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Racing Secrets Revealed

"Painting" a Racecar with ElastiWrap - Part 1

by Roger

"Painting" a Racecar with ElastiWrap - Part 1

Yes, it's finally done. It took a few confused calls to Eastwood, several trips to Home Depot and a significant amount of trial and error, but the #7 StudioVRM.net Prelude finally has a new livery! In the process, I learned quite a bit about Elastiwrap how to adapt basic painting techniques to a rubberized coating. Here's what I have to share from my adventures in my experience with Elastiwrap.

 

Buying Materials and Setting up a Booth

I started my shopping spree by ordering the 3-gallon Elastiwrap kit from Eastwood, which had everything I needed. Instead of my order, I received a card saying that my order was backordered three weeks due to the product being out of stock. Blast. It turned out that Eastwood was having trouble getting the charcoal respirators that they included with the kit, and that was holding everything else up. Two calls to Eastwood's Customer Service later, they had replaced my original order with individual orders for the following:

  • 2 gallons of Elastiwrap in Fastback Blue
  • 1 gallon of Elastiwrap in Torqued Yellow
  • 1 gallon of Elastiwrap Gloss Clear
  • 1 can of surface prep aerosol
  • 1 Turbine Paint Gun

Being an independent racer without access to a professional paint shop, I also needed a place to spray without making a mess of the garage or letting dirt get into the coating while it dried. Fortunately, the overhead rails for the garage door provided the perfect place to build a makeshift paint booth, So it was off to Home Depot for:

  • 5x 10' lengths of 1.5" PVC pipe
  • 6x 12'x24' rolls of plastic sheeting of varying thicknesses (6 mil on the floor, 3 mil for the walls, 1 mil for the ceiling)
  • 50' roll of masking paper
  • Value pack of 3M Blue tape in 1" and 3" width
  • A gallon of mineral spirits based paint thinner
  • 5 paint mixing buckets
  • 2 of these convenient paint pouring spouts
  • A box of contractor-size garbage bags
  • Zip ties
  • 1 paint mixing paddle for a cordless drill

A few key items weren't available locally, so the following came from Amazon:

I happened to have safety gear already, but if you don't have them, you will also want to get:

  • Disposable coveralls with hood and boot covers
  • A NIOSH P100 rated respirator (get one. they're cheap)
  • Nitrile gloves
  • Safety goggles
  • Painter's rags
  • A cordless drill
The total bill came in under $425 in materials, which I thought was a pretty good deal. Setup of the paint booth came without much difficulty, mostly as fellow racer Cessna Eng helped me set up the PVC piping and tape up the vinyl walls of my makeshift paint booth. It isn't pretty, but it does a fine job of protecting the contents of the garage from being rubberized unintentionally.
 
Prelude in the paint booth
 
 

 

Masking and Surface Prep

While I have years of experience doing sloppy masking jobs for half-baked touchups, I decided to do the job properly this time. I started by covering all of the smaller surfaces with a layer of blue tape, which was trimmed around the edges using my trusty plastic razor blades. The larger surfaces were outlined using 3" wide blue tape before being covered with a layer of masking paper and sealed with blue tape. In addition to covering the windows, I also masked the door openings and engine bay to keep the overspray out. I even went through the trouble of back-masking the trunk and using a folded layer of blue tape between the door seams for good measure (and at this point, just for fun). Finally, I covered the wheels using contractor garbage bags and put cardboard shields in front of the radiator to keep out any overspray.

As it turns out, doing a good masking job doesn't take much time. And even if I didn't do a perfect job of masking everything, I wasn't too worried. Eastwood says that overspray can be trimmed and peeled easily, as long as you have a nice hard edge to peel from. If I accidentally sprayed over something that I didn't want wrapped, I could cut it with a plastic razor blade and peel it off.

More importantly, I needed to make sure that the surface was prepared so the stuff would stick. This is where things start to deviate from the usual procedure for painting a car. According to Eastwood, the best way to prepare a surface for Elastiwrap is to make the surface as smooth as possible. This is because Elastiwrap is extremely sticky and will not peel off of a rough surface. Instead of scuffing the paint on the car like I normally would, I spent the next hour smoothing out big scratches and edges with 1000 grit sandpaper and using the aerosol surface prep to clean off any grease.

Sidebar: The surface prep aerosol itself is a curious thing that probably warrants an article of its own. It seems to clean everything from track grime to leftover vinyl adhesive and leaves a waxy finish not unlike automotive wax. Just for kicks, I sprayed some on the hood and quickly buffed it with an electric buffer. If you want to see the results, scroll back up to the second photo of the car in the paint booth and look at the driver's side of the hood. I'm tempted to use it to polish a whole car just to see how it would look.

Of course, being a heavily pitted and scratched up track car, I wasn't going to get a perfectly smooth finish everywhere (especially not in the passenger front fender, where all of those dents are). As far as I was concerned, this was just another opportunity to test Elastiwrap's oft-touted self-levelling properties.

 

Coating, Not Painting. Definitely Not Painting.

Onwards to the main event, spraying the coating! Safety gear check, ventilation fans on, electric Turbine gun assembled, reservoir loaded with my preferred shade of green (about 3 parts blue to 1 part yellow with a tablespoon of paint thinner) and it was time for a test spray on one of the front fenders. Within the first few moments, I realized just how different this stuff was from regular automotive paint.

