How To Respray A Car – Part Five – Applying Primer

Part Five, in what is steadily becoming the longest diy tutorial in history is all about applying the primer to the repaired panels.

A quick note before we begin. Always check the local rules and regulations regarding the use of automotive paints. Often times it will be illegal to spray these paints at your home and you may need to look for an alternative location.

How To Paint A Car

In a lot of cities you can actually hire out spray booths by the hour or day/half day and this would be better than upsetting everyone and maybe even facing a fine.

And remember always use a respirator or at the very least some sort of mask. Automotive paints are not kind to the body, plus if you’re off with the fairies the job will probably end up looking pretty ordinary! As you can see my choice of mask does great things for my looks but doesn’t offer much in the way of protection and it scares the hell out of the kids! Seriously though it is very important to always protect yourself.

Always wear a mask while spray painting!

Some Important Basics

Now that we have that out of the way I guess the first step is to go through a few basics before we start the painting.

There is going to be a fair bit of bog (filler) dust around if you have done a repair or two and all of this needs to be removed before painting begins, both from the panels and the surrounding area. Compressed air is good for this however you need to either blow it all out in an area away from where you are going to paint or allow enough time for the dust to settle and then hose the floor down. Be as thorough as you can when cleaning down the panel as any muck that is remaining might just find it’s way onto your lovely new paint surface.

Obviously anywhere that we don’t want the paint to go has to be masked up. A newspaper and medium thickness masking tape will do the job. Be sure to mask every little nook and cranny that you don’t want to paint as over-spray finds it way into everywhere and there is nothing worse than spending a day or two removing it when you could be polishing your new paint job instead. Things like door handles and lights are best removed in my opinion but if that is not possible try your best to take the masking tape right to the edge so you have a nice clean finish.

Final Preparation.

Before we move on it is very important to wipe the panel/panels down with wax and grease remover. The idea is to use two clean rags, one to apply the wax and grease remover and one to dry it off. Once this is done ensure that nothing comes in contact with the surface as even the grease in your skin can affect the adhesion of the paint. A ‘tac cloth’ can be used after this to remove any remaining muck however I don’t find this absolutely necessary.

More Reading!

Next item – the spray gun. There is two types that are suitable for automotive paints, the suction feed and the gravity feed gun. For applying primer both types are suitable but I have found that for the best top coat results a gravity feed gun is the way to go. Once again I stress that I am not a qualified spray painter or panel beater, this is just what I have found works for me over the last ten or so years of spraying cars. I picked this gun up from ebay for about 80 bucks and for what I do at least it has done very well. The suction feed gun was retired a while ago and from memory it was a Super Cheap job for around the 40 dollar mark. Certainly not high quality but they are good enough for an amateur like myself.

The next thing is the primer itself. If you are keen to get a really good finish on your car I suggest you use high-fill primer or spray putty and spend the time wet sanding it once applied. If you just want to get the colour on and are not too concerned about minor imperfections a primer/surfacer will do. We are focusing on using acrylic paint with this article as two-pack, in my opinion, is best left to the professionals with the right equipment such as a booth, respirator etc.

The first step is to work out our thinning ratio. Generally speaking acrylic top coat and primers are thinned at a ratio of 1 part paint to 1 ½ parts thinners. Use only thinners suitable for acrylic paints, enamel thinners won’t do anything! This ratio is only a rough guide and it should be clearly stated on the tin what ratio is needed for that particular product. We are using an acrylic high fill primer and general purpose thinners and our ratio is 1 to 1½.

I have an old paint gun pot that I use for mixing the paint and have found the best way to measure the amounts is with a metal ruler. It is important that you give your primer a thorough stir before use, it could have been sitting around for quite a while and the heavier parts may have sunk to the bottom. Once again the old metal ruler is good for this. I also suggest wiping the top of the primer tin and thinners container before pouring. As a rough guide you will need about half a litre of thinned primer per panel for a medium to large size car. Before starting it is a good idea to mix up some paint and test your skills on something other than the car.

Which brings me to another point. The spray gun will more that likely have at least two adjustable controls. Your best bet here is to try each one and get a feel for what is best for you. Just a couple of pointers – you want the paint ‘fan’ to be reasonably wide but with enough paint material coming through to maintain a nice ‘wet’ edge. See the video below for an idea of what I consider a good paint flow and pattern.

Air pressure – most acrylic products that I have used recommend a spraying pressure of around 30 psi. I however find that I can get far better results using anywhere from 40 to 50 psi. Now I am not saying that use should ignore what is written on the label but I think the more time you spend practicing and changing around the settings the better result you will get simply because you can get a feel for what works best for you.

