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Painting your MP3 500 body panels
(All this information applies to Vespas and other scoots as well, but it was done on an MP3 500 and has been filed as such)

If you want to paint your body panels on the MP3 500, there are a number of things to keep in mind in order to produce a reasonable finish that will not scratch easily and will be washable and durable in general.

Note: It is important to realize that you will be unlikely to produce a truly professional quality finish. As an amateur, you will be lacking the equipment, working environment and experience that makes a pro's paint job so nice and, by the same token, so expensive. If you are able to accept a nice looking, but not absolutely perfect finish, you are a good candidate for doing your own paint job. Following the proper procedure will improve your finish, but you will probably never reach show-quality.

And if you prove me wrong and do produce a show quality finish, please feel free to tell me just how wrong I am by updating this Wiki with your procedures!
  • Time and Patience
    Let me say it again:

    Painting properly requires time and patience!!!

    There is a reason that it costs so much to get a vehicle painted. If you want it done right, it's going to take time. Probably at least twice as long as you estimate...
  • Safety Equipment
    You will be working with chemicals that can be fatal. Safety when working with dangerous chemicals MUST be taken seriously!

    Required items include:

    • Respirator approved for working with paint. In the US these are classified by NIOSH and must meet or exceed the P95 standards.
    • Eye protection.
    • Gloves. These not only protect you but also keep your skin oils from getting on the paint. Any impurities between coats of paint can and will cause your paint job to fail.
    • Ventilation. You must have a way to exhaust the paint fumes.

    Recommended items include:

    • A full-body paint suit. This will protect not just you and your clothes from your paint but also your paint from you.
    • A timer. Set it so you know when to put down the paint and get out for some fresh air. You can then use it to know when you're paint has cured enough to start on the next layer.

  • Primer/Paint/Clear Coat
    There are too many types and makers of paint to list. Choosing your paint will be covered later.
  • Somewhere To Work
    You'll need a place to do your painting. It needs to have adequate ventilation. It also should be somewhere that won't allow dirt, dust and grime to get onto your newly painted masterpiece while it dries. Since you probably don't have access to a professional paint booth, a ventilated garage can be used as a substitute. Working outdoors is not recommended because too much grit will mar your paint while you work and wait for it to dry.
  • Brushes/Spray Cans/Airbrushes/Paint Sprayers/etc.
    You will need some way to apply your paint to your body panels. The exact items you will need depend on what paint you are using.

Selecting Your Paint
The type paint that is available to you will be the starting point for your painting journey. You have a number of choices, from Pro quality spray cans to paints made to run through an airbrush or an HVLP (High Volume Low Pressure) sprayer.

I will be focusing here on the materials I personally have experience with. Those are:

  • Water-based Automotive finishes
  • Some airbrush paints designed for a number of applications

Common brands are Auto-air and Createx. If you are using "Rattle cans", Montana makes a great assortment of colors that can produce terrific results. Also there is a line from Alsa that looks killer, all from spray cans, though I have not used them myself. Available on their website. All of these paints are availble in most good art supply stores as well as online.

There are also such things as Prevail Sprayers, but I have not used them much. I am going to assume you will probably be using an airbrush, and that you will be familiar with your own sprayer and can work with it to produce a nice finish.

Preparing the Body Panels
You will need to remove the body panels that you want to spray. This is perhaps the most daunting thing about painting if you have not done it before.

You can remove the emblems (MP3, 500i.e., etc.) with a heat gun or hair dryer and use automotive strip tape to reapply them when you are done. Taping them off is not a good option. It is a good idea to remove the black vents that are on the panels as well, as they are difficult to tape off.

Paint Techniques
The first order of business is to provide a very receptive surface for the first coat to be applied to. The first coat is called a Primer. Its job is to adhere tightly to the surface, and provide a receptive surface for the next coat.

In many ways the primer is the most important coat you will apply. If it fails to adhere, all coats applied thereafter will only be as strong as the primer. If the primer can be scratched off then the coats on top will scratch off easily as well. You need to do a test area to see if your primer will adhere before you proceed!

Priority number one is getting the primer on. In order to do that, you will need to take several steps

  1. Clean the surface thoroughly! I cannot stress enough how important this step is! There are a number of products that you can use to do this. I use an Automotive Industry product called SEM Plastic and Vinyl cleaner. It comes in a spray can from serious Auto painting shops. You might wind up with something else, but it should be a product meant for the cleaning of surfaces before painting. It needs to clean any polishes, waxes and especially silicons that you might have applied to the surface of your bike. All of them will cause paint to not adhere, or to "misbehave". You want to clean the surface at least three times, and change rags frequently as you go. Otherwise, you will simply reapply the contaminants instead of removing them.

