Ghost Pearl My Whip
March 23, 2016 9:05 PM   Subscribe

I want to strip and paint a steel bike frame. I think I have all the information I need on the process, primer, and base coat from resources such as this guide, but I’d like to go for a pearlescent, multi-hued look with a rattle can level of effort.

Pearl additives such as these seem to be generally sold as powder packets, applied via a powered spray gun, and meant for car-scale jobs. Since it’s just a bike frame I’m reluctant to do something this complex. What are my best options here? Take it to an auto shop and have them do it for a bunch of money and not much fun for me? Rent professional spraying equipment and make an expensive mess? Somehow use pearl paint additives in a spray paint rattle can? Give up on the pearl thing and use less-awesome paints instead?
posted by migurski to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (8 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
If you're looking at doing a rattle can job, you're already expending a not-zero amount of energy and dealing with a pretty obnoxious level of complexity to paint a bike. To do a decent job by rattle can, you should be sanding, doing multiple coats, and clear-coating a couple times.

To take yourself from a rattle can job that is kind of meh to a job that will be durable and last a while, the only extra effort you to do is track down a compressor and a spray gun, a compressor and a hose. Spray guns are like 14 bucks at harbor freight. Honestly, at that price, they're basically disposable, and now you're the awesome neighborhood badass who has a paint gun. You probably have a friend who has a compressor, or maybe have a tool lending library in your area? Then all you need is a hose to hook them up, and a place to paint your bike.

The labor gap between doing an actual rattle can job, and doing a spray-gun job is pretty minimal, but the difference in quality is markedly wide.
posted by furnace.heart at 9:36 PM on March 23, 2016 [4 favorites]

I don't think I've ever seen a bike painted in flip colors, but for prismatics and pearls the way they get that effect is by powder or as an essentially 'flat' finish, both of which are gone over with layers of clearcoat. The clearcoat is what makes it real.

For doing this with cans, these guys seem often-used. You'd have to settle for a single-color pearl as far as I can tell, but similar to a paint booth cans are a two-ingredient process. The color chart for HOK looks the same as you see for Tommasini and the like.
posted by rhizome at 9:44 PM on March 23, 2016 [1 favorite]

I have rattlecan spraypainted my commuter bike twice. It's a bunch of work, but not crazy.

If you really want the pearlescent look, rent the spray gun, or have it done for you. Trying to do it via rattlecan might work, but in my experience spray paint even with a bunch of clearcoats on top is just not durable enough to justify lots of effort on.

At least, that's true enough for an urban commuter that's getting locked up outside a lot. If your usage is different you may get more longevity out of spray paint.
posted by Sleddog_Afterburn at 10:17 AM on March 24, 2016

Thanks for your answers! Furnace.heart, that price for a spray gun is much lower than what I’d been finding. Rhizome, I was not aware that other brands have these colors available in a can. Very useful. Sleddog_Afterburn, is there some chemical difference in the rattlecan vs. spraygun paints that makes one more durable than the other, or is it a matter of application method?
posted by migurski at 10:51 AM on March 24, 2016

I should have outlined this a bit more clearly; if you're doing a quality job, labor is largely the same for both methods (your delivery system for the paint is the only change), but the actual paint quality is much better if you are using a gun. Rattlecan paint is much thinner so it can be atomized through the cap; spraygun paints are typically harder, and if applied properly, more durable in the long run. I've painted bikes with both spray guns, and rattle-can jobs. I've never had to re-do a spray gun paint job.

Overall durability is subject to how careful you are with preparation and application; you most certainly can do a shitty job with a spraygun. But the best rattlecan job will still be worse in terms of durability and longevity than a good spraygun job that's properly prepped, multiple coats applied, clear-coated several times with sanding at every stage.
posted by furnace.heart at 11:44 AM on March 24, 2016 [2 favorites]

Consider getting it powdercoated. There's a local shop here (Baltimore) that will strip and coat a bike frame and fork for $150. Top notch work, and zero labor on your end. Just a thought.
posted by jetsetsc at 12:11 PM on March 24, 2016 [2 favorites]

You can have custom spray paint made at places like Home Depot. Maybe they would be able to put in pearl powder color(s) you like from the website you linked, if the particle size is small enough (so not the mica flakes, but maybe the flip colors?)

I would just rent a light duty spray gun for a weekend if I was you, so you can get the color and finish you want. Just make sure you get the right tip! Most of them come with a fan tip that is meant for painting walls, which is way overkill and super messy when you're trying to do something narrow like a bike frame. Practice first. It's not much like using spray cans at all, and can take some getting used to.
posted by ananci at 3:18 PM on March 24, 2016

Thanks so much everyone. It sounds like the spray gun is both less expensive and more worthwhile than I had believed. I’m also happy to know about rattlecan options for these colors. This is a hobby thing for me, so I may do a cheap & quick first version, see how I like it, and then re-do it in a more permanent way. The bike is not my daily commuter, more of an errand bike.
posted by migurski at 4:48 PM on March 24, 2016

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