How to Paint a Pickup Truck – A Basic Guide

A Truck with an excellent paint job is one of life’s true joys. It’s like being the kid with the best bike in the neighbourhood or the biggest piece of party cake. Whether you drive a Ford Ranger, a Chevy Silverado or a Dodge Ram, a great paint job will take your truck from ho-hum to headturner.

truck paint tutorial

Maybe not the best choice but hey, made you look!

Actually creating a great paint job for your pickup truck takes skill and finesse. Automotive painting is one of the most arduous and painstaking tasks in crafting your trucks final look. It can also be one of the most costly.

If you are on a budget, there are options for you. Some paint shops can deliver a good paint job for a fair price. Your other option is to take on the task yourself. If the paint job is a success, you’ll have even more to brag about: a hot set of wheels AND a “do it yourself” tale to tell.

Achieving a great paint job is a step-by-step process. You simply can’t rush painting. Follow the basic steps of preparation, primer application, blocking, final paint coat and detail application. This can seem like a daunting task for any beginner, but the entire job can be completed in just a few days.

Prepare

Before you begin, make sure you are working in a well ventilated area, as killing yourself from inhaling the spray paint fumes is going to make you a legend for a whole different reason!

What you’ll need

Below is a fairly comprehensive list of what you will need to complete the paint job.  Some of this, you will have in the garage but you may need to get a few items, so be sure to check before you start.

We find Amazon is the cheapest place to pickup whatever you are missing and have added some links to what we use ourselves, so you can find things quickly and get them next day.

How to Prep a Truck or Car for Paint

Cleaning your truck is the first step, the car must be spotlessly clean and free of dirt. Use detergents to clean the car top to bottom, and then follow up with grease removers.

Sanding

After the car has been cleaned, it’s time to begin sanding. An air sander (preferably a dual-action sander) should be used to remove the old paint from the car.

This kind of sander will not cause body damage because it removes paint without digging like other sanders and grinders.

truck painting preperation sandingEvery trace of paint must be removed to create a perfect palette for your new paint job. Automotive detailing tape or masking tape can be used to cover and protect other parts of the car, including plastic moldings and windows.

In addition to removing the old paint, all traces of rust have to be sanded off. Rust will spread if ignored or untreated, and the last thing you want is body rot happening beneath your spiffy new paint.

Repair minor rust spots

You can repair minor body flaws on the car’s surface using fillers. Shape the compound with care using a sanding board, then follow up with a glazing compound. This step will help to ensure a smooth-as-glass finish on your ride.

How to paint a truck – preparation guide

If you are unsure of any of the preparation steps, take a look at this easy to follow video tutorial which should answer any questions.

Mask

mask off before spray paintingAfter the whole truck has been initially cleaned, then sanded, a final cleaning takes place and the vehicle is ready to be masked.

In this step, every part of the car that shouldn’t be touched by paint is covered and protected.

Remember, you will be using high-grade automotive paint that doesn’t wash off with water. Cover your windows, every light and reflector, all window rubbers, all chrome, tires, wheels, door handles, wipers.. take a good look at what needs to be masked.

If you don’t want even the tiniest bit of over spray on it, cover it up! The tools and materials needed for masking are available at automotive supply warehouses, hardware stores and online.

Prime

paint job primerPriming is an essential step to providing a good foundation for your new paint. A flawless prime coat will help you to achieve a perfect paint job. Valspar epoxy is a good primer choice, combining dependable filling capabilities with minimal shrinking.

After the primer has been applied, a second coat in a contrasting colour should be applied on top of the first layer. This will serve as a sanding guide. The primer should be sanded to a smooth finish, but don’t sand too vigorously or you could actually damage the body of the car. When the priming is complete, a sealer is applied and a final sanding takes place.

How to prime your truck and mistakes to avoid

In this video, we show you common mistakes in priming your truck so you do not have to do it twice and how to prime your truck the right way, the first time.

How to Spray Base Coat

Spraying base coat is probably the hardest and most important part of doing automotive refinishing. The color and consistency of the color is a crucial component to the overall look and professional appearance of your truck, SUV or car’s finish.

How To Spray Basecoat CorrectlySpraying the base coat color on a car is unlike spraying primer, sealer, or clear coat. Base coat must be sprayed with finesse and in a certainly specific manner. In this article I will highlight certain details and tips for spraying base coat.

Tip 1 – Always use a paint prep degreaser such as Scat with a linen free towel before beginning the process of sealing the vehicle before base coat is to be applied.

Tip 2 – Always use a sealer before spraying base coat in order to prevent from having reacted paint.

When base coat is applied over a substrate surface where pre-existing base coat is exposed the solvents in the base coat will react with the existing basecoat and will begin to lift or make outlining halo effects that can only be seen a couple hours after the clear coat has been sprayed on the car.

