How to pinstripe your car
A comprehensive guide to pin striping your ride, showing you the paint, equipment, laying out and different techniques used in the art of pin striping. Pin striping is mastered only after years and years of practice.
 Paint and equipment
What to look for when your buying paint is a paint that is rich in pigment, has consistent array of colors, applies easily, dries hard and durable, and will stand up to the Test of Time.
Always buy the best brush that you can afford. Different profiles and size of brushes can be seen at Andrew Mack brushes.
 Tape and masking
In most cases you will be using a fine line tape which is very thin and stretchable. Masking sheets can be used to define a given area that you will be working in.
 Guides and rests
Pin striping is usually a freehand art form, but using a mechanical rest or mahl stick to steady your hand is an acceptable practice. A wooden dowel rod of 1/2" or better with a styrofoam or closed cell foam 'donut' on one end will allow you to rest your wrist and steady your hand above your work, yet provide you with the freedom of motion to draw your creations. Freehand pin strippers, generally, use their 'pinky' or thumb to gauge distance when pulling a line along a body line of a vehicle. We'll get into this more in the Technique section.
 Miscellaneous equipment
A "pounce wheel" is used to make needle hole perforations in a mask that traces a form or design that you have rendered and it allows you to transfer that design to another area. After placing the mask down in another area, a talc bag is used to strike over the perforations, when the mask is removed an outline of dots will be revealed to show your pattern.
- For beginners, the best way to start is by drawing a grid of one inch squares on a plain piece of paper. You can make this as big or small as you want, a good size would be about 16 X 24 inches.
- Draw a defining center line with a darker pen right down the center of the paper, this is what you will work off of.
- Next, get a piece of clear acrylic sheet of approximately the same size or slightly larger than the lined grid sheet of paper, this acrylic sheet will be your working surface. Tape the grid sheet of paper to a solid working table and then tape the acrylic sheet to the table, over the grid sheet.
- Using a non permanent marker, practice drawing lines that are equal distant off of the center line. Start with a large vertical teardrop in the middle and work off of that. If you goof up, just erase with paper towel and start over. Designs should be clean and simple to start, and with practice you can expand from there until you feel comfortable enough to advance to paint.
- PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE.
As your work gets better and better, you will want to start working on vehicles. You should have a library of pencil and pen drawings of different designs that you have 'doodled'. You can start striping a car by using fine line tape to give you a 'defined edge' to work from. Make a mistake, just pull the tape and re-adjust the line. Apply your paint line next to the tape and pull the tape when done or apply another line to the other side using the tape as a divider, you will get a very sharp line. Most people prefer the freehand of the pin stripper to a taped line. A beginner can pull a line close to the tape keeping an equal-distant space between the line and the tape to reveal a more free form of work. Some design ideas may be seen at PsychoArts Pinstripe Designs, and Psychoarts Design Ideas Vol 2.
By using your 'doodle' sketches and a photo copier, you can enlarge your sketches to fit different areas you are doing on a vehicle. This will give you a better understanding of what size fits and makes a better impact on the vehicle. After you get your sketch to the size you want, use your pounce wheel to outline your sketches lines. Mask it down to the panel and dust it using your talc bag. Remove your sketch and start pulling lines over the tiny dots left on the surface by the talc. Don't worry about the talc mixing with the paint, it will do no harm because many paints contains talc to thicken it, anyway. You just learned something new, talc can thicken some paints. If you feel that some lines would look better by going outside the lines, then do it, making sure that the opposite side gets the same line technique. Yes, you can add or take away as the situation warrants it. Sometimes you can encounter obstacles that may take take away from the overall effect of the design and you must have the eye, knowledge, and technique to adjust for it.
So, you have your paint, brushes and you're oozing with confidence because you have been practicing for a long time. Before we put paint to media, let's go over a few things first.
In order to load the brush, we just don’t want to dip it into the can and start painting, like you would if you were painting a house. Get some shallow plastic dishes about 3 inches across and 1 inch deep. In the past, I've used plastic fruit dishes or yard sale saucers to hold the paint. Using a spoon, ladle out an ounce of paint into the dish. Paint is expensive, so make sure to clean off the spoon too! Cover your open can with the lid. Stroke the brush through the dish of paint and use the edge of the dish to squeegee off any excess paint. First, the bottom of the brush and then, either side. Repeat as necessary. As you draw it through the paint, you’ll want to use some downward pressure on the brush. This method does two things, it removes air from within the brush, and the other is, it distributes paint evenly throughout the brush. Never put paint back into the can.
Now that your brush is loaded, we’re going to tell you how to hold the brush. Forget about the pen and pencil technique you have been using since grade school. You will want to hold the brush in between the thumb and the index finger, the rest of your fingers will be used as a bridge (rest) or as a guide. Keep your fingers on the ‘dry side’ or use a rest to work from.
How to hold a brush, brings me back 50 years to my teacher’s explanation which I've kept with me all these years. Holding a brush is like pinching a nipple, firm enough to keep it between your finger and thumb, but light enough to feel its arousal.
Three things dictate the size of a line: pressure on the brush, the angle of the brush, and speed that the brush is pulled. Experiment using your loaded brush. Start by pulling just straight lines, vary pressure, angle and speed factors to acquaint yourself with each action. Watch the paint as it flows off the tip of the brush and adjust as required to suit your needs. When you accomplish this exercise, start curving your lines, left and right. Notice what happens to the inner and outer sides of the curvature. Again, PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE. I found an excellent pictorial on brush holding, check out How To Hold A Brush.
 Exercise #1
Using a piece of 24 ga. satin coat or acrylic sheet the size of a license plate covered with primer, scratch a center line vertically using a scribe, nail or pencil. Prepare your brush for work. Starting at a point on the center line near the top, shape out a teardrop, a spear head, and wide based arrow in any configuration that you desire. Put your initials and the date on the bottom right corner, drill a hole in the center/top. Hang it on your wall, so that you will remember where you came from and try to improve on this piece every time you pick up your brush. This is your inspiration.
 Exercise #2
So, you found out that a loaded paint brush would make a line only so far before the paint ran out. We'll try to help you extend that line forever. Take a long sheet of practice media (sheet metal, acrylic, or whatever you want to use) and begin pulling lines the length of the panel. When you run out of paint, reload your brush and start not where you left off, but just before. This will allow to to reset your pressure and release paint in the same width of the line you were doing. Try starting and stopping your line. Avoid 'blobbing' your paint in one spot. Hover your brush over your line and make strokes with the brush, touch down when you feel comfortable in starting the line again. Avoid skip or dry spots by re-wetting the line as you move into new territory.
 Exercise #3
Moving right along, today we want to show you how to work off an edge or a body line of a vehicle. With your brush loaded and ready to draw a line, hook your pinky finger over the edge of the practice media and freeze your finger movement to maintain this distance from the edge to your line. Draw your line. Next start a line 1/4" over from your existing line using the same locked finger technique as above and draw a consistent parallel line. If you feel confident, go to front fender of a vehicle of your choosing, start a line an inch or two below the curvature of the top of the fender and follow the body line along using the same above technique. Draw a narrower or wider line above or below the one you just drew. Now your cooking, build up your confidence and expand your horizons, because your a pin stripper!