Jim Smart
April 23, 2019

Last time, we showed you what needed to be done in order to change the paint color on a New Edge Mustang. We covered proper paint preparation and how to achieve a perfect foundation for the Axalta Cromax two-stage paint about to go on. We’ve learned from AR Auto Body in Lancaster, California the key to a show-quality paint job is tenacity and due diligence. There’s no substitute for elbow grease and lots of it. You have to stay at it until a perfect foundation for the Axalta Cromax is achieved. Ninety percent of show quality paint is preparation. Nearly anyone can lay down paint and achieve a nice finish. The true test of great paint is methodical preparation—getting a perfect surface on which to lay paint.

When you’re on the home stretch laying down paint and graphics the most important issue is final surface prep and painting. You want a surface long on good paint flow and adhesion. With Axalta Cromax, you want to go directly from primer/sealer to paint within the time span specified by Axalta. It is all about chemistry and compatibility where basecoat finishes mate with topcoats.

Auto body professionals teach us the importance of final surface prep with a good wet sanding of the foundation with 400-600-grit 3M paper, which outlasts any sandpaper on the market. The most revealing form of body prep is the block and board sanding along with the guide coat that catches even the smallest imperfections that can show up in the final finish. A guide coat is light gray primer with a light dusting of black spray paint. When you board-sand the finish, low spots will show up black and high spots will show up gray. This is how you weed out imperfections because you can see them. The greatest challenge is sticking with body prep until all imperfections are gone. That takes tenacity. At times, you feel like these pesky imperfections will never be gone. It takes tremendous patience and endurance to get great paint because if you miss anything, you’re stuck with the result when the paint cures.

We’ve covered all of the toughest body prep challenges and have achieved a perfect surface. We’ve laid down Axalta primer-sealer, allowed it time to cure, and have wet-sanded the surface to make it suitable for good paint adhesion and flow. We’ve explained to you how important it is to use paint products that are compatible, which is why we’ve used Axalta products throughout. It is time to paint an original owner Mustang. Again, it is about chemistry and using materials that work well together.

We’ve learned the importance of sweating the details, following each step because there are no unimportant steps. Between each phase should include important clean-up. The body must be washed down to remove any and all debris because even one small flake of dust will stand out in the clearcoat. Even elements you’ve never considered such as a human hair or dead skin cells will show up in the paint.

It is important to wear protective clothing whenever you paint a car to prevent fallout in the paint and to protect you from toxic fumes. You absolutely must protect your lungs, eyes, and skin from toxic fume and paint particulates. Not every body shop practices the use of protective gear.

AR Auto Body has done an incredible job of prepping and painting our 1999 Mustang GT coupe. These guys have hyperfocused on the details many auto body shops ignore. Each and every phase of paint prep includes methodical detail that ensures a perfect show quality finish. For AR Auto Body there’s no other way to do it.

The Axalta primer-sealer finish has been wet-scuffed for good paint adhesion with 400- and 600-grit 3M paper and is ready for the basecoat.
Good paint is about chemistry where the body and paint guy becomes the chemist. AR Auto Body stresses the importance of following Axalta’s instructions to the letter to get just the right paint cure time for the temperature and humidity. You cannot paint when it is cold or too hot. The most optimum time to paint is with temperatures in the seventies with low humidity.
In those final moments before paint, AR Auto Body meticulously goes over the body with a damp cloth, then, a tack cloth to grab dust particles. Always use a new tack cloth.
Chasing debris with a tack cloth and compressed air is a never-ending task because airborne dust particles are always waiting to settle on the surface. Always use a fresh tack cloth and be ready to keep cycling in new tack cloths. Modulate air while chasing dust.
AR Auto Body makes a routine out of chasing dust with air and a tack cloth. This job is never finished until you begin to paint. Dust tends to hide in seams and cracks. Hit these areas again and again until it’s time to paint.
That first basecoat needs to be a light one for best paint adhesion. It grabs the primer and hangs on, then, gasses off and cures. The next two coats need to be progressively heavier and allowed to full dry before the next coat.
It is always best to paint from the top down like you would wash a car. A light first coat across the roofline, hood, and deck lid—then work your way to the sides. A good painter knows to squeeze the trigger at the beginning of the pass, then, stop painting until the next pass begins. Otherwise you wind up with too much paint at each end of the pass.
Note how light that first coat of Axalta Cromax is. Once again, this approach allows the paint to adhere and cure before you lay down the next coat.
The Axalta basecoat is flat in texture and appearance, and that’s how two-stage basecoat/clearcoat works. The basecoat is the color coat topped by a clearcoat that gives the color its shine.
Do you see our basecoat coming alive with each progressive coat?
With the basecoat cured and with plenty of depth we’re ready for the clearcoat. As with the primer-sealer coat surfaces are wiped down with a tack cloth and chased with compressed air. AR Auto Body goes over the body again and again to get it pure.
Our body in blue is ready for the Axalta clearcoat. The front fascia and rear bumper cover, provided by National Parts Depot, have been painted off the body like Ford did at the Dearborn, Michigan assembly plant 20 years ago. Both will be installed once the body has been color sanded and buffed.
Man—that sweet moment when the clear goes on and the raw depth of Axalta Comax Blue Satin Pearl comes alive.
Clearcoat takes the flat color basecoat and reaches down deep in the pigment the make it come alive.
You can see here where the flat basecoat yields to the crispness of clear. Like the basecoat, clearcoat begins as a light coat followed by at least two-to-three coats of clear.
Look at the difference between the dull basecoat and the thrill of clear. Clear gives the basecoat depth.
The last application of clearcoat totals four coats, which enables us to color-sand and buff to a rich show car depth.
Four coats of clear have been applied, which need several days to cure (harden) before it can be color-sanded and buffed out.
The nice shiny clearcoat is wet sanded out with 1200-, 1500- and 2000-grit, which will leave it dull. This process sets the stage for buffing, which will make the finish stunning.
Color-sanding is tedious and time consuming. Every square of the body must be worked. Be careful not to take it down to the basecoat and primer or you get to do it over again.
A soft buffing wheel and 3M compound cut the clear and leave an incredible shine immediately. Extraordinary care is necessary to prevent burning the finish and going down to the basecoat and primer.
How long to buff depends on the level of gloss you desire. Never press your luck and go too far. Once you hit the basecoat or primer you get to paint it all over again.

Photography by Jim Smart