paper down the length of the car over the graphic so I can trace the design in preparation for transferring to the other side.
7) Using a ball point pen at a 45 degree angle to the inside edges of the graphic where the tape is, I trace an outline of the graphic.
8) I lay the traced design on top of some foam padding and use a pounce wheel to trace it. I then tape the design (in reverse) to the passenger side of the car, being sure to line it up exactly as it is on the drivers side and use a pounce pad with blue chalk powder to transfer it to the car. (This technique is outlined in more depth in another tutorial so I won’t repeat it here.)
9) My daughter said it’s probably pixie dust but I’m guessing it’s the metallic flakes in the silver basecoat that you’re seeing flying through the air here. Don’t be a hero, wear a respirator!
10) We skipped a few steps here. After spraying the silver basecoat and letting it dry, I used 1/8 in. blue fine line and masked around the inside edge of the graphic to give it an edge. I then sprayed 3 good coats of HOK Pagan Gold Kandy over the graphic and after it was dry, unmasked everything. Ready for clear coat.