  2. After you think the surface is clean, you will want to sand it thoroughly with a "wet or dry" sandpaper. You want between a 260 and a 320 grit paper. You will likely be best off sanding by hand until you have removed most of the sheen from the current finish. When you think you are done, clean it again with your cleaner. Look at it closely. If there are any areas that are still shiny, sand it again in the areas that still are not close to a matte (dull) finish. When you have sanded every surface, (pay good attention to the edges, which see a lot of bumping) clean it again to remove the sanding dust and then you are ready to apply the primer.

What primer? You ideally want a primer that is not water-based for this sort of surface, and you want a product that is known for its adherence. If you have a pro auto body shop nearby, you might find the SEM products there. There are a number of primers that would work in that line. I use the Plastic primer, which is extremely "hot" chemically. So much so, that you will need to be very careful applying it. Do not put heavy coats on, or it will crack the surface!! You want to mist a number of light coats, letting it dry a little between coats. Build the finish up till you have a solid coating applied.

These type of primers are nothing that you want to breathe! Spend $30, get a decent respirator and use it!

In an ideal world, you would use just one companies paint, from Primer to clear coat and you would know that the coats were happy together and you would not need to worry about compatibility. That seems to never happen for me, as I find a color I like and then go about trying to get various components to cooperate with each other, ones that I have used and trusted before. Usually, it all works.

If you cannot find SEM, you could likely find one of the plastic primers carried by any of the "Big Box" stores. You are not really painting plastic, you are painting over paint, but the adherence is usually good, and you can use spray cans to good effect in this situation. The cans bought from the big box stores are not as volatile as the SEM, so it is unlikely you would have problems with surface cracking from using them.

In any case, apply light coats, until you build up a solid color. This applies no matter what paint you are using, light coats are your friend. Heavy coats are slow to dry, easy to create "orange peel", (an undesirable texture on your paint) and often do not cure ( dry all the way through) properly.

It is a good idea to lightly sand between coats. This keeps texture down, removes small imperfections and helps the next coat in most cases adhere, if you are working with sheened finishes. Clean all sanding dust off with a "tack cloth", a sticky rag that is available at any paint or hardware store.

Since you have already tested a small area, (you have haven't you?) and let it dry enough to see that you are getting adherence (try scratching with a fingernail, or applying tape. If it scratches or pulls the paint off in the case of the tape, you might be needing to change primers until you get something to really bond, or you may still have waxes or the like that have not been cleaned enough). If you have passed this test, proceed with your color coats.

But before we go on, you should consider where you will paint. It is easy to think you will just go outside and do it, but there are all sorts of things that can land in your paint outside, wee bugs, and big bugs too, and then the wind can carry all sorts of things. Ideally you want a more controlled environment to paint in, not too hot or too cold, ect, so if possible, find a place inside or even consider renting a spray booth for a few hours if you have one nearby. If you must paint outside, try for 70 degrees or so, and a day that is not too windy.
If you are using an airbrush, you can work inside and you can get away with a lot in terms of not getting paint everywhere. Just be careful, and cover things nearby, and you will likely do just fine. Find a storage room or garage, and vacuum up as much dust as possible before you start.

As you decide what color or colors you want to use, there are some things to consider about paint. If you are going for a bright finish color, you will need to consider the color underneath, in this case the primer. If it is not white ( the SEM is a mid grey) then you will need to paint the primer with a white in order for the paint to be as bright as possible. There is a reason for this.

Unlike most house paints, these sort of paints do not cover very well, but that happens to be the key to their brightness. So you will need to do multiple coats as they are often semi transparent. So, if you have a grey underneath, it will kill the color you are after as you will have the top colors being affected by what color is underneath them. This will be true for most of the Auto Air colors, they are marked as transparent or semi tramsparent, but not sure any of them are opaque except for white and black and maybe a few others.

It is also worth considering how some paints will likely fade worse than others, and this should be part of your decision as to the colors you will use. The term for colors that fade is "fugitive", as in, some Reds are "fugitive", because they go away.
Some of the worst ones to fade are the flourescent yellows that are very bright. The paint container should have a note somewhere describing its colorfastness, read the label. Most reds, pinks, oranges and yellows are often not as colorfast as you might hope.

Another consideration when choosing paint is how easy it will be to touch up if you need to do so. The very transparent colors, sometimes called "Candy" colors, can look great, but are so transparent you will have a devil of a time trying to touch them up. The most opaque colors are the easiest to touch up, but also the least interesting. But if you are going for utility, that might be what you want.

