Wild Hair custom Harley Painting

"Mild 2 Wild"

Sheet Metal and Paint Notes

Helpful Hints for the Novice

Before you decide on Sheet Metal or Paint , you need to determine what finished look you want and what you want to spend.  Ask yourself a few questions.

1-The finished Look ...What are you trying to accomplish?

     Do you just want your bike back to the original factory look?

     Do you  want to jazz it up a little?

     Do you want a fancy paint job?

     Do you want  your bike really customized?

2-Budget ... How much do you want to spend?

     Do you want your bike to look good again as cheap as you can?

     Do you want to spend a little more and give it a nice custom appearance?

     Is money no object and you want to really customize it?


Now let's look at your options. 

Remember all these things will factor into your final cost when you take it to the Custom Painter.  These are things that will be ask when you want an appraisal on a paint job.  

Sheet Metal

You first need to decide on the sheet metal. (by sheet metal I mean the tanks and fenders)

The sheet metal will determine the finished look you are trying to accomplish.  It can be a big factor in the cost of a paint job and the turn around time. Your painter must first get the sheet metal ready to be painted.  (We will refer to this process as preparation).

Old Factory sheet metal:

Your metal, straight off the bike,  in good condition does not require a lot of preparation. Damaged sheet metal requires a little more.  Most can be repaired without the expense of ordering new metal. 

New Factory:

Unpainted sheet metal from Harley-Davidson while a little more expensive is ready to paint and requires very little preparation.

After Market Metal:

 (By After market I mean anything other than factory Harley-Davidson metal)

Just about all After market bare sheet metal  , which includes off-brands, and Custom sheet metal is rough when you get it.   The metal will have waves and ripples in it, and sometimes dents. This requires a light coat of filler and primer to straighten them up before painting can begin.  Again a cost factor from your painter.  Most Custom sheet metal manufacturers do not use molds.  It is a true art form in which they  meticulously bend and shape each piece individually. 

 After market tanks need to have the insides sealed and tested for leaks. Depending on the tanks and sealer kit used , this can be up to a two day process.

Custom sheet metal such as stretched tanks, aluminum tanks, custom and fiberglass fenders usually require a good bit of preparation and need to be fitted to the bike.

Don't be fooled ... just because they are expensive doesn't mean they are ready to paint. The price you paid for them is in the craft.


To use your original sheet metal is usually the cheapest route to go, unless it has been badly  damaged.  If you have to get new sheet metal and want to keep the original look, factory sheet metal from  Harley-Davidson  is more expensive but good quality.  Most of the time the total expense will even out in the end.

After Market metal is cheaper but requires more preparation. If you consider the cost of one versus the preparation of the other,  better prepared sheet metal means less labor cost and a quicker turn around time.


Custom Tanks

If you want to create a different and custom look, you can usually give your bike a whole new look just by changing the tanks with reasonable cost.

Keep in mind when using custom tanks like stretched tanks ...  if you really want them to look good, you need to shape and form the tanks to the seat or change the seat to accommodate the tanks.

Custom Fenders

You can totally change the whole looks of your bike by adding custom fenders. Keep in mind they need to be fitted to your bike to look their best and assure proper fit and alignment.

Custom sheet metal prices vary as much as the styles that are available.  All I can tell you is to shop around.  Drag Specialties, Chrome Specialties, Custom Chrome and many more that I have listed in my links page offer a wide variety. 

Most parts dealers and painters will be glad to answer any questions you might have or help you in your decision. Just ask!


Note: Molding

If your hear the term of "being molded" or "molding something." This is a process in which you basically take two pieces that have been joined together and make them look like one solid piece with no welds or joining marks showing. This is done a lot on frames where they have been welded together. It is a time consuming process in which you have to grind the original welds down and use a little filler to smooth them out. It will create a very clean and smooth flowing custom look. Again a labor cost and time factor.



Now you need to decide on the paint

You need to decide on the look you want to accomplish and your budget.

Do you want it one solid color, two toned back like the factory paint job, something custom, or something really wild?

These will also be factors in cost and turn around time. Different types of paints have different cost and different methods and time frames of application.

If you want something custom but aren't sure what you want. I suggest your favorite chair, a cooler of beer and a stack of bike magazines and just start thumbing through them and see if something spurs your imagination.

Ask your painter for some suggestions.  Don't ask people what they think or what they would do.   It's your bike.  You need to be happy with it and your decision. You are the one riding it, not them.  If you know exactly what you want, Great!. Not many people do.

The cheapest route is one solid color.

The right color with a little pearl or candies can really make a bike look good. Some of the best looking paint jobs are clean and simple.  Below, I will describe some of the various types of paints for you to consider.  

Another option if you want a custom appearance with less cost is to put graphics over the top of your original factory paint if it is in good condition. This will give you a nice custom look without the cost of a total paint job, and twice as quick.


Solid colors: This will be colors that do not have any metallic or pearl  in them.

Candies: Candies are basically a transparent colored clear coat. Depending on the base color underneath them, it will determine the end result in color. It gives a lot of depth to the paint.

Pearls: These  come in a wide variety of colors. They can be added to the actual paint or sprayed over the actual paint to create a special color or effects. Pearls can be added to the clear coat which will not effect the actual color too much in low light, but will give some amazing effects and color changes in the sun.

Metal Flakes: If you like Dorothy's red slippers or the neighbor's bass boat,  you might consider metal flakes.  They come in a variety of colors and sizes and give some neat effects. Just make sure you have your sun glasses on when your bike's in the sun light.

Note: Metallic and pearl colors ...These will be any colors that already contain metallic and pearls in them, such as most of the factory colors on new cars.

Marbleized: These also come in a variety of colors and will give a marble or bowling ball effect. Depending on the method of application you can create some neat effects.

Chameleon: These come in a variety of colors and change between as many as 4 to 7 different colors right before your eyes depending on the different angle of light. These are very expensive, so if you ask for them don't have a stroke when you get a price.

Neon's: These are very loud and bright, people will defiantly see you coming. They tend to fade in time, more so with a lot of sun exposure.

The paint you choose and the graphics you decide on will vary your custom paint prices. 

If you don't know the route you want go, your painter can usually give you some good ideals or point you in the right direction


Some people  know exactly what they want and where and how to go about it . Some people  don't have a clue on where to start and the process that is involved. I hope some of this information is helpful in your decision on sheet metal and paint.


Just a Quick Note on Custom Painters

Custom Cycle Painters are like any other artist ... Each one has their own style. They have different ideas on how something should be done and how it should look when finished.

 That's a good thing!

 That gives you many different options.  If you asked 10 different painters the same question, you would most likely get 10 different answers.

Some painters are better at certain things or styles than others.  So again you need to ask yourself ...  "What is the finished look you hope to accomplish?"  

A good painter is there to help you with your needs, not theirs ... Answer any questions you might have ... Help you in finding the paint scheme you want. Give you an ideal how the finished product will look  ... and Help you with color coordination. They should be willing to refer you to someone else if they don't think they can deliver  the finished product you want. 

Find the painter you feel comfortable with that best fits your needs and budget. 

by Brian Morris, Wild Hair Customs 


Wild Hair Customs would love to have your business and answer any other questions you might have.  Please feel free to contact us!




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