Bike Painting Tips




Introduction: 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.

- 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.

- 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!

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



    • Metalworking Contest

      Metalworking Contest
    • Water Contest

      Water Contest
    • Fix It! Contest

      Fix It! Contest

    271 Discussions

    Give Rustoleum Appliance Epoxy paint a try.
    I use it on anything metal, it bond better than most paints and hold up to beatings.  I sprayed a Jeep frame and axles and suspension parts, and they held up great to offroad abuse.

    Remember like most things the key is prep.

    If you want black, use a product called POR-15 then cover it with their chassis black.  It needs no primes and can be put on straight over bare metal as it's a rust preventer.  This would be perfect for a mountain bike.

    I've also sanded the stock paint to give it texture then sprayed it with various liners. (Rhinoliner, Line-x, etc.)  My favorite is Raptor liner it's tintable and can be matched to your paint.

    1 reply

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

    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.

    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.

    1 reply

    How did the enamel spray work for you?

    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.

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

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

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

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

    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.

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


    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.

    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!

    3 replies

    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.

    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.

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