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Tech Article : How do I paint my car myself?
Gibbo - November 26th, 2004 at 10:51 AM

FAQ #4 - How do I paint my car myself?
The following was graciously donated by MARTINSR.

Being HVLP and low VOC products are the way the industry’s going I will be referring to them in this discussion on painting and paint guns. Most all basic issues dealing with HVLP can be applied to conventional guns, atomization is atomization. The HVLP just arrives at it differently.

The object of the spray gun is to break up the primer/sealer/paint/clear (I will call this “PSPC” from here out) into small particles and lay them in neat little rows on the panel being PSPRed. So the whole outcome rests on how well the gun is doing this. Picture the droplets of PSPC coming out of the fluid tip of the gun and then the air “slapping” them into smaller droplets.

You have two things that help you with this process, air and solvent. Solvent can mean something that is already in the PSPR from the manufacture or something the manufacture has told you to add to it. By the way, you should always mix in proper ratios as instructed in the tech sheet. The thinner (less viscosity) you get the PSPR or the more air you have at the fluid tip of the gun the more it will break up the PSPR. The target for you is getting the perfect balance needed. Too much solvent and the PSPR will have no body, fill, durability, etc. Too much air and you blow the PSPR everywhere but the car, poor adhesion, excessive texture, etc.

So, the answer is proper air supply and gun (and fluid tip) choice and how you adjust it.

With today’s high solids-low VOC (Volatile Organic Compound, you know the bad stuff that goes up into the air we breathe) products there is less solvent. And with HVLP guns there is less air at the cap to break up the PSPC, proper air supply and gun setup is more important than ever.

FIRST THINGS FIRST, your compressor and air supply.

An HVLP gun requires more VOLUME of air to operate (the V in HVLP, High Volume Low Pressure). Now you may notice that your HVLP gun is adjusted at maybe the same PSI as an old conventional gun, around 50 lbs at the gun (many HVLP guns are set at much lower though) so where is the “Low” in PSI they are talking about? It is at the actual air cap where the air and paint come out. An HVLP gun has only 10 lbs at the cap while a conventional has upwards of 50! So the VOLUME of air (CFM, Cubic Feet per Minute) is the key to proper atomization with an HVLP.

If you have a gun that requires 15 CFM you will need a compressor and plumbing that will produce that at a very minimum. There are HVLP guns that need as little as 7.5 CFM so you can get good results even from a smaller compressor. Air supply is a complete subject by it’s self so lets assume that you have the air supply needed and move on to gun set up.

So atomization is the key, but why? Why can’t you just lay it out wet and let it “flow”, as an old painter will say. Picture a jar full of bb’s, they will represent well small, atomized droplets of PSPC. The gaps in between the bb’s is solvent. Now picture a jar filled with marbles, they will represent large, poorly atomized droplets of PSPC. The gaps in between are, you guessed it, solvent.

If you apply your PSPC in large poorly atomized droplets, what you will have is a film full of solvent. This can and will cause slow curing, shrinkage and dieback (the loss of gloss in the hours and days after application).

So, now that we have learned the need for gun set up, how do we do it? Lets start with the fluid tip choice. The newer high solids low VOC PSPC products need to be broken up more, so a smaller fluid tip is needed.

Basically you want the smallest fluid tip that will still allow you to PSPC the particular part you are PSPCing keeping the entire thing wet and in a fair amount of time. In other words a 1.0 tip would be beautiful for clearing one fender, but would be lousy to paint a complete. The application would be way to slow and the first panel would be way to flashed by the time you got around back to it. So you need to compromise, a 1.3 is a great all around tip, while a 1.5 though getting a little big, can get you by. If you read the tech sheet on the particular product you are shooting, it will have a recommendation for fluid tip size.

There are needs for other tips, for instance when shooting polyester primer you may need as big as a 2.3, but for urethanes and epoxies, the 1.3 or 1.4 will work great. If you plan on using a pressure pot or paint a bus, all bets are off and we would need to study a little bit more.

As an example of the use of a 1.3 tip I did a test once that proved the point well. I shot two panels of metal with a med solids urethane primer. One was shot with a 1.3 super high atomizing top of the line topcoat gun. The other was shot with a 1.5 (or a 1.7 I can’t remember) “hoser” primer gun. Three coats were applied and after a full cure (the one shot with the larger gun took MUCH longer to flash and cure by the way) the film thickness was measured. The one shot with the 1.3 tip was 2 tenths of a MIL thicker! The larger gun laid out the marble sized droplets full of solvent and when the solvent flashed the film shrank.

Air supply is a subject that could fill many pages by it’s self. So we are going to assume you have that covered and move on to gun set up.

You need to “tune” your gun EVERY TIME you use it just as you would tune a guitar before you perform. This is done with a very basic spray out pattern test. This very basic test tells you how your gun is atomizing and you adjust it to achieve the best atomization you can.

Lets do a spray pattern test:

Set the fan width as need (you don’t want to change it after you have “tuned” the gun). Turn out the material knob about 2 ½ turns. This is the “mixture” adjustment, kind of like the idle screw on a carburetor. The farther in it is screwed the lower the fluid to air ratio is and the smaller the droplets will be. The farther out it is, the higher the fluid to air ratio is and the larger the droplets.

