Starting in the Paint Department – Advice for Prep

An unfortunate reality of working in this trade is that many technicians have acquired what they know in the absence of much or any formal training, prep staff are usually the most disadvantaged. Many of us will start off with a piece of sandpaper and absolutely no clue what we are sanding or why. Sometimes you’re fortunate enough to apprentice with a well-educated technician, but sometimes… well, you’re just not that lucky. Today I would like to pass along some simple tips to my friends and perhaps newcomers to the prep department that are looking to take their work to the next level.

Use guidecoat for everything – Applying a guide coat after every sanding operation will ensure that your prep work is uniformly the correct grit. Properly sanding primer is the main expectation of the job so it must be something that you do well. Nothing will frustrate your painter more than having to deal with a 320 scratch in the booth. This stuff should always be within your reach, to quote Kirk Edwards of BASF “guidecoat should be on holsters!”

Refuse poor bodywork – I know what you’re thinking, easier said than done, right? I’ve seen this happen too many times; if it doesn’t get addressed, you’re most likely to get blamed for any resulting problems. It’s hard sometimes not to want to help out a co-worker, but you’re asking for trouble if you decide to bury bad work with primer. Body-filler repairs should be straight, pin-hole free, and ideally finished in 180 (verified using guidecoat).

Know your products – Tech sheets are readily available for virtually any product in your shop. They will tell you everything you need to and should know about the products you’re using. You should never have to ask anybody else whether or not your primer is direct to metal because your tech sheets will answer any questions of the sort.

Dedicate some off time – Now I know this may sound crazy, after all the last thing we want to do at the end of the day is think any more about painting cars. I can tell you first hand that the time I’ve invested in myself has ended up saving me countless hours on the production floor, not to mention less stress from paint problems. Manufacturers provide some incredible information online including tech tips, substrate specific procedures, product launches, and training modules. There are also some great internet forums where skilled and enthusiastic painters are glad to offer up any advice for problems you might be facing.

Protect Yourself  – If you’re starting out in this trade, it is easy to pick up bad habits that will have a negative impact on your health. It is your employer’s responsibility to provide you with a respirator and protective equipment for sanding dust and primer/paint. Be in the habit of wearing gloves while working with chemicals and hearing protection whenever possible, take your health seriously!

Use the Correct Primer Value – I’m still amazed at how often I see black primer being used on white cars and vice-versa. On transparent colors especially (reds, blues, yellows), make sure that you are using the correct greyscale shade of primer. Otherwise, you will be adding steps to the painting process. Most paint manufacturers have a system for doing this, so make sure you are taking advantage of it.

Whether you’re looking to increase your output or decrease your stress level, an honest evaluation of your process and skill set may help you reach your goals faster. Most paint manufacturers offer training opportunities and process consultations at no cost to you, so why not take advantage of it? If your end goal is painting, a prep worker that shows initiative will move up the ladder quickly. If you’re content prepping, that’s great too, but an in-depth knowledge of the painting process is critical if you want to maximize your efficiency.