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Some tips for using rattle cans

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Hey guys, I received a PM about using rattle cans vs spray guns so rather than just post it in PM I thought I'd do it here for all to see. Brian if you want to pin this or put it in the tutorial section feel free.

Ok, this applies to virtually all rattle cans regardless of paint type. I sprayed many items with rattlers before I had paint guns and had very good results.

This guitar was finished with rattle cans, nitro laquer.


1. When you are buying your spray cans, buy twice as many as you need, if you need 4 cans to do a project buy 8. It seems excessive, but you'll understand why when you read #1 in the don'ts section.

2. Have a pan of water at 25 degrees centigrade (82F)nearby, if you have the opportunity you can keep it on the stove or a hotplate, but make sure it doesn't get hotter than that. You want 1" of water in the bottom of the pan, stand your spray cans upright in there. This will warm the paint and propellant to room temperature and it will flow way better from the can.

3. Before you begin spraying on your project, spray some paint out of the can into the garbage or where-ever and then flip the can upside down to clean the nozzle (by pushing down the nozzle until no paint flows out anymore)

4. When you spray, always start your spraying at least 2" off to the side of your piece and don't stop spraying until you're 2" off your piece. This will help to alleviate any spatters when you start or finish a pass.

5. Overlap all your passes by half the width of the spray fan (this applies to all types of spraying)


1. DON'T use more than half of your spray can. I know it means an added expense, but below half of a spray can you are getting more propellant than paint. It will begin to spray inconsistently. This can lead to uneven coverage and spattering.

2. DON'T use rattle cans in a cold environment, expeically if you aren't warming the cans. The paint will not spray evenly or flow nicely.

3. DON'T put a spray can away without cleaning the nozzle first. Do this by turning the can upside down and spraying until no more paint comes out.

4. DON'T be in a rush with spray cans. A spray can will typically put on less than half the amount of paint that a decent spray gun will put on in one coat. If a spray gun takes 5 coats of paint to get the finish you want, the rattle can will take 10 to 12 coats.

I hope this is helpful to some, if iyou have any other questions or comments you'd like to share (positive preffered) let me know, I'm happy to help (though some find that hard to believe)

I know this isn't the set in stone way to do things, there are so many techniques and ways to apply paint it would take a couple volumes of books to get them all down and then who's to say any of those are the best ways. This is simply methods I'm familiar with and which have yielded very good results for me.


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I find the most effective way to use spray can paint is to get a good grip on the can. Please make sure your outside when you do this. Then shake it up really, really good. Take the cap off. Swing your arm back as far as you can possible go, and with a swift and fast motion, chunk it over the fence into the woods as far as you can possible throw it. :D

Umm.. did I mention I hate spray can paint. lol We'll maybe not that much, but I'm not a big fan as you can see. Great article though LGM on the way to get the most out of spray cans though. If you must use paint out of cans, listen to LGM, he's pretty much nailed the Do's and Dont's of using them effectively.

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Frenzy -

I've actually had very good results using cans (for nitro clear). I don't know why you've had trouble with them in the past?

I'll throw one other thought out there - the tutorial that Dan Erlewine does for stewmac (the blue quilt Tele) is done with cans and he did it during the winter. He has more experience than most people but he shows that it is possible to get an incredible finish using cans in cold weather.

Thanks for sharing that info Jeremy. I was not aware of that warm water trick.

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Thanks Jeremy. Didn't took long, and this is must needed for guys like me that re begining and don't have acces to compressors or spray guns... Can you add suggestions about using this method for the preval system, there are some colors that are not available in cans that i will love to shoot with the preval. Also abourt the last question that I asked on the PM, is there any automotive laquer that I can shoot with the Preval? I'm still a little scheptic about the hardness of the acrylic laquer. And lst can I base coat with can (duplicolor for this one) and then go to my local auto paint shop and have them do the 2 part clear? thanks again man, never had to wait long for your replies...

