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How to Prep for Paint

How to prepare the surface of your car for painting.

Prep is the most important part of the painting process, you would think that spraying was more important but, there are many things you can do to the surface of paint (removing imperfections) but nothing you can do to the surface under paint after it’s applied.

90% of the imperfections found in paint after they are sprayed are the direct result of the surface of the car and the surrounding trash found in door jambs, under hood, trunk etc.  

Cleaning the surface of the car, jambs etc. properly will give your paint a clean foundation.  The rule of thumb?  The cleaner the car is when you begin the spraying process, the cleaner your paint will be when finished.  Any remaining imperfections can be dealt with later and will be covered later.

Wash and scuff the car before you bring it into your work area, this will leave the dirt and debris outside where it belongs and not on the car to make its way into your paint.  Wash the outside the same way you would give your car a weekend bath.  Use Dawn dish soap to remove waxes and grease, using this product in critical, it strips wax and cleans amazingly well, it also doubles as a homemade dust down material which is also another topic on the agenda in our how to’s.

Final rinse of the outside, open all the doors, trunk and hood.  Now clean these areas well, if you have to, take your car to a coin operated wand wash to make sure these areas are debris free, ideally you have a pressure washer.  keep in mind, the cleaner your car is, the cleaner your paint will be.

Scuff the areas to be painted, if your painting the whole car, the entire car needs to be scuffed (lightly scratched).  Cover delicate moldings with masking tape (6) to protect from scratches, using a scuffing paste will help and has additional cleaning properties.  Gray pad for blend panels (5), red pad for all overs.  DO NOT LET PANELS DRY!  Scuff paste has a grit material like sand, if it dries on the car it will leave this sand on the surface or in the jambs, only to come out during the spraying process.  Rinse thoroughly each panel after it’s scuffed before moving on to the next.  Work your way around the entire car then rinse again using your hand or a rag to wipe the paste away, spending extra time here will save you buffing time later.

Drying the car.  There are a couple of ways to dry the car, depending on, if your doing the car at home or doing the car in a shop.  Also depends on when you plan on spraying, most body shops like to mask the car the same day, if your at home you can wait longer and let it air dry, if your a shop, you wont have that much time to wait.

Using a clean terry cloth towel (3), dry the car like you would in your driveway.  Open up all the jambs (2) and dry those also, if your at home, allow the car to dry for 24 hours, if you’re a shop with clean (no oil or moisture in the line) compressed air, use the blow gun (4a) and start at the top of the car and work your way down.  Focus on getting the water out from under all the molding, wipe excess with the towel.  This step is critical!, Any moisture under or around parts WILL find its way into your paint, remember, paint sprays at around 45 lb pressure, that is enough to push out water, and it always seems to happen on your last coat.  Only after the car is properly dried can you move to chemical washing.

Chemical washing to remove waxes, oils, grease etc, this step also opens the surface pores of the old paint.

Properly using wax and grease remover AKA surface cleaner, is critical to getting a clean enough surface for a nice, smooth paint job.  Chemical washing deep cleans into the pores, much like the solvents in the paint, but that’s not the time to bring those impurities to the surface.  Bring them up now, so the paint wont bring them up later.

If you have a sprayer (4b), spray one panel at a time and allow 30 sec to soak the panel, if you don’t have a sprayer, use a clean paper towel (Bounty works great for this).  You will need one paper towel to wipe on and another paper towel to wipe off.  After spraying the panel and allowing 30 sec’s to soak, the cleaner is penetrating the pores of the paint and now bringing impurities to the surface, wipe the impurities off with the clean towel.  DO NOT ALLOW CLEANER TO DRY BEFORE WIPING!, If you do, all those impurities that you just raised from the pores will now rest on the surface.  Make sure you wipe the panel before the cleaner evaporates.

Repeat the process on each panel of the car until finished.  Wipe the windows, molding, jambs etc.  The goal here is to remove all impurities from the surfaces.

Now that the surface of the car is chemically clean as well as wax free and debris free, the car is ready for masking and that will be the subject of step 2 in this series of “How to Paint a Car”.

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