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Paint your motorcycle plastic tank and make decals stick

Picture of Paint your motorcycle plastic tank and make decals stick
Many motorcycles such as offroad or motocross motorcycles has plastic tanks that gets miscolored in time. Possibly other vehicles too. Recent years popularity in restoring these bikes has brought up the problem in having these tanks, made look new again.

The problem is that the premix gas vaporates right through the plastic in time. Therefore, the miscoloration is not only on the surface, and cannot me polished, or sanded off. All attempts to paint the tank will fail. You will, sooner or later be able to peel off the paint making everything look worse than ever.
Furthermore, the decals won't stick.

The only permanent and lasting method is to make a tank skin. There are skins available from various sources. It is less work and cheaper to buy one of those instead of making your own. But if you can't find a skin or would like to make one yourself. This is "one" way of doing it.
 
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Step 1: Method and material

Picture of Method and material

The skin is made from fibre glass vowen, epoxy, putty and paint. It is possible that polyester based resin can be used instead of epoxy but I do not recommend it. Cured polyester will let vapors through and the risk of ending up with a skin with the same problem as the tank isn't appealing.

You need vowen for epoxy and real epoxy. Marine grade epoxy such as System three or MAS or others will do the job.

The putty can be made from mixing a filler into the epoxy such as small baloons or wood flour. Readily available 2 component putty can be used instead of course.

I recommend polyurethane 2 component paint. It will give a UV resistent, nice and durable finish. Any paint shop or marine paint shop will be able to provide you with a decent paint.

In short, the method is to saturate fibre glass fabric with wet epoxy and to build up a skin. 3 layers of vowen is sufficient to have a strong and rigid skin. Thereafter, you will apply putty, sand, more putty until the surface is decent enough the paint it.

Finally, a couple of layers of pant with some sanding will give you a nice finish and a lasting result.

Step 2: Apply vowen and epoxy

Picture of Apply vowen and epoxy

Mix resin and hardener with the ratio according to the bottle. it is very important to mix it carefully in order to have it cure as it should and reach maximum strength. To much hardener can have the resin to cure to fast making it to weak. To little hardener can leave it uncured forever. Never mix to much at the time.


1. First, apply resin onto the tank using a paint brush. That way, it will be easier to apply the fabric. Lay out the fabric. You can work with smaller pieces or half the tank, doesn't really matter. Make sure that you saturate the fibre glass vowen throughoutly squeezing it lightly with the brush. It is supposed to become almost invisible. Let it cure for 8 - 24 hours.

Then build up another layer and finally the third using the same technique. 

 

Step 3: Putty and sanding.

Picture of Putty and sanding.
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After the epoxy has cured, you can sand the epoxy surface lightly and wipe it clean with a solvent and a rag. Epoxy will often form a thin surface of an oxide reminding of grease that could make the putty not stick.

Then It's just adding putty..sanding..putty..sanding until the surface feel smooth and fair and look ok for painting.

It is way easier to spend 1 hour more doing this and save 3 hours sanding and polishing the paint afterwards.

Step 4: Painting and finishing

Picture of Painting and finishing
The final step is to paint the tank skin. I use marine grade polyurethane paint. It takes forever to cure but build up a good surface. It evens out underlying marks and is easy to sand and polish.

I paint one side at the time. Trying to build up a fairly thick layer. Then I sand it to smoothen it out once before the final coat. I will sand that as well using, first a 600 grit, then a 1200 grit paper. Finally, you can using a car polish to make it shine or stick with the 1200 grit finish which is quite close to the original plastic in finish.

BTW, I have protected the cap threads with some tape before I even started doing anything.
mpettit4 years ago
I've been told that one of the difficulties with painting a plastic tank is that they expand and contract with the fuel. How does your fiberglass shell deal with such a dynamic surface? Will it crack? Maybe force all of the expansion and contraction to the unfiberglassed portions of the tank?

I guess that your venting should take care of some of that. It seems to me that if a thing has to do all of its expanding in a very small portion (say the part that doesn't have the skin on it) of the surface it could cause cracks and other bad stuff (bubbles, weakness, etc.).
mbha (author)  mpettit4 years ago
The skin is elastic enough to allow for those movements. The skin is almost a year now and has come loose from the tank, but looks great. This method is the only way that I know of to make a miscoloured plastic tank looking new with a lasting result.

Thanks for watching
//B
KTM ROCKS!

How does the movement feel when riding the bike, is it noticable or is just one of those things that you know its loose?

Also:
http://www.polyprocessing.com/pdf/technical/PaintingPEStorageTanks.pdf