Over the last few months I've received some much-appreciated feedback on my customs, and I thought I'd share how an amateur like me can do a half decent (just above mediocre) job with custom paint schemes. If you're looking for "pro" tips on how to win competitions, or if you're looking to learn how to build fast cars, this is NOT the article for you. However, if you're dipping your toes in the custom scene, or you've started modding and want to send in a car with a unique paint scheme, hopefully you'll find this helpful.
Raising a car from the dead
Before March of 2020 I hadn't even considered repainting a diecast car, let alone cracking one open. The idea was just foreign, and at first a little intimidating (fear of the unknown?). After watching several youtube videos I was inspired to restore my favorite '57 Chevy from my collection. I failed to get a "before" shot, but I'm referring to this one:
It was pretty beat up, with lots of scratches, and hardly any of the yellow remained on the sides. The bottom was almost entirely black (either from something being spilled on it or just weathering). The wheels were pretty shoddy, the windshield was in rough shape, and a small part of the rear fender was chipped. I mean, the thing was 30+ years old! I quickly realized the level of restoration I wanted meant its racing days were over, as I intended on giving it real riders and a place of honor on my desk.
Like many folks (I assume), I took to YouTube to learn how to disassemble a car (Diecast Graveyard if memory serves) and made a list of some basic things I thought I'd need:
- Drill w/ 7/64 bit
- Spray Paint (basic stuff from Lowe's)
- Paint Markers (cheap ones I found on amazon)
- Paint Stripper (I went with the citristrip gel after watching a few videos about it being less caustic and smelly)
So my method began with carefully drilling out the posts. For the first few months I tapped the holes and used screws, but I quickly found it's often not necessary. My method now typically involves carefully drilling out just enough of the post so I can unsnap the base, and more often than not it all snaps back together at the end. For the cars I intend to race, or the ones that need a little more snap, I use a dab of gorilla glue (the gel) in the the post / post hole after reassembly.
I ended up having to wait weeks (I think it was actually months) for the real riders to arrive, so while the '57 was the first custom I started, this Ferrari Testarossa was actually the first one I finished.
I've been asked several times if I airbrush. While I did just get an airbrush, I haven't yet had time to break it out and use it, so everything up to now has been rattle cans & paint markers.
I did learn through trial and error that it's easy to put the spray paint on too quickly and too thick. I think I painted the '57 four times before ultimately using a paint marker b/c I kept getting drips.
Slow and steady
We've now arrived at the single greatest point of advice I think I can offer for a new customizer: take your time!
In order to get good finishes with rattle cans, it regularly takes me a couple days to finish the body of a vehicle. I typically start with a very fine initial layer, just enough to get paint to metal (I've used primer a couple times, and aside from losing detail, I haven't noticed any benefit...nowadays I typically get a combo paint & primer can, though these do seem to clog quickly).
I will let a layer of paint dry for several hours (or a full day if the weather is cold and wet) before applying another. Once I'm satisfied with the body, I typically let the paint cure/dry/off-gas for a full day before doing anything else (such as a glossy clearcoat, but I've more or less abandoned that at this point due to the risk of destroying your work so far). At the same time I'm painting the body, I typically paint the base & interior separately (either spray paint or paint marker...the latter is usually helped with a white primer on plastic).
Taking a step back, I realize I forgot to mention how I prep the metal and plastic pieces. After stripping the paint from metal parts, I typically polish (both with a dremel & by hand). Recently I've also started sanding before polishing, and that really seems to help get that shiny finish (just use a fine grit). For plastic parts I usually just go straight to paint, though if your'e using water soluble paint markers, a white primer really helps (as mentioned above). On the '57, the windshield was particularly dirty, so I tossed that into another plastic food container and sprayed it with oven cleaner (it did help a bit, but not nearly as much as I'd hoped).
Once I got the wheels for my '57, I assembled and added details with paint markers (though it's not necessary to get a good looking car).
Finally, if you're looking to show off your work, take your photos outside in natural light. IMO it's the cheapest way to really improve the look. Also, don't forget about the photo editing options in whatever you happen to be using, balancing the brightness, color, and pop go a long way as well.
I realize I've probably left a lot out, so if you have questions about my process, please feel free to ask!
If you'd like to see more of my work, please check out my facebook page: www.facebook.com/indianadiecastracing