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by Bruce Caldwell  More from Author

Tips and Tricks for Painting Flames

Flames have long been a staple of custom painting, but in the last several years they’ve gotten even hotter. It seems like flames are everywhere from cars to trucks to motorcycles to skateboards to tool chests. If you’re looking for a way to make your modified Mustang stand out a mild or wild flame job will do the trick.

Many fine books have been written on the subject. Our favorite book is “How To Paint Flames” by Bruce Caldwell (big surprise). It’s published by Motorbooks International and available at bookstores and online retailers. One excellent place to get this book and many others plus all the other equipment, paint and supplies for flame painting is The Eastwood Company. Eastwood carries a large inventory of flame related products, so if you don’t have a local source you can order what you need online.

The following photos and tips highlight some design tips dealing with patterns and symmetrical flames as well as masking tips. Flames can be done without expensive spray equipment if you use the One Shot technique shown here. Flaming a whole car on your first try might be a stretch, but you can buy inexpensive white enamel metal sign blanks and practice on them. With a little practice you’ll soon be ready to set “fire” to a whole car.  XM

There countless ways to paint flames. The widely spaced licks on this ‘65 Mustang vary greatly from the tightly massed licks on Unique Performance’s wild transporter in the background.

Ghost flames are a popular alternative to bold “in your face” flames. People frequently do a double take when they realize a car has ghost flames. If you look carefully at the ghost flames on the side of Sharon Littrell’s 2003 Mustang convertible you can see a horse’s head at the start of the flames.

A seemingly obvious tip is to always use the freshest possible supplies. Don’t try to save money with bargain tape. Tape is the least expensive part of a flame job. The yellow plastic squeegee is used to make sure tape edges are secure. It also serves as a place to store and cut small bits of tape for filling little voids.

The secret to making roughly symmetrical flames is to lay them out on one side of the car and then make a pattern. Use masking paper or butcher paper. Tape it in place (make reference marks for reattaching the pattern in the exact same location). Then use a pencil to trace the underlying taped flame design.

A tip for getting uniformly rounded curves on a flame job is to make a small template out of poster board. Use the template to check curves on the paper pattern before the pounce wheel is used. Use it frequently when taping the final design.

A pounce wheel (available at craft stores) is used to trace the pattern on the masking paper. The wheel makes lots of small perforations. It’s best to use the wheel on a surface with a little give such as a big piece of cardboard or the shop wall.

The original layout tape is removed and then the perforated pattern is carefully positioned using the reference marks. The pattern is securely taped in place. Then carpenter’s chalk is placed on a clean shop rag and “dusted” along the perforations. When the left side has been marked, carefully remove the pattern and flip it to the same location on the right side of the car. When all the chalk marks are in place follow the design with blue vinyl tape and you’ll have symmetrical flames.

After the chalk dots have been traced with blue fine line tape the voids are completely covered with regular automotive masking tape (never use household grade tape). Try to make the tape as uniform and wrinkle free as possible to avoid trapping overspray or dust. After a light scuffing the flames should be blown off and wiped down with wax and grease remover. It’s a good idea to wear protective gloves.

The more complex a flame design is, the more masking that’s required. Even when doing small areas of overlapping licks it’s important to tape off a large perimeter. About one foot of an overlapping lick was being painted a different color here, but a couple 4-foot long lengths of 12-inch wide masking paper were used to protect the surrounding licks

Removing masking tape correctly is almost as important as applying it. The paint is still very fresh and edges can lift if the tape isn’t removed carefully. Masking materials should be removed in stages: first cut away or peel large sections of masking paper, then remove the green tape (as shown) and finally remove the blue fine line tape. Always pull tape back over itself slowly.

Even so-called freehand flames can benefit from the use of painter’s stencils. Most of the licks are done freehand with a small airbrush, but then more pronounced curves and highlights are added with the aid of a solvent proof plastic stencil. The stencils are available with a wide array of curves and shapes. The most popular stencils are called Artool stencils.

A good way to save masking time on relatively small flame jobs is to use transparent or semi-transparent adhesive transfer tape as a mask. The tape is available from sign supply outlets (it’s used to apply vinyl graphics and lettering) in a variety of widths. The transfer tape can be used over a blue fine line outline or it can be drawn on with a soft pencil. Either way a sharp razor blade or X-Acto knife is used to carefully cut out the design (don’t cut into the paint).

Roy Dunn of Dunn Autographics demonstrated how to paint flames without traditional spray equipment. He lays out his design with transfer tape and then apply One Shot Striping Enamel (undiluted) with a common interior household foam paint roller. The secret is to have the surface and roller lint-free and hold the roller with as little pressure as possible. The One Shot will dry to a nice gloss although it won’t be quite the same as sprayed acrylic enamel.

One Shot flames can be done as a single color, but Roy Dunn make them come alive by using an Iwata Eclipse airbrush to add highlights. The One Shot enamel is reduced for spraying. Small compressors can power airbrushes like the Iwata Eclipse.

After the paint sets for just a short time the transfer tape can be removed. Roy prefers to remove the tape from the tips forward instead of the more common front to back. Roy feels this method better protects the delicate flame tips. Notice that the tape is pulled up and back away from the still soft paint. Because the paint is still soft any edges that start to lift should lay back down.

The Eastwood Company
263 Shoemaker Rd.
Pottstown, PA 19464-6433


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