Wednesday, October 25, 2017

How To: Dip Your Whip!

Well, it's our first post in the new format, I hope I can deliver!

In the last couple of years one of the things I get the most comments about is my Speed Concept, or particularly how I painted it flat black and then wrote a bunch of crap on it in gold. Well, it isn't paint, it's Plasti Dip. I've painted a carbon bike before, and while it's not the end of the world, it's a bit more job than I want to replicate in my garage again.

Being that it's been about two years since I started riding my Trek, I thought it was time for a refresh. As the theme of the last little bit has been new formats, I thought I might branch out and paint it a new color as well! So, after perusing the local hardware store I chose red. (Fastest color, right?) Since I was going to do it anyways, why not make it a how to!

Plasti Dipping your bike

Prep Work

The first thing I needed to do was strip the old dip off of the bike. You can of course skip this if you're starting fresh, or refer to it if you want to take the dip back off later! One of the big bonuses of using Plasti Dip as opposed to paint is that once you get good and tired of it, it's relatively easy to remove. After removing all the components (it'll be necessary for the next coat anyways, and it makes removing all the old dip / cleaning the frame much quicker and easier) you'll have your choice of where to start as there will be plenty of places that the dip ends. Failing that you should also be able to get your fingernail under some of it and start that way. I began at the seat post insert.

As you can see in the picture above, large chunks really do come off pretty much as advertised. The caveat to that is that when you spray something it has enough of a layer to stick together. If you lightly coat a part (easy to do if you weren't paying attention while spraying something of similar colors) then it will not peel quite as easily, although it still shouldn't cause too much problem. For those problem area's and any residual nooks and cranny's my suggestion is to spray with good old WD-40. Leave that on for about a minute and wipe with a rag... the plasti dip should melt enough to come off pretty easily.

Now you need to give the bike/parts/whatever you're coating a good bath. Make sure that everything is nice and clean so you'll have a good surface to spray onto. Don't skip this step! Just take the water hose and a rag and give your bike a bath you filthy animal.

The next part of the preparation is to mask off the parts of the frame you aren't interested in coating. The better job you do here the less headache you will have later. Trust me. If a degree in design taught me anything at all, it's that a little extra prep work will save you from having a disaster towards the end. You are going for a nice even spray all over. If you have to start cutting/ripping bits of plasti dip off to fit your water bottle cage bolts, it's going to start ripping up your coating prematurely.

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I always start off with big squares of painters tape to block off most of what I don't want sprayed. Holes in the bike (cable inserts, bottom bracket,  head tube, seat post) are annoying because you want to try to get as close to the edge as possible, but you still need something for the tape to stick onto. I go back and forth between taping over and cutting a slightly larger diameter around the opening, and stuffing the opening with bunched up tape. Both seem to work pretty well, it really depends on how well I can get the tape to stick. Then it's time to pull out your trusty xacto knife and CAREFULLY trim the masking tape into the shapes you need. I can't stress enough, carefully. You don't want to be cutting down into the paint, and if you're using a very sharp knife it is easier than you think. Just don't get in a hurry and you should be fine.

Here's how it looked when I got done trimming. You don't need to be perfect, but again, the better you do now the less cleanup you'll have to look forward to later. Once you're satisfied with your masking, it's time to get to the fun part.

Spraying the bike

There are a LOT of options when it comes to plasti dip. I'm going to be using the cheap rattle cans I bought at the hardware store, but you can certainly go hog wild. has some really cool stuff, although I've never used it personally. (I'm a cheapskate)

It's here I'll throw some words of advice/caution out before you get started. If you're using pretty much any color except black, you are going to have a tough time totally covering the designs on your bike (unless there are none of course.) Using red to cover blue/white for example (in this post) it will be very tough to totally conceal the Trek logo's / where the bike sharply changes color. I tested it out on the fork first and decided I actually thought it looked pretty cool with the design very slightly visible underneath, but if you're looking to get a solid coloring out of it my suggestions are to either

a.) build a lot of layers. Personally I go 3-5 sprays and that seems to build up a nice coating. If I wanted to totally conceal what was underneath, maybe 8ish(?) would be necessary, maybe more.

b.) Start with a coat or two of black plasti dip, then use the color of your choice over top of it. Black pretty much covers everything, and then covering black will hide any of the logo's/paint underneath. This probably ends up being cheaper and easier than option a.

So, once that's out of the way it's time to start spraying.

When it comes to spraying, especially out of a rattle can, it can't be understated to do it in a warm area with a warm can. The colder it is, the longer it'll take to dry and the more likely you're going to get runs in the dip. Runs are going to cause you all manner of headache down the road. On the first layer or two you're going to be really, really tempted to load it down with dip... it might look like you're not even getting much of a layer on the first time over... you will regret overspraying the first layer or so, trust me. This is where you're most likely to get runs, and again, runs now are headache you can avoid later.

If it's nice and warm out the layers should go on and be relatively dry quickly. It was around 70° here and the dip was pretty much as done drying within 5 minutes. Give yourself a little time, use a ventilated area (with mask of course) and slowly apply layers.

Now, having said that, I wanted to bodge mine pretty badly so I could show you how to "fix" a bad job and repair plasti-dip.  If you're only a layer or two in and you've got horrid runs/texture/etc, probably the easier course is just to peel it off and start again. But I'm going to show you a little bit more "advanced" stuff. It'll come in handy when you inevitably get a tear in your dip (bike carriers will shred plasti dip, as will sweat eventually.)

