It's All In The Mix: Do it Yourself and Save on Materials - BodyShop Business

It’s All In The Mix: Do it Yourself and Save on Materials

Mixing your own paint is the single best way to save money on a shop's material bill - in fact, no other individual change will make a shop more profit than in-house paint mixing.

The savings occur for two main reasons: First, the shop will save
approximately 30 percent on the cost for a given pint of paint,
and second, the shop can save approximately 20 percent more by
mixing less than a full pint. And this doesn’t even take into
account the labor time saved when a color needs to be tinted –
all the tints and formulas are right there for the painter.

The biggest savings accrues because shop personnel,
not the jobber’s people, are performing the labor to combine the
tints in the can. The cost of auto paint includes the cost for
the tints and clear resins, the cost of the can and the cost of
the labor to combine them accurately. As a general rule, the difference
between purchasing the paint from the jobber and mixing it yourself
is one-quarter to one-third less money if you do it yourself –
and a 30 percent savings on all the color a shop uses quickly
adds up to big numbers.

The Numbers

As you’ve no doubt noticed, the numbers and
percentages about our industry often depend on who you ask – things
are relative. For example, the percentage of the typical shop
material bill that goes for “paint” is somewhere between
two-thirds (66 percent) and three-quarters (75 percent) of the
total bill. The remainder (25 to 33 percent) is spent for everything
else the shop uses, like sandpaper, masking materials, tack rags,
etc. For many years, I’ve used a figure of 70 percent to represent
the amount of the material bill a “typical” shop spends
on “paint products.”

Roughly (add or subtract to suit yourself!)
40 percent of the material bill goes for topcoats (base/clear
or single stage), and 30 percent goes for undercoats and solvents.
If you figure that one-half of the topcoat amount is for clears,
then the remainder of that amount is for color. What’s at stake
when mixing paint in shop is 20 percent (one-half of 40 percent)
of the total material bill. If your shop spends a total of $4,000
per month for “material,” then 20 percent equals $800
in color cost. And a savings of 30 percent on an expenditure of
$800 is $240 for the same amount of paint.

Additional savings are available by mixing
less than full-pint quantities. If the area to be painted will
require a quart (32 ounces) of color, then the savings are limited
– they’ll be 30 percent less than purchasing the same quart from
the jobber. If the area to be painted requires less than one full
container of color, however, more shop savings are available.

We jobbers won’t sell less than a pint of
paint because we have overhead costs that include delivery vehicles,
insurance, driver salaries, paint-mixer salaries, heat, rent,
etc. I can’t cover these costs if I mix and deliver 4 ounces of
paint to our customers. With a mixing system, though, our customers
can mix only the amount of color required for any particular vehicle.
In my experience, roughly half of all collision repairs can be
painted with something less than a full pint of color.

When putting a pencil to the benefits of in-shop
mixing, we use a savings figure (elastic as always) of an additional
20 percent by mixing less than full-can quantities. Not only can
you mix less than one pint, but you can also control the mixed
amount to suit bigger jobs. A single-stage, complete repaint may
take almost three quarts of paint – and we’re happy to sell our
customers three quarts of paint. But, in many cases, that particular
vehicle could have been painted with 8 ounces less than the 96
ounces contained in three quarts – and by mixing up only 88 ounces
of color, money savings will occur. In fact, the big savings come
from mixing just enough color for each job.

Additional savings come from a reduction in
the shop’s hazardous-waste generation. At $150 to $200 per drum
disposal – and rising – a savings in the amount of waste created
translates directly into shop profit. In our example of a $4,000-per-month
material bill and a color cost of $800 per month, another 20 percent
saved by mixing less than full containers adds up to $160 more
per month saved by mixing your own color.

Getting Started

All this money savings is not without a price.
When jobbers mixed the paint, they were responsible for keeping
the tinting colors agitated and combining them in the can very
carefully. Now that the shop will mix its own color, these and
other duties must be performed by someone in house.

Before we set up a shop with a mixing system,
we strongly recommend a couple of things. No. 1 is that the mixing
bank and scale be located somewhere out of the paint-shop proper.
Ideally, this area is behind a door in a well-lit room, especially
designed to house all the equipment. Where local fire codes weren’t
a consideration, we’ve had customers who put their mixing equipment
in the adjacent parts-storage room, in a former closet or even
behind a specially made canvas curtain/partition. The goal is
to keep the equipment out of the dust that permeates the paint
shop and to restrict access to mixing.

A shop also needs a paint shaker – without
one, the matches will suffer. And be sure to place the paint shaker,
the mixing equipment, the hazardous-waste drum and paint booth
close to each other. If the painter has to hike across the shop
every time he needs to add a tint or empty his gun cup, lots of
labor time is consumed.

