Paint primer

Restoring damaged vehicles to their original luster creates Picassos out of painters.

From the pages of In Business magazine.

Thirty-one-year-old Corey Dietzman doesn’t just smile while discussing his job as a paint technician at Ball Body Shop, a division of Smart Motors. He beams.

Dietzman has worked at the company for two years, but he’s been painting cars and doing auto bodywork for many more. This job suits him. He loves everything about it, but particularly the satisfaction he gets after transforming a dinged-up vehicle into one that looks like it’s coming off the showroom floor. The goal, he says, is to work on three cars a day, but sometimes he may work on five or six. “I’m proud of that,” he says, adding that it pays well. His normal hours run from about 8:15 a.m. to 5 p.m., but there are days when he works 12 hours or more.

“I work all the time,” he admits. “I once worked a 27-hour day!”

At Ball Body Shop, workers are paid a flat rate. So if a repair job is estimated to take eight hours but a highly skilled worker can finish it in five, he or she still gets paid for the eight hours. Dietzman thrives on that reward system, saying it keeps him motivated. “You absolutely want to do your best. It benefits the employer and you.”

Fifty shades of gray

A white Prius needs a bumper, but the door will be blended as well to ensure a perfect match.

There’s a constant flow of cars into the Middleton shop. In fact, repairs are still coming in from a hailstorm that hit west Madison and Middleton last September.

Dietzman is one of four painters in the paint department. A fifth person is a color specialist, dedicated only to properly matching paint colors. “Paint is a beautiful thing,” Dietzman says, “but color matching is the biggest problem.”

So, isn’t gray, gray or blue, blue?

No way, he explains, and that’s where the science (and time) comes in.

Dark gray number 1G3, for example, actually has about 50 different shades, he notes. “You can line up 10 1G3s and they’ll all be different shades of color.” Paint shades vary ever so slightly based on age, wear, or previous paint jobs. Spraying at different pressures (pounds per inch, or psi) also affects color. “Nothing is pre-mixed,” he says.

A color-correct sun gun and a four-camera photo spectrometer verify the properties in a car’s true color. Some shades may be finer, some coarser, Dietzman explains. Sometimes a car’s true color can simply be buffed out. “Cars don’t really oxidize anymore,” Dietzman says. “There are just so many UV blockers used nowadays that it just protects the basecoat.” But scratches, dust, and dirt can change a car’s appearance.

A sun guns helps match car colors to spray-out cards already on file.

Determining the correct color also involves studying the “orange peel.” Paints have a ripple, or texture that the painter needs to match as well, Dietzman explains. “That’s the difference between a painter and an applicator. A painter wants to make sure that everything meets factory specs. I take pride when I’m painting one panel, and then I unmask the rest of the car and the peels match.”

The painters must also consider the flop, or the side-tone of a color, he says. “Some of these colors might look brighter on the flop. Some might be bluer, or darker. Most people notice the flop, not the face of the color. The flop is what people see from a side angle. We can paint a bumper and the face will look perfect but then you look from the side, which is usually how the customer approaches a vehicle, and they’ll notice that the bumper is actually darker than the rest of the car, so color is most challenging.”

As a division of Smart Motors, the majority of vehicles Dietzman sees are Toyotas, and Toyota has its own factory sprayed paint color chips. In addition, the staff creates spray-out cards for every car they paint. There are hundreds of cards, because each car is unique. The more cards, the better chance they‘ll find a match and won’t have to recreate the color wheel. Some paint tones might be brighter, some lighter, some grainier or more metallic. “I’ve spent days just putting a spray-out card together,” Dietzman says.



Prep and paint

In Dietzman’s prep station, a white Prius is missing its front bumper, and a replacement bumper sits at the ready.

Dietzman cuts away plastic on another Prius, exposing the area to be painted.

One of the most important parts of prepping before painting is removing dust, Dietzman explains, as he wipes the black plastic bumper from the factory with a tack cloth. “Nothing sticks to plastic,” he says, “so this needs to be prepped with a cleaner because it has mold-release agents on it. If you were to paint this right now it might look okay but you’d probably be able to blow all the paint right off with a blowgun.”

He sprays the bumper with an anti-static compound to further remove unwanted materials that will also allow paint to adhere. “Cleanliness is God when it comes to paint,” Dietzman adds. “Anyone can pull a trigger on a spray gun but keeping it clean is tricky.”

Moving into his paint booth, a light green Prius is prepped and ready for paint on its rear right quarter panel.

The car is tightly enveloped in plastic sheeting, protecting it from over spray.

Dietzman outlines the areas to be painted with yellow tape and then trims the plastic away with a razor blade.

While the color has been pre-determined by the paint specialist, Dietzman must mix his own paint. In an adjacent paint mixing room, Ball Body Shop keeps about 100 different toners on hand, with each costing about $100 on average. Dietzman weighs out various amounts of yellow, black, and other toners into a plastic container, finishing with a silvery liquid that will provide the vehicle’s metallic sheen.

Using a computerized “recipe” Dietzman mixes toners that create a car’s final spray color.

After mixing the concoction he returns to his paint booth and attaches the container to a hose. Working quickly, he sprays the base coat and then adds several layers of clear coat. He’ll finish with a blending solvent on adjacent car panels to ensure there are no visible lines between the old and the new paint.

“When I’m working, I’m flying,” he says. He estimates that masking a car in plastic may take five minutes; sanding and scuffing, two minutes; priming, about seven minutes; and baking or drying, about 15 minutes. All the while, he’s checking and rechecking his work. “It’s got to be perfect,” he says. “We all have a conscience here.”

A life overhaul

Dietzman’s life took quite a turn on the road to this career. After dropping out of high school, he worked for several years at Schoep’s Ice Cream until one night, while watching the television show Overhaulin’ with his dad, he had an epiphany. “I can do that!” he recalls thinking about auto restoration.

Determined to make a career for himself, he enrolled in a two-year course at Madison College, loved every minute of it, and soon realized that he had the knack. Now, he doesn’t just love his job, he lives it.

“I’m always thinking about paint,” Dietzman laughs. “I can be at a gas station with my girlfriend and I’ll start rattling off paint codes for other cars I see, or I’m noticing their flaws.”

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