Custom Airbrushed Graphics on Nissan Altima

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.

Crystal’s Custom Cobalt with Airbrush Flames

1.) Washed, rinsed, dried and ready for action. This project is going to be a little bit unorthodox. It is going to be a classic flame job but instead of wetsanding everything, then painting the flames, then clear coating everything, I’m only going to scuff and clear where the actual flames will be. Doing it this way does have the potential to save a lot of time but it also has the potential to create some other issues, like a pretty thick paint edge.

2.) I start by measuring the hood width wise at the front and back then running a piece of 1/4 in. blue fine line right down the middle of the hood to get my center line. I always work from the center of the hood heading left over and around the fender and into the passenger door. I layout the flames using 1/8 in. blue fine line tape. Sometimes I’ll take a picture of the vehicle first, import it into Corel Draw and layout my flame pattern there, then print it out so I’ve got a good reference to follow as I lay them out in real life.

I pay special attention to make sure that every inch of tape is securely adhesived (It’s a word) to the body of the vehicle because I know I’m going to be scuffing right up against the edge of it. Once I have the flames laid out along the left side, I create a pounce pattern (Outlined here) to transfer the layout to the right side of the vehicle. I mask the positive shape of the top layer of flames and the negative shape of the bottom layer of flames with 16 in. transfer tape.

Remember, nothing has been prepped or sanded yet. I can’t very well wetsand with everything masked off, so I use several pieces or new Scotch Brite (Red. If the car were a darker color, I’d use the grey Scotch Brite) and start scuffing the exposed area of the flames. The most important step here is to make sure I get a good thorough scuff everywhere but especially right up alongside the edges of the tape because that’s the first place that paint/clear would likely lift from. I also use a Tack Rag constantly to wipe away the cleardust as I go.

3. After scuffing, I clean the surface with a wax and grease remover. I’ve decided to spray and then back mask for the pin stripe on these flames. I spray blue right along the edges of the top layer of flames and then purple along the edges of the bottom layer flames. Note: When you know you’re going to be doing a sprayed pinstripe like this, make sure you account for this extra 1/8 of an in. when you first layout your flames. If you don’t, you’ll end up with flames that look a bit too skinny. You can see the difference in the photo below. The grey flames look a little bit skinnier than the white flames do.

I run 1/8 in. blue fine line tape along the edges of both sets of flames to cover up the blue and purple I just sprayed. Then I spray a silver/grey metallic everywhere else. I remove the 1/8 in. blue fine line to reveal the new blue and purple pinstripe. Lastly, I finish with 3 coats of clear.

4.) This is the tricky part. I don’t want the clear to dry fully in place with everything still masked off. I carefully remove all the masking as soon as possible to give the clear coat a better chance to settle and flatten out around the edges. This is another good reason to keep your shop clean, you don’t want to be kicking around dust while you’re unmasking near fresh clear coat.

All in all, doing it this way did save some time/material and it’s nice to have my pinstripe protected under the clear. Not something I’d do on every job but a nice option to consider if you don’t have the tools/space/resources available to re-clear almost the entire car.

5.) I love the dual layer flame look and yes, that is a 1990 Dodge Grand Caravan with a faux painted, carbon fiber, custom made ram air hood you see parked behind the Cobalt. Sid Vicious baby!

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Abraham’s Custom Cutlass Lowrider with Airbrush Graphics

Custom Cutlass with Airbrush Graphics

1.) Our project begins with a freshly painted black Oldsmobile Cutlass. The owner would like to add some lowrider style graphics to the sides, roof, trunk and hood of the vehicle. I take a pic of the side of the vehicle, the hood and the trunk.  I’m going to be using a plotter to cut some of the graphics, I  take key measurements on the car so that I can scale it correctly when I start working in Corel Draw. For example, I measure the height and width of the door, let’s say it’s 20″ x 40″. This will make more sense in the next step.

2.) I import my pics into Corel Draw and enlarge them as necessary so that the measurements I took in real life, match up with my measurements now in Corel. I.e., make sure the door measures 20″ x 40″. (Click Here for the full Corel Draw Tutorial. Coming soon.) I always print a plain outline of the vehicle on copy paper so that I can sketch out my design in pencil first. You could certainly do the whole thing in Corel, but It’s easier for me to draw what I want in pencil first and then when I’m happy with the design, scan it back into Corel and trace it there. That way I’ve got a digital copy I could modify for potential use on a future project.