Another thing for me to stress to you is that no matter what, you're not going to get professional looking results out of a $5 rattle can. Not in paint, plasti dip or anything else. If you can't live with some imperfections, this isn't going to be for you. You can end up with a very nice job that will look sweet to somebody passing by, but if they put their face right up to it it's probably going to show some flaws. My advice is to fix the major flaws that are in obvious areas, but don't worry about some runs on the bottom of the left chainstay or somewhere else nobody will ever see.

So, back on track... give the entire frame/part a good 2-3 layers, where the plasti dip is noticeably built up.

As you can see, from a few feet away, not bad. Unfortunately, once you get up close the ugly details become more apparent.

The top right of the first picture you can see there are runs that culminated on the downtube. These run all the way down the right side of the bike. When you run your hand down the downtube they are noticeable humps to the touch (that's important, make a note)

In the second picture I've got some rips (I actually ripped it on purpose, but it's easy to do if you didn't let it totally dry and accidentally brush it, touch it, etc... this is also how most of your damage later on will look, albeit possibly bigger)  so I'll go over how to "fix" both types, or at least the way I do it.

Fixing imperfections

Understand first that plasti dip only builds layers on what is already there. So just spraying another layer on top of an imperfection will not do anything but add another layer of imperfection. That mean's that there are two steps to fixing either a tear or a run.
1.) Get the dip even.
2.) Add more layers

In the case of runs, you have too much plasti dip in a few area's (where it has pooled) compared to the rest of the layer. I've found the best way to bring it back to even is by wet sanding with very fine sandpaper (I use 1500, although that takes a lot longer than something like 800 you have more control over it. You really would prefer not to make a dip into a tear)

Sanding dip, like sanding anything, is time consuming. Using a lower grit makes it a lot quicker, but you have a bit more chance of going too deep too soon. I use a spary bottle of slightly soapy water and use a microfiber rag to dry it after I think I've sanded enough. It's important to remember, you aren't trying to make it look pretty at this point, you're just trying to make it even. So sand, rinse, wipe, run your finger over it, if you feel a bump, repeat.

Now, when you have a tear, you need to try to even out the layers a different way. The real PITA of a tear in plasti dip is that the edges inevitably flay back, meaning when you spray it again it will look like crap. We'll fix this kind of stuff by "melting" the surrounding dip back down and smoothing it. There are a number of chemicals that will "melt" plasti dip, but I prefer to use good old mineral spirits because it's a little less "nasty" than some some of the others (many people use paint thinner, but I prefer not to on my carbon bikes)

I take some spirits and pour it in a cup... put on my nitrile glove and dab my finger in it. Then I start rubbing the area I want to loosen up.

It may seem like at first you aren't doing anything, that's because mineral spirits isn't quite as powerful as something like paint thinner. Just keep rubbing and you'll see that the dip starts to slowly melt. Now start working over the area that has the tear slowly. You may need to get another dab of spirits on your finger, and sometimes for bigger discrepancies  it helps to use your fingernail to "help" move it where you want. Again, I can't stress it enough... you aren't trying to make it look good, you just want it to be even. When you feel like it's fairly smooth, give it some time to air dry. (Don't use your towel!) Now go back and rub around the area and see if you got it close.

In the picture above you can see I've done an "ok" job, but still need to go back over it a couple of times and smooth it out further.

Later on, much smoother now.

Once you've got things moderately well smoothed out, go back and add another layer or two of plasti dip to it. When you start adding more layers it should all start to come together nicer. Take your time with these final coats, because if you get more runs now, you've got to go back and start the smoothing steps over again.

Here's the last layer before putting it all back together. There are still a couple of imperfections, but you need to be standing right on top of the bike to see the majority of them.  I certainly could have gotten it better, but for a bike I'm going to beat up, I'm not going to stress too much over it.

Finishing up

Now that you're done with the spraying, it's time to remove the masking tape. You have to pay attention during this step or you're going to end up with tears. If you've put a good few layers on then your plasti dip has sealed over the tape, so just yanking it off will pull some of the dip you want to keep on the bike with it. I go over the edges of the tape with my xacto knife and try to make sure there is a clean break before I yank it off. A good trick for bottle cage bosses is to get the xacto underneath one side and use the sharp edge to both lift and cut at the same time.

If you need to do touch up (either now or later on) the best solution I've found is to spray some plasti dip into a cup (enough for it to pool up) and use a cheap paint brush (a small one, like for painting a picture) to fill in whatever is missing. You'll have to add a layer (it'll probably be watery) let it dry and repeat a couple of times, but that's best for small issues. For larger rips, you really need to mask off a large area and smooth the edges/re spray it. Keep in mind any time you touch up big areas it will not match, with plasti dip you pretty much have to spray the entire bike to get it to look even again. Just something to keep in mind.

So, here's what I ended up with

The total cost, if you include all the "extra's" (most of which I had laying around the house) was about $40, and I still had about 190 extra gloves, some extra trash bags, 50 or so extra plastic cups, most of a gallon of mineral spirits, 2 microfiber towels and part of a can of dip left over.

Hopefully that got you through the crash course on dipping your bike. If you've got any questions, feel free to shoot me a message!

Thanks so much for taking the time to check it out!

- Christopher Morelock

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