The coats came out super thick - about 2x what I would expect from regular automotive base coat from a spray can. It also had huge droplets dispersed them, which looked a bit odd. This seemed to be consistent with everything that I'd seen on YouTube, so I kept going until I had two coats on the entire car.

Surprisingly, by the time I came back around, the coating on the front fender had already dried. Most of the droplets had levelled into the surface, but some of it had stayed intact, leaving a slightly rough-looking finish to the surface. Apparently I needed to use a lot more paint thinner to produce a smooth finish. Oops.

Undeterred, I refilled the paint gun for a third coat (this time with a cup of paint thinner) and started spraying over this finish in the hopes that the additional coats would smooth out the bumpy surface. This time, the gun started spitting huge drops of paint along with its normal spray, leaving big splotches of coating on some of the body panels. Disassembling and cleaning of the tip of the gun didn't seem to make things any better. In fact, it seemed to be getting worse every time I pulled the trigger. At this point I was so confused that frustration wasn't even a factor.

As it turned out, some of the Elastiwrap had dried inside the gun where I couldn't see it. Maybe it was another sign that I needed to use more paint thinner. Completely disassembling the gun and bathing the components in paint thinner solved that problem. Unfortunately the revelation came after I had made a huge mess on the car.

 

From Disaster to Dino Skin


At this point, I stared at the curiously textured surface and wondered what I should do. Would it make sense to peel it all off and start over, in the hopes that I could achieve a smooth glossy finish? Or should I continue on with thinner coats in the hopes that it would all level out? Though more importantly... Why does this texture make me feel happy?

It took me a moment to realize that the sensation of happiness harked back to my days as a kid playing one of my first racing games, Super Mario Kart on the Super NES. At the time, my favorite character was Yoshi, the drift-happy green dinosaur. Yes, the rough, rubbery green surface I had just laid down reminded me of Yoshi! Silly, maybe, but I won a lot of races playing as Yoshi. Maybe, just maybe, some of that good mojo from my childhood would transfer to the adult racecar-driving me?

With that serendipity justification in hand, I named my accidental creation "Dino Skin" and pressed onwards.

 

Base and Clear

With a clean gun and plenty of mineral spirits, coats three and four went on much more easily. Following the instructions on their site, I made the latter coats wetter and more even. Each coat took much longer to dry, but it was also self-levelling and covering up some of the bigger splotches I created earlier. Happily, the last two base coats also seemed to fill in some of the chips and pock marks in the surface, making the dents in the passenger front fender much less noticeable than before.

Eastwood says that you should apply a minimum of four coats to make a peel-able coating, so I stopped to take a break and test that statement. I cut a small sample of dried material off of the masking paper on the windshield and hand-tested it for peel-ability and strength.

I don't really have the tools to measure the thickness of my sample, but considering how easily that peeled off of paper and how sturdy it felt I have no problem believing that this would peel easily off of a car. The material feels rubbery and elastic to the touch, not unlike those adhesive-backed rubber mats they sell at the hardware store. If nothing else, this gave me a bit of hope that this would stand up to the rigors of track use.

That said, I had plenty of Elastiwrap left, so on went coats five, six, and seven. I was expecting to use up all of the Fastback Blue, but after the eighth coat I couldn't see any reason to apply any more color to the car. So it was onto the clear... and the arduous task of clearing the Turbine gun of its green hue.

Cleaning the Turbine gun and preparing it for gloss was a nightmare and a half. No matter how much paint thinner I ran through the it, the gun always pushed out green tinted fluid. Discarding the thin, Elastiwrap-soaked foam gasket between the paint reservoir and the gun seemed to help. After an hour or so of scrubbing and soaking, I loaded the gun with a quart of clear and moved to applying the clear.

This might be a good time to remind everyone that Eastwood sells two different types of clear Elastiwrap: A matte and a gloss. The sample photos make the matte look very subdued and mature, like the kind of finish a design-savvy technophile would order for their laptop screen. In contrast, the gloss seemed to give off a garish shine like a bowling ball that's been left in the polisher too long.

As you already know, I went with the gloss. The reason is that I needed the car to be distinctive and many club racers finish their cars with a matte finishing coat. Most racers apply a very thin layer of clearcoat, while some of them skip the clear entirely. I don't blame them one bit. Racecars tend to get scratched up from track debris and touch-up paint repair is easier when you don't have to make a shiny gloss coat look perfect from panel to panel. A matte finish tends to hide small flaws better, making it the clear choice. My hypothesis was that by using the gloss, it would help the car stand out and that the rubberized coating would resist scratching and chipping better than normal paint.

So on went two wet coats of gloss clear on top of the base coat. The clear went on just as thick as the base coat and quickly developed into a nice shiny surface on the green Dino Skin.


While I can't say whether the car stands out, I can definitely say that it looks very unique under a bright light. The combination of clear gloss and Dino Skin texture makes every coated surface sparkle as you pass over the car. This was not what I was expecting at all, and I'm not 100% sure that I could reproduce this if I tried. As I carefully removed the masking tape, I couldn't help but smile about my budget racecar livery.

 

But Does it Work?

Of course, I know as well as most that beauty, however fortuitously obtained, is only skin deep. The real test is whether the Elastiwrap coating is durable enough to withstand the day to day rigors of daily racecar use. Look for the details in Part 2 of "Painting" a Racecar with ElastiWrap.