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.

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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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