How to make a rust finish with paint

Written by russell wood
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Rust is never a good thing, but when it comes to custom cars, it can be. Cars with an original patina -- the nickname given to vehicles that have never been repainted and have a coat of rust and paint as a finish -- are in vogue, and very popular. But if your car doesn't have a natural patina, there are ways to fake it, mainly with a little bit of airbrushed rust. It's not very difficult to do, but it takes a little bit of skill and effort to do right. Fortunately, all it takes is a little bit of practice.

Skill level:
Moderately Easy

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Things you need

  • Red scuffing pad
  • Airbrush
  • Airbrush compressor
  • Automotive paints in brown, orange, red and white hues
  • Automotive paint reducer
  • Mixing cups
  • Mixing sticks
  • Automotive clear coat with flattening agent

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  1. 1

    Scuff the area where you want to apply your fake rust using the red scuffing pad. Think in terms of where the rust would naturally occur, like under rivets or bolts, along the window ledge or the bottoms of the doors.

  2. 2

    Mix the brown paint in a mixing cup with the reducer using the manufacturer's recommendations. The mixing cups have markings on the sides, which make it easy to figure out how many parts of each to mix.

  3. 3

    Over-reduce the paint by adding in an extra part of reducer into the mixing cup. This is going to give the brown a watery look, which is what you're going for. It will look more natural this way.

  4. 4

    Pour the brown into the airbrush hooked into an airbrush compressor and start lightly spraying. Start by creating a light base for the brown, making it a wide area that you will build on next.

  5. 5

    Repeat this process with the orange and red paints, experimenting with your airbrush along the way. Create a layered, natural look, and by adding multiple layers of colour, you can do that. You can even go back and do more with the brown if you like; as long as the end result looks like rust, there are no rules.

  6. 6

    Repeat steps 2 and 3 with the white paint and put the white into the airbrush. For the white accents, make it look like a water stain that caused the rust in the first place, so make a streak that goes past the rust and into the body. Maybe add accents in the rust for highlights, whatever works best. You can always go back and add the other colours if you need to, or mix them if you want.

  7. 7

    Mix the clear coat with the reducer and the flattening agent per the manufacturer's directions using the mixing cup and mixing sticks.

  8. 8

    Pour the clear coat into the airbrush and apply it in light coats, with about 50 per cent overlap, over the rusted metal area. This is going to put no sheen on the rusted area, making it look more authentic, as well as protect the paint from damage.

  9. 9

    Clean out the airbrush using the reducer, by spraying raw reducer through the airbrush tip.

Tips and warnings

  • Don't worry about using masking tape and paper for this, because any messy areas or overspray will just add to the extra effect.

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