I remember this like it were yesterday. A disappointed customer brought in a bike with a brand-new paint job. The gentleman had paid $2500 for the Ruby Red custom paint job in front of me. Although there were many notable aspects, the strengths of this paint job were eclipsed by one fatal flaw: the surface of the motorcycle looked wavy and imperfect.  This is the mark of poor-quality preparation, as the underlying foundation telegraphs its issues through to the surface.

I’ve seen paint jobs fall off of parts, sand scratches in the color, and final finishes that are orange peeled, pinched, or rippled. Usually, these rolling disappointments are created by technicians who don’t adhere to best practices because they are undertrained or don’t care.

Here is one thing that many people do not know about paint: when the foundation is laid correctly, it will not be seen. The customer sees color, like a red bike with orange flames. However, a well-trained painter sees the surface as well as the color since the surface is to a paint job what the character is to a man; pretty paint with a poor surface will spoil the whole thing.

This begs the question… how can I ensure that my paint job has a quality surface? The answer lies in the preparation, also called prep.

Prep is the unappreciated element of a paint job, the faithful friend who does your dishes while you’re not looking and serves you while you aren’t thinking about it. Prep creates a canvas on which your paint can be applied. The better the canvas, the more durability, and longevity the paint job will have.

"Prep is the unappreciated element of a paint job, the faithful friend..."

The prep process can be broken down into 4 basic operations; initial cleaning, sanding, resurfacing, and final cleaning.

Initial Cleaning
Everything needs to be cleaned, whether you can visibly see contamination or not. Best practices require thorough pre-cleaning to eliminate mold release agents, dirt, and other contaminants. If you do not start by taking care of grease, oil, and dirt on the parts, the paint job will certainly be compromised, because they can get ground down into the surface during the sanding process.

The surface of any part must be sanded properly. Sanding creates a consistent scratch profile, and each scratch is like a chair for the paint to sit on. My dad taught me with this analogy; “Sanding turns the surface into a stairway for the paint; before sanding it may as well be a slide!” The surface needs to be crafted to serve as a cozy home for the paint live.

The purpose of this is to perfect the surface because every part possesses natural surface characteristics. While the paint job I referenced earlier was wavy like a potato chip, other parts have surfaces like orange peel, cottage cheese, the ocean, or a mountain range. The point of resurfacing is to put a “new surface” on the part, thereby eliminating these abnormalities.

Final Cleaning
After all this prep, we clean the part one last time. The reason for this is to remove ground-in dust and other potential contaminants. This seems like the step that everyone would do, including a beginner or inexperienced painter because it is so obvious. However, cleaning should be vigorous and detailed. Two people can clean parts side by side and get radically different results. This step is not the time to fall asleep on the job because done incorrectly, all previous investments could be nullified.

Painting on an un-prepped part is like building a house on sand. At CPV, we strive to establish a solid foundation which will be the integrity of the paint job.

Authored By: Steve Wright

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