Set the air pressure at the inlet to the gun to the manufactures specs. On an HVLP gun this spec is usually found on the gun and is the maximum PSI it can have while still maintaining the maximum 10 lb at the cap for legal HVLP transfer efficiency (68 %). You are now ready to do a test spray out.

Tape a piece of masking paper on the wall for the test. Hold the gun at a right angle to the wall, just as if you were going the wall. Hold the gun at a spread out hands distance (about 8” or 22cm). Pull the trigger to completely open for a split second and then close it. You want an ON-OFF wide open-completely closed in ONE movement. You should have a cigar shaped pattern with complete coverage in the center with fading coverage going away from the full coverage cigar shape in the center. The center should be fully covered without any runs. If you have runs, either you are holding the trigger too long, you are too close or the gun is simply applying too much material. In which case you need to screw in the material knob or turn the air pressure down. But most likely if you have turned the material knob out the 2 ½ turns and the air is set at the factory specs, you are just too close or holding the trigger open too long.

The droplets you see trailing off the center are what you will use to “tune” your gun.

Turn in the material knob to make the droplets smaller (and or raise the air pressure). The balance you need to attain is the smallest droplet size possible before you loose the coverage desired. In other words if you turn in the material knob too far, not enough material will be coming out to cover the panel!

Now, you’ll notice that I said, “raise the pressure to the gun”, while earlier I said to set it to manufactures specs. We are talking a very small adjustment. It is a fine balance in material to air ratio and a little more air than specified is okay. Even if it is an HVLP gun the inlet pressure recommended is to maintain the 10 lb limit at the cap. Well, about three quarters of the country has no regulations for HVLP use so if you go over the 10 lbs all it will do is atomize the material a little better. You may loose a little of the benefits of HVLP though. But remember you have a lot of control with the material adjustment knob.

After you are happy with the droplet size, DON’T TOUCH THE FAN CONTROL. It will change the PSI at the cap and will change the atomization you worked hard to get.

Do this spray out every time you spray as material change, temp, and humidity will necessitate a spray out droplet pattern test. Good luck!

reverend - November 26th, 2004 at 11:50 AM

damn your just full of useful information today! Thx gibbo :cool:

This stuff really needs a sticky so it doesnt get lost

[Edited on 26-11-2004 by reverend]

dubcab - November 26th, 2004 at 09:34 PM

Well done Gibbo, that was the most impressive and detailed post I've ever seen. To any first timers that are trying to have a go all I can suggest is practice on some old panels, cause' it wont happen over night! Every gun and paint is different so have fun. Cheers.

Gibbo - November 26th, 2004 at 09:37 PM

Dont thank me, thanks the guys who posted it at 

:) :) :)

BLUE_62 - April 28th, 2005 at 04:55 AM

Thank you for finding it. I assure you i am going to be a first timer at painting my beetle but after reading that there is now half a chance it will actually come out properlly. :thumb

GoLfMan - May 10th, 2005 at 10:31 AM

i painted a panel on my golf and it didnt come up with the glassy sheen that i was hoping for. i heard that you have to buff up the undercoat before adding the clear laquer. is this true and do u know where ive gone wrong?

Jingle Jangle - January 20th, 2009 at 03:50 PM

Hey all

just wondering about setup for painting a car.. like taping off?

what needs to be done?

Lettuce - February 22nd, 2010 at 01:29 PM

tape off everything you cant remove. sand everything down smooth and to key the primer. sand the primer, repeat. then color

sunburntwilly - February 28th, 2010 at 08:28 PM

Has anyone tried this here in Australia? 
I know it's hard work but it looks like a good option to me.

mickey_0789 - April 25th, 2010 at 11:08 AM

Just wondering, I asked my mate who is a spray painter and he is said if you're keeping the car the same colour there isn't any need to sand down to metal, unless there is a chance of rust coming through. He just said the original paint a little and then apply the primer. Is this true?

kieranweston - January 12th, 2011 at 01:19 PM

Anyone have any advice on achieving a flat paint job? I like the look and imagine its cheaper to get done professionally and may actually be relatively easy to do yourself? Im not talking really ratty flat look, but a decent enough job without the shine, i want this sort of look:

On the subject does anyone have any old quotes for a beetle respray? Im not looking for inside/out concours, just an external respray on a beetle, thanks a lot

helbus - January 12th, 2011 at 05:37 PM

You add a product to the paint called "flattening base" The more you add the flatter the paint gets. A Beetle respray on a car that has all preparation done by the owner, and no guarantee from the painter usually costs about $2000 including the paint.

To get a guarantee, you have to get the painter to do the entire job from the start from bare metal.

shtinkingroovin - April 24th, 2011 at 08:47 PM

just remember that adding flatting base also kills off the paints UV hold out, meaning it will break down faster when exposed to UV..the sun... then you have to paint the bloody thing again because when paint breaks down it becomes porus