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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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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