Carbon fiber is a strong, sturdy, lightweight material that has the ability to replace steel and is used in specialized, high-performance products such as aircraft, race cars, and sports equipment.
It is also used in more mundane products such as bicycles, computer cases, and even eyeglass frames.
One of the appealing qualities of carbon fiber is its smooth, sleek appearance. This can be enhanced by painting carbon fiber.
In short, painting carbon fiber is possible, but there are a few things you need to know first. These are:
- You can’t just use any paint. You need a special type of good-quality paint that is made to use on carbon fiber parts.
- If you use a lower quality paint, the painted carbon fiber can crack and damage fast.
- You also can’t just paint over the top of the carbon fiber. You need to prep the surface first by lightly sanding it and then using a primer made for carbon fiber.
- Once you are ready to paint, the paint will get absorbed fast, so you will need to work in small sections and be quick.
- You also need to be aware that the paint will add weight to the carbon fiber part, especially if you are using the parts on a racecar or other performance vehicle.
Painting Over Carbon Fiber Parts- Step by Step
Painting carbon fiber isn’t difficult for people who are interested in DIY projects.
But if you are a beginner, there are a few key steps you need to know to get the best results.
Here’s a quick overview of the process and steps involved when you decide to paint over carbon fiber:
Step 1. Clean and Sand the Surface
The very first step is to clean the surface using mild soap and water.
Next, sand the surface of the carbon fiber to help the paint adhere better. Use fine-grit sandpaper (like grade 120) and sand in a circular motion.
Remember that carbon fiber is very smooth, so you need to sand it properly before painting to give the primer paint something to grip onto.
You don’t need to sand down to the bare carbon fiber; just create an evenly sanded rough surface.
However, if there is any old layer of paint already on the carbon surface, make sure to remove that carefully as it will interfere with the adhesion.
Step 2. Apply Masking Tapes
After sanding, apply masking tape to any areas you don’t want to be painted.
The tape you can use can be 3M Scotch-Blue, that’s a multi-surface medium adhesion tape ideal for painted walls, trims, glass, metal, and plastic.
Step 3. Apply a Primer Made for Carbon Fiber
After sanding, apply a primer made specifically for carbon fiber.
This will help the paint to adhere to the surface and also create a smooth finish.
Rust-Oleum Brush on Automotive Filler Primer is a great product to use on surfaces including metal, wood, fiberglass, etc.
And it can be found easily online or at your local automotive store.
Step 4. Apply the Paint to Carbon Fiber in Small Sections
Once the primer is dry, it’s time to start painting.
Because rolling and brushing the carbon fiber might be hard owing to its thickness, the best way to paint the carbon fiber quickly is with a spray can or an airbrush.
But if you are using a bristle paintbrush or a small nap roller, start with small sections and work quickly as the paint will absorb fast.
Also, consider applying the lighter base shade first and then the darker shade on top.
This will help you achieve a more consistent finish and a chance to do touchups if necessary.
Step 5. Let the Paint Dry and Apply a Clear Coat
After applying the paint to carbon fiber parts, let it dry for about 24 hours. Next, apply a clear coat to protect the paint and achieve a shiny finish.
Applying a clear coat is optional, but I would recommend it as it will protect the paint and give the carbon fiber part a beautiful shine.
If you choose to clear coat, I recommend using a sealant product that can give your paint a matte finish.
This not only will look good on your parts, such as the car hood, but also will give it UV protection.
Again, when applying the coat, start with small sections and work quickly as the clear coat will also absorb fast.
Finally, let the clear coat dry for about 24 hours before you remove all the masking tapes.
Tips and Warnings
When repainting carbon fiber, there are some special considerations that need to be taken into account.
Some of these are:
- Detailed preparation, patience, and some practice are all necessary for this project.
- Because of their fine structure, certain fiber parts can be quite sharp, and when you contact them unintentionally, they can cut into your skin.
- So, in order to avoid any damage to your hands and skin, always use gloves while painting and clean your hands after you’re done.
The bottom line
Painting over carbon fiber might be difficult, especially for novices who are unsure of how to use a good brush or roller to apply paints.
So, if you are new to painting, it’s good to use a spray paint can or airbrush as they will be easier to use and will help you achieve a more consistent finish.
Just remember to take your time, have patience, and practice on some smaller pieces before you tackle any bigger, more expensive, and more important project.
Jack Luis is a semi-retired painter who loved painting his clients’ ideas on their walls.
He had worked as a painter for more than a decade to serve the customers in areas such as Charleston, Mount Pleasant, Beaufort, Georgetown, SC (South Carolina). Today in his free time, he likes to read and write about the newer techniques that are being implemented in his profession. You may read more about him here or get in touch with him here.
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