Another of our recommendations is to appoint
one person to be in charge of the mixing. If there are three painters
in the shop and they all mix paint, it seems like no one ever
cleans up the mess – and it’s always the other guy’s fault! Also,
if someone’s in charge of mixing, he’ll look after the tints and
the equipment maintenance.

Must-Do Maintenance

Care and feeding of a mixing system includes
regular agitation of the tinting colors; failure to regularly
stir the tints will cause long-term color-match problems. Consider
that many mixing tints are very high in solids and that if these
solids are allowed to settle to the bottom of the can while the
clear resin rises to the top, the color match will be off.

The colors that were mixed early in the life
of that tint will be off because too much resin and not enough
tint were added to the mix. The match of colors mixed later, as
the tint is used up, will be off standard because too much pigment
will enter the mix from the settled bottom of the can.

Years ago, many shops had a seven- or 10-place
agitator bank to handle 30 or 40 tinting colors. The theory was
that the techs would load all the tints onto the agitator each
day, seven cans at a time, until all the tints were stirred. Because
that was too time consuming for most shops, the only time the
tints were agitated was when they were loaded minutes before they
were poured into the mix. But higher-solids tints and more sophisticated
colors require better agitation than this.

You should run your agitator bank for 30 minutes
each morning when the shop opens and again at lunch time. It’s
also good practice to turn on the agitator every time you enter
the mixing room to make a color. Best results occur when you follow
your paint manufacturer’s directions for agitation times.

Other required maintenance includes keeping
the mixing lids clean and working smoothly. I’ve heard painters
say it didn’t matter that big hunks of dried mixing tint were
falling off the lid into the mix because that’s what strainers
were for! Keep in mind, though, that the scale weighed the hunk
of dried tint but it’s unlikely it will dissolve and contribute
toward a good color match.

To avoid this, lubricate the mixing lids with
something like castor oil or special spray-gun lubricant that
won’t cause fisheyes. Years ago, we had a shop that had mixing
lids that were loud and squeaky for lack of lubrication. One Saturday,
the helpful cleanup crew squirted all the lids with WD-40! Not
surprisingly, the shop was plagued with fisheyes in every mix.

Other required maintenance tasks include adjusting
the fork or gear contact with the mixing bank because constantly
running the agitator bank will cause the drive paddle to move
around and misalign with the power unit. A few minutes a week
with a hex-key wrench or screwdriver will keep all the parts meshing

Misaligned or dented cans will make noise.
If the agitator bank is making more noise today than it did yesterday,
shut it off and find out why (another good reason to have one
person in charge of the mixing equipment).

Tint Tips

New empty cans cost money. For this reason,
some painters prefer to mix small amounts of color in paper cups,
old tuna cans or even a paint-gun cup. While this may save the
50-cent cost of a pint can, it takes much longer to stir the tints
together with a stick than it does to smash them together in a
can on a paint shaker. If you mix paint into open-top cups, make
sure you spend a steady five or six minutes stirring the color
thoroughly to ensure a good match. For many harried painters,
the 50-cent cost of a pint can and lid is cheaper than five minutes
of labor at $30 an hour. Once mixed and in the can, put the color
on the paint shaker for at least five minutes.

When you run out of a tinting color in the
middle of a mix, be sure to shake the new tint on a paint shaker
for five to 10 minutes before installing the agitator lid and
continuing to add to the mix. If you just grab the new tint and
install the lid, you’ll have the same settled-pigment problem
mentioned earlier.

How much back-up tint should your shop stock?
Every paint manufacturer can provide a popularity list of its
mixing tints. Many shops, however, simply back up each tinting
color with another can ready to go. While this will ensure that
the shop won’t run out of a tint in midmix, it can also tie up
a lot of money. Our recommendation is to stock back-up tints according
to their popularity. The fast-moving whites, blacks and aluminum
flakes may be stocked two or three cans deep, while the very slow-moving
specialty tints aren’t backed up until they’re down to one-third
full; this necessitates marking the single can with a magic marker
to reorder when it gets below a certain point.

Your shop must also have some reliable way
to reorder the tints. One of the simplest is to cut the label
off the empty can with a razor blade and keep it in a special
area for the jobber salesperson to read and reorder.

The Calculations for Mixing

Mixing less than pint quantities will save
money on materials and hazardous-waste generation. One of the
easiest ways to mix less paint with no math is to simply move
the decimal point one place to the left. This avoids the time
required to write down the pint formula, find a pocket calculator,
divide the formula and rewrite the new formula. By simply moving
the decimal, there’s no chance for a transposition error when
writing or copying the formula. A one-quart formula yields 32
ounces of paint. By moving the decimal point one tick to the left,
it’s possible to mix 3.2 ounces of paint with no additional math.

