How To Paint An Airplane

painting an experimental aircraftTips on How To Paint Your Experimental Airplane

Painting your aircraft is a monumental task and one that probably scares many homebuilders from taking on the job themselves.  However, with the right tools and knowledge of the process, it is something that most builders can tackle with great results.  In this article we will discuss the process to follow, tools you will need, and tips from an experienced painter.

The Process

The basic process is as follows:

  1. Decide on design and colors
  2. Choosing The Paint
  3. Surface Prep and Masking
  4. Equipment and Material Prep
  5. Painting
  6. Fixing Mistakes!

Deciding on The Design and Color Scheme

Rans S-10 Homebuilt AirplaneYou may already have an idea for a color scheme and design, but if not, then that is the first decision to make.  The design will determine how you go about the actual painting, and how long it will take.  If you have a complicated design or one that will require a lot of masking, then the longer it will take to paint.

Unless you are building a historical replica with a camouflaged scheme, you’ll want to pick something that is easily visible by other pilots.  Colors that blend easily into the ground or sky make you harder to see and decreases safety.

If you are having trouble coming up with a paint scheme or design, take a look at for some ideas.

Choosing The Paint

The type of paint you will use depends on how your airplane is constructed.  For metal aircraft, you’ll typically put down an epoxy primer.  Many aircraft grade paints are made out of polyurethanes so you will definitely have to have a well-ventilated area and the proper face-mask to use it.

Surface Prep And Masking

To get the best paint job possible, you will need to prepare the surface of the aircraft to be painted.  For a metal aircraft, the metal usually has a coating applied to it to keep it from corroding during the building process.  Once you are ready to paint, you should remove the coating as recommended by the manufacturer.  It’s important to be ready to paint once the coating is removed so that corrosion does not have time to start forming.


The Spray Gun – Paint is usually sprayed on using an High Volume Low Pressure spray gun.  You can buy these at any place that sells air compressors and air tools.  Typically you mix up the paint to a specified viscosity so that it will spray out through the tip.

Mask – to ensure your safety, you will need to wear a filter mask.


Finally it’s time to paint.  If you have never spray painted before, it is highly recommended that you practice first on something other than your airplane.  It will take some practice before you are comfortable with controlling the gun for a good finish.  Your gun will also have several adjustments you will have to set to control the spray pattern and paint flow.

The base coat will be applied first – this is a primer coat that provides a good grip for the top coats.  After the base is applied and dried, the lightest color is applied.  Since there is a base coat applied, you only need to apply the light color to the areas it will be in the final design.  Once this color is dried, you can mask off the lighter areas leaving only the next darker areas exposed.

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