How to pick a paint shop
One of the most common questions is how to select a paint shop? After all the thought that goes into choosing a paint scheme, and the downtime endured while your aircraft is in the paint shop, the last thing you want is to be disappointed with the end product. Painting an aircraft requires patience, skill and careful attention to detail. There are around 170 paint shops in the US , and many more worldwide. It is easy to become confused during the selection process when considering price, quality, scheduling, downtime and reputation. Typically, the selection will involve some degree of compromise.
Paint shop quotes vary tremendously. Often, this relates to the quality of the end product, as well as to location. Paint shops that focus on detail, layout and quality spend significantly more time on each aircraft, and legitimately charge more money. It is those paint jobs that last the longest and look the most perfect. Low cost paint shops, which often are offered by high throughput companies, produce products that look pleasing at a distance, but that are typically far from perfect and seldom long lasting. This is the type of shop that would be selected by a used dealer or owner seeking a quick fix to add value to a tired looking aircraft they have for sale. Remember, in the aircraft paint industry, you do typically get what you pay for.
Most paint shops have a backlog. The length of the backlog is not necessarily an indication of how good they are. However, expect to have to wait anywhere from 3 months to a year for a slot at most good shops. Be suspect of any shop that has immediate openings, unless they can show you a reason why. Similarly, be sure that waiting a year or more for a slot is really worth it. When doing your research, you need to find out the estimated downtime. Don’t get sucked into promises that are too short to be realistic. Also, ask around to see if past clients have had problems with significant time overruns. Paint shops typically schedule aircraft for between 3 and 5 weeks.
I advise every client shopping for a paint shop to take a close look at several aircraft painted by the companies they are considering. The problem is what do you look for?
This is an area of uneven paint application that resembles the surface of an orange peel.
By not properly coating the aircraft with paint, the color of the primer shows through. This shows up as changing tones across areas of the fuselage.
Poor paint application that results in too much paint in one area causes the paint to run
Areas where the aircraft was not properly masked before painting. Look for tell-tale signs of overspray on widows, light lens covers, door frames, control surfaces and wheel wells.
Rivet and Joint Runs:
When stripes are laid out with masking tape, the tape invariably will cross rivets and joints. Because the tape is pulled taught, it will tend to tent over rivet heads. After masking, all tapes should be properly inspected, and any place tenting occurs, the tape should be manually stretched to prevent tenting, reducing runs around rivets and at joints.
Do layouts on the aircraft resemble that provided on paper? Are the stripe thicknesses, starting and termination points and spacing visually correct? Are curves smooth and natural? Are complicated surfaces, such as at air intakes, transitions between the fuselage and tail, and NACA scoops properly handled?
Check that paint color across the aircraft and within stripes is consistent and uniform.
My previous aircraft’s finish was still deep and shiny 8-years out of the paint shop when I sold it. The paint on the Piper Archer that was tied down next to my aircraft was completely dull and faded after only 3 years. A good paint job can last 10 years or more living outdoors, and up to 20 if hangared, without loosing the luster. Are all screws stainless steel and unpainted, or have they simply been painted over leading to cracking and poor aesthetics later? This often will provide a clear indication of whether the aircraft was properly disassembled when the aircraft was painted, or if it was just masked and painted.
Ask people around your local airport and flying region about paint shops. Take note of positive and negative comments. These comments are often much better than those from references provided directly from the paint shop — after all, a paint shop isn’t going to provide the name and telephone number of a dissatisfied customer. Walking around your airport and taking note of aircraft that have paint jobs that meet the criteria of an excellent paint job is another way of finding referrals. Seek out owners whose aircraft have beautiful paint jobs and talk to them about their paint shop experiences. This is especially useful when trying to find a paint shop locally. Once you have narrowed your paint shop selection to two or three paint shops, take the trouble to visit those companies. Spend some time at the paint shop and tour the facility, paying close attention to work in process. One word of caution: when visiting paint shops, do not be swayed by fancy offices and glitzy facilities. Some of the best paint shops in the country operate out of ancient, tired looking buildings, with no glitz or glamour. My company, Scheme Designers, has developed a referral list of paint shops over our many years of specializing in aircraft paint scheme design. We learned early on to guide our clients to paint shops that provide excellent quality and service, as the quality of the job reflects on our design quality. Over the years, our referral list has grown to include top shops around the country to which we steer our clients with confidence. Our list is based on client feedback, and not a relationship with the paint shop. Some of the paint shops listed even have their own designer on staff, and so are indirect competitors with my company. Also, the list only includes those excellent shops that we have sufficient experience and feedback with. There are other excellent paint shops out there that have not yet made it onto our list. This approach ensures the objectiveness of the referrals we provide. Feel free to visit our web site at www.schemedesigners.com to make use of our free referral list.