How to Paint a Skoolie – Lessons From Our Process (Video Included)

It’s a bit pretentious to declare, “This is how to paint a skoolie!”

That’s not what I’ll be saying in this blog post. This is just how we painted our skoolie and the lessons we learned. The intention of this piece is to provide the suggestions that I wish I had before we started.

We Are Not Professional Painters

We didn’t know anything about this process before actually doing this. In the video series, which documents our skoolie building process, I generally try to provide detailed information on how we did what we did. The night we painted was just too stressful and dirty to do my normal videos

The cleaning process took longer than expected. The taping process took longer than expected. The final painting process took longer than expected. We began working on this process at noon. We wrapped up the final tool cleaning process around 4:30 am. It was a massive day and I would charge $2,000 – $3,000 dollars at the very least.

Thank you for visiting this blog. I hope you find this a useful tool for when you decide, on your own, how you will paint your skoolie.

Don’t see the video? Watch on YouTube here.

How We Painted Our Skoolie

We are fortunate to be less price sensitive than many others who are attempting a school bus conversions. That said, we spent far more money than we expected and are very motivated to limit costs at this point.

So we made a cost/benefit analysis which I believe we are happy with. We wanted a long lasting, non-fading, professional look that we could apply ourselves with hard work and little previous paint experience. Here is what we came up with.

How to Paint a Skoolie

Describing our process for how to paint a skoolie

  1. Power drill – I prefer the Milwaukee drills because they are the most powerfully built.
  2. Mixing Drill Bit – Painting can be a stressful time sensitive process. The ability to mix hardener and paint together with 100% confidence and in a fraction of the time is importantly useful when painting a large project like a skoolie.
  3. TSP – Tri-sodium Phosphate can be thought of as a cleaning chemical similar to dish soap, but it will take the paint right off the walls. The kind pictured here is in a powder form. Our process was to take a 5 gallon bucket and mix a handful of this stuff in about a gallon of water. Even when the TSP rich water gets dirty, it still picks up dirt in a way that is exceptional and important for those hoping to apply an expensive paint product.
  4. Heavy Duty Nitrile Gloves – We started the process with some cheap nitrile gloves and ended up with broken gloves and TSP soaked hands. Not cool. The heavy duty ones work great.
  5. Hardener Product – See the PPG industry material sheets below. This is referred to in those documents as “Component B” I believe. We mixed this product 1 to 5 with the one pictured here marked with the number 6.
  6. Paint Product –┬áSee the PPG industry material sheets below. This is referred to in these documents as “Component A”. I screwed up in the video above as I never really premixed this component alone. At the time of writing this (Sept 30th, 2017), it doesn’t seem that this misstep has caused any negative results. I did shake the paint a good deal, but I never mixed it. If I were to do it again, I would pre-stir the paint by it’s self, then mix the two chemicals together, then stir them with the mechanical stir tool (items 1 and 2 in the above image).
  7. Paint Thinner – I’ll go into greater detail on what I learned using paint thinner in a section below. This is a critical element of the process. Without the ability to thin paint and clean tools, the project would have been a mess.
  8. Tool for Opening and Closing Paint Buckets – A large flat head screwdriver works just as well as the knife pictured above. It’s important that your can opening tool is heavy enough to hammer the lids back on while you are painting. A light opening tool and an additional hammer would work fine too.

Skoolie Paint Tools Not Pictured Above

The above tools are the ones that I have left over from when we completed the paint job a few day ago. There were a few tools that were critical to our success as well. You see them in the video embedded at the top of the blog post. Find them listed below.

  1. Roller – Rollers are amazing for large, flat surfaces. With the roller I was able to paint large portions in 3-5 minutes which would have taken me 20 minutes to do with a brush.
  2. Rolling Paint Tray – These trays allow the painter to control the amount of paint on the roller and to store the paint they will use in the near future. It’s important to roll the roller up and down until you have a uniform coat of paint across the entire roller.
  3. Natural Bristle Paint Brush – Though we didn’t try nylon paint brushes, the people at the paint store assured us that the cheaper, nylon bristled brushes would cause problems. We went with the more expensive paint brushes at the local hardware store. Though there were $1-$2 brushes available, we didn’t want to risk having bristles on our final paint job.
  4. Mixing Containers – I used containers provided by the paint store. We could use any disposable, translucent containers providing they have accurate, numbered measures printed on the side. We need to know how to achieve a 5 to 1 mix of paint and hardener.
  5. Painter’s Tape – The blue tape is the best. I would not recommend using the brown tape. Sure, it’s a good deal cheaper, but when applying ~$500 worth of paint to a project, spend the extra $20 on proper tape. It allowed me to protect the things I don’t want to be covered in this professional grade paint.
  6. Painter’s Plastic – Painter plastic can be used to rapidly cover larger areas like bumpers, tires and other larger surfaces which you don’t want to have paint on.
How to Paint a Skoolie - Paint Description - Page 1
HPC/Industrial Maintenance – Pitthane Ultra Gloss Urethane Enamels. Page 1
How to Paint a Skoolie - Our Paint Material - Page 2
HPC/Industrial Maintenance – Pitthane Ultra Gloss Urethane Enamels. Page 2

The type of paint we used is called Acrylic Aliphatic Urethane. This type of paint is suggested for topcoats in which color and gloss retention are primary considerations. It provides chemical and heat resistance.

