How to Custom Paint a Van

Written by elizabeth hannigan
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How to Custom Paint a Van
This van would look cooler with some dragons on it. (Jupiterimages/BananaStock/Getty Images)

Custom-painted vans were a hot item during the 1970s. Van enthusiasts, or vanners as they prefer to be called, decorated their rides with warlocks, howling wolves and album art from Pink Floyd's "Dark Side of the Moon." Unfortunately for art lovers everywhere, custom-painted vans seemed to have waned in popularity. Don't let the custom-painted van go extinct. If you have some artistic skills, you can custom-paint a cool mural on your own van.

Skill level:

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Things you need

  • Detergent
  • Wax and grease remover
  • Dual-action orbital sander
  • Towels
  • Duct tape
  • Tarp
  • Primer
  • Base coat
  • Automotive paints
  • Topcoat

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  1. 1

    Wash your van thoroughly. Your van must be absolutely spotless before you begin painting. Wash the van with car wash detergent, then wipe it down with wax and grease remover to get the bits the soap won't pick up. Dry the van completely with towels.

  2. 2

    Sand your van with a dual-action orbital sander. Sand off as much of the old paint as possible, especially if there are several layers of paint. The dual-action orbital sander will take the paint off without damaging the body. If you're worried about damaging the moulding or glass, cover these parts of your van with duct tape before you begin sanding.

  3. 3

    Cover any part of the van you don't want to get paint on with duct tape or auto body masking tape and tarp. This would include the chrome, glass, tires and under-chassis. Be careful to mask the van thoroughly so that you don't do a sloppy job with your custom painting.

  4. 4

    Wipe down the van one more time before you begin painting. Make absolutely certain that the van is clean and dry. A little bit of dirt can ruin your paint job.

  5. 5

    Spray the entire van with primer. Make sure that you get an even coat, but don't spray the primer too thick. The primer will make your paint stick to your van. Allow the primer to dry completely. Sand down any drips or mistake you may have made.

  6. 6

    Paint your van a solid colour. This colour will be the background for your custom job. Use a urethane-based paint and spray the paint on evenly over the entire van. Allow the coat to dry for 10 to 15 minutes. Spray a second coat of paint all over the van. Most paint jobs consist of between two and 20 coats of paint. About 15 minutes after your second coat of paint dries, examine your van and determine whether you need more paint. Check to make sure that the paint is even and you can't see through it anywhere. Once you are satisfied with the paint, allow it to dry for 90 minutes more.

  7. 7

    Paint your mural onto your van with auto paint. This mural can cover one or both sides and the back of the van. Make sure that your mural is filling your available space. It will be very difficult to make repairs to your picture, so work very slowly and carefully. If you don't feel comfortable painting a freehand mural onto your van, consider hiring a professional to do it for you. Allow the mural to dry for at least 90 minutes.

  8. 8

    Coat your entire van with a clear coat of paint called the topcoat. Apply the clear coat the same way you have applied the primer and first coats of paint. Allow the coat to dry for 15 minutes in between each application. Three coats of clear paint should be enough. This clear coat will make your van shiny and prevent your mural from becoming damaged. Allow the clear coat to dry for at least 90 minutes.

Tips and warnings

  • Make a few sketches of your mural before you begin so that you have a rough guide.
  • Make sure that your work area is well ventilated.
  • Your neighbours may object if you paint something risque on your van.

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