If a car has a tremendous amount of body work it is worth applying two coats of sealer and waiting until the sealer is completely dry to the touch.

Note: Don’t touch the vehicle, only touch where overspray is on paper or tape.

Tip 3 – After spraying sealer make sure to use a tack rag and go back lightly over the car. Leave the tack rag out of the package and in the open air approximately 45 minutes before doing this.

Tip 4 – Use a 1.2mm or a 1.3mm gun tip when spraying reduced base coat.

Tip 5 – When mixing up the base coat use fast reducer if it’s a cold day or slow reducer if it’s overly hot. Medium reducer is typically used when the weather is just right in the spring to early summer time. Refer to the instructions on your container of reducer for temperature spraying guidelines.

Tip 6 – When spraying solid colors it’s a good idea to only reduce the base coat half the amount recommended, this way you can get a good solid color foundation before applying the rest of your base coats.

Tip 7 – Always apply at least three coats of base coat, you may sometimes need four. Use a small fluorescent light to walk around the car and look for any transparency or anywhere the sealer may be exposed.

Tip 8 – Use grey sealer on dark colored cars and you can opt for white sealer on cars that you are choosing to have a brighter color tone.

Avoiding Zebra Striping

Spraying metallic’s is the hardest chore of spraying base coat. When spraying metallic base coat the most important thing we want to avoid is what is called zebra striping, this is where the gun was held to close to the surface of the car and the metallic particles tend to accumulate from the heaviest portion of the spray pattern.

zebra stripes

Tiger or Zebra stripes are caused by spraying too close to the body

To avoid this you want to hold your gun back another 2-4 inches from the surface that you typically would and turn up your air pressure slightly. It should look as though your dry spraying the car which is okay with metallic’s, another trick is to go ahead and make your first coating of base coat wet and then instead of waiting your flash time with the gun held approximately 22-24 inches from the car create a spray pattern in the opposite direction you did before.

If you went left to right, now you need to go up and down. Always change the direction in which you spray each base coat so that you have a good balance of metallic throughout all the surfaces of the car.

The last coat of metallic base coat that is sprayed is known as a flash coat in which, using the hood for example: Spray from the front bumper of the car towards the windshield moving left to right with you gun two feet away from the surface creating a dry spray effect then go back over that using your gun in a diagonal pattern such as an x shape.

You want to use as many different angles as you can in your spray pattern on your last coat; if I was spraying a door I would do it horizontally (keeping it two feet back) then vertically (by adjusting the nozzle of the gun) and finally diagonally from the upper right corner to the bottom left and so on.

Tip 9 – Contrary to what people say, do not tack rag the vehicle after the base coat flash time is over, it will only screw it up and cause streaking and disturb the metallic finish.

Finishing off

In finishing off your trucks painting, it is essential to achieve uniform colour. The spray gun should be held ten to twelve inches away from the body to avoid streaks and runs. This is necessary when applying the basecoat, final coat and clear coat.

Regardless of the type of truck you drive, a new paint job can turn it into a real showstopper.

Truck Bass Paint Job

Pickup truck painting can be a time consuming task, but you can do it if you take it step by step. The creative energy will be good for your soul, and the compliments you receive will be great for your confidence.

Painting a truck Gangnam Style

This is actually the easiest step in painting a truck and what more could you want than a time-lapse video with Gangnam Style track.  It just works, check it out!

Common Issues Spray Painting your Vehicle and How to Fix Them

There are inevitably going to be times when your new paint job does not come out how you hoped or expected.  The key to success is going to be finding out what when wrong and correcting the issue, so with this in mind, we have collated the most common issues you will experience with descriptions of what they look like and how to fix it quickly.

Let us know if there are any others you are stuck with and we will try to help out and find a solution.

Paint Issue – Adhesion

What does it look like?

  • Coating is easily removed from substrate or from primer coat, but hardness and mar resistance are maintained.

Causes

  • Improper surface preparation.
  • Painting over oil, grease or other contaminants.
  • Improper curing schedule.
  • Poor substrate integrity.
  • Incompatibility of one coat to another or to substrate.

How to Fix

  • Remove coating, pretreat properly and refinish.
  • If poor substrate integrity, problem may not be solved.

Troubleshooting

  • Ensure proper pretreatment.
  • Surface to be painted must be thoroughly clean and dry.
  • Use recommended curing schedule
  • Ensure that substrate has good integrity.
  • Follow acceptable practices using compatible materials.
  • Possibly sand or scotchbrite surface to be painted.

Paint Issue – Air Entrapment

What does it look like?

  • Small crater like openings in or on the paint film.

