Painting cheaply with Rust-Oleum

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Courtesy of michaelingeorgia


The technique shown here comes from a well-documented discussion in a Mopar thread that's several years old now.

First, here's a shot of the final effort. Obviously, a photo can't show too much detail, but I'll say that the final product looks very good. No visible strokes or runs, and a very high gloss.

Cheap paint.jpg

I wanted white for safety reasons. This bike is very, very visible for a Ninja, even at night. I know that white is not as exotic as pure black, or as sporty as all red, but I notice a marked difference in how well other drivers see me on the road. And the red and blue accents give it a "patriotic" look that might not be as susceptible to ticketing! No one who sees it suspects that it is anything but factory paint, and even we don't see the flaws as readily as I thought we might.

With painting, the thing you need most - and I'm serious - is PATIENCE.

First things first, though... If you are interested in this method, I'd recommend that you get a spare side-fairing and do a complete test on it. The side fairing is best, because it's cheap and the easiest part to paint. If you do a good job, then it's one less part to have for the final project, and you can keep the original as a spare or sell it. It's very important to have even that little bit of experience, however, before investing a great deal of time in something as complex as a front fairing.


The materials are few and cheap.

  • I used about 1/3 of a can (1/2 gal size) of white gloss Rust-Oleum acrylic enamel. (Don't get latex by mistake.) About $8.
  • Foam brushes (1 pack of 8 from the dollar store). These aren't regular bristle brushes but are, as the name implies, made from foam. Available at hardware, paint, and Home Behemoth stores.
  • A quart of mineral spirits (odorless).
  • Resealable Tupperware-type container for holding your paint. Doesn't have to be big... you're only going to mix about 1/2 pint at a time.
  • Ziploc bag to keep the foam brushes in after they are used. I wrapped mine in a damp washcloth and locked them in the bag. Otherwise, they're useless after less than half an hour of exposure.
  • Motorized polishing/buffing tool. 6" size. The standard 10" size is just too big for these parts. I picked up mine at Wal-mart for less than $15.
  • Various sanding papers. Make sure you get paper specifically for WET sanding. Your rough abrasions are going to take a rough paper at first, and maybe even spot putty. Otherwise, you'll be using 400, 600, 1000, and 1500 grade papers.


The method is simple, but does take time and patience. First, prepare the surface of your bike parts. With the Rust-Oleum, you don't have to sand down to bare metal/plastic. You just want a nice surface to work with.

Mix your paint with the spirits. Work with smaller amounts and mix more as you work. You generally want about 25-30% mineral spirits. Try starting with 1/2 pint paint and 1/4 pint mineral spirits. DO NOT SHAKE. This introduces bubbles. Rather, gently stir the paint both before and after combining with spirits.

Before I go further with the actual painting technique, let me say that I'm not getting into bike disassembly here. It's already covered in the FAQ. In fact, I followed the FAQ myself in this regard. I'll add, however, that I used individually labeled Ziploc bags to hold all the little nuts and bolts for each fairing piece. This made reassembly later a breeze. Don't trust your memory. Label the bags, and even add diagrams/instructions if necessary.

Now, just follow a routine, patiently and diligently. Do these steps with EVERY COAT.


Wet sand. I just kept a bucket of water next to me and kept the paper very clean and wet. Don't let paint build up on it. For each coat, use progressively smoother paper. After your first couple of coats, you'll be using 400 grade and sanding off about 1/3 of your paint. By the 7th and 8th coats, you'll be using 1000 and sanding off very little. Even though your first coat will have a nice gloss (though not terribly opaque), it's going to look quite dull after wet sanding. This is normal. You'll bring the gloss back later in the last step. And be careful when sanding edges and corners. It's VERY EASY to completely take off the paint in these areas.