After going over some options with the owner of the vehicle, we decide on these charcoal grey metallic graphics and ornate scroll work.

3.) While the car was being wetsanded in preparation for the upcoming graphics, I cut out the more detailed parts of my design on Gerber Masking Material with a 24 in. Vinyl Cutter/Plotter. This is a huge time saver and ever since I got the cutter, I’ve used it on almost every project.  Although, I stayed away from trying to cut out the side graphics on this project for a couple of reasons. First, the side graphics are going to closely contour the lines of the body, especially around the wheel wells, it’s hard to get this exactly right unless you do it by hand. Secondly, it may look nice on the printout but often I’ll change and add to the design as I go to account for the larger spacing between the graphics that I’ll have on the actual vehicle.

4.) Juan’s Body Shop handled the prep on the Cutlass and we’re ready to begin!

5.) I layout all of the major lines for the side graphics in 1/4 in. green fine line tape first. To make this easier I stretch a thin piece of string, taped tight at each end, along the body from the front to the back to get my main center line. Now I’ve got a good reference point that I can take measurements from as needed. I use a white Stabilo pencil or a small piece of tape wherever I need to mark a measurement on the car. For the center graphic, I run a piece of 2 1/2 in. masking tape down the middle first, then run 1/2 in. masking tape on each side of that and then run 1/4 in. green fine line tape on both sides of that. I remove the 2 1/2 in. tape and now have a consistent width for the entire center graphic.

I constantly step back and away from the vehicle so that I can get a good look at the whole design and make sure everything is lining up and looking straight.

6.) I measure to get my centerline on the roof and then measure an equal distance away from the centerline on each side to create the space between the racing stripes/graphics going acroos the top of the roof here. I use some of the pre-cut stencils I created earlier to mark the front and back of the roof graphic.

7.) Then all I have to do is run masking tape from the front to the back on both sides. Nice and easy.

8.) Finished laying out the graphics on the roof, hood and trunk.  Positioned the scroll work stencils in the middle of the graphics then used 16 in. clear matte transfer tape to mask the rest of the graphics off. You can see the reflection of light off the clear matte transfer tape in the photos. I didn’t use clear matte for any specific reason, it’s just what I happened to have on hand and I like how it’s a little less adhesive then the opaque transfer tape I usually use.

9.) Masked off for the most part and ready to break out the airbrush. I always prefer to have too much masking then not enough, especially when spraying  metallics, they get everywhere.

10.) I use a roll of 2 in. lace as a loose stencil for adding detail to the center graphic. I tape down both ends of the lace and spray at around 10 psi to prevent it from flipping around too much. The key to making it look good is to keep your airbrush at a perfect 90 degree angle to the lace, use as few strokes/passes as possible for your paint coverage and only work with about a 12 in. section at a time. You can see how the lace is pulled pretty tight but there will be places (left side of left picture) where I’ll need to hold it down with my left hand to keep it centered between my graphic while I’m spraying with my right hand.

11.) Unmasked and ready for clear.

12.) Hood.

13.) Always tough not to get a glare on black. (Better pictures coming soon.)

14.) Finished.

To find out what I’d charge to do a job like this and how long it took to do it, click here-> custom Cutlass airbrush graphics. This is Members Only content so you will need to Login to view it. If you’re not a member already, you can Register for FREE.

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Mike’s Custom Corvette Airbrush Flames and Airbrush Fire

Mike’s Custom Corvette Airbrush Flames and Airbrush Fire

1.) This is a real treat, we’re starting with a beautiful Corvette that’s in great condition. The Owner of this classic ride has ordered a complete repaint with a side of custom airbrushing. He’s already done a lot of the pre-work disassembly for us, removing things like chrome trim, marker lights, emblems etc. This is a smart move on his part as the neighborhood is a little shady and rare, original emblems sometimes have a way of “disappearing” and ending up on EBAY. Unfortunate but true.

I always remove and disassemble as much as possible to give me comfortable access to all the nooks, crannies and hard to reach areas of a vehicle. Anywhere that water would be able to get to, I want to be able to get to. The more thorough you are at this stage in the game, the better the quality of paint job you’ll end up with. Note: Label everything! This car may be in the shop for a month or longer and although I may be an arrogant, conceited, attractive bastard that thinks he has a photographic memory, I’m not stupid. If you take the time to label everything now as you disassemble, it’s going to save you a lot of pain and headache when you’re ready to re-assemble. Especially if there’s more than 1 person on a project.

