How To Paint Traditional Hot Rod Flames

As with anything else, there are many different ways to do a custom flame paint job. In this article, we will be working with a BC/CC (base coat/clear coat) system and will be burying the flames under the clear coat. The colors used will be Bright White, Chrome Yellow, Tangerine Pearl metallic, along with a Vibrant Blue enamel for the pin striping. In this case we will be starting with a car that has already had the main BC color spayed and has dried overnight.. There is usually a 24 hour window to from the time the BC is laid down until the CC must be laid down.

We will start with the hood first. The first step is to lay some guidelines. Take any kind of thin (1/8″ works best) striping tape and decide where you want the fame “licks” to start and stop. Once the perimeters have been set, start by laying out the flames using 3M 1/8″ striping tape. Start with the lick in the center of the hood and work your way to one side, then come back and do the other side. This will help to keep the pattern close to the same on both sides of the hood. Make sure to overlap the ends of the tape and leave some extra before cutting. This will allow for fine tuning of the flame ends later.

Once you are happy with the layout, one lick at a time, start fine tuning your tips. It works best to vary the tip lengths a little to create some inconsistency in the pattern (like real flames).

Once the hood has been laid out, it’s time to start on the fenders. Lay out the guidelines on one side of the car just as you did on the hood, and repeat the flame tip “tuning” once laid out. The variance in lick length on the sides can be more drastic while at the same time maintaining a uniform pattern. It comes down to personal taste at this point. When one side is complete, repeat the procedure on the other side.

Once the layout is done, it’s time to mask/tape off what you want to remain black. It can be done with masking tape, but I chose to use masking film. This is like masking tape, but 12″ wide. Eastwood offers masking film called Sticky Micky’s and is what I used. You will want to cover the entire length of the flames, keeping the film as flat as possible and overlapping each strip as you go. Once applied, use your thumb over the flames and apply pressure to ensure a good seal.

Next, it’s time to cut the flames out. This is a very time consuming process, but also very important. Using a razor blade, or exacto knife, start in the middle of the striping tape and gently cut the masking film. If you apply too much pressure you will cut through the striping tape as well and will leave little gaps that will allow paint to get where you don’t want it. If done correctly, you should expose half of the blue striping tape once the film is removed. The striping tape will leave a perfectly crisp paint line, the masking film, not so much. Slow and steady is the key here.

Now the layout is complete and it’s time to mask of the rest of the car.

It’s now time to start laying down the color. We start with the Bright White. This step is not mandatory, but will make the Yellow much more vibrant and his highly recommended.

Don’t forget to hit all the trim pieces as well.   Next comes the Yellow.

As you can see, by this time it’s starting to look like flames, but the the most important step is the air brushing. This is where the flames develop definition and depth. IMO, the entire job can be made or ruined in this step. That is why I enlisted the help of a very good buddy, who also happens to be a very talented artist. If you are not very familiar with an air brush, I would recommend you do the same. I take great pride in doing things myself, but this simply wasn’t worth the risk to me. I wish I could tell you the proper technique, but it simply comes down to the artist doing the work. I was amazed at the amount of definition Larry was able to put into the flames. Most flame jobs just simply have the Orange feather around the edges of the licks. He went a step further and “pulled” the Orange forward to create an amazing amount of definition.

At this point, the flame job itself is almost complete. It’s time to un-mask the car. Now it’s starting to look like a Hot Rod!

In this pic you will notice a “film” left over from the masking film (tape will leave the same). This is caused by the chemical reaction of the fresh paint solvents on the masking film itself. DO NOT FREAK OUT! After a few hours of dry time, simply use some mineral spirits on a clean, soft, towel/rag, and rub the film off. It will not come 100% off, but when you can rub the spirits over the area, and it looks smooth (like it’s not there) when wet, you are good to go. You do want to stay away from the flames though,as the spirits can harm the fresh paint that you just laid down. Just use caution and patience and you will be just fine.

It’s now time to tack cloth the car and lay down the Clear Coat.

As you can see, the residue left by the film has 100% disappeared. You can also see the definition of the air brushing, and the crisp line that the 3M striping tape leaves.

Once the CC has dried, and been wet sanded/buffed, it’s time to hand lay the Blue accent stripe around the flames. Once again, my buddy Larry was entrusted with this task as it takes a very steady hand and experience. The first pic shows a side-by-side comparison of the difference the stripe makes. The second pic shows the completed stripe. To me, it’s not a traditional Hot Rod flame job without this stripe.

This is the finished product. Talk about an attitude adjustment!

Special thanks to Larry Robertson of


This article is meant to be used as a loose guideline and is written from personal experience. I make no claims or guarantees as to your personal results.

Leave a Reply

No Comments