Clean the surface. Hose and wipe down with water and a cloth, making sure there's no dust or debris on it. Use your hands a lot to feel the surface and hunt down any imperfections. After it's dry, wipe the surface down with a cloth dampened with mineral spirits. This helps remove fine particles or grease that may adversely affect paint adhesion. Let the mineral spirits dry a good ten minutes before painting.


Lay on the paint. When applying the paint, use VERY LITTLE, as it will run very easily. With the spirits, it is very thin, but this is essential to the self-leveling nature of this technique. Runs will be your single greatest enemy. Brush on quickly and lightly, covering large areas in little time. Don't repaint over areas repeatedly. You'll see brush strokes, but they will level out in a few minutes if you let them. If you continue to go over them as the paint flashes, the very strokes you are trying to avoid will be the strokes that cause you problems later.

Also, do not strive for a solid coat. Each coat will be VERY THIN. It is the cumulative effect we are after here. In fact, if you're painting a new color, the first coat will look HORRIBLE, and you will likely feel like "what I have I done?!!". Don't worry. It's the first of many. Just get it on smoothly and let it level and dry. If a piece of debris falls onto the surface, or a bug flies on and gets stuck, LEAVE IT. You'll make more of a mess trying to correct it now with wet paint than later when it's dry. The wet sanding process is all about correcting problems.

Finally, don't get too frustrated with all the edges and corners on these parts, which seem to take the paint a bit more thinly. With 10 coats and proper wet sanding, they'll have paint in the end. We had a few trouble spots, particularly with the grab bar, but these were easily taken care of later. You should be able to paint ALL of the parts in no more than 15 minutes. In fact, if you take longer, then you're going too slow and you're going to adversely affect your surface. With the mineral spirits, this stuff "flashes" fast.


Drying. Each coat should dry for at least six hours. Don't touch. Don't correct. If you see runs, resist the urge to re-brush. Correct later in wet sanding and just learn from the mistake. The neat thing about this process, in fact, is that problems are correctable. With base coat/clear coat methods, you have to be a pretty good painter (with pretty good resources) so that you can get it right the very first time. There's no room for mistakes. Not so here. Wet sanding will remove spots, runs, and bumps. You just might need to apply more coats later.


Some people have reported that they get good results by laying on two coats each day and only wet sanding once. That is, wet sand each morning, then lay on the first coat, wait about 6-8 hours, and then lay on the second coat without sanding (although I would still wipe the surface with spirits before the second coat). I did this a couple of times myself with no problem. It certainly is less time consuming, as laying on the second coat will then just require less than 30 minutes (spirits and painting). If you do this, just be more generous/aggressive with your wet sanding process each morning, and you'll be "correcting" two coats instead of just one.


If all goes well, you'll do this about 10 times. Don't get impatient, though, and stop too early. When you're all done, the last coat should look pretty darn good, with a nice gloss and smooth surface. However, we're now going to make it look BETTER.

First, wet sand one final time. Use 1500 or even 2000 grit paper. Sand lightly, using lots of water. You'll continue to see a good glossy appearance when the surface is wet, but it WILL look dull when dry. This is normal, so don't lament the "loss" of your beautiful surface.

When the final wetsand is complete, do a final wipe with spirits and let it dry thoroughly. Now, get your buffer/polisher and Turtle Wax Polishing Compound. Buff each part VERY well. You'll need 15-30 minutes on EACH PART, depending upon the size of the part, to bring back a high gloss.

Once you are completely finished, you might have a few spots, particularly on corners and edges, which may need a little extra paint. Just mix a small bottle with about 10-15% spirits and and dab on lightly with a brush. Such a mixture will be thin enough to self-level, but thick enough to cover well in a single coat. Keep the bottle tightly closed and you can use it later for touch ups in case of scratches or dings.

Another nice thing about this paint is that, with the spirits, it dries really fast and is tough as nails. It doesn't require a month or six months of curing. While I wouldn't wax it the same day you finish, I don't see why you couldn't wax and even add decals in only a week.