For example, if the quart formula calls for
75.8 parts of a particular tint, move the decimal one place to
the left to read 7.58 parts. Round up to 7.6 parts per 3.2 ounces.
If the formula calls for 705.3 parts, move left to read 70.53
and round down to 70.5.

Some digital scales have a program to mix
a percentage of a formula without moving the decimal, and the
fancy, smart scales will calculate a formula in any size you desire.
For those shops without the latest smart scale that will mix any
quantity and recalculate any overpours, try using the two-quart
and three-quart formulas.

Two quarts is really 64 ounces, and three
quarts is 96 ounces. By moving the decimal point one place to
the left, your shop can mix 6.4 ounces and 9.6 ounces with no
math. One-half pint is 8 ounces, so the two-quart formula will
yield slightly less than a half-pint and the three-quart formula
will yield slightly more than a half-pint. The gallon formula
(128 ounces/gallon) will provide roughly three-fourths of a pint
(12.8 ounces).

While it’s theoretically possible to do this
same thing with a pint formula (16 ounces), it turns out that
many of the quantities required in only 1.6 ounces of paint are
so small that it’s very difficult and time consuming to mix. We
encourage our customers to use the 3.2-ounce (quart formula) as
a test quantity to establish color match.

Testing the Tint

Test quantities and panels are essential to
saving material money and to productive paint work. Many times,
the microfiche will list alternate or variant formulas for a color.
Unfortunately, the description of the alternate color as “bluer”
or “darker and redder” isn’t very helpful.

By mixing only 3.2 ounces of each variant,
it’s possible to see the color without spending much money. When
shooting a test panel, don’t be afraid to force dry the panel
with a heat gun and to clear it with an aerosol can of clear.
It’s generally not necessary to clear a test panel with the same
high-dollar catalyzed clear you’ll use on the car – the exception
would be if the clear you’ll use on the car is yellower than the
aerosol clear or vise-versa.

Productive paint shops recognize that the
spraybooth is best used for actually painting cars; color match
is achieved long before the car hits the booth. And test panels
are the best way to make this happen.

When the 3.2 ounces of mixed color doesn’t
match the car closely enough, tint this small quantity first.
(For every painter who’s ruined a full pint of color by adding
too much tint, wrecking only 3 ounces of color sounds great!)
In many cases, the 3-ounce batches of alternate formulas or mistinted
color can be used under the final color as a similar-colored base.

Mixing Up Profits

Color match is the heart of auto refinish
and deserves your best effort every day. If your shop

doesn’t currently mix its own color, consider
the benefits: In-house paint mixing reduces the amount of money
going out of house.

Mark Clark, owner of Clark Supply Corporation
in Waterloo, Iowa, is a contributing editor to BodyShop Business.

Fingerprinting Vehicles

Many jobbers across the country have spectrophotometers
to help their customers achieve a blendable match. A spectrophotometer
is a sophisticated computer that takes a “fingerprint”
of a color and reads the vehicle color from several different
angles, plotting out the wavelengths of the colors it sees reflected.
These wavelengths are actually points on a graph like A-9, B-6,
C-11. If you were to connect them with a line, they’d look much
like the swirls in your fingerprint.

What makes these tools so expensive is the
data base of fingerprints back at the jobber’s main computer.
Literally, every color in every quality of paint had to be mixed,
sprayed and “photographed” to form the data base.

Getting an accurate fingerprint of the color
on a car in your shop depends on having a clean, smooth and flat
surface. If the finish on the car is dirty or scratched, the spectrophotometer
won’t get a good picture. If the surface is curved, extra light
leaks in and ruins the picture.

When the actual spectrophotometer “brick”
takes a picture of the color, it takes four or five shots, throws
out the high and low ones, and averages the middle pictures to
form one fingerprint. Once downloaded into the main data base,
the computer hunts through all the other fingerprints, looking
for a close match (just like the FBI computer hunts through all
the fingerprints when looking for a real fingerprint match). Once
the color computer finds a close match, it’ll make two or three
additional small changes to a formula for the best chance of a

Keep in mind that these devices won’t always
produce a butt match, especially in colors with reflectants like
aluminum or pearl. The metallic or pearl colors will change shade
based on how they were sprayed.

But the spectrophotometer will get your painter
a color close to the car in short order. Even if your jobber charges
for a reading – he spent at least $10,000 for the tool – it’s
money well-spent. If the painter is hunting around trying to tint
the formula for an hour and there’s a minimal charge for a formula
that’s close to a blendable match, the shop still comes out ahead.

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