Causes

  • Spray gun travel too slow.
  • Spray gun distance to close.
  • Air pressure to low.
  • Improper spray gun setup.

How to Fix

  • Sand with 1200 or finer grit sand paper, then compound and polish to restore gloss.
  • Or, sand and refinish.

Troubleshooting

  • Maintain correct spray gun speed.
  • Maintain correct spray gun distance.
  • Use the recommended air pressure.
  • Use the correct air cap/nozzle/needle recommended for the clear coats.

Paint Issue – Blistering

What does it look like?

  • Small swelled areas like a water blister on human skin.
  • Pinpoint holes in finish.
  • Lack of gloss if blisters are minute.
  • Broken edge craters if the blisters have burst.

Causes

  • Improper thinning solvent; too fast evaporating.
  • Excessive film build trapped solvents.
  • Excessive temperature in first oven zone.
  • Insufficient flash off time before baking.
  • Gasses entrapped in the substrate during the manufacturing process are forced out through the coating when baked at high temperatures.

How to Fix

  • Sand and refinish.

Troubleshooting

  • Reduce with slower evaporating solvents.
  • Reduce film build.
  • Reduce temperature in first oven zone.
  • Increase flash off time prior to baking.
  • Reduce overall oven temperature.

Paint Issue – Crater

What does it look like?

  • Small crater-like depressions in the film.

Causes

  • Improper cleaning of substrate.
  • Oil, water or other contaminant in spray lines.
  • Silicone or other contaminant in working area atmosphere.
  • Low film build.
  • Overly wet application.

How to Fix

  • Sand and refinish.

Troubleshooting

  • Surface to be painted must be thoroughly clean and dry.
  • Increase film build.
  • Use proper maintenance to prevent contaminants from entering spray lines.
  • Eliminate contaminants from entering application areas.
  • Spray the coating “drier” using multiple passes.
  • Increase viscosity of paint.

Paint Issue – Dirt

What does it look like?

  • Foreign particles dried in paint film.

Causes

  • Improper cleaning of the substrate.
  • Defective air regulator cleaning filter.
  • Dirty working area.
  • Defective or dirty air inlet filters in spray booth and/or ovens.
  • Dirty spray equipment.
  • Dirt in oven or paint.
  • Insufficient agitation or paint settling.

How to Fix

  • Sand and refinish.

Troubleshooting

  • Clean surface thoroughly.
  • Be sure all equipment is clean.
  • Replace air inlet filters if dirty or defective.
  • Maintain a clean spray area.
  • Clean or replace filters in solvent lines, air regulator, compressor, and paint lines.
  • Keep all paint containers closed to prevent contamination.
  • Periodically clean ovens.
  • Flush paint lines thoroughly with clean solvent when not in use and prior to changing paints.
  • Agitate paint thoroughly before using.

Paint Issue – Fisheyes

What does it look like?

  • Small crater-like depressions in the film.

Causes

  • Improper cleaning of substrate.
  • Oil, water or other contaminant in spray lines.
  • Silicone or other contaminant in working area atmosphere.
  • Low film build.
  • Overly wet application.

How to Fix

  • Sand and refinish.

Troubleshooting

  • Surface to be painted must be thoroughly clean and dry.
  • Increase film build.
  • Use proper maintenance to prevent contaminants from entering spray lines.
  • Eliminate contaminants from entering application areas.
  • Spray the coating “drier” using multiple passes.
  • Increase viscosity of paint.

Paint Issue – Float

What does it look like?

  • Streaking of the color.

Causes

  • Heavier film thickness in some areas.
  • Insufficient agitation of paint separation.

How to Fix

  • Refinish.

Troubleshooting

  • Avoid heavy film buildup.
  • Do not over-reduce paint.
  • Agitate paint thoroughly before using.

Paint Issue – Orange Peel

What does it look like?

  • Resembles the skin of an orange.

Causes

  • Under reduced paint.
  • Improper thinning solvent – too fast evaporating.
  • Low film build.
  • Improper air pressure.
  • Lack of proper flow.
  • Paint temperature too low.
  • Substrate temperature too high.

How to Fix

  • Sand and refinish.

Troubleshooting

  • Lower viscosity of paint.
  • Reduce with slower evaporating solvents.
  • Proper air and application equipment adjustments.
  • Maintain constant paint and substrate temperature.

Paint Issue – Pinholes

What does it look like?

  • Small swelled areas like a water blister on human skin.
  • Pinpoint holes in finish.
  • Lack of gloss if blisters are minute.
  • Broken edge craters if the blisters have burst.

Causes

  • Improper thinning solvent – too fast evaporating.
  • Excessive film build trapped solvents.
  • Excessive temperature in first oven zone.
  • Insufficient flash off time before baking.
  • Gasses entrapped in the substrate during the manufacturing process are forced out through the coating when baked at high temperatures.