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The preval systems are very poor. My dad tried using them on an airplane at one time. They were very hit and miss. Honestly I don't think they provide enough pressure to spray with. There is however another option. Many automotive shops will mix spray cans for you (for colors). They can actually do a custom color mix and put it into a rattle can for you.

As for the automotive laquers, I really don't know. I've never used an "automotive laquer" per say.

The 2 part paints I really don't think would work well at all with the preval systems as they are designed as a thicker high build paint. They probably wouldn't spray through the preval well and of course they can't be done in an aerosol can since as soon as they are mixed they begin curing.

My experience with rattle cans is mostly laquers and enamels. I do know that using rattle cans isn't a very cheap way to go, it seems like it at the beginning, but in very short time they've added up to the cost of a paint gun without much effort. Having said that then yes, you still need to buy paint and a compressor etc. Good results can be had with rattle cans though so I guess my best advice would be to get a few different types and try them all on scrap.

Oh, one last thing, I'm not sure why this is, if it's because rattle can paint is thinned more or if it's actually the propellant causing it, but paint in a spray can seems to be more aggresive in terms of attacking underlying coats so be sure to spray your first couple coats lighter than normal, just a dusting to cover and seal the paint underneath.

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Oh, one last thing, I'm not sure why this is, if it's because rattle can paint is thinned more or if it's actually the propellant causing it, but paint in a spray can seems to be more aggresive in terms of attacking underlying coats so be sure to spray your first couple coats lighter than normal, just a dusting to cover and seal the paint underneath.

Yup, you got it in one. There is a high percentage of thinners in rattle cans, a lot more.

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Oh, one last thing, I'm not sure why this is, if it's because rattle can paint is thinned more or if it's actually the propellant causing it, but paint in a spray can seems to be more aggresive in terms of attacking underlying coats so be sure to spray your first couple coats lighter than normal, just a dusting to cover and seal the paint underneath.

This is what happen to my guitar, the blue strat that I posted on the GOTM... I already had misted a coat of clear and a midium coat, let it tach between coats, and everything was nice, and I applied the first wet coat, and kaboom, the base coat settled down and lost some of the sparkle. Still looks good thought.

Do you know the name of some of the places that will mix colors and put them in cans? This are the ones I will like to use and mix some blue with pearl.

And yes, I realized that in the long run it is going to be more expensive than paint gun ones, I went thru 4 cans of clear,(and I'm glad I used Duplicolors because ReRanch's at 12 a pop would have been a killer)... and I only did 8 coat's, and after finishing the 1st can I noticed what you said about the splattering and I used the other ones 3/4 of the way. It's being 3 weeks now and still the paint is a little soft, it won't get marked when handled but if I press with the finger nail on an area I can see the mark, it slowly dissapears.

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If I use Nitro at all it's still better to use a spray gun, they are way more consistent. Then you can buy the Stew Mac concentrated toner colors and make your own colors. I don't hate nitro as much as I used to. My main knock against nitro is that it just take forever for the stuff to cure properly. With higher quality paint you can be done in the next day, and it actually doesn't cost much more than using a bunch of spray cans. Yes, the upfront cost is pretty big, but look at the quality of work you can do with the proper paint gun and compressor. Your nitro would go on much better for sure.

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I'm just concerned that Frenzy may scare some people away with his view on nitro spray cans. I don't think you meant to say that it cannot provide a good looking finish (right?) but when you say that they should just throw it over the fence, that might mislead some into thinking it's no good. Here's a couple of pics of a guitar that I finished using stewmac nitro spray cans. I'm not trying to say that it belongs in the hall of fame or anything like that but I think it came out quite nice. I have recieved several inquiries from people here on project guitar concerning how it was done - it was done with spray can nitro.

I don't consider myself anywhere close to being a finishing expert so all I can go by is my experience with what I've done in the past. Of course, if you want to add color to the nitro, then you'll need to use a spray gun.

