Thanks to the resurgence in popularity of traditional '50s- and '60s-style customs, wild paint jobs and specialty paints, such as metalflake, are showing up again. That's good news for fans of this style, but it might be bad news for amateur painters who might be afraid to shoot something more difficult than ordinary primer, base colors, and clear.
"A few years ago, only the best of the best were out there shooting metalflake," says custom painter Rikk Clark. "I wanted to learn how to spray 'flake, but I live in a really small town where there was nobody to help me learn, so I had to figure it all out on my own."
Rikk's experience led him to develop a completely different way of painting with metalflake. Ordinary metalflake paint consists of basecoat or clear with metallic reflective flakes added to the liquid. Rikk's method involves spraying dry 'flake onto a wet clearcoat using a special gun, called the Flake Buster, which he developed just for this process.
Rikk started his own business, Old School Flake, in order to sell the Flake Buster and several lines of his dry 'flake. We talked to him about the advantages of his system over traditional systems. Then, to get a completely objective opinion about this stuff, we went over to an independent body and paint shop, Hop Up Shop in South Gate, California, where shop owner Ken Abreu and his crew were adding some Butch Lynch-designed scallops to Lisa and Jeff Holt's '59 Thunderbird. We jumped into the spray booth just as the 'Bird's side spears were getting sprayed with Shifty metalflake from Old School Flake.The procedure was simple and quick. The basecoat was prepped the same way you would do before shooting any paint. A single coat of clear was applied with an ordinary gun and immediately, while the clear was still wet, the Old School Flake was applied using the Flake Buster. After adequate drying time (15 or 20 minutes in our case), additional coats of clear were applied to cover the 'flake material. That's all there was to it.
As promised, the 'flake was sprayed very quickly and very cleanly. Where there were mistakes, it was a simple fix. If you've been afraid to try painting 'flake, Old School Flake makes the job about as easy as it gets.
Old School Flake does not sell directly to consumers, but if you contact Rikk Clark, he'll put you in touch with a distributor in your area.
When we showed up, the panel...
When we showed up, the panel to be painted had already been finished with the basecoat--a mix of House of Kolor turquoise darkened a little with some HOK Teal Kandy concentrate. A coat of clear is being sprayed in the conventional way. Notice that the spray booth floor is masked with paper to catch any stray metalflake.
The moment the clear has been...
The moment the clear has been shot, it's followed by the dry 'flake from the Flake Buster gun. This is the smallest size (0.008) of Aqua-colored Shifty metalflake. Extremely low air pressure, in the neighborhood of 2 or 3 psi, is all that's needed, which gives the painter much more control. It's not necessary to get close to the car. Old School Flake recommends approximately 17 inches.
With the 'flake can removed...
With the 'flake can removed from the gun and the air pressure increased to approximately 25 psi, the freshly 'flaked surface is sprayed with air to blow any loose 'flakes into the clear and flatten any "freestanders." It's easy to fix any light or heavy spots. A light area can be reshot with a little bit of clear and some additional 'flake until it looks right. To repair heavy areas, don't blow the 'flake into the clear as described above. Instead, wait for the area to dry and brush off any standing 'flake by hand before continuing.
After the initial coat of...
After the initial coat of clear has started to dry, the painter hand-tacked the surface, gently brushing away any loose or standing 'flakes with his hand and the air gun. This will cut down on the amount of clear needed to bury the 'flake during the next step. It is recommended that you wear a latex glove to keep oil from your fingers off the surface.
After the clear has dried...
After the clear has dried sufficiently (follow the manufacturer's instructions), a wet coat of clear is applied. Traditional metalflake typically requires half a dozen or more coats of clear. With the small 'flake applied here, three final coats of clear were all we needed to bury all the 'flake. It's important that the 'flake is completely covered before sanding.
Here's the result after the...
Here's the result after the 'flake was covered with three clear coats. There is more painting left to be done, so we haven't seen the car outside of the spray booth yet. If the Old School Flake looks this good in the booth, imagine how it'll look in the sunlight after color sanding and buffing.
In the past, the metalflakes used in paint were thicker (half a mil was typical) and were cut square. Old School Flakes has changed the shape of their 'flakes from square to hexagonal. Trimming off a few more corners makes it easier for the 'flake to travel through the gun nozzle. Many varieties of different types and colors of 'flakes and pearls are available in 2oz, 4oz, and 6oz packages. The Regular 'flake line is available in 19 different colors, all 0.015 size. A 2oz jar sells for less than $10. The Shifty 'flake (used on the Thunderbird shown on these pages) is created for a greater iridescent and "holographic" appearance. It is available in eight colors, and five sizes from 0.008 to 0.064. A 2oz jar sells for less than $15. The color-shifting Psycho 'flake is ideal for use over a dark basecoat, and is available in four different color combinations.
The Flake Buster spray gun weighs a fraction of what a standard paint gun does, due to its small size and the fact that it's not weighed down with a can of liquid paint or clear. The plastic jar of 'flake attaches right to the Flake Buster. Hook up the air, and you're ready to shoot 'flake. The gun, which sells for just under $250, is adjustable for air pressure and shooting distance, and can handle any size of 'flake all the way up to chunky 1/8-inch hexagons.Unlike traditional metalflake painting, which can require close-up shooting to make sure the paint is loading thoroughly and evenly, the Flake Buster lets you stand further back, which reduces the chance of spraying light and heavy spots. And since the lid swivels 360 degrees, the gun can be held at any angle, even upside down, when spraying hard-to-reach spots. Cleaning the Flake Buster is a lot easier than cleaning a standard paint gun. Since the material is dry, all it takes is a few shots of air to clean it out. Any unused 'flake is saved for the next job. A dab of aluminum polish in a shop rag, and buffing with a soft cloth keeps the gun looking like new.
Old School Flake has created a helpful how-to DVD for beginners or anybody who wants to improve their skill painting in this new way. The "Bustin Flake" DVD is available individually or as part of a package when you order the Flake Buster gun and 'flake. We recommend spending the extra 30 bucks, since the DVD covers everything from the basics of adjusting and using the equipment and 'flake material properly, as well as tips on prepping, shooting flames, mixing custom tints, and other useful info. The program demonstrates a variety of projects being painted with Old School Flake in various ways.