Introduction: Bike Painting Tips

Picture of Bike Painting Tips

I have painted a couple bikes for my friends so I thought I would share some tricks I learned in the process.

Step 1: Frame Prep.

- To strip bike frames completely I use brush–on (not aerosol) Aircraft Stripper. With the brush on variety you can load it on, let it dry and get almost all the paint off in an hour or so. Be careful though, this stuff is EXTREMELY TOXIC!

- If you only want to sand down the current paint, my favorite method is to use 180grit wet/dry sandpaper. I keep a bucket next to me and rinse off the paper when its starts to clog with old paint. The wet sanding cuts through the paint pretty quick but it still takes awhile.

- I tape off all the holes and trim the excess with an exacto. I stuff a roll of newspaper in the seat tube because I’ve seen motorcycle builders do this so I feel cool. Get decent masking tape that sticks well but doesn’t pull off paint. I have found that the blue house painters tape doesn’t stick well enough for detail work but is fine for masking big areas.

- If you can, wait for a warm, dry day. It will help the paint bond well.

Step 2: Painting.

Picture of Painting.

- Rustoleum Painter’s Touch primer and clear coat are my favorite. The primer dries super quick and bonds really well. The clear doesn’t yellow and doesn’t sag as much if you load it on too thick. I also really like Rusoleums American Accents paint. It comes in a ton of colors and they are almost all satin finish so each coat/layer bonds well. (No I don’t work for Rustoleum, it’s just what my hardware store had and I like it.)

- I lay down two coats of primer and generally two coats of paint for each color. On the Cannondale I used three for the base tan color.

- I do a light sanding between coats of color with 600grit wet/dry paper. The paper cuts through low spots pretty quick so don’t stay in one area too long. I don’t sand when doing the detail bits.

- I like to use allot of clear for extra protection. Don’t load it up in one big coat, use a couple light coats and let them dry in between.

Step 3: Creative Tips.

Picture of Creative Tips.

- The plaid on the Cannondale was done by smoothly wrapping masking tape around the tube. I started the tape at what looked like a 45 degree angle to the tube and rolled it around kind of like bar tape. I did the two brown stripes that face one direction. After it dried I removed the tape and laid new tape perpendicular to the first. I did the same for the thin white stripes but with a smaller gap between tape strips. If your tape stats getting closer together or spreading apart while you wrap you can carefully smooth the opposite edge to guide it back one track

- The checkerboard spiral was done using little square stickers I found at the hardware store. They were sheets of numbers in this case. The size of the sticker dictated the pattern size which is why I had a gap left over where I put the Twain quote (when you mess up get creative!). I already had the tan base color so I placed a spiral of stickers where I wanted that color to show through. Then I laid the next color and placed sticker next to the first row. I did this for all the colors until only one row was not covered with stickers and I sprayed the last color. Then I pulled all the stickers off very carefully with the tip of an exacto.

- When doing a pattern you should plan out all your layers and decide what order they need to go in. I could have sprayed all the brown stripes in the plaid at once but that would have made my masking job much harder. I separated them by color and direction and decided that I wanted the white on top.

- One trick that really saved me time was using freezer paper to cover the panels I wasn’t working on at the time. This allowed to panels to dry while I worked on the third. I rotated the paper wraps after I each layer on each tube. I wrapped the freezer paper waxy side in so it wouldn’t stick but I still waited 30 minutes after spraying to wrap a tube.

- For the Mark Twain quote I wrote it on a piece of masking tape to check the sizing. Then I copied it on a piece of carbon paper and lightly traced it on the tube. The ink you see is actually just blue sharpie which turned out kind of metallic on the bike.

- Another thing I like to do for text is use a reverse stencil. After the primer I spray the area where the lettering will go with the color I want it to be. Then I put down some vinyl sticker letters and spray the rest of the bike its final color. When I pull off the stickers I have nice clean lettering showing through in the color I wanted. You can get fancy by having a sticker shop make you a custom window sticker with whatever font or logo you want. Make sure you get the stickers that are letters cut out of vinyl and not a big rectangle with letter printed on it.

