Air Brushing 101

We have all seen them, these amazing murals that adorn the hood liners and various engine and body panels of show cars.  The artists that perform the magic are a very tight knit group and are not easily persuaded to divulge their air brushing secrets.  The magic formulas include proprietary paint blending, air brush handling techniques and custom stencil creation.

Professional air bush artists spend years of trial and error in perfecting his or hers own special style. One can expect to pay a premium for custom air brush art work. Prices can range from the hundreds of dollars for a small graphic to well over a thousand dollars for a large under hood mural.  Air brushing of exterior body parts can sometimes demand astronomical prices. 

If you are on a budget and enjoy working on your machine there is an alternative. That alternative is DIY, "do it yourself". The task may seem daunting but with the right equipment and a little practice you can create some very impressive artwork.

One of the easiest and most visually effective automotive air bush projects is creating some simple flames. Flames can be applied using a variety of multiple air brush paint layers to almost any surface. Before you start your journey into he world of air brushing you need to know what tools to acquire.

After searching the internet we found some very basic and inexpensive airbrushing equipment on Ebay. The first thing you need is a good air compressor and airbrush gun. The equipment we purchased included a compressor with hose and fittings, a Master brand double action air brush gun and a set of basic color acrylic paints. We got the entire kit for under a hundred dollars and it included free shipping.
air brushing equipment     Air Brush equipment
                       compressor with hose                                           double action air brush guns

The vendor, Chicago Air Brush is ships fast and free and offers a huge variety of specialty paints and equipment.

The choice of paint is important to getting off to a good start with your project. Beginners should stick to what is referred to as basic opaque water based acrylic primary color paints. The water based acrylics offer good coverage and are non toxic. As your skill sets advance you can consider using oil based paints. A word of caution when applying air brush or for that matter any type of aerosol paint.  You do not, let me repeat that, you do not want to breath in any type of paint vapors especially if you are working in an unventilated area. Invest in a cheap respirator made for painting environments and use it.

Air Brush equipment     Air Brush equipment
           acrylic air brush paint                       mixing cups and stirrers

The first step in our flame project is deciding where you want to put them. In our case we decided to flame the hood liners of two of our project cars. A C5 coupe and a C6 Z06.

After removing the hood liner from the hood mount it at eye level in a separate area  from your cars. Spray paint has a tendency to travel and deposit itself on anything that happens to be in the immediate area, like your car.

Air Brush equipment
cut the middle prongs from a fork to make a hood liner button remover

The felt hood liner is very porous and has to be prepped prior to painting.  If you skip this step the paint will be absorbed into the felt. Begin by applying inter-coat clear to the hood liner. Cover the entire area to be painted with about five coats of the clear. Let the clear coat dry for about two minutes between coats. The clear coat paint is very nasty stuff, remember to use your respirator during this and the following steps.

Air Brush equipment    Air Brush equipment
prior to painting spray the desired area with several coats of intercoat clear

The next step is to apply the basic flame pattern. Using some opaque white paint make a series of what is called "dagger strokes" to the desired area. A 'dagger" stroke can be painted by visualizing the letter "S". Paint a series of vertical large elongated letter "S's" on the hood liner.

Air Brush
begin with opaque whit "dagger" strokes, adding color to the C5 logo is an extra touch, just mask the design off and spray

After the white dagger strokes have dried apply some finishing accents using a specialty flame stencil to bring the graphic into more of a flame shape. The stencils can also be purchased from a variety of on line sources and go under the name of "real flames air brush stencils".

Air Brush equipment      Air Brush equipment
                         plastic stencils help to shape the flame design

Continue to work the white flames into a desired pattern using very light paint applications and the stencils. After you get the desired results you can begin on giving the flame pattern some color. We choose to go with a red flame on the C5 and a blue flame on the C6.
Air Brush equipment      Air Brush equipment
Air Brush equipment  
After you finish with the white fill in with and opaque red                           a light blue flame on our C6

 Mix up your secondary paint is a small container using about five drops of paint to three drops of thinner. Apply the color to the previously drawn white flames using the flame stencil to prevent over-spray. Use the stencils to give additional definition to the flame pattern. Concentrate of the edges and interior sections of the flame to get a 3D effect.

We also decided to try our hand at flaming out the fuel rail covers and radiator cover on the C5. This required sanding down the rough OEM plastic finish, priming and wet sanding to create a smooth surface on which to apply the new paint.

Air Brush equipment   Air Brush equipment
                           prime and wet sand till you drop

After the fuel rails and radiator cover were "baby ass" smooth we applied several coats of opaque red acrylic paint. Using a mix of yellow, orange and white paint we applied the first layer of dagger stroke flames to the covers. Remember to work from front to rear of the flames will be backwards when you reinstall the fuel rail covers. Using the flame stencil apply a mix of yellow and white paint to the edges of the flame pattern. Keep working it until the desired effect is achieved.

Air Brush equipment

The final step in the process involves clear coating and wet sanding the finish. Allow the covers to dry over night and then apply several very lite coats of gloss clear coat. Dupli Color makes a good automotive clear coat that can be used for this purpose. You can get a spray can of this at any of the Mart stores.

After the the clear coat has dried begin the wet sanding. Start with a wet 800 grit, then a 1000 grit and finally a 2000 grit paper. Make sure you keep the surface flooded with water as you are sanding.

The final step is to use a light polishing compound to bring out the gloss. Maguires Ultimate compound used in combination with a small hand held orbital sander works great. Apply some compound to the foam pad of of the sander and polish until you can see yourself in the finish. That's it, reinstall the fuel rail and radiator covers and admire your work.
The Vette Nuts

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