In addition, because there is no overspray and no fumes (virtually no smell at all, for that matter), I'd feel very comfortable doing the actual painting inside, taking the parts outside only for wet sanding and rinsing. In fact, indoors would actually be better, if you can find a place that doesn't see traffic. And because you're using very little paint at any given moment, all you need are some newspapers to keep from making a mess. In fact, this is a very non-messy method!

I'll also add at this point that my bike went from charcoal grey to white... a big difference. The first four coats looked AWFUL. It was only about the 5th and 6th coats that really started to look like good coverage. Again, do NOT try to lay on the paint too thick. Just trust the process. Also, I used a can of cheap spray paint to quickly apply a thin coat of white to the INSIDE of the parts for consistency. I wasn't worried about high gloss or even great coverage. The insides are seldom seem. But this little touch (done BEFORE the normal part of the paint job) helps make parts to be painted a totally different color look a bit more "factory".

That's the process. A first rate paint job for your Ninja for less than $20 worth of materials. (Not counting the buffer/polisher, which you may already have and certainly can use again). You can get professional results if you are PATIENT. Is it EASIER to use traditional professional spray methods? Yes... but only IF you have the skills AND the gear AND the facilities. If not, then you'll likely get MUCH better looking results with this method than using the pro method from a compromised position.

Followup: six weeks later

Q & A

"How's the paint holding up?"

Excellent. It's as tough as I was promised. Looks and feels like a "factory" job with all but the very closest scrutiny. This stuff will last.

"Did it take wax well?"

I haven't even waxed yet. Although I suppose any paint job benefits from a good wax job, this one really finished up with a nice glossy buffing. I have, however, washed it a couple of times.

"Would you do it the same way again?"

I not only would, but I'm going to. I'll be getting a second Ninja over the winter and have already planned to paint, no matter the condition of the bike. Although no one ever suspects this one was re-painted, I have no doubt that with the experience of one bike under my belt, the second will be even better.

"Looking back, what was the most important thing about getting good results?"

Three things: Patience. Good wet-sanding after every 2 coats. Getting a good paint/spirits mixture. I suspect that most problems with this method probably are the result of a deficiency in one or all three of these. Plan to spend 6 days. Use gentle but thorough wet-sanding. And don't mix the paint too thick -- thin paint self-levels the best, but requires more coats.

"How much did it REALLY cost?"

Really, the paint cost $8.50 and I only used 1/3 of the can. The spirits were $5. The brushes were $1 (Dollar Tree). I already had sanding sponges, but paid about $6 for a variety pack of fine grit papers and only used about 1/3 of it. I also didn't already own a 6" buffer/polisher, which cost $15 at Walmart. Used about 1/3 of tub of polishing compound. The next paint job should only cost about $10 for paint and brushes. There's no need for drop cloths, masking tape, ventilation masks, or expensive cleaning materials.

"What will you do differently next time?"

Paint inside. Seriously. There's no overspray, or fumes, or smell. Doing it in the garage was well-intentioned, but unnecessary. It was a HOT week in July. I'll wet sand in the garage, but then the parts are going into an unused room for painting and drying.

Instructional video

actionace put together three videos showing the Rust-Oleum process on his gas tank. To answer a few questions:

  • I didn't use a clear coat, and I'm not sure if there is one compatible with the paint. I've read about clear coats lifting the Rust-Oleum and making it bubble. In the past, I've also sprayed clear coats that 'hazed' up the shine I worked very hard to create. I just buffed & polished the tank, though I am ordering some Liquid Glass polish, as I've read very good things about it forming a protective clear coating.
  • The painting technique will be the same for plastic fairings: Mix the paint so it's watery, rub down all the orange peel between every 2 coats, and for the final coat, make the paint a bit thicker so it isn't so easy to rub/buff through. I feel that last step is pretty important, since rubbing through the top coat will show a different, very noticeable, layer of paint (the layers don't blend together).

You can toggle to either standard or higher quality video under the video player.

Day 1

Day 2

Day 3