If you own a bicycle, airbrushing the frame can be a terrific way to customize it and make it unique. If the bike is old or used, a fresh paint job can be an excellent way to refurbish it and give it a brand new look. If you are willing to put in the time and you have a steady hand, not only can you give a bike a fresh coat, an airbrush is also a wonderful tool for adding pinstripes, two-tones and other artistic flair that will make your bike really stand out.
Strip all paint from the frame. If your frame is made with carbon fiber, use 200-grit sandpaper to remove the old paint job. Carbon fiber is strong but prone to break when hit with blunt force and chemicals can eat away at the bonding agents that hold the fibers together. If you have a metal frame you have the option of using a chemical stripper. If you are using a chemical stripper wear gloves. Paint removers are caustic and will burn skin on contact. Chemical strippers are available in both a liquid and gel state. The liquid strippers can be messy and difficult to apply, although they get into cracks easily. Gel strippers are better suited for vertical or angled surfaces (like a bicycle frame) because of their viscosity. Chemical stripping will also require multiple applications depending on the thickness of the previous paint job. However, if you apply too many applications a chemical stripper will eat away at the frame. Wear a mask when removing the old paint and do this in a ventilated area.
Apply a primer to the frame. Airbrush the primer evenly to the frame with a 1.3 to 2.5 mm paint nozzle. Wait 15 minutes after spraying the first coat, and apply a second. Allow the frame to dry overnight.
Create a smooth surface. After allowing the primer to dry overnight, sand the primer with 600-grit wet/dry silicon carbide sandpaper. You want to create a smooth surface for the paint to adhere to.
Apply the paint. Clean the frame of any dust or dirt. Using the same size nozzle as you used for the primer, apply an even, thin base coat. Allow the base coat to dry before applying a second coat. If the paint begins to run, gently sand the frame to even out the coat. If you are applying multiple colors, apply the lightest color first.
Wet sand the painted frame. Use 1,200-grit wet/dry sandpaper and have a bucket of water close at hand. Soak your sandpaper in water and using a level smooth motion, go over the entire frame. The sandpaper needs to be wet at all times. Apply light pressure so you do not remove the paint. This will help to give the frame a smooth, glassy shine.
Apply a design. This is optional, but if you are customizing a bicycle you can add decals, pinstripes or artwork to the frame at this point.
Apply a clear coat if necessary. Depending on the brand of paint you use, you may or may not have to add a clear coat. Many paints, such as Duplicolor’s Enamel System, have a clear component while some paints do not. Clear coats provide added protection to your bicycle from rain, rust and other damage. Apply the clear coat within one or two hours after applying the last coat of paint. This will ensure that the clear coat bonds with the paint for a durable hard finish.