How to Fix

  • Sand and refinish.

Troubleshooting

  • Reduce with slower evaporating solvents.
  • Reduce film build.
  • Reduce temperature in first oven zone.
  • Increase flash off time prior to baking.
  • Reduce overall oven temperature.

Paint Issue – PreTreat Staining

What does it look like?

  • Water spots.
  • Streaks or blotchiness visible through cured paint finish.

Causes

  • Excessive pretreatment chemicals remain on substrate surface.

How to Fix

  • Apply primer and refinish.

Troubleshooting

  • Ensure sufficient rinsing during pretreatment to remove any excess chemicals.
  • Improve part hanging.
  • Design drain holes to ensure complete drainage of pretreatment chemicals.

Paint Issue – Sags & Runs

What does it look like?

  • Running of the paint film in rivulets; mass slippage of the total film.

Causes

  • Over reduced paint.
  • Improper thinners – too slow evaporating.
  • Excessive film build.
  • Paint temperature too high.
  • Substrate temperature too low.
  • Insufficient agitation of paint separation.

How to Fix

  • Sand and refinish.

Troubleshooting

  • Use recommended thinner at specified reduction and air pressure.
  • Decrease film build.
  • Maintain constant paint and substrate temperature.
  • Agitate paint thoroughly before using.

Paint Issue – Solvent Popping

What does it look like?

  • Small swelled areas like a water blister on human skin.
  • Pinpoint holes in finish.
  • Lack of gloss if blisters are minute.
  • Broken edge craters if the blisters have burst.

Causes

  • Improper thinning solvent – too fast evaporating.
  • Excessive film build trapped solvents.
  • Excessive temperature in first oven zone.
  • Insufficient flash off time before baking.
  • Gasses entrapped in the substrate during the manufacturing process are forced out through the coating when baked at high temperatures.

How to Fix

  • Sand and refinish.

Troubleshooting

  • Reduce with slower evaporating solvents.
  • Reduce film build.
  • Reduce temperature in first oven zone.
  • Increase flash off time prior to baking.
  • Reduce overall oven temperature.

Paint Issue – Wrinkles

What does it look like?

  • Puckering of enamel.
  • Prune skin effect.
  • Loss of gloss as film dries (minute wrinkling not visible to the naked eye).

Causes

  • Excessive film build.
  • Surface drying trapping solvents.
  • Fresh film subjected to heat too soon.
  • Contamination in oven or paint.

How to Fix

  • Remove wrinkled coating and refinish.

Troubleshooting

  • Decrease film build.
  • Clean all agitation equipment and paint lines thoroughly before changing colors or products.
  • Periodically clean oven.
  • NOTE: Do not use chlorinated solvents or acid for cleaning ovens or areas around ovens.

HVLP Spray Paint Guns

HVLP stands for high-volume, low pressure. They are more efficient and cause less over spray than standard spray paint guns.

If you do a lot of spray finishing, an HVLP spray paint gun can save you money over the long run because you will use less paint. You can use your shop air compressor’s powerful air output to run a spray paint gun.

HVLP Spray Paint GunsA trigger operated spray paint gun takes paint or finish and mixes it with high pressure air. The paint is atomized and sprayed out in a cone shape to produce a neat and controllable pattern. An experienced painter can produce very nice finishes smoothly and with a professional look.

HVLP spray guns are widely used in automotive shops to produce factory quality finishes.

Its all about the finish

Most HVLP spray paint guns allow you to change out nozzles for different types of finishes. Examples are lacquer, stains, paint and varnishes. However, thick latex paints are not advisable. (You can’t use your HVLP spray paint gun to paint the house.)

Most spray guns have a 1 quart cup that attaches below the nozzle and others have a top mounted cup. These are referred to as gravity feed spray paint guns. HVLP spray paint guns require large amounts of air to operate for continuous spraying. The paint gun manufacturer should tell you in the specs how much air is required to operate their gun.

One important thing to be aware of is that HVLP sprayers cause lots of over spray and will make a mess.

Protection is always advisable!

safety firstIt is very important to wear paint coveralls, breathing protection and eye protection. Also, masking and wheel covers are important to protect the car you are painting.

HVLP spray paint guns are not precision instruments. It is more like a shot gun approach to painting. They are very good at applying a professional finish but they also blow paint everywhere.

Body protection is very important when using HVLP sprayers. You can get away with minimal protection when painting a room in your house, but with these tools you need to make sure your whole body is well covered before you begin spraying.

As they put out so much and in such fine mist, breathing protection is absolutely mandatory. Tiny droplets of paint will be suspended in the air and you will inhale them without a respirator mask on.

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