Today’s collision repair shop has never had a bigger opportunity to pick up work by delving into the artistic side of vehicle appearance. Vinyl art, computer-produced graphics, paint-on murals and, especially, pinstriping are sought after by consumers in every age and car-buying bracket.
New, exotic, deep-sheen pearls as well as other "glamour" finish systems are dazzling today’s consumers. And even with today’s high-tech colors and wacky finishes, pinstriping remains a constant element. And why not? It’s a simple and inexpensive way for vehicle owners to accessorize and set their glamour finish apart from the next guy’s.
But just how does pinstriping accent your shop’s bottom line? Becoming proficient with any or all of the pinstriping techniques out there can spell profits almost immediately with very little investment.
Today, air-brush guys with the talent that custom painters had years ago are tough to come by. (If your shop has such a commercial-art type, count your blessings.) Junior college and vocational art programs tied to many community colleges can sometimes take an automotive paint technician and teach him the fine points of air-brush technique, but gaining the expertise necessary to free-hand work takes a lot of practice, time and dedication.
For those of you with "less than Picasso" art skills, one way to break into real-world application is by using vinyl-stencil paint-on stripes. This alternative to air-brush and free-hand design is an easy way to get started. Simply purchase a starter kit — complete with stencil tape, slim-line graphic tape and about half a dozen special paint colors.
Having replaced pinstriping using a starter kit like the one described, I can verify that it’s easy to get a quality job right away. And in just a few steps, you can perform easy fixes on striping that needs replaced after a panel is re-painted.
Also included in most stencil-tape starter kits are half a dozen different rolls of striping stencil tape. Aside from getting the most popular thickness and match-line spacing, you’ll enjoy the elasticity of the stencil tape. No distortion occurs while bending, which makes it easy to get around corners and traverse high contours where body lines flow at conflicting angles.
The paint included in these kits is a gloss enamel and is selected for its intermixing compatibility with popular finishes, as well as its color-matching capability. On the right metallic finish, the right mix of paint will create a high-resolution contrast that seems almost 3-D. Camel-hair brushes are the best way to apply such paint and, to keep those brushes soft and workable, brush oils are included in the various kits.
As Easy as 1-2-3
How do you actually use a stencil-striping system?
First, clean the area with a grease, silicone wax and dirt remover to ensure adhesion of the striping tape. One striper I know also uses a new eraser to go over the area to be painted before he cleans it.
What about sanding the area? The majority of users will say not to sand. The exception to this opinion includes those instances when the condition of the topcoat warrants a light touch with 600-grit or higher sandpaper. If the surface suffers from oxidation, light sanding can remove the troublesome film.
Three steps make up the remainder of the stencil-taping routine:
1. Apply the stencil tape, following body contour lines or lines created by custom metal work to blend with graphics already in use.
2. Hand paint over the stencil tape. Bleed-through around edges is a very rare occurrence.
3. Peel off the stencil using the same techniques you’ve learned to remove traditional masking tapes.
The rest happens at the cash register.
One final note on this striping system: The kit suppliers have more than 20 different colors available that are all ultra-opaque. This means they exhibit no show-through tendencies, so you shouldn’t have to go back over a stripe with a second paint application.
Not so long ago, a technique using a roller device containing properly thinned, special sign-type paint was used to paint stripes. With this tool, laying out the pattern was sometimes the hardest part of the operation. The best stripers using this technique could almost eyeball the placement of body stripes, but it still took a lot of finesse to get the stripe to lay down over the flared edges on a contoured panel. Most specialists used masking tape or guide rods, which come in the kits, to keep lines straight.
The big trouble with this striping system, say some, was that just as painters had mastered the use of the tool, problems with thinner migration and weep-out (separation of the solvents from the paint) would occur. Also, flaking off of the stripe edges after the mask-over was pulled often showed disappointing results.
Using special-grade sign paint and matching the thinners more carefully helped a bit, but many experts say that 10 percent of the jobs were still flawed, often because the magnetic tape used to lay out the stripe would shift position or wasn’t usable on areas with a lot of plastic filler or on Corvette fiberglass panels.
For the most part, manufacturers of roller striping equipment have started marketing it to do-it-yourselfers since vinyl pinstriping has gained in popularity. With an experienced tech, however, roller striping can offer body shops quick set-up time and quality results.
Tim Simmons, a painter at Jim’s Body Shop in Forsyth, Mo., knows a lot about the latest trends in vinyl striping. Even a shop like Jim’s — in southwest Missouri — sees a lot of custom paint jobs and unique stripe and graphic applications, which is a testimony to their popularity.
According to Simmons, two-color striping with a one-eighth-inch band and a one-sixteenth-inch band is the current favorite and is gaining even more popularity. Two-color applications are very sleek and make pearls and candy colors stand out, and even the dark metallic finishes pick up highlights from the body lines due to striping. New striping with one-sixteenth-inch top and bottom stripes are also popular.
Striping charts supplied by several manufacturers can help painters in selecting the right color. Prism, chrome, and gold and silver tints all exist in thin, single-line-stripe and multi-stripe varieties and can create unique designs. Some stripe designs split in a fork-like pattern while others travel in a pointed or broken flair. Many stripe manufacturers sell "tip-offs" or finished ends to create such looks.
You can even combine vinyl and stencil tape, which I discussed earlier, for complete striping re-dos and new applications. The elastic properties of special, thin, single-line tape found in many kits are compatible with vinyl and can make for more unique starting or finish lines. They can also work together to create a seamless splice or patch on partial repair jobs.