This is a two part product. We mix 1 part of the hardener with 5 parts of the paint. It smells like a 50 gauge pistol kicks. My wife and I didn’t feel the need to wear a respirator but our friend did.

Thing I Learned From Using Paint Thinner

The day described in the video above describes my first experience with paint thinner. I went into this having never used any of these products before.

Paint Thinner Separates Paint

I reuse paint thinner to clean tools. This seems obvious but it’s an important lesson. I put about 1/2 gallon paint thinner into a 5 gallon bucket. We used this bucket to clean the tools and paint containers as we painted.

As the project progressed, the paint thinner became heavily mixed with paint. At one point, it was too full of paint to use as a tool to clean paint from tools. I poured that mixed paint thinner into a separate container and let it sit. After about 20 minutes, the paint had separated from the paint thinner and rested below the paint thinner. I could use the paint thinner which had separated, like oil and water, from the paint again. I would just pour the top level of paint thinner back into my primary cleaning vessel.

Rollers Save a Lot of Time

Use a roller for as much as possible.

You’ll see in the video that I started with a paint brush. That was going incredibly slowly. I decided to try a roller and I was able to paint all the flat surfaces of the bus in a few minutes. These flat surfaces made up about 40% of the old school bus’s exterior.

Sometimes we need to use a paint brush to paint small, hard to reach spots. That’s fine, but if possible, use a roller for as much as possible.

Skoolie Paint Lessons Learned – Tape and Paint Properties

Make Sure to Push Paint Tape Firmly Against Surface

how to paint a skoolie - dripping in painters tape

We taped this school bus rub rail at the last minute and it’s possible that we rushed it a bit. I’m guessing that here we didn’t press down firmly enough on the painter tape after setting it into place. Because of this, some paint dripped behind the tape and got onto our surface. It’s a bit of a mess.

Drippy Paint Comes From too Wet of Brushes

how to paint a skoolie - dripping paint

Above, the texture is the result of using brushes overly full of paint. That paint doesn’t dry immediately and starts to blob if applied to heavily. Above you can see that the heavy application caused for a dripping look.

If I had used a brush with less paint in it, these drips might not be marring our surface. You can see below, the paint surface looks excellent. This is where I used a roller with, what I feel like is, the perfect paint surface.

how to paint a skoolie - non-dripping paint

Paint Can Get Through Tape

how to paint a skoolie - paint getting through tape

I wrapped the above reflective device with tape first and then put a single little tape square on top of the wrapping job. Its clear that some paint worked it’s way through the tape and onto the surface that I didn’t want to have paint on it.

It would be better if I wrapped the reflective device after I put a piece of tape on the surface.

This Paint Doesn’t Work Well on Silicone

how to paint a skoolie - paint on silicone fail

On the silicone container it says, “not paintable.” It turns out that that is correct. The above furnace vent cover is covered in silicone. I really over-did it and never got the silicone off the surface of the vent. For that reason, the vent looks pretty terrible but I think I can scratch it off later with a razor blade. I won’t know until later.

In the image below, you can see that the paint covered a lot of bolts that are covered in silicone. It’s possible that V did 3-4 coats on these parts so the paint is just adhering to it’s self. Only time will tell how well this will work over the next 2-10 years.

how to paint a skoolie - silicone covered


The End

That is it. If you find this post helpful please let me know in the comments below. If you have something to add, please let me know in the comments below.

6 Replies to “How to Paint a Skoolie – Lessons From Our Process (Video Included)”

  1. This Blog was very helpful for a Future Skoolie Cruzin Project 2017-2018. Money and Budget are going to be my main focus . Saving $2-3,000.00 on a paint project is a big saving. I have watch all your videos and have learn a lot. I will miss V in the upcoming videos and I know you are missing her as we Blog. She is and inspiration to You. As part of our Skoolie Adventure we plan on touring the 50 States and Canada. Thank you for the two of you’s Inspiration.

    1. Great to hear that you are enjoying the videos Mr. Coleman. Good luck with the progress and please feel free to ask questions relating to any videos in the past. I’m happy to go into greater detail if you have a specific query.

  2. I have converted a mini bus into a mobile dog grooming business and now I am down to just needing to paint it. Your video and blog are very helpful. I have read many blogs and watched several other videos, and seems everyone does it different. Some hand paint, some spray with power sprayer, and even one used spray cans. But most all of them primed with a white or gray and sanded the old paint first then cleaned it. I did not see that you sanded the bus and also did not use a primer coat. Just curious why you chose not to do either process , but mainly, why no primer coat?

    I do like your finished product though. Bus looks fantastic and the paint job looks good. Better than many others I have seen. Many people just went with a factory equipment paint that was already colored with a boring white, blue, or green. No custom colored.

    1. We used an epoxy paint and we cleaned the bus using TSP. The guys at the paint shop were very confident that the paint they sold us would last a very long time. Our paint costs a good deal more than many of the conversions I have seen. It’s been a few months and our paint is still in excellent condition. I would rather paint once with expensive paint than go over the bus twice with inexpensive primer and paint. That said, I’m no expert. This is my first attempt at painting a vehicle. Does that help and/or answer your question?

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