How to spray cellulose paint

Updated July 19, 2017

Today’s modern automotive paints systems are largely isocyanate based and they require the use of special ovens with powerful extraction facilities for safe application. Users also need to wear air-fed respiratory equipment to protect their lungs and airways. Before the advent of two-pack and water-based systems, vehicle manufacturers used cellulose paint and despite having no professional use for many years, the material is still available to purchase through specialist suppliers. Ideal for painting classic vehicles, cellulose is less aggressive than two-pack alternatives and will rarely react during application because of its lower solvent content.

Position your vehicle in a covered, ventilated area with an approximate temperature of 18 to 23 degrees Celsius (64 to 73 degrees Fahrenheit). Wipe over each prepared panel with a microfiber cloth lightly dampened with degreaser. Dry each panel thoroughly with clean microfibre cloth. Attach an air blower to an airline and blow off excess dust from the panel, wiping over the surface with a tack cloth at the same time.

Activate the cellulose paint by mixing it with an equal amount of cellulose thinners and stir thoroughly. Transfer the mixed paint to the pot of a spray gun, passing the material through a paper paint strainer to remove grit, dust and lumps. Secure the lid of the spray gun onto the pot and plug into an airline. Face away from the vehicle and pull back the spray gun trigger, adjusting the fan control screw until a wide pattern appears.

Maintain a distance of 8 inches between the spray gun nozzle and the panel at all times. Pull back the gun trigger and apply a thin coat to all panel edges. Spray the remaining flat surface of the panel completely, applying the same volume of paint and ensuring each stroke overlaps the previous one. Avoid applying too much material with the first coat to prevent the risk of runs.

Leave the paint to cure for 2 minutes or until it becomes matte in appearance. Apply a second coat of paint from the same distance, and at the same volume, as the first coat. Continue applying coats at 2-minute intervals until the panel covers entirely and no visible signs of primer remain.

Allow overnight curing and return to the finished panel the following day. Check to see that the paint has cured by looking for a consistent, semi-matte finish. Lightly sand the dried paint with P1200-grit wet-and-dry paper before polishing back to a full shine using a machine polisher and cutting compound.


When rubbing down cellulose paint prior to polishing, check the panel carefully to ensure all traces of an "orange-peel" finish are removed.


Always use suitable respiratory equipment when applying any type of automotive paint.

Things You'll Need

  • Microfibre cloth
  • Degreaser
  • Tack cloth
  • Air blower
  • Compressor
  • Airline
  • Cellulose paint
  • Cellulose thinner
  • Spray gun
  • Paint strainer
  • P1200-grit wet-and-dry paper
  • Machine polisher
  • Cutting compound
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About the Author

Based in the United Kingdom, Paul Miceli has been a professional writer since 2006. He has been published online by Ideate Media and Promiga and has a proven track record of producing informational articles and sales copy. Miceli is educated to U.K. "A-level" standard, continues to work as a paint sprayer and has more than 25 years of automotive body repair experience.