So I got on a kick to get a Nutcase helmet and paint a graphic on it. Since there’s nothing on the Internet about how to paint one, I thought I’d share my experience.
I’ll first share a little about Nutcase bike helmets. They have an awesome adjustment system for the head strap – big knob that adjusts firmly. The magnetic buckle can easily be operated one-handed, if you ever need to buckle your helmet one-handed? The outer coating claims 360 degree visibility at night – a reflective coating? Nutcase bike helmets, by the way, can fit my big “mailbox shaped” head (Thanks Catherine Carroll at Gran Fondo for that assessment, but it’s true.)
I started a hunt for the helmet. I started wanting an orange one and paint black graphics, but orange in my size was impossible to find. Then I decided I wanted a green one, and I discovered most solid color Nutcases are hard to find. I might have a reason for that. I’ll explain later. Well, I ended up with Nutcase Blackish Matte and I’ll explain the color I picked later.
So, I got the helmet and finalized my design. Since I planned to airbrush the paint on, I needed “Frisket” to create a clean stencil. We have a Plaza Art Supply in Nashville, so I went down and bought a package (and some new Xacto blades.)
- Print your design on paper, preferably create an outline view to save printer ink (paint.net and GIMP have a good outline effect.)
- Tape printed design to frisket and smooth surface. I used a cutting board.
- Cut out your template through design and frisket. Now you have a flat template.
- Apply your FLAT template to your ROUND helmet. (THIS IS NOT EASY.) It works best to cut a few “radius cuts” to account for the curves. Also make sure the wrinkles are pressed down where paint will meet them.
So let’s talk some more about prep. Most paints call for lightly sanding the surface to be painted. They also call for degreasing the surface (greasy fingerprints, etc.) After I got the template applied, I used a piece of 400 grit sandpaper to rough the surface. I had some tight corners, so it took a while to get in there without disturbing my template. Remember, you don’t want to sand where you aren’t painting.
WARNING: when degreasing, pick the right solvent. I’m not sure what the right thing to do here is, but the wrong thing is to use solvent alcohol. This also goes for getting remnants of the frisket glue off. It will cause the Nutcase factory coating to bubble and peel (and it will be in the wrong place, I assure you.) Maybe rubbing alcohol is better.
So I read about helmet painting. There’s really not a lot about it on the Interweb. I found that Krylon Fusion (available at Home Depot) is good for painting plastic. Though Nutcase helmets are ABS plastic, you’re really painting the coating. I also considered automotive touch-up paint. I actually think that’s a good idea.
But no, I have to do things the hard way, and sometimes not the best way. While I was at Plaza, I was dazzled by the super-neat paints! Glitter! Irridescent! Pearl! Auto-Air Paints sure are neat. I couldn’t possibly go use simple paint. And I have an airbrush. Why not?
Jump to the end of this if you want my recommendation. The following are my mistakes.
So I finally picked get home with my Sparklescent Mango-colored paint. It has tiny metal flakes. It’s also slightly transparent, which I discovered when painting some test strips (the inside of the cover of a black plastic toolbox.) It also needed thinning, so back to Plaza for a bottle of the 4011 thinner. Oh, and you also need to paint a base coat of a solid color first since the Sparklescent is semi-transparent. I picked flourescent orange for a base. The Plaza folks liked to see me coming – these materials are not cheap (actually more than I paid for the helmet – seriously.)
My airbrush is a Paasche single-action. I installed a #5 tip. I’ll explain my mistakes so maybe you can figure out . I read that you have to thin Sparklescent to the consistency of milk (typical of airbrush paint.) So I did. I also read that you can spray it at 40psi. But when you spray at 40psi at the consistency of milk, that’s too much pressure. If you don’t thin it, the tip gets stopped up. So, I did lots of coats. I also got an orange peel pattern. My theory is you can’t paint the water-based Sparklescent over the non-water-based flourescent orange. They call for the same thinner, but whatever. I got it done with lots of light coats and blind courage.
Final Notes and Recommendations
I recommend that if you don’t want sparkly colors and you can find something acceptable, go get the Krylon Fusion or spray-on auto touch up paint. That’s probably what I’d do if I had it to do again.
I also wish Nutcase sold some uncoated helmets. I’m not sure how well the paint will stick to their final reflective coat over the long term. They could open up an entire market of people customizing their brain buckets. I’ll have to come back and report on durability of my paint job. I didn’t prep the letters across the front, other than the alcohol (you can see the bubble-up sections.)
Anyhow, now I have a one-of-a-kind helmet, with a cool design. All I have left to do is go get some good Panda shots on my bike. Follow the link if you don’t understand the Panda thing. Faster Faster kill kill.