Have you ever sat staring at a finished project, holding 2 small bolts in your hand, scratching your head, wondering: “Where the hell do these go?” Yes? I thought so. That happened because you thought you were smarter then God and you didn’t  label anything.

2a.) This is the catalyst that prompted the repaint, (backed into by another driver) it’s a job in itself and the perfect starting point for this project.  The key to a good, strong, permanent fiberglass repair, is getting down to the raw fiberglass material and working your way up from there. On the surface, this didn’t look like much of a hit but once the paint was sanded down, the real extent of the damaged was revealed. It wasn’t life threatening, but it did require some special attention. Use a combination of hand sanding, die grinder, DA Sander and even a flat head screwdriver to remove the paint and get down to the fiberglass. Sandwich in new fiberglass mat from the front and the back, covering 6 to 8 inches around the damaged area in all directions. Apply several layers and once dry, use Kitty Hair (short strand fiberglass) to fill and smooth over as needed. Finish up with a light layer of body filler.

2b.) Doors and hood are removed, the interior and engine bay are masked in preparation for the upcoming body work. The front bumper cover is removed. It was semi sun warped and is being replaced with an updated composite version that does not warp. A front lip is also being added.

3a.) The collision repair is in full swing, you can see where the damage/repair on the upper part of the rear deck lid extended well into the middle of the car. I constantly compare and measure this side with the original undamaged side to make sure they are identical. Tip: Create a template of what the body should look like at different angles by holding a piece of poster board up against the rear or side corner of the body and tracing the profile. Then you can cut it out and match it up exactly with the other side.

3b.) Bodywork has begun. The whole car gets a once-over with 220 grit sandpaper and a DA. This is going leave major sand scratches but they will be filled and covered when I spray the primer. I don’t want to sand off all the existing paint, it was in pretty good shape and I would be hard pressed to get a better seal/adhesion then what’s already on there.  The fiberglass on these Vette’s are like a sponge. They really soak up solvents, oil and other contaminants so the less raw fiberglass that get’s exposed, the better. The exception to this was of course on the back corner where the damage was.

The composite bumper cover has been prepped and installed. We’re going to try and eliminate the seam where it connects to the car and achieve a nice smooth look, by filling it with a non-shrinking, sandable adhesive.

4a.) Are the 20 in. rims too much? Pulled the car out and tried these on for fun, they just barely fit.

4b.) After being prepped, all the individual parts are hung and sprayed with 3 coats of 2K filler primer. The paint booth may look ghetto but trust me it does the job. Right above the back door there is a killer 16 in. Dayton Explosion Proof Fan that pushes air like nobody’s business. There are 16 large gerbils running on a wheel inside that fan to keep things going smooth.  Keep your paint booth clean, always wet the floor before spraying to keep your dust down, if possible do your body work elsewhere and all costs, keep your Gerbils fed. Pretty standard stuff.

Bodywork took a while, no dents (it’s fiberglass)  but plenty of small waves in the body. Once bodywork was finished, the whole car got 3 full coats of 2K filler primer. After drying for at least a full 24 hours, it was block sanded with 220-320 grit sand paper. After that, pulled it out side, blew it off thoroughly with an air gun then washed and dried it. Time to mask everything off and get ready for sealer.

5.) Using a non-catalyzed sealer on a project like this is crazy talk. If I did do that (which I didn’t) as soon as I sprayed the basecoat, the reducer in the base coat would re-activate the sealer and I’d have a nasty little reaction on my hands (which I didn’t). In fact, I’d probably have to scrape off all the basecoat, (never happen) then scrape off the 2 coats of  sealer (no chance), then clean the primer underneath (in your dreams) and then re-mask the whole bloody thing for the third time!! (that part sucked)

After learning my lesson the hard way, switched to a high quality 2K Sealer and sprayed 2 full coats. Then 4 full coats of Debeers Metallic Blue Pearl (which really kicks ass by the way) followed by 4 coats of clear. You’ll notice the seam around the front bumper cover is looking nice and invisible.

Note: To ensure a perfect color match when re-assembled, I painted the doors, hood and head light covers at the same time as the body. It may not be necessary to do it this way, but with this metallic pearl blue I’m not taking any chances.

