Want to advertise your business in a new way? Try this!

A little background

Phoenix Commercial Paint Inc is a vehicle painting facility that specializes in full body painting of recreational vehicles. However, instead of painting a fresh, new production vehicle, they offer this service to the RV owner. Usually, the owners are full time occupants that want to bring a fresh look to their 'home'.

The challenge for Michele and her crew is to put fresh paint on an old body. The manufacturer has the vehicle when it is brand new and untouched, a clean canvas, if you will. The projects that enter this shop have experienced rain, snow, salt, bugs, heat, cold, hills and valleys as well as a whole gambit of other things. Nothing quite like having a scorpion crawl out of a section your working on when they're aren't exactly indigenous to your area! True story!

Michele installing the trademark 'Phoenix' of Phoenix Commercial Paint Inc
Michele installing the trademark 'Phoenix' of Phoenix Commercial Paint Inc

Business or personal, there's more than meets the eye

I recently started a new business venture called Mobile Service Pros. This is an on-site oil change and light maintenance service. So that makes the service vehicle a rolling billboard. Being on a tight start-up budget, I thought that I would just get some magnetic stick on signs for the van. These turned out to be very small and hard to see at any distance other than close up. With the persuasion of Michele Henry of Phoenix Commercial Paint Inc, we decided to do painted vehicle lettering. To help offset some of the cost, my wife and I agreed to help with some of the labor associated with getting the vehicle ready for paint. My wife has worked with vehicle paint and prep before, so she is pretty experienced. As for me, other than a couple things that they needed an extra hand for, I'm pretty green.

The canvas needs work

The crew at the shop masterfully sculpt intricate full body designs on 30-40 foot vehicles. The project of putting lettering on my little Ford E250 is quite a bit simpler. Even with that being said, there is a lot of work that has to go into prepping the surface of an already painted vehicle to get it ready for new paint.

Taking your vehicle to a paint shop may tell you more about your vehicle than you thought you knew. Michele and my wife Jennifer began pointing out all the places where the colors had been blended and changed. All I knew when I bought it was that the van was yellow and mechanically sound. Evidently, under the full light of day and without a keen eye, it can be hard to see variations. As they pointed out one spot then the other we had to laugh because of the clear difference in some of the yellows. Turns out that the roof of the van is canary yellow. I mean Big Bird, bright as bright can be, yellow. Whoops, guess it pays to climb up a ladder when you shop for a vehicle taller than you. Oh well.

First step, the vehicle has to be cleaned and scuffed in the areas to be painted. The idea is to create a surface that the new paint will stick to without any dirt or foreign material. Paint will peel off of a smooth surface, so properly sanding with a fine grit allows the paint to have something to stick to.

Cleaning is pretty straight forward, but the scuffing is a bit more involved. We used an air-operated tool to scuff the areas to be painted. We went over these areas repeatedly until the 'shine' was gone. It sounds simple enough, but it's suprising how durable the surface is and how the vibrations of the tool affect your muscles. Glad I don't have to do this on a full size RV!

The sides of the van scuffed pretty well, but the back doors appeared to give us some grief. It seemed that no matter how we scuffed, it never appeared quite right. Michele indicated that the materials used by whoever painted it, and repainted it, may be the problem. We scuffed until we reached a point that it was agreed to just leave it alone and see what comes of it.


Our youngest helper pointing out the design
Our youngest helper pointing out the design

The benefits of paint versus decals

It could be argued that decal lettering could be installed at a much lower cost than painting. However, painting has some key advantages:

  • Paint is more durable against the elements.
  • Paint properly applied won't peel or crack.
  • Paint won't fade as easily as a sticker.
  • Paint has more options for sparkle and shine.
  • Paint makes it look more professional, like you intend to be around for a while.

Laying the design

Now that the surface has been cleaned and scuffed, a 'mask' will be applied to create the outline for the design. The mask is like a vinyl stencil that adheres to the vehicle. The trick is to lay it flat and straight. I've helped on the large vehicles, like the RV in the picture. Those require multiple people and multiple layers. Everywhere there is a crease or a seam, a person has to go back and use tape to make sure that the outline of the design stays sharp and true. If there is a crease or wrinkle not fixed, the paint can 'blow out' into areas past the lines of the design.

While my vehicle is a smaller and simpler job, the process and procedures are no less important. The added challenge here was to make the words appear to be even and straight even though the lines of the vehicle are not. The lines from front to back are actually at a slant and the lines of the top and bottom actually taper slightly at the rear. So if we measured and applied the mask, it would have appeared to be crooked. To lay this visually straight required teamwork and a lot of eyeballing before it was applied.

After that, paper and tape are used to protect all the areas that are not being painted. Because the paint is applied with an air operated sprayer, it is important to cover a lot of the vehicle to help prevent 'overspray' from landing on places you don't want it. Again, it is important to make sure that all the tape lines are securely pressed down. I missed a spot and it definitely was apparent after it was done. Fortunately, the skilled workers knew how to fix my mistake. These are definitely projects that depend a lot on the little things.

Color comes together

The paint process is a fickle thing. Paint can be affected by a few different things. Anything with oil or silicone is a big problem. Dirt and foreign material are a big enemy because they really stand out once paint is on them. Air temperature and humidity can also really cause problems with how the paint goes on and how well it dries. After listening to conversations on tool types, paint types, and a variety of other things, I realized why the process and conditions have to be followed as precisely as humanly possible. This is why the vehicle is moved into a special paint booth to help control as many of the environmental conditions as possible.

In this room, the painter carefully applies the paint to the 'canvas'. This process is repeated as required by the project. After the paint has been allowed to dry sufficiently, all of the paper and tape are gently removed. I say gently because if the tape is pulled and the surface wasn't properly prepped, the paint will begin to lift. Remember those darn rear doors I mentioned earlier? Well, we saw this firsthand on one of them. Fortunately, Michele and her exceptionally skilled painter were able to nurse it, fix it and apply the clearcoat over it.

The clearcoat is the last stage of the process that goes on, well, clear. The neat thing about this is how it creates the shine. After the clearcoat is put on, sometimes in multiple layers, it's buffed to a high gloss. This shine is what really makes it stand out. It also creates the protective layer over the paint to make it more durable to the elements. The bad thing about it is that if there are any flaws in the process or vehicle build, they will show up more clearly now. By the time you reach this point, you don't want to know what has to happen to fix a problem under the paint. Believe me, I've heard the conversations on that one! Each expletive is well deserved!

Lookin good!
Lookin good!

The finished product

The process of removing the paper and tape had felt like opening a gift, but the real enjoyment comes when the vehicle is pulled out of the shop and into the sunshine. This is the shining moment when you realize that you get to hop into this vehicle and drive it down the street! It is a very exhilarating feeling! My family and I took our bright yellow van with sparking new lettering down to the local shopping supercenter and parked it near the rear of the lot just to create advertising. We left it there for a couple hours for everyone to see. What wonderful advertising!

Even though I was pretty excited, my excitement no where matches the expression of the customers with RV's. Especially the 'full-time' ones. It's like a complete transformation of their home. They usually can't wait to pull into the next campground and brag on their 'new' vehicle.

But don't take my word for it, go to the site www.phoenixpaintinc.com
and see for yourself. They have a bunch of before and after pictures that will blow you away!


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