Practice, preparation, and patience are keys to creating perfect pinstriping

Jan. 1, 2020
Learning how to pinstripe is an art form, not something you learn overnight.

"Some experience required; experience mandatory; two years prior experience desired."

Do these phrases sound familiar? Many of us have seen these and other experience requirements for job postings time and again. The problem is you can only develop this experience by getting a job first or receiving hands-on training that counts as experience.

Usually, simply achieving this first round of experience isn't enough, especially when it comes to performing difficult work such as pinstriping, which has been around for many years and can be a difficult craft to learn, especially without someone teaching you the ins and outs of the process. Learning how to pinstripe is an art form, not something you learn overnight.

To become a master pinstriper, you must practice, practice more and keep on practicing. In my pinstriping classes, I demonstrate the importance of practice and patience by having my students create straight lines. Once that's mastered, we move on to simple designs.

I give pinstriping students several guidelines from the start:

1. Ask questions.

2. Always practice.

3. Take one step at a time.

4. Observe other, more experienced pinstripers.

I'd suggest these tips to anyone wanting to learn the art. Along with these guidelines, the following six steps can prepare you to create memorable pinstriping jobs:

Step 1: Collect the proper tools. Obtain a good pinstriping brush like a Mack Series 10 Sword Striper brush (size 00), 1-shot paint, odorless mineral spirits, brush oil, a palette, practice surface, drill sheets, stir sticks, paper towels and razor blades.

Step 2: Prepare your brushes. Begin by oiling the brush with straight motor oil and rinse with mineral spirits. Most often the brush will need trimmed slightly before it is used. This can be done by flattening the oiled bristles of the brush on a firm surface and using a new single-edged razor blade to trim off the tips of the longest bristles.

Step 3: Practice correctly holding the brush. This is critical because it affects the angle, pressure and the ability of the pinstriper to roll the brush in his hand. To hold the brush correctly, place it between your thumb and index finger above the green wrapping on the brush called the ferrule. You will use your other finger as a bridge/guide to maintain a consistent distance on the painting surface/panel. Also, be sure to examine your brush – there's a flat and curved side. The flat side faces left and ensures the sword of the bristles is formed properly with the longer bristles at the top and shorter ones at the bottom.

Step 4: Prepare the paint. There are several striping paint brands, but for this example I selected a 1-shot brand lettering enamel. Paints need to be constantly thinned or reduced for efficient flow from the brush. A 1-shot reducer or turpentine is dispersed from a small squirt bottle or open container.

Step 5: Obtain a palette. You need something to palette the brush and paint. Magazines, phone books and plastic lids work great. Paletting is a three-function process:

1. Add a drop or two of the reducer into the paint and mix.

2. Thoroughly saturate the brush bristles with reduced paint.

3. Shape the bristle load of reduced paint.

Proper palleting is half the battle in pinstriping because approaching the surface with a properly loaded brush makes for a nice line.

Step 6: Practice pulling lines. Hold the loaded brush in the proper position and pull lines from top to bottom or north to south. Pull your hand/wrist/arm as a single structure without moving the individual parts. Your brush needs to remain at a constant position to the surface/panel because any variances will show up in the line. An easy practice exercise is pulling two lines next to each other and trying to duplicate the space between them with every next line. A pinstriper needs to draw thousands of lines to achieve the consistency and muscle memory required to move to more advanced lines. Also practice left to right straight lines, right to left straight lines and all directional curve lines.

A few variables to keep in mind while practicing pinstripe lines are:

1. Paint consistently. This will affect your line quality and is something to strive for in pinstriping.

2. Temperature will alter the amount of reducer needed. Hotter days require more reducer.

3. Speed of brush movement, how fast you pull the brush across your surface, will affect line quality.

4. The amount of pressure applied to the brush is critical; it helps determine the line thickness. Little pressure will result in a thin line; a lot of pressure produces a much thicker line.

Now that you are prepared to pinstripe, you are ready to develop the substantial experience needed to make you a master of this craft.

Editor's Note: Fay Pivoda is a custom paint and graphics instructor at Ohio Technical College in Cleveland. Besides offering pinstriping as part of its Custom Painting and Graphics Program, OTC also offers weekend pinstriping workshops. Call (800)322-7000 or visit online at to register for these classes or to receive more information about them.

Removing pinstripes

Pinstriping helps create a unique vehicle look. Unfortunately, the appeal of that look may not be shared by previous and current owners of a vehicle. Before beginning a new pinstriping job, you may be removing an older one. While removing pinstripes might not be a terribly difficult task, if you don't attend to this chore properly, you can damage the vehicle finish.

Use the following steps to safely remove pinstripes.

Adhesive pinstripes

1. Apply hot air to the stripe.

2. The adhesive should start breaking down. Carefully use a plastic putty knife to pry up the stripe without scratching the paint

3. Peel the stripe slowly away from the vehicle at a 90-degree angle while heating the next section to be pulled up. Caution: Do not overheat the paint since this can make it more likely to chip.

4. Sometimes the adhesive and pieces of the pinstripe will not peel off easily. Before attending to these stubborn areas, remove all the pinstriping and adhesive you can. For remaining adhesive and stripe pieces, apply a multipurpose cleaner and lubricant on a scrubbing pad (the type with a net covering) and rub off these leftovers. Again, be careful not to scratch the finish. If some pieces still remain, soak them with the cleaner/lubricant, and try scraping.

5. Using a soap made specifically for washing cars, thoroughly wash the vehicle.

Painted pinstripes

Removing painted stripes poses a more difficult problem since you're more likely to damage the finish. Before attempting this chore, contact your vendors and ask if they sell products specifically made to remove painted stripes without impacting the finish.

Several such products are currently available. These products often come in a gel form.

Typically, you'll need a Q-tip or small brush and a plastic razor blade to use them. Here are some basic instructions to use, though you'll want to stick to those included with the removal products.

1. Test a small amount of the removal product on the vehicle finish to make sure the product doesn't damage it.

2. Use the Q-tip or brush to apply the product to the stripes. Apply the amount suggested by product instructions.

3. The stripes should soften within minutes. Use the razor blade to remove them.

4. When finished (once again, using soap made specifically to wash vehicles), thoroughly wash the vehicle.

About the Author

Fay Pivoda

Fay Pivoda is a custom paint and graphics instructor at Ohio Technical College in Cleveland. Besides offering pinstriping as a part of the Ohio Technical College Custom Painting and Graphics program, the college offers occasional weekend workshops on pinstriping. Call (800) 322-7000 or visit to register or for more information on these classes.

Sponsored Recommendations

Best Body Shop and the 360-Degree-Concept

Spanesi ‘360-Degree-Concept’ Enables Kansas Body Shop to Complete High-Quality Repairs

How Fender Bender Operator of the Year, Morrow Collision Center, Achieves Their Spot-On Measurements

Learn how Fender Bender Operator of the Year, Morrison Collision Center, equipped their new collision facility with “sleek and modern” equipment and tools from Spanesi Americas...

ADAS Applications: What They Are & What They Do

Learn how ADAS utilizes sensors such as radar, sonar, lidar and cameras to perceive the world around the vehicle, and either provide critical information to the driver or take...

Banking on Bigger Profits with a Heavy-Duty Truck Paint Booth

The addition of a heavy-duty paint booth for oversized trucks & vehicles can open the door to new or expanded service opportunities.