| Note: Click on the photo
links, and a window will pop up
so you don't lose your place in the article.
Entire books have been written on how to paint flames. Here I will attempt to give you a quick rundown on how it's done, but if you would like to tackle a job like this, it is best to read up on it and get more detail before you start. You also need to know how to take the proper precautions while painting. If you are not, I suggest taking some basic bodywork courses at your local Vo-tech. This how-to follows a flame job I did on a 40 Chevy sedan brought to us by Ronnie, from Bayonne. We did not do the bodywork, or overall paint, only the design and execution of the flames. The first thing to do probably the hardest, design the flame job. To do one successfully, the flames must compliment the size and body style of the
vehicle. The colors must compliment or contrast pleasingly. The flow of the flames is important. They can be long, and thin, to give the car length, or shorter, wider, for more dramatic use of color. They can overlap, intertwine, they can have shadows, suggesting a 3-D effect. You can paint 2 or 3 sets, either overlapping, intertwining, or appearing in sequence,
without touching each other. You must decide these things before you start. I sometimes start with a line drawing of the car, have it xeroxed, and draw a whole set of different styles, or colors. Then pick the best, or whichever the customer prefers. Buy some hot rod magazines, and pick out which flame jobs you like the best, and design you car based on those styles. But
plan it in advance, so when it's time to tape, you have a good blueprint to work off of! Start by washing the car down with a good grease and wax remover. Then if you are going to clearcoat all the panels which will have flames, sand
all the panels with 600 grit wet sandpaper. If you plan on just painting the flames without burying them in clear, you should sand after it's taped up, just be sure to sand well right up to the very edge of the tape! Once it's completely sanded, wipe the car down with pre-paint cleaner (this is different from prepsol, or g & w remover). See Photo #1. Begin taping the flames using a plastic based tape, such as 3-M's fine line tape. It comes in various thicknesses from 1/16 to 1/4 inch. The thinner
the tape, the tighter the radius you can tape without wrinkles. You do not want wrinkles in the tape anywhere, paint will seep through them, and show up where you don't want it. This is a good time to step back and admire, or criticize your work. It's easy to change the design now if necessary!. If it looks good, begin taping over the fine-line with regular masking tape.
Again, use a premium grade tape, as it will avoid making problems later, such as pulling paint up, or leaving behind annoying pieces of glue. I like to cover the fine-line with reg. tape by 1/2 the width of the fine-line. This ensures that every bit of surface is covered, and errant paint will not find it's way onto the unflamed paint surface. See Photo #2.
To get both sides of your car symmetrically flamed, this is how you can do it. Once one side is done in fine-line, but before the regular tape, cover all the flamed area with masking paper, taped together. Some times this is difficult if there are a lot of curves, but try your best. Then using the side of a pencil, "rub" across the tape, so the lead leaves an impression where the fine-line tape is. Do all the flames this way. Then carefully remove the masking paper and lay it down on some cardboard.
Using a 'pounce wheel' ( bought at an art supply store) trace over where the fine-line rubbings appear. The wheel will poke tiny holes in the mask. When all the flames are done, tape the masking paper, wrong side out, on the opposite side of the car. This will give you a mirror image of the first side. While making your rubbings, it helps to mark edges/bottoms/tops of fenders, and now use these references to help line the paper up exactly
as it was on the other side. Then use a Pounce bag, or old sock filled with powdered chalk and pat it over the tiny holes in the paper. It will go through it and leave a series of dots on the paint when you remove the mask. This will be your guide for taping that side of the car. Now you are ready to finish taping and masking. Once the edges are covered with masking tape, finish covering all other exposed areas with either more tape, or masking paper, whichever is more convenient. Also cover the rest of the entire vehicle with plastic, or
masking paper to avoid overspray. Once taped, wipe clean again with pre-paint. This will remove any finger prints, or oil left on the surface by your hands. Now you can begin
spraying. Depending on how much area you are shooting, use either a regular spray gun, a touch-up gun or an airbrush. I use a combination of all three, in most jobs. On Ron's car, I began with a regular gun, spraying a base of first whitebase-coat, then white pearl. I then switched to a touch-up gun, and fogged in the yellow pearl, carefully blending it, so you cannot see
where it starts. Then the same with pale orange pearl. I finished with my trusty airbrush, and hit the edges with red pearl, mixed with some red candy, for a brighter color. See Photo #3 You should always do a test spray first, as sometimes the colors appear better doing the darker colors first, then the lighter ones. Now, either you clear the flames, or unmask, clean again, and then mask and clear all the flamed panels, or the entire car. You may also have the edges of the flames pinstriped when the clear dries. The finished car is shown
in See Photo #4 You can make your flames any way you like, there are no rules! Here in See Photo #5 I just outlined the stock Harley emblem in candy red flames over
a black tank and fenders for Dutch VanDerWal's panhead chopper. Sometimes simple is better. (Photo #5) Use color to your advantage! Justin's plain, white, 59 Chevy is transformed by a set of pale blue-brite blue-purple pearl flames, done in
Watson style, long and flowing. I followed the lines of the car without interfering visually with the stock trim. Unusual, but eye-catching! See Photo #6 Ghost flames are subtle versions of a traditional look. There are several ways they can be done. On Herb Barry's Sportster, I painted the bike in silver base, then taped a set of flames, and fogged the edges in white pearl. After unmasking, I proceeded to lay on 4 coats of my custom
mix of candy teal. The flames are just a couple of shades different in color than the rest of the bike. See Photo #7 Rusty Damm's 55 Chevy has a different version of ghost flames. The base car is Lexus Burgundy Pearl. After shooting the base, I covered it with 2 coats of clear. Then we sanded the entire car, and taped and shot two sets of flames, in gold and blue, using flip-flop powder mixed with an intercoat clear. After the second unmasking, I re-shot the entire car with 4 more coats of clear. This is a great effect. The flames only appear when the light hits them right! As you walk past the car, now you see them, now you don't! It drives the spectators at car shows wild. See Photo #8
A couple of other ways of ghosting are to use the same color of the car you painted, but mix in a little more metallic, or some white pearl to do the flames.. Or you could just fog a little clear mixed with metallic particles, or white pearl powder for the flames, and then clearcoat. I hope this gives you enough of an idea of what it takes to do a flame job, start to finish. Nothing says HOTROD like a well designed and executed flame job! Have fun, and be safe!