Here's a shot of it UNFINISHED:


Here's a couple of pics after the nitro has cured (mostly :D )



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Also, spray tips are an inportant thing. The cheap ones will not speay evenly, wheresa duplicolor and other good paints have a fan spray. Those are way better

Just for anyone in the UK (who's struggled to make sense of the majority of brand names mentioned on this site so far), pop along to Halfords, where they have nitro dupli-colour (as well as a large range of cheaper acrylic cans). At a tenner a can, its not cheap, but they'll mix up any colour you could ever want (i plumped for a very nice metallic Lotus' Laser Blue). And the chap that served me also finished guitars, which was a pleasant surprise.

He did advise that i wouldn't need a primer however, which seems contrary to just about everything i've read here.....

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  • 3 weeks later...

Jeremy, one question about rattle cans. Let's say I finish painting my guitar, this time I used Acrylic laquer. I waited 2 days (48hrs) like the can says and then colorsanded and polished. It looks nice almost like if it's still wet. The problem is that's being 2 weeks now and the finish looks the same but if you press it with somenthing hard it marks it like if the underlayers are still wet! Is this normal? Or did I messed up but color sanding and polishing 2 days later? I'm asking it here that way newbies, like my self know if we should follow the instructions on the cans, or wait longer. I know that for nitro most people recomends waiting 5-10 days before colorsanding, so whats' the deal!

BTW, on the other post I wrote automotive laquer and I just looked at the can and it says enamel... is it the same, this is the one I'm using to paint parts of my SUV, just paint, colorsand and polish with no clear, but the guy asked me if I wanted the base matte and shot clear over it.

Thanks again for all your help Jeremy, this has been much helpful... I have been using the water technique lately since itr's being getting kinda cold in the mornings an the cans get cold in the outside shed.

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The problem is that's being 2 weeks now and the finish looks the same but if you press it with somenthing hard it marks it like if the underlayers are still wet! Is this normal? Or did I messed up but color sanding and polishing 2 days later?

I hurd that the lacquers really get hard after like 60 days or soemthing like that. So be careful with your newly painted one because the paint still is soft...from what i gather.

Just my 2 cents

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  • 4 months later...

I'm adding this here since I think it's a good addition to this thread. Hope somebody found it useful. Is a small how to when doing solid color paint jobs on guitars.

Well, I think I will help you, now! this is the way I do it and maybe it will be different that what others do, especially if they are using 2 part poly.

For solid colors

1. get the wood ready. ( If you are refinishing a guitar that is already painted, but the paint is in good shape, just scuff the paint with 400 grit paper, shoot 1 coat of primer and go to step 2)

Sanding sealer, primer, grain filler. no matter what you use make sure the prep here is inmaculate. If you are using a wood with big pores use grain filler, if not use primer or sanding sealer, I prefer sanding sealer with nitro, and primer with Duplicolor paint.

The trick is to use enough to get the surface smooth as a babys butt here.


this is a pic of one of my bodies with primer done ready for base coat.


Like you see here the primer is white and the base is silver, if it was a darker color I would use the correct shade of gray, or the clay color one for redish and earth colors.


You can paint before but I rather wait to be safe.

2. base coat

Once you have the primer nice with no blemishes, sand with 600 to scuff up the surface for the base coat to adeher to. after this take all dust out from the body with a damp cloth and once dried use a tach cloth to remove any lint of dust that would have remained, some places recomend using naphta, I haven't yet, but I will try it.

Now here is were a lot of people go crazy. Just spray enough base color to cover evenly.


this is the same body after 2 light coats of metallic silver.

1 light coat = 2 passes over the body with the color overlapping 50% over the previous pass. I am a firm believer of the 50% deal and you won't see this here a lot.

1 heavy coat will be 4 -5 times over the entire body.

3. Grafixx ( I know this is not the way it's spelled but I like it this way!!! )

If you are going to apply grafixx over the base now is the time. I recomend you seal the base coat with 1 light coat of clear before you apply the grafixx.


