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How to Paint a Motorcycle: How to Guide & Tips


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Whether you’re looking to achieve a custom look for your bike or you want to restore it to its former glory, a paint job is the way to go.

It’s going to be easier to paint your motorcycle during a rebuild phase when the bike is apart, otherwise, you’ll need to be sure to use lots of tape and cover for the parts that you don’t want to paint.

The paint job on your motorcycle project can make or break the whole thing.

If you rush it or use the wrong paint, that bike you’ve poured months into restoring might run great again, but it’ll look like crap.

But it’s a misconception that you can’t achieve a great result with spray paint can.

You’ve got some options when it comes to the best types of paint for custom paint job on your motorcycle, but the most important aspect typically comes down to your prep work, your painting set up, and your finish work.

Steps to Spray Painting a Motorcycle

The basic steps for painting a motorcycle include:

  • Finding a well ventilated area that will be protected from airflow, dust, and debris while the paint dries.
  • If possible, remove the parts you plan to paint.
  • Clean the parts you want to paint to remove dirt and grime.
  • Sand the surface to remove the old paint and to give your new paint something to adhere to.
  • Clean and dry the sanded surface completely.
  • Apply a few thin coats of primer, allowing each coat to dry completely before the next.
  • Apply 5-6 thin coats of color, allowing each coat to dry completely before the next.
  • Finish with a couple thin coats of automotive clear coat.

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1. Prep the Surfaces to Be Painted

Prep the surface for paint by sanding off the original paint and any rust.

For gas tanks or fairings, use some Bondo filler to fix and holes or imperfections. Allow it to cure and sand.

2. Set Up a Clean Painting Area

Set up a painting area that will allow you to paint the entire part all at once. Somewhere you can hang your parts is always good. Make sure the area is well ventilated, but protected from wind, dust, and debris.
Tape off any areas you don’t want to paint including internal holes and threaded parts.

3. Prime First

Apply a thin coat of primer, allow to dry, and sand as needed.

4. Color Coats

Apply your color coats.
Use thin even layers. Multiple rounds of thin coats will yield better results than too much paint at once.
Allow to dry, and sand if necessary.

5. Clear Coat

Apply an automotive clear coat in a few thin coats.
Sand as needed and wipe clean.

Remember, no matter what part you’re painting or what type of paint you use, a good paint job really comes down to how well you’ve prepped the surface and the painting area, how well you’ve applied your thin coats, and how thorough you are with your finish sanding.

Take you time. Do some practice if needed.

Tips for Spray Painting a Motorcycle

Some tips to achieve a good result include:

  • Selecting primer, paint, and clear coat that are designed to work together.
  • Working in a dust-free, well-ventilated area.
  • Applying thin coats.
  • Be sure to tape up any mounting points and holes.

A good paint job is all about diligent prep and finish work.

Get your space set up correctly, and take your time applying thin, even coats and allowing the paint to dry completely.

What Parts of a Motorcycle to Paint

If you’re working on a motorcycle restoration project, painting the bike is probably something that’s on your mind.

Depending on the condition of your bike and the end result you’re hoping to achieve, here are the main components you’ll typically want to think about painting:

  • The frame.
  • The gas tank.
  • Body panels, side covers, fairings.

If old chrome parts are in rough enough condition, you may need to decide between painting them or getting them re-chromed.

Motorcycle Frame Paint

One of your biggest jobs, if you decide to tackle it, will be spray painting the motorcycle’s frame.

Doing so will require removing most of the parts from the frame and making sure to thoroughly tape off any thing that shouldn’t be painting. This includes mounting brackets, holes, and tabs.

If you’re doing a full tear-down rebuild and restoration, it probably makes sense to paint the frame if it’s rough enough.

Here are some tips for getting the best results:

  • Chose a durable spray paint that will hold up to heat and abuse.
    • High-temp automotive acrylic spray paint like the ones used on engine cases can be a good choice.
  • Remove all the parts from the frame or be sure to tape off and cover everything that should not be painted.
  • Tape off all holes and mounting points.
    • Getting paint inside of hole or mounting brackets will make reassembly difficult.
  • Prep and clean the surface of the frame completely.
  • Use a primer that matches the paint you go with.
  • Apply thin, even coats and allow the paint to dry completely before trying to move the bike or start reassembly.

How to Paint a Motorcycle Frame Without Removing the Engine

While removing everything definitely makes the prep and painting easier, removing an engine from the motorcycle’s frame and reassembling it is one of the more challenging procedures.

If you want to avoid removing the engine, you can still paint the frame with it in the bike. You’ll just need to make sure to take some extra steps to get ready for painting.

To paint a motorcycle frame while the engine is still installed:

  • Remove all the other parts and components (wiring, wheels, seat, gas tank, handlebars, carbs, etc.).
  • Take extra time to cover and tape up your engine COMPLETELY before beginning any cleaning or sanding work. You want to avoid getting anything into the engine (this means dust, paint, dirt, debris, etc.).
  • Prep the frame as you normally would.
  • Prime, paint, and finish.

How long does spray paint take to dry?

One of the most important parts of achieving a good spray paint job is making sure you wait for each coat of paint to dry before moving on to your next step.

Refer to the back of the can of spray paint you’re using, but most will state that:

  • The spray paint will be dry to touch in about 1-2 hours.
  • The paint will be fully dry in about 24 hours.

Unfortunately, there is no hard and fast rule about how long it will take for spray paint to dry, as total drying time will be influenced by:

  • Thickness of the coats you’re applying.
  • Temperature and humidity.
  • Type of paint.
  • Type of material you are painting.

If you want to help your spray paint dry as fast as possible:

  • Apply thin coats. Re-coating can be applied in shorted intervals if the layers you apply are thin enough.
  • Work in warmer temperatures with low humidity.

Remember, for best results don’t rush!

How Much is a Professional Motorcycle Paint Job?

If you want to hire a professional to do it, it’ll typically cost anywhere from $500 to $2,000 to get your motorcycle painted.

This will often depend on how much you need painted, how much needs to be removed from the bike, and the type of paint/details you want.

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