“Basics of Basics” Color choice
By Brian Martin
Color choice is so much more than simply picking a color because you ‘like” it. Not every color “works” on every car. Some will argue “to each his own” or “It’s your car, paint it what ever you want”. This is true, but you are painting it to look better, right? Why just get color on it for the sake of getting color on it. Why paint your favorite color on it when your favorite color is not going to make the car look it’s best?
We have all heard that black will show waves or poor bodywork. White on the other hand hides them. This is just the start of color choice. We can agree that even though you may love black cars, painting a wavy old beast a cut and buffed black would be wrong. It goes beyond “taste”, it is just plain wrong, if your desire is a nice looking car.
There are a few different issues when talking about color choice.
IF you have a budget for your paint you best check on the cost before you commit to a color. In one brand of basecoat a price can go from approximately $185.00 to $420.00 a gallon. Any color with a lot of red or pearl is going to be more expensive, for instance. These are not custom colors, just regular old colors off new cars. Whether you plan on BC/CC (base coat/ clear coat) or SS (single stage, where no clear is applied over it) will effect cost. Pick a color and go to your paint store to see all costs, color, clear, hardeners, reducers, any sealers you may want, etc. You don’t want to be surprised when the car is sitting there ready for paint.
Yeah, I know, you’ll never sell it. Well, I have to tell you, you most likely will someday. There are lots of cars painted pastel pink from the 1980’s that are darn near un-sellable today. I know of one, a friend of mine passed away unexpectedly and his wife almost had to give away his ’34 Ford. It would have probably gotten up to $10,000 more if it weren’t an outdated trendy color from the 80’s. Really watch those trendy colors, they can kill you.
Does the color “work” on this particular body style:
Not all cars look good in all colors. Again, I am not talking “taste” here, I mean some colors just DON’T “work” on every car. There is a 4dr ’59 Cad in my area that is painted a fire engine red, I am sorry, it doesn’t work. In fact, it looks like hell. Is that just my opinion, well yes and no. It is also the public’s opinion in large part, too. GM spends a LOT of time and money on marketing and research to come up with the colors it offers. That red would not be a color offered on that car for good reason. This is a very gray area (if you will pardon the pun), it does come down to “opinion”. But it is like speaking your mind about politics, sure you have the right, but you better “know the room”, or you will suffer the consequences. The resale of the Cad is in the tank. The likelihood of a crowd gathering around it at a show is in the tank. He took the chance when he opened the can. Because of this rule it is not likely you will ever see a white Ferrari or a candy apple red Rolls Royce.
What do you want the color to do:
This is where we return to the black shows waves stuff. Sure black shows waves, but did you know it hides body lines? That’s right, it “softens” body lines. If you have a car with features you want to hide, black is the color. This is one of the reasons it is known for being “mysterious”. It hides a lot, leaving it up to the imagination. It also makes the car look smaller. I am not kidding, park a black ’68 Camaro next to a white one and you darn near have to take a measuring tape out to prove they are the same car.
On something like a ’27 Ford model T the doors lay on top of the cowl and quarters. It kinda looks like a tire patch on the side of the car. In black they “melt” in and don’t pop out as much.
White is just the opposite, it may hide waves in flat panels, but it shows off body lines. This includes how STRAIGHT the lines are. Panel fit is very critical with white. The gaps look like black pin stripes, if they are not perfect it will look like wavy inconsistent width stripes.
We all know what black and white do, any other color just falls in the middle. It is a sliding scale, the darker the color the more it’s effects are like black and the lighter the color the more it’s effects are like white, simple.
Graphics, stripes, two tones:
You have to really watch what you do with color when it comes to combinations like with two tones and stripes. They can “cut a car up” or distort it. Remember those black and white Camaros I mentioned? Well, paint the top half of your car white and the bottom black and it will look a black Camaro with a camper shell sitting on top. I remember a beautiful Cuda here in town when I was a kid. It had a black stripe down the side that thickened into an arrow shape at the rear on the quarters. Every single time I saw that car it looked like the trunk was open! I would see it out of the corner of my eye and it looked like the darn thing was driving down the road with the trunk open!