Applying Vinyl Stripes
Using multi-stripe vinyl striping, Simmons explained a typical application. He showed me the rubber-eraser wheel used to remove old striping without burning the basecoat or damaging clearcoats. If he’s simply replacing a stripe or adding a two-color or new design to a car that hasn’t gone through the shop for painting, Simmons uses a cleaner/wax remover to prep the area after the old stripe has been removed.
Simmons and other stripers are quick to point out that multi-stripes should be adhered from the rear of the vehicle forward. The stripe should then be laid down without removing the paper backing and brought around to match the line on the adjoining panel. If it’s a complete re-do on the stripe, laying it out this way gives the striper one last look at any angles he may be dealing with. It will also make life a lot easier before the transparent cellophane appliqué on top is removed during the application or squeegee phase of stripe or graphics placement. Laying the stripe down evenly before it’s stuck to the panel prevents material wasting and eliminates the chances of running short, forcing a splice in the middle of the stripe.
Pulling off the paper backing is similar to removing the masking tape from a re-paint area. Pull away from the surface at a moderate to sharp angle. Some stripers suggest removing the clear tape on multi-stripe appliqués by peeling it back and shifting your angle to 180 degrees. Re-laying the vinyl once it’s down isn’t recommended.
After the backing is removed, the stripe is laid down and the air bubbles are carefully removed, the transparent cover can be totally discarded since the multi-stripe spacing is now set. At this point, Simmons uses a heat gun sparingly to activate the adhesive. The results are obvious immediately: The stripe seems to flatten out and become a part of the panel. Other stripers I spoke with use a pressure-type squeegee to stick the stripe down.
Simmons says he completes every stripe replacement by applying wax over the stripe. He then polishes or lightly buffs to restore the finish of the area where wax was removed during surface preparation. If he’s replacing a short section of striping on a panel that’s newly painted, Simmons often clears over the panel while blending after the stripe application has dried/cured for about 12 hours. This procedure, he says, adds durability to the striping and helps to make the new stripe section match the total vehicle look.
Avoiding Vinyl-Striping Snags
Simmons cautions that all vinyl isn’t created equal. Jim’s Body Shop purchases only name-brand vinyl produced by reliable manufacturers because Simmons has encountered lower-quality vinyl striping and graphics that were affected negatively by the solvents in fresh paint and that didn’t react well to the heating process.
All of the stripers and manufacturers I contacted also warned against applying vinyl below 60 degrees F. The best results, they agree, usually occur on panels with a surface temperature of 70 to 80 degrees F.
One of the most difficult vinyl applications is on a late-model Cadillac with painted pinstripes. Fixing stripes in situations like this with vinyl is often too tough to deal with, and matching problems tend be impossible to overcome.
While he swears by vinyl, Simmons frequently uses stencil tapes and paint to repair such difficult applications. Air brushing over the stencil tape or using a soft, camel-hair brush are good ways to complete a successful Cadillac striping job.
Stripers using vinyl have also reported problems with air bubbles on some of the chrome and prism designs. Most say a little more work is required to lay the stuff down. Many stripers also say the elastic properties of chrome and prism designs aren’t as good as other designs. To avoid trouble, they suggest that sharp angles be avoided since the stripe tape tends to ripple or tear away.
As further advice when using any vinyl application, Simmons says not to over-stretch the vinyl and to have a final plan for the finished application.
Accent Your Bottom Line
A clean surface and a well-thought-out plan are crucial to a successful striping application, whether you’re using stencil tape, a roller device or vinyl. Crucial to your business are overall job quality and services that give you an edge over your competition.
Custom pinstriping can give you that edge — whether it’s as an up-sell for collision repair customers or a service you provide local used-car dealers to spruce up vehicles on their lots.
Your techs don’t need Picasso’s art skills to repair striping on a recently refinished panel or to create custom work. With a little know how and the right tools, they can create quality work and satisfied customers.
Contributing editor Bob Leone, a retired shop owner, is ASE Three-Way Master Certified and is completing qualifications as a post-secondary automotive instructor in the vocational school system in Missouri.
A Man Named Frog
A long time ago, in a place far, far away — Bonneville Salt Flats, to be exact — a man named Von Dutch created a new form of art: automotive graphics and custom pinstriping. Or so the story goes.
From those beginnings, graphics and custom striping gained popularity on the street and then in the hot-rod culture. Since then, the demand for custom automotive accents has skyrocketed in many markets.
Today, when you talk about custom graphics and striping, all roads lead to Frog’s Detailed Specialties, Inc. in Springfield, Mo. There, co-owners Mel — better known as Frog — and Doug Dollaride have established a solid reputation as experts. Free-hand pinstriping, among other artistic designs, is common-place work for this father and son team, who typically have more work than they can handle.
At the shop, Frog uses many of the same kind of tools he started out with in the ’50s. His easel is a phone book; "It always has been," he says. The mack brushes he uses are woolly sword designs and are well-worn but also well-cared for.
"You really should start out free handing with a brush in this business," he says. "The problems we see here aren’t because the new stripers do a bad job but because they just never had a chance to gain a real perspective on striping as an art or a personal signature."
Catching up with today’s technology, Frog uses the office computer to create graphics that are duplicates side to side, which was always a challenge when free handing. To customize the computer-generated graphics and give them his own flair, he often selects different lettering and a different color scheme than the standard on the computer program.
Though he’s adapted somewhat to today’s technology, Frog considers himself a dying breed. He says today’s young stripers are in it for the money, not for the self-expression and artistic aspect.
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