This article should really be called “How-To Paint A Frame And Not Make It Look Like Crap.” Anyone can pick up a cheap can of spray paint and go to town on their bike, but getting a frame to look like it just came from the powder coater requires a bit more attention to detail and a few extra steps…
I’ll start out by saying there is nothing wrong with getting a can of paint from the $0.99 store and giving your bike a quick coat with all the parts still on it… But obviously it won’t look very good. This how-to is geared for the rider who wants a custom paint job or new color and wants the frame to look brand new.
We started out with a Premium Lowpez LT frame right out of the box. Lucky for us, this frame came in a matte/flat finish, making it a bit easier to paint and eliminating an extra step.
If you prefer the “in a nutshell” version of this tutorial, click through the images in the slideshow. If you want further explanation, read the detailed steps below the slideshow.
Photos by Fat, Fudger, and Daniel.
Here we have a brand new Premium Lowpez LT frame, a pack of assorted grit sandpaper, some paper towels, a can of Rust-Oleum spray paint, and a can of Rust-Oleum gloss clear coat. The sandpaper, paint, and clear coat came up to a total of $9.50. You can buy these items at places like Walmart or Home Deopt.
Take everything off the frame that is removable such as gyro tabs, brake mounts, cable guides, seat clamp bolts, etc.
Also take all the decals off the frame. If this leaves a sticky residue you can use a number of solutions to get it off. In the past I’ve used gasoline, WD-40, and Goo-Gone. Just pour your solution onto the surface of the frame or onto a paper towel and scrub until it’s all off.
This is where we got to skip a step or two because our Premium Lowpez LT frame already had a matte finish… If you have a gloss finish on your frame or have several coats of paint already on it you may want to either sand it with a rough grit paper to remove as much paint as possible or use a paint-removal product such as Aircraft Remover. This product is tricky, so read the instructions very carefully, protect your skin, and be prepared for a mess.
If you use Aircraft Remover to remove glossy paint, preceded to use rough sand paper to finish removing any remaining paint, clean the frame, then apply two coats of primer. Since our Premium frame came in a flat black color, the matte finish acted as a primer, which helps the new paint stick to the metal surface.
Finally you have a frame with nothing on it and your sand paper. For the Premium Lowpez frame with a matte finish I chose to start with 220 grit sand paper.
Sand the frame just enough to scratch the surface. You aren’t trying to remove all the existing paint; you just want to scuff it up enough for a new coat of paint to stick. Be sure to get into all the hard to reach areas where the tubes meet.
Once you have sanded the whole frame it will look like a dull version of whatever it looked like before. Don’t throw away the scraps of sand paper yet because you may need them later.
After the frame is sanded it will have a layer of paint residue left over that you need to wipe clean with a wet paper towel, sponge, or cloth. Continue to wipe the frame until you don’t see any more paint powder on the towel or sponge.
Now you need to let the clean frame dry completely.
While the frame is drying you need to prepare the holes for painting. You do not want to get paint into anywhere that other parts need to go later. You can use paper towels to stuff into holes where removable brake mounts would go. If you don’t have removable brake mounts, cover the posts with painter’s tape.
You don’t want to get paint or overspray into areas of your frame that other parts will go later. So tape off the inside of the headset, bottom bracket, and seat tube. If it isn’t perfect, don’t worry—you’ll be able to sand down and remove any overspray later.
Once your frame is sanded, cleaned, dried, and taped off you are finally ready to paint it. You want to be in a wide-open space, preferably outside. We chose to hang the frame through the head tube with a broomstick. Get creative with this part but keep in mind you’ll need to be able to see and move all around the frame and you will be getting overspray on anything within a few feet radius of the frame. Another option is to hang a string through the headtube from the ceiling in a garage. Just lay some newspaper on the floor so you don’t get overspray all over the ground.
We chose Rust-Oleum brand paint because it is good for metal surfaces. A generic brand paint won’t spray as evenly and generally won’t look as good. Read the fine print on the spray can for any warnings or special instructions you may need to consider before you begin. DO NOT hold down the spray tip continuously, creating a solid stream of paint. Use short bursts of paint as you quickly move the can back and forth in a straight line. If you hold the can in one position for any length of time or hold a continuous stream, the paint will get too thick and create drip marks and runs.
Move around the frame and spray from all directions and angles to make sure you cover the entire frame. Make sure to get into the cracks where hard to reach tubes meet lik under the dropouts and where the chainstays meet the bottom bracket. Concentrate on getting an even coat over the entire frame. Don’t try to put a thick, heavy coat of paint. It is best to do several thin, even coats.
After your first coat of paint, let it dry for 15-30 minutes then apply a second coat. Again, thin coats work best. Wait another 15-30 minutes and apply a third and final coat of paint. Keep in mind that paint takes longer to dry in colder temperatures. It is ideal to paint the frame when it is warm outside.
After the final coat of paint has dried and cured for several hours (or even a full day) you are ready to put the clear coat on it. The clear coat will help prevent rusting and protect the paint from minor dings and scratches. It will also help keep the gloss finish of the paint shining. Apply the clear coat just like you did the first coat of paint, waiting 15-30 minutes in between coats and applying a total of three coats. Clear coat tends to run and drip more than paint does, so be very careful to apply it evenly and never use a constant stream when spraying.
Leave the frame hanging to dry for at least 24 hours before you handle it or build it back up with parts. This is one of the hardest parts of painting a frame because riders often get anxious to build up their fresh frame when they see how good it looks.
When the clear coat has totally cured, carefully remove any paper towels or tape you used to prevent overspray into areas like the bottom bracket, seat tube, brake mounts, etc.
Slight overspray on the areas you tapped up is common even if you were careful to cover them. Use fine grit sand paper to gently sand away any unwanted paint that may make building the bike difficult.
Put back on your gyro tabs, brake mounts, cable guides, and seat post clamp bolt.
And now you are finished and ready to build up your freshly painted frame. Our Premium Lowpez LT frame looks great and we will test it out soon.