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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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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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.

how to airbrush