6a.)  Pic of the old hood to show how the seam used to look on the front bumper cover.

6b.) Things were looking good at this point, so let’s airbrush already! The hood, door jambs and back deck lid are all going to get touched by an angel. There is really no good cut lines for the clear on this Corvette so I decided to wet sand the whole thing with 600 grit then rinsed and dried it.

6c.) It took about 3 1/2 weeks to get here but we’re finally ready for the fun part. I use 1/8 in. blue fine line tape to layout some classic flames on the left side of the hood. I create a pounce pattern (same technique as used in  custom accord airbrush graphics tutorial) to layout my flames on the right hand side. Usually I would mask the negative space of the flames but for the technique I’m going to use here, I mask the positive part of the flames using 16 in. transfer tape.

I fill the airbrush with a dark purple basecoat and spray in some organic looking TRU Fire keeping my application free and loose. Once I’ve got a good fill of purple fire, I switch to white base coat and spray a second layer of fire. I prefer to use a combination of free hand brush strokes and home made fire stencils. (Sorry for the lack of pics on this one.)

7a.) I wipe it off with a tack rag then using a touch up gun, I cover the entire airbrushed area with a nice coat of Oriental Bue Kandy, make sure it’s dry and then unmask it. Looks pretty cool but it’s begging to be pinstriped. I wipe everything off again with a tack rag to get rid of the overspray and help knock down the paint edge so it doesn’t grab my brush when I try to pinstripe it.

7b.) I use Silver HOK striping paint and a 00 Mack brush to pinstripe the flames. I finished up the airbrushing on the door jambs and deck lid then the whole car got 3 more costs of clear.

7c.) You can see the darker under layer of purple flames better out here in the sun.

8.) Detail.

9.) These aren’t the best photos but quite a drastic change from the classic red Corvette that pulled into the shop about a month ago. Really looked killer once all the trim and emblems had bee reinstalled + the engine on this beast is just as clean and detailed as the rest of it.  A real one of kind custom Corvette. Thanks Mike.

10.) Door jambs.

If you’d like to know how long this project took and what it cost to do it, click here-> custom airbrushed corvette. This is Members Only content so you will need to Login to view it. If you’re not a member already, you can Register for FREE.

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Cesar’s 1997 Custom Accord Airbrush Graphics

1.) This is one of the first graphic jobs I ever painted. Cesar has been a valuable customer and good friend for many years now. He’s making some changes to his Honda Accord and wants to update the graphics with something a little more eye catching. The graphics are going to be done a little unorthodoxically (It is so a word poser!) because he is switching to a 2 tone paint job, keeping green on the upper half and adding a pearl white to the lower half.  Juan of Juan’s Autobody and Paint is handling the basecoat and clear, he’s a magician. I take a picture of the car, scan it into Corel Draw and sketch out a tribal style graphic that’s a little more extreme.. I plan to add a semi-carbon fiber effect to the graphics by using a rubber kitchen cabinet mat as a stencil.

2.) You can see the original graphic (Also done by yours truly.) a little better in this pic. It was definitely time for an upgrade. The car has been washed, wet sanded, rinsed and dried. Or as I like to call it, WWRD’d. I find that the more acronyms I use for things, the smarter I sound and the more I can charge. I laid out the division line for the 2 tone in the first pic and the second pic shows the car just after the white base coat had been applied. Note: Wet Sanding had to be meticulous on this one. The original graphic had an edge on it and if any part of it wasn’t sanded flat, it would have shown through in the final product. At the same time, we also didn’t want to sand through the color on the top half of the car.

3.) Using my Corel Draw sketch as a reference, I start laying out the graphic with 1/4 & 1/8 in. blue fine line tape. I always start with the longest lines first, that way I have a good reference point across the entire length of the car. I try to scale the graphic as best I can by constantly stepping back away from the vehicle and checking my work.  Making this graphic look cool on an 8 1/2 x 11 printout and making it look cool on the actual car are 2 different things. Don’t be afraid to change/adapt your graphic to better fit the space of the car. I want to make sure I’ve got a good balance of negative space and actual graphic. The shapes, curves, angles and spaces in between the different segments of the graphic should stay pretty consistent.

