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Do-It-Yourself Guide to Custom Painting

Book Review

by Ryan King

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This book was a surprise — not because of its quality, but because of its content.

I expected to read a book that dealt primarily with custom painting techniques. Instead I found that it focused mostly on paint application and repair. Not that I'm complaining. Far from it. I'm much more interested in those aspects anyway and it doesn't hurt that it just so happens to be the best written, most thorough, enthusiast-oriented manual I've ever read on the subject.

I came across this book while looking for more of Tom Brownell's work (author of How to Restore Your Collector Car, reviewed in January '06). During my research, I also discovered the secret to the quality of his work: he's a professor of technical writing. Knowing that, I was expecting another high quality piece and the Do-It-Yourself Guide to Custom Painting definitely delivers. While this book deals with more in-depth technical information than How to Restore Your Collector Car, he still makes it easy to read. In fact, the entire book is well executed, from a pleasant, inviting writing style to the organization of the information as well as its presentation and use of illustrative photographs.

While this book doesn't exhaustively cover the subject of custom painting, it's a fantastic and thorough introduction to modern paint and paint repair that includes custom painting, and more.

The Book


The introduction sets the tone for the entire book. Mr. Brownell immediately puts the reader at ease with his light and entertaining, yet informative, style. He also gives an accurate idea of what to expect to learn and points out the importance of safety with the dangerous chemicals used in automotive painting — dangers that you don't usually find in other areas of automotive repair.

Chapter 1: Guidelines to Painting Safely

This chapter contains one of the aspects of this book that really sets it apart from others that I've read or skimmed through. Safety is of paramount concern to the author, as it should be (with the reader as well) when dealing with products that can be hazardous to the painter, any bystanders, or animals — which includes around the shop, not just in it — and the environment. By hazardous, I mean lethal. While enamels and lacquers pose health and environmental threats, many of the new hardened paints and primers can and will kill. Mr. Brownell knows this and stresses these facts in his book, focusing this entire chapter on them. He makes certain that the reader realizes the threat these chemicals pose and gives many appropriate safety precautions as well as a number of alternatives to working with them.

Chapter 2: Types of Paint

Chapter 2 starts off with some background on lacquer and enamel paints, and contrasts them with the newer urethane one and two stage paints. This chapter also introduces modern painting materials and methods, and explains why these are vastly superior and what pros and cons there are to modern paints for the enthusiast.

Chapter 3: Powder Coating: Easy, Safe, and Fun

This chapter is a short one, but it does a great job of explaining how powder coating is used and its advantages in certain applications. You may ask why powder coating is referred to in a painting manual, but the author explains it's essentially a simple method for applying a durable finish to metal parts, like painting, but safer and easier. He also explains not only how to powder coat, but how to set up a small outfit in your own shop, as well as the safety considerations that need to be considered when doing so.

Chapter 4: Painting Systems — The Key to Modern Refinishing Products

The name of this chapter says it all. Mr. Brownell explains that the key to understanding and correctly applying modern finishes is the system approach these paints are engineered with. He explores some of the chemistry involved in using these paints and explains how the system concept works, as well as what to do and not to do when approaching a project plan with them.

Chapter 5: Tools and Techniques — High-Tech Painting

This covers a wide range of concerns that stretch beyond tools and techniques. The author thoroughly covers the needs and costs involved in setting up a shop for painting with modern paints which includes four key areas he outlines and explains throughout the chapter. He also explains how to setup the shop and how to use the equipment with safety as a priority. This is where the technique portion of the chapter comes into play. He covers spray gun technique, operation and diagnosing spray pattern problems, as well as gun care.

Chapter 6: Removing an Existing Finish

With the shop basics covered in Chapter 5, Mr. Brownell moves on to teaching how to prepare a surface for paint. In this chapter, he explains in detail, why starting with a solid foundation for paint is important. He then spells out the steps and methods used to remove old paint on a substrate (base metal, plastic, or other material on which paint or other coatings are applied), so that the base material can be repaired. He also includes a number of methods for repairing a corrosion damaged surface.

Chapter 7: Recoating an Existing Finish

Recoating an Existing Finish dives headlong into prepping an old finish and explains what to look for when deciding whether or not that finish is up to being used as a base for the new, or whether you should use the information from the previous chapter before you lay down paint. After explaining how to evaluate old paint, the author takes you through the necessary steps of prepping old paint for a fresh coat.