- No design is impossible. I thought the plaid would be impossible when I thought of it. Just picture you dream paintjob in you head then try to plan out how you could make it happen. It’s like a puzzle!

Step 4: Take Off the Tape and Ride!

Picture of Take Off the Tape and Ride!

Hope these tips and ideas helped. Can't wait to see some designs people come up with.


EmmettTheGreat (author)2016-06-15

how long do you suggest waiting between colors?

renz34 (author)EmmettTheGreat2016-07-31

what materials did u used???what kind of paint do i need??

EmmettTheGreat (author)renz342016-07-31

I painted my bike recently and I used rustoleum and it came off kind of easily due to the colors I used and my sanding, so my suggestion is to sand very well, use a rustoleum primer meant for outdoor use, sand very well between coats, use a minimal amount of colors, use lots of high quality enamel (google it), and wait at least three weeks after painting it before you start using it. All the materials he used are in the actual instructable. Good luck, and as a last note, know that this is a big project and you should be aware of that.

adnauseam (author)2012-06-08

I painted my bike with regular Rustoleum spray paint and found it chipping a little here and there. Especially when contacting metal when I locked it to various things (posts, racks, etc). In the future when I do this I will probably be using more expensive Enamel spray paint as I think it's much harder when it finishes. Also, I will be leaving it atleast a week, hopefully with some sun, to ensure it hardens well.

AlphaL (author)adnauseam2016-02-28

How did the enamel spray work for you?

PREDATOR7 (author)2015-12-15

Spray paint is not strong enough against scratches, I painted my Trek mountain bike with epoxy urethane single stage, that paint dries very hard almost like powder coatingplus shines beautifully.

franalpo (author)2014-07-06

what kinda bike is this? looks like an older cannondale bike

cmuldoon (author)2013-12-05

How to get the faded first layer with the design? Would love to see some more detailed instructables on the detailing.

ZAProwsdower (author)2013-08-06

Can you post photos of the taping and painting process rather than just the final product?

barnhill123 (author)2013-04-15

i should do this when i camo paint my bike

japanbike (author)2012-12-21

Is the wheel rim painted red in the first picture or just anodized ?

devein (author)2012-11-16

another option for "harder" coat is to have it painted using paint gun. The paint gun allows to use acrylic hardener, exactly like in professional coat in cars etc. it is impossible to add hardener to a spray can - the can content would turn into solid in hours.

cheapest compromise: make base and color using spray cans, and then take the frame for coating to car painting shop.

spraying over powder coating has one more advantage: powder coats are limited to RAL color palette (at least in Poland). you can fill cans (for spray or gun) with every car color possible or have a custom color, with pearl and metalic gloss.

nathan701 (author)2012-08-05

My own painted bicycle light blue and all of the brown is real leather.
Link to instructable about it.

dorm7guard (author)2012-07-10

I am painting my bike. I sanded the bike, but only removed the front wheel. I am going to paint it by hand, using a sponge brush and a regular artist brush. I have a primer, but now I'm thinking that the primer is too light in color because I tested a spot and put the color I want over it and it came out a lot brighter than the card (where paint sample was on). So I guess I will have to buy a different color primer color? This is the best I can do with this bike. I would like to just take the whole thing apart and spray paint it, but I don't know how, and I wouldn't be able to get it back together. Any advice with this, would be greatly appreciated.

madugly (author)2006-10-10

Awesome paint, great write up. The guide is right: pick warm, dry, still weather. I've sprayed in cold, humid, windy conditions and won't do it again. One thing I didn't see in the guide was the reminder that spray can coats typically do not have the hardness of a decent powder coat. I've tried engine enamel (supposed to be harder and more resistant than, say, regular lacquers) with professional urethane coating on top, and it still chips far easier than powder coat. Again: great job on this post!

