Auto Service World
Feature   August 1, 2015   by Martha Uniake Breen

Cool Looks Heat Up

Cool custom looks for cars have always been one of the more interesting niche markets for jobbers, and an excellent opportunity to differentiate you from the competition. But lately, the demand for consumers personalizing their vehicles is hotter than ever.
“Custom painting in general has been taking off, due to Overhaulin’ and other reality shows that are giving it so much exposure,” observes Michael Kakura, technical advisor for BASF. “Candy finishes and other specialized looks are the strongest I’ve seen them in 25 years, which is great for jobbers and great for us! There’s a huge growing demand.”
Unless you’ve been on a desert island lately, you’ve probably seen at least one car sporting the new matte finish. It started with matte black a couple of years back, but now a whole range of colours are available, both in custom and OE. However, says Kakura, “I consider it a fad; I’m not sure if it will stick around. It’s very hard to work with; if you have a bug land on the car while it’s drying, it can ruin the whole job. Plus, it’s really hard to match the gloss level if you need to do a repair. But still, with all that, it’s very much in fashion right now.”
Vibrant “pastels” (allover finishes) like bright teals, primary colours, and complex finishes like pearls, appeal to a younger driver who doesn’t want the staid silvers or navy blues of their parents’ cars. In the high end, one particularly striking new look is “liquid metal,” a gorgeous chrome-like finish seen on the new Porsche GT and some Mercedes models. This finish is truly something else driving down the avenue: a racy, almost futuristic look with a mirror-like finish.
Along with these standout finishes, Jennifer Boros of PPG mentions that flake finishes are expanding in the variety of looks they offer: from almost a chunky look, through coarser flakes in the paint, to very fine grains that produce the smoothest, shimmering pearl. Other special coatings introduced over the last few years, such as colour-shifting and candy finishes, continue to be in demand in some areas of the country.
But whole-body finishes are only a part of the custom story. For a customer with a smaller budget, especially the younger market, there is a whole world of smaller modifications they can make to their vehicles that make them unique but don’t require the investment of a full repaint. Airbrushing, or murals depicting an image such as a tribal symbol or flames, are huge among some younger or image-conscious drivers. And now wraps and decals, which you can apply yourself, give the look of a custom airbrushing or pinstriping job at a fraction of the time and cost. They’re like temporary tattoos for a car, and are removed just as easily when you get tired of them.
The toolmakers are recognizing the growing demand for custom finishes, and making products that provide as small a gap between the tool and the artist as possible. One of the key components is the spray gun. As Vanessa Dupuis, of spray gun distributor SATA Canada, explains, “The complete SATAjet family has advanced considerably in the past decade: atomisation technology of the SATAjet 5000 B has surpassed the imaginable, making the guns truly versatile for any type of material.
“As a result we’re seeing a lot more chic coating jobs; using SATA’s unparalleled technology, painters are allowing the brilliant colours, depth, and the textures of the materials to make the biggest statements.”
Along with the tools, a great custom job is only as good as the paint, and most manufacturers have a range of products aimed to produce excellent results with the more precision application methods that a unique paint finish demands. “Our whole Vibrance Collection is geared to this market,” says Jennifer Boros. Vibrance includes a family of products with special colours, micas, pigments and other special effects to inspire the painter to realize whatever his vision may be. The range includes a single-stage black called Hot Rod Black, high-build undercoats, and coming soon, a new clearcoat especially designed to work with other Vibrance products.
BASF’s Glasurit and Carizzma lines are also geared to the special needs of the custom paint enthusiast. Kakura explains that clear coats in particular can make or break a finish, which is why he recommends Glasurit 923-220. Glasurit is a perfect finishing touch, since it polishes well, dries beautifully, and offers excellent protection.
Whichever brand the painter goes with, Kakura says emphatically, “I recommend first, especially when they are doing an expensive custom finish, that you use products from the same manufacturer. When you use a system – base, finish, clear – you know the products are designed to be compatible with each other.”
Custom painting is a complex niche market with specialized needs, which is both a virtue and a challenge for jobbers. But there is a wealth of resources available to instruct both the jobber and the consumer in how to use them to achieve perfect results.
PPG is launching a dedicated website for Vibrance later this summer that will join a full suite of online resources, from product information, to its Custom Restoration Guide and Repaint Reporter online magazine, with tips, profiles of custom painting stars and even step-by-step techniques. PPG also has training centres in Toronto and Montreal where jobbers and their staff can learn and try special techniques.
BASF’s dedicated custom refinishing site,, is designed to help both your team and your customers achieve high-quality results, and the company also offers extensive training opportunities. “It’s definitely a good idea to become as well-informed as possible if you want to get into selling these products, or expand on them,” advises Kakura. “It’s especially critical with a DIYer who may be doing a careful restoration in his garage, but may not have the proper equipment and technical information. So if the jobber is himself well-educated he’ll know the right questions to ask and make sure it’s being done right.”
Understanding the parameters of your equipment is vital to creating custom work, says Vanessa Dupuis. “We have lots of information at outlining what products are most commonly used for which purpose. In addition, we have social media communities where we encourage painters to come together to discuss their techniques and share their experience. We have a great link on our Facebook page where you can see Mickey Harris paint a complete mural with just a SATAminijet 4400. However we also have a few different YouTube channels, the newest being SATA by Eurotech, with great instructions on best practices.
“We encourage painters and jobbers to educate themselves on the market and ask the questions,” Dupuis concludes. “Getting into the custom market is easier than they think, and offers a really excellent opportunity to open up their market niche to cater to a larger group of people. Most shops already have the resources in place to get started; they just need the tools and the creativity to spur them onwards.”

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