Here you can see the grafixx on mine, I masked, then painted the dark blue areas removed the mask and cover the entire thing with translucent blue (metalcast from Duplicolor). Depending on the type of paint you will have to wait 1-5 days before clear coating. Unless you are using waterbased colors which under bright light or heat gun dry in an hour or less, airbrush paint

Here the same rule as that as little paint as nescessary applies.!!!

4. Clear

If you are not doing any grafixx and will leave this the same color, dust one light coat over the entire body wait about 5 minutes for it to tach up, then spray 1 heavy coat.

wait about 3-4 hrs

spray another coat in the same way, dust 1 pass wait 5 min and then spray 1 heavy coat. I don't rely too much on the rule of 3 of ReRanch since I had drying problems the last time I did it (I used Duplicolor and I think I lay it too thick), make sure that your coats are thin, and you can spray more than 3, but they have to be thin.

step away from the guitar until next day and start over with more coats in the previous fashion.

I do about 9 coats of nitro, don't lay it too wet, and I don't like to paint with the body laying flat, you can get too cocky and lay it too thick, I spray with the guitar perpendicular to the floor and twist it around as I paint. As you can see in the pics above the guitar is in a jig, I just rotate it to paint.

Once all this is done, if you took your time and didn't lay the paint too thick you will be ready to colorsand and polish


this is the same guitar after 4 coats of Krylon triple thick glaze were sprayed in 2 days. This stuff lays thick, so you don't need that many coats, but it doesn't like hot areas or sunlight. Thia paint job was trashed because I left it outside and the sun hit it for about 1 hr thru the shade of a tree doing this



I ahte this paint and will never use it. Stick with the ones you are familiar, or duplicolor, or DEFT which is the one I use and it's nitro.

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  • 1 month later...

I have to agree with some of you saying that it's not good to use spray cans. BUT recently I finished a neck in nitro from a can from stew mac and I gotta say, it was VERY easy to do, it flowed great, I never had to sand (it's satin and it looks perfectly smooth and flat without sanding). It looks GREAT. I was very surprised when I sprayed out of the can and found a perfect VERY fine mist. So I think it's more about what can you got. That stuff from stewmac makes a very nice fine mist and it goes on perfectly even.

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I'm no expert but my advice would be to NOT do the colors with nitro at all. Use something that cures faster when doing mulitple colors and then coat it with clear nitro or other clear. I use Createx Auto-Air for the colors on this one:


and here it is after the clear nitro:


Nitro takes a while to cure and can be tricky to deal with compared to paints such as the Auto-Air that I used. Using the Createx allowed me to do all 6 colors on that guitar in two days. I could have done it in 1 day but there was a lot of masking going on there. If I used nitro for each color, I might still be waiting to spray my 5th color.

The stewmac nitro cans are usually great. I have used enough of them to comment on them - that's for sure. Once in a great while, you might get a spit but it has been very, very rare for me. I usually don't let the cans go much below 1/3 full before switching to another - maybe that's the reason - I don't know.

I have seen some outstanding guitars built by people here using rattle cans and I don't think there is any real need to spend the big cash for automotive poly equipment unless you plan to build professionally. Maybe a better alternative would be to pay someone to spray that stuff for you if you really aren't thrilled with rattle cans? I guess it all depends on your bank account and future plans.

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No. The Createx was actually recommended to me by LGM. If I were going to use a different type of paint in the future, I would probably test it out. I don't know off hand what the likelyhood is of having troubles like that with the common airbrush paints. I think they are all going to be compatible with nitro but I don't know for sure. I do know that the Createx Auto-Air worked great for me.

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The Createx paints aren't expensive - I'd guess that you could paint the whole thing for around $35 and have enough left over for another - maybe. That's without the clear nitro.

Here's where I got mine: Mister Art

I just really wouldn't even consider attempting it using nitro for each color. What a nightmare! It's not like you'd be losing quality either.

There are other paints out there and it's possible that Createx isn't considered the best - I don't know. They were recommended to me by LGM but he said later that he switched to something else.

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