sarita (author)madugly2007-08-17

Powder coat? What's that? Is it comparable to the bike manufacturer's paint? I want to change the look of my new bike. I mean, who needs to ride around on an aluminum advertisement? But the question is, will the new paint job weaken my bike? Could I paint over the original stuff to keep the same amount of protection? Maybe I should slick with stickers.

heheheha (author)sarita2007-12-19

Powder coat is a type of paint; I believe that it is what all bike manufacturers use.You will NOT be able to replicate this; basically, a statically charged powder is sprayed onto the frame, then thrown in an oven to bake.

benpic10 (author)heheheha2012-05-18

in other words you would have very little success replicating this at home, I would suggest not even thinking about it :/

buckeyebuck (author)sarita2008-01-21

Not entirely true. There are consumer level powder coat systems. With enough practice and patience, one might achieve a decent finish. Have not tried it myself, but the day is approaching . . .

fjordtjie (author)buckeyebuck2010-05-13

yes, the sprayer for applying the powder coat is relatively affordable, but powder coating also involves baking, as far as i know.  an oven on the same website is $350, so not really consumer level...

i don't know of powder coating that doesn't involve the heat for curing the coating, but i may be mistaken.  i'll stick with spray paint on my $30 bike : )

Panda Face (author)sarita2007-08-18

If your frame is aluminum it will be fine with or without paint. If it is steel you want to keep all the bare metal covered to prevent rust. DIY paint jobs will chip easier so you will need to retouch from time to time.

dorsey (author)Panda Face2007-09-11

panda face,i am going to strip down and paint my cervelo,it is alluminum,what do i prep it with to accept my primer and paint,it keeps peeling on me.HELP

Panda Face (author)dorsey2007-09-13

With aluminum you can sand it down or use a stripping chemical. After sanding make sure to leave it a little rough so the paint will stick. If you use a chemical stripper then make sure to wipe off the excess. After that just use a good quality primer and paint with many light coats, drying in between. It is hard to avoid some amount of chipping because rattle-can paint doesn't cure or bond as well as professional spray gun paint.

static (author)sarita2007-08-31

Aluminum does corrode and where the corrosion will leave black marks on clothing and skin that rubs on it hard enough, I have the believe your bike frame has some sort of protective finish, possibly the frame has been anodized or has a clear coating. or even an aluminum colored powder coating. Often it isn't practical or even necessary to get back to a bare metal surface if the current finish has a solid bond to the metal and may be a suitable substrate for a custom finish. You will need to decide what fish method will bond well with the current surface finish. So many variables it's almost impossible to cover them all in an instructable

regomodo (author)madugly2007-08-27

i second the dry, warm and still weather policy. 2 years ago when respraying my motorbike i had hell of a time picking still days. Living by the coast is a killer for me. For steel i spend forever getting the surface cleaned up and degreased, A few layers of primer, many coats of paint and then a few coats of clear lacquer. Unfortunately for my mobike i forgot to use petrol resistant lacquer. For alu, stripdown to the metal and plenty of polishing. Remember, LOTS of THIN coats.

brianhabicht (author)regomodo2010-03-05

 like he says, "THIN COATS" 

gfernandez2 (author)2012-05-17

Do you think I can do this in two weeks?? Also, do you think it will last a two month cross country bike tour?

gold fish (author)2011-10-13

are we suppose to use 180 grit or 600 grit sandpaper?

metrometro (author)gold fish2012-04-22

Both. 180 grit to remove paint. 600 grit to even out paint between layers.

The 600 will be very smooth paper compared to the 180.

