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Painting a skoolie

So you need to paint your skoolie? Don’t worry, painting a skoolie can seem intimidating but it isn’t that hard and really is a huge upgrade to your skoolie home.  Be proud of your build, show your colors, paint that skoolie!    We get compliments on our paint job everywhere we go – the first thing people say to us is how nice the bus looks on the outside.  I think this helps sell the skoolie community as a whole, and helps generate a positive social view of the skoolie, and alternative mobile-living community at large. 

You can really paint the bus at any time during your build; for us, it was almost the last step. We were building in Las Vegas during the summer, so it was just too hot to paint the bus until it started to cool off a bit. 


Step 1: removing stickers and decals

The preparation phase is long and tedious, but also crucial for a good final product. We have about 5000 miles on this paint job with no chipping!
You’ll want a smooth surface to paint on, so you need to start by removing all letters, reflective tape, and miscellaneous markings on the bus. A heat gun and decal remover drill bit will make this part a little less tedious, but hang on – it takes a while.

Heat gun: Use the heat gun on all of the original school bus lettering, this will heat up the adhesive and allow you to peel most of it off. Our bus is over 20 years old, and the letters came up no-problem with the heat gun.
Tip 1: use a metal putty knife, or utility blade to start peeling the edge of troublesome letters. Then, wearing gloves, roll the letter back on itself to get it going. Once you get a corner you can grab, the rest of the letter should peel up.
Tip2: Keep the heat slow and steady, but watch for burning!

Decal-removing wheel: This thing makes quick work of troublesome adhesive residue, decals & stickers, and reflective tape. I went through 2.5 wheels to completely clean everything off these surface of our bus.

Step 2: preparing the surface for paint

Now the real fun begins – not! This is an extremely tedious, and totally necessary step. You have to scuff the entire surface of the bus with a Scotchbrite pad, or a palm sander with a 3M pad or 220 grit sand paper, so the new paint will adhere correctly.

The original paint-job on our bus was really great, so we could see the gloss of the yellow paint turn to matte as we scuffed, this let us know when we had finished an area.

Step 3: Taping and Masking

We used the cheap-o tan “contractor grade” masking tape for the bus, there was just so much surface to cover I couldn’t drop $60 on tape alone. The contractor grade tape worked just fine – just be sure you remove it as soon as possible so the adhesive doesn’t have time to dry out. If you leave the tape on too long it gets hard to achieve a clean removal.
Tape EVERYTHING you don’t want to be painted: windows, side bars, wheels, windows, mirrors, lights – EVERYTHING! Use plastic bags to cover lights and mirrors, news paper on the windows and tires.

Take your time here! The quality of your masking will determine the final look of your paint job. Nobody likes over-spray on their windows.

Step 4: Mixing and Spraying your paint

Tools needed

We went with some off-the-shelf Rustoleum gloss enamel, almond color, and sprayed it on with this YATTICH paint sprayer from Amazon – only $47!!

Originally we had planned to rent a compressor from Home Depot, and buy a cheapo spray gun from Harbor Freight – I’m glad I purchased the electric sprayer, as it can be used with interior, exterior paint as well as stain, clear coat, etc – basically anything that can be thinned down enough to spray through the nozzle. I will definitely be using this for future projects.

Yattich paint sprayer
Best bang for your buck – $45 paint sprayer
Painting the bus
This is a messy project – but a fun one!

We used five quarts and 2.5 cans of spray paint to finish the bus, applying approximately 1.5 coats of paint. The first coat went on thick enough that we were able to get away with a quick touch-up coat, and some spray cans for the details, and we’re good to go!

Mixing your paint and acetone

In a separate bucket, pour 1 quart Rustoleum Paint to one ounce(ish) of Acetone and mix with a paint stick – mix slowly so you don’t produce any air bubbles. When your thinned-paint is about the consistency of coffee creamer, pour it into the paint-gun can, and screw the can onto the paint gun. You are now ready to paint!

Painting the bus

You’ll want to wear painter’s cover-alls, goggles, a respirator, and gloves for this project. I also recommend wearing shoes you don’t care about, or at least covering them with some painter’s booties or plastic bags.
It is always a good idea to do a test spray first, so find some cardboard or scrap metal from inside the bus and give a nice, smooth pass from one side to the other. This will give you an idea how fast the paint comes out, and how fast you’ll need to move to keep the paint from running.
In my experience, the paint came out very smoothly, leaving a slight orange-peel texture on the bus. Move very carefully over the whole bus, keeping the spray gun parallel to the ground as much as possible. You’ll get the hang of it pretty quick!

The worst part – clean up

After spraying your first coat of paint, you need to immediately clean the paint sprayer so it is ready to go for your next coat. Follow the manufacturer recommendations for dry time. (I let the paint-job sit over night and then did the second coat the next morning. )

To clean the spray gun

1) Empty any excess paint back into an empty paint can, save this for the second coat.
2) Fill the paint-gun’s can with mineral spirits, then re-attached to the paint-gun> Swish this all around, empty into your waste bucket, then re-fill and repeat until the mineral spirits comes out clean.
3) After the paint-gun can is clean, fill it with fresh mineral spirits and then spray the gun into a waste bucket until the spray is clear.
4) soak all of the nozzle pieces in mineral spirits, then clean each one with a brush (provided with the sprayer)
5) basically, do your best to clean EVERYTHING as best you can, this will prevent any paint from drying in the gun, resulting in poor performance on your next coat or worse – clogging the paint gun entirely.

After tons of prep work; scuffing the entire bus, washing, cleaning with simple green and a final mineral spirits rub-down, for a used bus, I’d say she looks damn fine! 

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