How To Pinstripe Your Car

Auto pinstriping is a very popular elective task for automotive enthusiasts. It can add a special flare to your vehicle that makes it stand out from others. Adding pin stripes to the body of your car, truck or motorcycle can surely make a design pop. Below, we take a look at some of the different methods of pinstriping, with a tutorial on basic stencil tape pinstriping and freehand pinstriping.

Types of Car Pinstriping

There are three primary methods of pinstriping: mechanical pinstriping, stencil tape striping, and freehand striping. Mechanical pinstriping involves using a type of magnetic adhesive stripe, which is entirely one consistent width, perfect for following the curve and natural contours of the vehicle. This is a common method of pinstriping used primarily on large vans and trucks, since it is ideal for accenting long body surfaces. Stencil tape striping is done with a special pinstriping tape that is shaped than pressed down to hold, all on the body of the car using your hands. This method is the most popular for car owners as it is a fairly simple task to perform, and it can be reasonably customizable. Lastly, there is freehand striping, which is the most advanced method of pinstriping, taking much time and practice to master. It is the process of using special paint, precise brushes and the steadiness of your hand to create a completely unique design you want anywhere on the car.

Basic Stencil Tape Pinstriping – Step #1: Preparation

Before applying any vinyl or reflective pinstriping tape to the outside of your car, it is crucial that you clean your entire car first. This will make sure that the surface of your car that you are pinstriping is clean and clear of any dirt, grime or other impurities that could be stuck on the body and show through a pin stripe. Once that is done, choose your stencil tape design, and then mark its path on your car using easily removable tape and tightly pulled string. This will act as your guideline. Once you have a consistent stripe design you like, its time to apply the tape. It’s important note that using reflective pinstriping tape is generally preferred since it has a deeper, rich color than vinyl tape.

Basic Stencil Tape Pinstriping – Step #2: Application

For making a straight line pin stripe, first take your pinstriping tape and attach the first inch of it to the front of the car, typically the fender. Then, remove the backing and stretch the tape slightly out away from the car (towards you) about half the distance of the tape you’re applying. Once you have the height and direction of the tape, according to your string guideline, lower the tape onto the body of the car right under the string, and it will attach itself lightly. If you are using reflective tape, after you attach the first inch of tape, spray that part of the car down with a solution consisting of 6 drops of dishwashing liquid to one cup of water. This will prevent the reflective tape from tacking, in case you need to pull it up again.

Once you complete the first half of the car (through the end of the front doors), repeat the same procedure, starting from the tape end point to the rear of the car. Once the pinstriping is attached to the car in the manner you prefer, use a single-sided razor to cut in between all hinge and latch door openings. Once this is done, take the excess tape and simply wrap it around the edges towards the inside of the car. Now, tap your fingers with light pressure along the entire striping tape design to assure it is sticking adequately. Finally, remove your string guideline, gently wipe up the excess soap solution (for reflective tape users), and you are done!

Freehand Pinstriping

Freehand, or “hand-drawn,” pinstriping is an art in and of itself. Although, this may be the most advanced method to master, the possibilities for striping design are virtually endless. If you have the right tools and adhere to the right practices, you can learn to become a professional-grade auto body designer. To perform this method of pinstriping, the basic equipment you will need is some precise sword striping brushes, richly pigmented paint and some adhesive masking sheets. Sword striping brushes are paint brushes that have a bowed width that taper into a point at the brush’s tip and edge. This is ideal for painting pin stripes as the tip and edge of the brush will help you produce the most precise lines possible. Masking sheets will help you lay out the grid and design on the vehicle’s body before you start painting.

If you want to practice freehand pinstriping, start by drawing a grid of one inch squares on a plain piece of paper. Draw a defined vertical center line down the center of the paper with a darker pen. This will be used as your reference line. Next, take a piece of clear acrylic sheet about the same size as your piece of paper, and tape it over your gridded paper to a work table to use as a canvas. Now, simply practice with your brushes and some paint to draw curved lines from the top or bottom of the reference line, using the grid to make sure each side is even and symmetrical. Experiment with other shapes within the grid, and keep practicing on many different clear sheets to get down the pattern you want on your vehicle.

If you are looking for a quality freehand pinstriping beginner package, be sure to look into the Kafka Pinstriping Starter Kit, available from the Eastwood online store. It will help you learn both the basic and advanced techniques and includes a series of paints and an instructional DVD. Also, to get a good idea of what professional freehand pinstriping looks like, be sure to check out Eastwood’s freehand pinstriping video, featuring AMSOIL’s own, Jerry Dixey. In this video, he uses the 1-Shot freehand pinstriping kit, which you can also find at Eastwood’s online store.

To learn more about pinstriping and for more DIY car tutorials, be sure to visit

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