SamGerald (author)2012-03-29

This is great advice for someone like me who wants to spruce up the look of their bike. Thanks for the guide!

mga12 (author)2012-03-14

Thanks for the info! Here's a shot of my newly painted bike (please overlook the dirty tires). I also found that it was useful to use a drill with a wire brush to take off what paint the stripper missed.

pcorbett (author)2012-02-24

That's a little plaid. This is a lot of plaid

johannalee (author)2008-05-06

you could also ask the sticker or sign shops for odd pieces of vinyl. They run huge sheets that come wrapped around a tube through plotters and there's always ends that are usually too small to use for anything. there are a lot of extra pieces lying around our shop all the time. even mis-cut vinyl could be used for some cool paint effects. This is such a cool idea. I've wanted to do this for so long but never really thought about the right way to do it or the right materials to use. Love the plaid. Are there glittery spray paints?

twall3 (author)johannalee2011-12-06

Yeah, they make aerosol cans of spray glitter. It's basically glitter suspended in a clear coat. I don't think it's super strong itself since it's kind of cheap and not really meant for high abuse jobs like bikes. I used it once on a bike that I was painting white but wanted to have a little metallic shine. I sprayed a coat of white, then a coat of glitter, another coat of white, glitter again, white a final time and then a few coats of clear. It came out pretty sweet, the glitter isn't overbearing but adds a nice touch and it has held up well.

bibamofo (author)johannalee2009-05-27

It's funny, when I saw the pics of Panda Face's bike, I just assumed that the plaid pieces were printed vinyl. I did something similar with my bike using and was pretty pleased with the way the vinyl decals turned out once I was done applying them. Still, I gotta say there's something more impressive about doing it the old fashioned way. Kinda cool to see someone do by hand what I used Illustrator to do. Bravo!

ckatzenburrger (author)2011-11-25

so, i want to paint my handlebars like a candy cane i.e. white with red spirals. would it turn out fine if I used white primer, taped it up like white swirls, did the red, took the tape off and clearcoated it? would that look terrible cause on some parts it was only primer and clearcoat?

bfunnekotter (author)2011-11-06

I could not agree more with @fastback570....GET RID OF YOUR TELEVISIONS!

xaviercugiecugat (author)2008-02-24

Just finished my bike. Thanks for posting your instructions it was really helpful. I stripped the paint off, repainted a gray-blue base coat and used mod podge to glue on blueprints. The blueprints are from Rankin Steel Mill in Pittsburgh. They're schematics of blast furnaces and other parts of the steel mill. The mill closed in the 80s so these prints sat around for 20+ years which is why they are faded and have water blotches.

Wasagi (author)xaviercugiecugat2011-10-30

That is fantastic! I love how it turned out too. I may have to try this out with my Mountain Bike!

I decided to do another bike a couple months ago. This one is covered in wallpaper. I used matte Mod Podge and then sealed it with a uv protective sealer. This time I mixed a paint color that matched the wallpaper and painted parts of the bike that I didn't want to cover in paper.

did you do anything before the mod podge or just mod podge straight on the bike frame? u should do an

Lol. That's a good idea.

I used an angle grinder with a wire brush to get most of the orginal paint off the bike. I also used an eco friendly stripper that I found at home depot. Next I cleaned the bike and then primed it with a metal primer. Next I would cut a section of wallpaper and modpodge the backside strip of wallpaper and the section of bike frame. Once that dried I would give that section a sealing coat of mod podge.

Soo, i bought this bike and it has a pretty solid black paint on it... like real bike paint (idk what u call it) and i dont wanna strip it because 1) time 2) unsure how to do it right 3) scared lol ... if i just like... cleaned it good (wtvr that means?) could i modge podge OVER the original paint????.... do you think? orrrrr what would u recommend for not wanting to strip the bike.

damn dude, that is just, wow

your bike looks sick! I love it, awesome concept! did you have to spray the blue prints with acrylic sealer before mod podging it?

Thanks! No I just put mod podge directly on the blueprints. It acts as a sealer. I then spray sealed it a few times. I should have put a uv resistant sealer because the prints faded a bit with time. Though it still looks good - just more of a light blue / green now.

Wow, that's a really good idea; I'll probably have to try this with sheet music or something. . .

number27 (author)rattyrain2011-07-10

heres what i did with sheet music and mod podge.

Sweet! I love it.

SICK blue print bike This is a bike that belonged to my mom from about 1964... 69 Camaro Hugger orange with a Dodge Off white . PPG Paint.

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