A two tone ’50 Chevy coupe with a chopped top wouldn’t even looked chopped if the top color was white and the bottom was black. The roof would look TALLER than stock, just because of the color. Like I said, you can’t pick a color just because you “Like it”.
Take some pictures of the car, blow them up, then color them with felt pens to see what your thoughts look like on the car. It is far cheaper than paint!
Tip 1. There are thousands and thousands of colors out there. To pick one from that huge pallet would be very hard. This is what I feel is the best way to start the color search, find a car the color you want and get the color code off it. It is that simple, the new car lots are full of cars in every color imaginable; find the color and there you will find the exact code of that color.
Tip 2. When you go to get your paint at the paint store ask if there are any “alternates” or “variants” of the color you have chosen. These “alternates” can be VERY, VERY different from the “standard” color. The car you may have seen was one of these “alternate” colors. These alternate colors are different “batches” if you will.
Tip 3. DO NOT PICK THE COLOR OUT OF A CHIP BOOK! These chips are usually not even paint, they are ink. They are a “close” representation of the color, they are NOT the color. (for instance the alternates will not even be represented in the chip books) .
Tip 4. I highly recommend you buy a pint of the color you have chosen, take it home and spray it out. Use an old fender or something and really get a good feeling for the color before you lay out your hard earned dough for a gallon or two. This is not only to see if the color is right, but to see if it covers well, and just how easy it will be to paint. The difference between colors and brands can be night and day in how user friendly they are. If you find that the color is nice but it takes 6 coats to cover, you may want to change the color choice or change the brand of paint. Some “value lines” can be very transparent, so you save no money because you may have to put on twice as much. A high pearl or metallic color may “model” easily, that may be a reason to scrap the color or brand.
Tip 5. After you have your color picked for goodness sakes don’t be a cheapie when buying your paint. Figure out how much you’ll need for the whole job. We are talking every thing you plan on painting, outside, inside, dash, jambs, trunk, everything. When you have an idea how much, add at the very least 20% more. If one gallon is enough, buy another quart. Buy all the paint you will need before you start painting anything. Get a few extra gallon cans and use them to intermix ALL the paint. You then have all the paint you need, no mismatched parts, no running out, you are set to go. If you have a quart left over when you are done, so what? Running out of paint is NOT pretty, it is a disaster in many cases. Now, why intermix? This is a VERY painful lesson you don’t want to learn the hard way. This is it in a nutshell, if you were to go to the paint store and have three gallons of the same formula mixed you would end up with three different colors! I will bet you a dollar, here is why. Some toners are very strong, just a drip will change the color. A couple of different people could mix them, some people mix better than others. There are other variables such as one toner used gets emptied and the next toner used has more solvent in it because it is new and has less strength. Now, these colors may not be “that” different. If you were to paint three different cars with those gallons you may not even see it. But if you were to paint your hood, fenders, and quarters with the three different gallons you sure would! I repeat, this is a VERY painful lesson you don’t want to have to learn the hard way, BUY ALL YOUR PAINT UP FRONT.
Tip 6. If you follow tip #5 you can skip this one. It is something that comes up once and a while. When you have chosen BC/CC, SS, Lacquer, enamel, what ever, paint the WHOLE car the same. Don’t paint the jambs SS and the outside BC/CC or something like that. Yes, it “can” work, but seldom does. The formula for the SS and BC of the same color is NOT (usually) the same. The SS paint is not just the BC that you don’t put clear over. For that matter just clearing a color will change it.
I could bore you with example after example of how I learned this information. Follow these simple tips and you will have fun doing your car, instead of experiencing the pain on your own. These are lessons that are very painful, believe me.
Let me also say that I love color. It has been a big part of my life for over 25 years. I can appreciate just about any color as long as it is done nice. That does not mean that any color belongs on any car. It also doesn’t mean that because I would like a car a particular color that I would paint it that color. It has to “work” or it was a waste of time and money. There are many cars that you have seen grace the front cover of a magazine that would be a big ZERO if it were painted another color. And likewise there are many cars that just don’t get the attention they deserve because they were painted the “wrong” color.
This may be the only car you ever restore, or at the very least one of only a few. The time you take to pick the color is time very well spent, that I guarantee you.