Chapter 8: Painting Over Plastic

This chapter covers a fairly complex subject and does so just as easily as the rest. The first part of the chapter covers the different types of plastics used in automobiles and gives you the pros and cons of each. The author then moves forward to explain how to figure out what kind of plastic your repair deals with, how to repair it, prep it, and prime it. He finishes the chapter with a short, yet concise section on vinyl and leather dying.

Chapter 9: Primer Coatings

After laying a foundational understanding about surface preparation, Mr. Brownell discusses primers in general. His explanations include primer's purposes, uses, and applications, as well as how to prepare and apply them.

Chapter 10: Sanding and Filling — Materials and Techniques

As the title suggests, this chapter focuses on smoothing the body for paint. The author thoroughly delves into not only the materials, tools, and techniques involved but explains why it's the most important part of a good paint job. In it he covers primer surfacer sanding, as well as body filler and filler application.

Chapter 11: Sealing the Primer Base

Building on the information in Chapter 9, Mr. Brownell further explains the use of primer sealer as well as how to apply it. He finishes up the chapter with masking for the final paint and explains why it is important that the final masking be different from the primer masking.

Chapter 12: Selecting or Matching a Finish Color

Chapter 12 explains color. That includes when to decide on a color in the painting process, how to mix and match it, and how to approach a paint supplier with the necessary information to get the paint you want. It also covers color and paint limitations, and variables, as well how you perceive color so that you can best judge it.

Chapter 13: Finish Systems and Applications

This chapter essentially expands on the information supplied in Chapter 4. The main difference being that rather than talking about the concept of paint systems and how they work, Mr. Brownell focuses on the specifics of three different system types (single stage, base coat/clear coat, and clear overlay). He explains what each system is and how to apply it, and looks into several methods for blending paint repairs, including two custom two-stage repair techniques. He also covers finish problems and how to correct them.

Chapter 14: Custom Paints and Creative Designs

Now we get into custom paint and techniques. The previous chapter explains basic paint, application, and repair, but leaves out custom paints such as metal flake, pearls, and candies. In this chapter the author covers these subjects and more. The more being custom paint techniques and how to design custom graphics such as flames, lettering, and airbrushing images. He also explains the procedures for applying these custom designs to a car.

Chapter 15: Airbrushing and Pinstriping

This chapter continues the theme of the last, but gets into the finishing details of pinstriping, as well as the tools, equipment, supplies, and techniques of airbrushing.

Chapter 16: Custom Effects with Powder Coating

In the third chapter Mr. Brownell introduces powder coating which included what it was as well as how to apply it. In this chapter he expands on that information with the latest breakthroughs in unique custom powder coating effects. He also looks into other detailing paints which include replicating the look of factory plating on carbs, brackets, small parts, and the like.

Chapter 17: Final Steps

When the paint is applied, the job isn't done if that fresh paint isn't taken care of correctly. Here the author takes you through the necessary steps and techniques of unmasking, recognizing, and repairing defects, microsanding, compounding, polishing, and replacing emblems and trim. He also includes a section on repairing damaged trim as well.

Chapter 18: Finish Preservation, Care, and Storage

In the final chapter he shares numerous tips, tricks, and ideas for keeping your fresh paint looking new for years. That includes paint maintenance, protection, and even minor chip repair.


The book comes to a close with three appendices. The first covers lacquer application — something that is not covered with much depth in the book due to the fact that the new painting systems are much more commonplace now and vastly superior. The second appendix is a short section on painting terms and their definitions so that you can speak with other painters or painting professionals and understand what's being said. The last is an extensive resource list which covers the products covered in each chapter.


After reading this book I was left very satisfied. It's exceptionally well written and covers the subject of automotive paint, from how it works to custom application techniques and everything in between. Not only does it cover a wide range of information, but it does so concisely, maintaining an easy-to-read quality not normally found in automotive manuals. If you have an interest in learning about automotive paint, I highly recommend picking up a copy. However, I'm told by the publisher that it will be replaced soon, so you'd better hurry!

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For more information contact CarTech Books on the web at www.cartechbooks.com, by phone 1.800.551.4754, or by email at info@cartechbooks.com.

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