Finally, applying the primer.

Ok, on with it already! I will explain as best I can the actual painting procedure and suggest that after reading this you take a look at the video below which should make things clearer? Hopefully.

To start with, what we want is a nice even flow of paint onto the surface. Too little and we will have dry areas that are rough and the paint will be thin, too heavy and we will get the runs ( figuratively speaking). It all comes down to how fast we move the gun and how much paint is being sprayed.

Something that I found took a bit of practice is keeping the gun parallel to the panel. Particularly at the edges it is easy to lift the gun away from the panel. Try to be almost robotic in your movements and keep the gun at the same distance from the panel across the whole stroke. As you do each stroke you want to overlap the previous one by half. This ensures that there is no ‘dry’ areas towards the outside of the paint ‘fan’.

The best method I have found in maintaining a nice even coat is to position yourself and/or the lighting around you so that you can see the ‘wet’ paint edge at all times. We tried to capture this in the video although it may be a bit hard to see. If you can follow this wet edge across each stroke you will get a feel for how fast you need to go and whether or not there is adequate paint coming from the gun.

Next we will cover using a ‘guide coat’ to achieve a better finish and then get on to applying the top coats.

Best of luck! Part Six can be found HERE

11 thoughts on “How To Respray A Car – Part Five – Applying Primer

  1. many thanks on writing this and the pics…. im going to tackle my toyota next week all going well. no way would i have EVER tackled my 74 vette, but thats sold and forgotten about and all i have now is a shitbox toyota.
    im finding this interesting, and when i start the results will be placed on ( username “nifty” )
    i cant seem to find parts 3 or 4 though on your posting… many thanks nev.

  2. Hey there,

    Great articles and very interesting reading. As a auto painter of some 25 years ago I am about to embark on a ground up resto of an old bedford truck which includes a bare metal strip and paint! I am considering using 2 pack as I have the right safety equipment and can easilly heat my shed (yep turn it into an oven) any way I have been surfing the web looking for tips and it is great to read your stuff as I have not lost it but just forgotten it!



  3. Hey Rusty,
    Thanks for the feedback and good luck with your Bedford. Send us some pics if you’re keen! I hope the information in the articles rings true to you, I am by now means a painter, the articles are more or less the results of years of trial and error – more error than trial usually!

  4. hi there craig. great read, well done! im just about to have a go at painting myself. i have painted a VL with my friend (qualified painter) in the shed which actually turned out really well. im now going to attempt doing it myself but forgot a lot of grades on paper/procedures so your page was a good refresh. im going to be documenting my progress so if you were looking for a readers car i would be more than happy to discuss this with you.

  5. Absolutely Matt, if you are going to document your progress I’d love to put it up in the readers cars section.


  6. Gday

    Just like to say a big thanks for publishing this info im just about to start on my XE and have found this to be great info in getting me started always good that someone has the time to share there knowledge


  7. Hello
    Thanks for putting this up on the web.
    Im 16 nearly 17. I’ve been driving a Ford Laser 87KC hatchback to learn manual in. And its mine 🙂
    The paint work needs a touch up because its faded on the sides and other places at random.
    Roughly 2 months ago me and my neighbour sprayed the mirrors with the can of paint that came with the car.
    Sanded it back a bit and applied 2 coats of paint.
    Fairly easy I guess.
    I’m seeking advice if I could keep going this way when I paint my whole bonnet. Just sand back a bit, apply some coats of paint, and Im using a can, does it matter? And of course I’ll wax the surface when done.
    Also I didn’t mention but we sprayed 2 sections of the roof with the same method. The results are barely noticeable. Except if you look real close where it had minimal signs of rust. Hence why we sprayed it in the first place, the other spot was just faded

  8. Hi Tim,
    The trouble with using spray can’s is that you aren’t able to get enough paint material onto the surface to make any great difference, hence why you found the results on your roof are barely noticeable.

    I know you’re young (and good on you for wanting to take care of your car!!) but my advice would be to see if you can hire or borrow an air compressor and spray gun and buy some acrylic paint to repaint the car with. The results will be a lot better and last a lot longer.

    I hope that helps!


  9. Hi Craig I have done some self taught spray painting….. do u think disc 4 of the spray painting videos is worth buying…. i am going to paint a vintage caravan with auto acrylic so will need a bit of advice and will be happy to buy u a beer for your help how much beer should i buy

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