4.) The key to pulling a good straight curved line is doing it all in one motion. Check your work by putting the side of your face right against the body of the vehicle and looking straight down the line you just pulled. This is an easy way to spot a wavering line. Take the time to do this part right. You can half ass everything else on the car after this….totally joking, take your time. A mechanic stool on wheels really helps for the longer lines. Tip: Occasionally I’ll put masking tape around the tips of  my index and pointer fingers (Think Michael Jackson) to help them slide along the tape.

Trim all loose ends and points of the blue fine line tape as needed.

5.) I use a roll of 16 in. masking paper and tape it along the length of the car directly over the graphic. There are several ways to transfer the lines of the graphic to the paper. I happened to have a dull pencil. I lightly press the pencil up against the lines of the graphic at a 45 degree angle and trace the whole thing. A crayon rubbed gently over the whole graphic will work also.

6.) Cardboard or stiff short strand carpet will work for this next bit but I like to use the grey foam flooring pads, the ones that connect together like a puzzle. Place a bunch of these in a row on the floor and then lay your traced pattern on top of them. Use a pounce wheel to trace the lines of the pattern (Old School Baby!) As you can see in the picture, this is going to place a series of small holes along your pencil lines. Once you’ve traced the entire design, line up and securely tape your newly made pounce pattern to the other side of the car. I use the door jambs and seams to take reference measurements from so that I know my graphic is lined up similarly on both sides.

7.) I dump some blue straight line chalk/powder (available at Home Depot) into the only thin black dress sock I own. There are “professional” pounce pads available you can buy, but I figured mine as well put this lonely sock to good use. A regular thick sock won’t work, it’s got to be thin enough to let the chalk pass through it. Tie the sock in a knot at the top so all the chalk doesn’t fall out. Experiment with your pouncing technique; I like to lightly pounce the sock against the pattern and then sweep across the area I’ve pounced to make sure I get a thorough coverage. Ideally, you want to use the least amount of chalk possible because it makes a mess and will effect the the tape adhesion. Check your work by lifting up a side of the pattern to make sure you’re getting a good transfer of the chalk outline  to the vehicle.

8.) If you followed directions, you should end up with something like this, a nice chalk outline of your graphic. If yours didn’t turn out like this, it’s because you’re parents don’t love you.

This part kind of sucks. I need to run my blue fine line on this side now but I’ve got chalk everywhere. I usually take an air gun at this point and try to blow off as much of the chalk as possible without losing my lines. Start with the air gun far away from the surface so you don’t blow all the chalk off at once. Even after most of the chalk dust is blown off, I still find myself using a tack rag to wipe off excess chalk right up against the lines.

9.) Both sides are masked and ready to spray the base color for the graphic. Masking is just as important as any other step in this process. Over spray will find it’s way into each and every little opening  or unmasked area you neglect to cover. It sucks when you’re all finished with a graphic, unmask everything and then have several spots where you have to go back and repair because of a faulty masking job.

As you can imagine, there was a major edge where that white and green division line is and if I would have left it as is, it would have shown up in the finished product and looked like garbage. I used 400 grit sandpaper to feather that edge and sand it smooth. Blow it off, tack rag it and we’re ready for base coat.

10.) 3 coats of metallic beige base. I let it dry for about 30 minutes then gently wiped the whole graphic again with a tack rag to remove any over spray. Using 1/8 in. blue fine line tape, I mask the outside edge of the whole graphic (pictured). This will serve as my pinstripe.

I used a rubber place holder mat (You can get these at WalMart, they come in rolls.  Commonly found in kitchen cabinets or used under area rugs on hard wood floors to prevent sliding.) taped up against the side of the graphic, as a stencil to spray through to create a kind of faux carbon fiber effect. (Sorry no pictures. This will be covered in a future tutorial.) I added a touch of medium brown base coat to the original graphic color for this part.

Everything is unmasked, the entire car is inspected for any touch ups or small repairs that might need to be done. Off to Juan’s for the clear coat.

11.) Sorry, no side shot with the door down.

To find out what I’d charge to do a job like this and how long it took to do it, click here-> airbrush graphics. This is Members Only content so you will need to Login to view it. If you’re not a member already, you can Register for FREE.

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Airbrushed Hood on Custom Firebird

airbrush-custom-firebird-hood-1

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!

airbrush-custom-firebird-hood-2

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!

airbrush-custom-firebird-hood-3

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…

airbrush-custom-firebird-hood-4

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.

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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…

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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