I recently used a Createx color, "Lime" which is Pearlized, to paint my bike. The results were striking. And it had the extra benefit of being extremely visible to other motorists. I am guessing that this color will resisit fading. And even though Createx is not advertised as an "Automotive" paint per se, I decided it would work well enough that I was not going to worry about it not having that designation. If you use Createx, just be aware of that, but I think you will be fine. It is an airbrush paint, made for a more General audience.
it should be noted that Createx cures by heat....wait for hotweather, sit the bike out for a few hours on a hot day and you should be good....or carefully heat it with a heatgun...careful or you will ruin your paint job..heat guns can strip paint. And melt body panels!

So, try painting the next coat white if you are going for a bright color. I can recommend Auto airs sealer white, it covers well, and bonds to the Sem Primer. Do a test between the primer and the white, whatever paints you might end up using, to make sure they are compatible.

After the white is dry, sand it lightly with 600 grit wet or dry paper and then clean it with your tac rag. You are finally ready for the color coat!!

Take a moment, whatever tool you are using, and see that the tip of your sprayer is appropriate for the paint you are using. You might need to try thinning the paint just a little if you are not getting a smooth coating when you try a run on a sample board. The specs are usually on the paint container, at least they are with the Auto air.

Its a bit more than is possible here to go over good spraying techniques, but a few pointers. You should again, apply light coats, you should start the spraying just before you reach the panel and continue just beyond. Move it along in one steady movement. It takes practice. Save yourself some clogged tips and strain everything you put in your sprayer.

So what if you have a problem? You get a drip that dries that way that you did not notice till too late. Well, there are many good things about water based paints, but sanding them is not one. Whereas solvent type paints will sand out very smooth allowing a nice feathering for you to paint over, water based is like trying to sand rubber. Sand it a little bit, as best you can, and then you will likely wind up with a cavity where the problem was, and that will need to be filled with a filler. I like to use Synkloids spackle which is available at Ace, do not use those quick dry fillers you use to fill a nail hole when you are painting a wall or you will have problems. For small repairs, this will do well enough, you really do not need Bondo.
Try wet sanding a problem area with a little denatured alcohol, that will help feather it a bit as the alcohol will dissolve dried water based paints. But if you have to fill it, Take your time and fill it, then let it dry and sand it, repeat that until you think its as good as you can do, then gently prime it and get it back to blending in again with the color. Still not good? Do it again. Sanding and filling until its right, or until you get tired and decide its good enough. I told you your finish might not be "perfect", you remember now right?

Let the color coats dry well enough so that you can sand them gently with 600 or higher paper, just to catch the small improfections that you will always have.
Give them at least a few hours, and better, overnight before you do this.

When it all seems good, and everything is covered well, then you will need to do clearcoats. Whereas the primer keeps the color coat from scratching off, the clear gives you surface toughness, and the sheen that you expect to see on a nice automotive type finish.

I like to use a very good aerosol clear that I found at the local Auto painting shop, called "One Choice SCA400-cut in clear" by PPG, and I would highly recommend you use it. Maybe you will have to get it online.
It lays down a nice shiny coating better than any paint can I have seen.
Of course, you can use clears that are run through a sprayer of some sort, but this stuff seems good enough that I use it just so I do not have to clean my sprayer. I would recommend you do three or four coats. Check Alsa online for a clear if this one is not around, I have not used them, but it seems they would be a good choice.

In the event that you need to come back in with your color for some reason, after applying the clear, you will need to dull the surface again with 260 to 320 sandpaper in the area you will be going over.

There can be all sorts of buffing and shining after the clear dries, but that is something I never do, though it would be nice perhaps if you did. But since I do not do it, I cannot tell you how to go about doing it. You are on your own.

Give the clear a few hours to dry, and again longer is better, so maybe overnight if you are not too anxious to put it all back together.
Paint takes a while to harden up, and so it is easy to scratch edges when you are reinstalling the panels. Go slow, and if you do scratch something, you can always fix it.

After all your pieces have dried, reassemble your bike. This should be done in the reverse order that you disassembled your panels. Take your time. After all, you don't want to put a scratch on the panels you've just spent so much time painting!

Turn the key, get out and enjoy your masterpiece!

Most paints recommend a curing time before you wax them the first time. Consult the specs for your paint for more information.

Article initially published by RobInDenver
Article reformatted by CubsKing99 - Sept. 04, 2012
Last Updated Tue Sep 04, 2012 12:59 pm
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