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topic 30504p2

Artist needs tips for painting sheet metal

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A discussion started in 2004 but continuing through 2019


Q. Hi,

I am an artist who has just discovered painting on sheet metal. I painted on sheet metal as an experiment and happen to like what I have done but one problem ... I now know the paint will scratch off.... unfortunately "after the fact". Is there any topcoat finish I can apply now to keep the design from scratching off? Or do I need to scrap this one and start over by treating the surface prior to painting? If so, please recommend what "etching" liquid or application I can find at the local hardware stores.


Michelle S [last name deleted for privacy by Editor]
artist - Dallas, Texas


A. You can try a topcoat like a urethane or clear powdercoat; but if the surface wasn't prepared right then this too can come detached from the metal. If the metal was pretty smooth when you painted, then try to roughen it up by sand/bead blasting, hand sanding, or mild acid. I usually sandblast and then clean well before painting.

Jason Aube
- Flint, Michigan


I got the reply from Jason in Flint. Thanks, but can you elaborate on the "acid" you mention and also where to get it? And "sandblasting" equipment?


Michelle S [last name deleted for privacy by Editor]
artist - Dallas, Texas

A. Hi, Michelle. Next time, scrub with detergent, wash with vinegar, diluted maybe 2 to 1, and apply a primer coat of Self-Etching Primer [affiliate link to product info on Amazon]; this has a mild acid in it that etches the surface for "tooth" and so you are painting onto the metal rather than onto the tarnish on the metal. As Jason says, you can't count on holding paint onto a surface with a 'shrink wrap' effect; it needs adhesion. Good luck.


Ted Mooney, Teds signature
Ted Mooney, P.E. - Pine Beach, New Jersey
Striving to live Aloha


A. Regarding acid etching metal surface to accept paint - the HGTV website recommends using a 50-50 vinegar and water solution. You might try different strengths of vinegar to get the results you want on steel. Happy creating.

Elay S [last name deleted for privacy by Editor]
- San Diego, California


A. Dear Artist working on metal.
I have been working with galvanized metal for over a year now and if you hand sand and apply your paint it will stay, then top coat with a product from Home Depot called "Top coat", it is epoxy used for counter tops. It is wonderful, will stick and will make your painting POP off the metal. Mix per directions, if you don't you will get tacky and it will never harden.
Would like to know what you are doing, am looking to share art ideas with other artist working on metal surfaces. I am starting to look into other metals as well, copper, cold rolled. etc.
A.R. artist

Allison V [last name deleted for privacy by Editor]
- Phoenix, Arizona


Q. Hi! I'm an artist wanting to begin painting on metal, as well, so I'm interested not only to read what people have so generously contributed here, but also in corresponding with those of you learning the same stuff. I have a B.A. in art, but never got the time to take any courses in metal working, so I'm scrounging for information on the internet, with very limited success, so far.

I have access to sheets of aluminum. I don't know what gauge it is, offhand (I could ask), but it's nice sturdy stuff without being so heavy that you couldn't conveniently hang it on the wall. My domestic partner gets it at work ("work" is a custom car builder here in Lake County, California), as scraps, and I go down there, after hours, and use their glass-beading machine to give the surface some tooth.

And that's where I stand. I've purchased some aluminum (actually, a multi-metal) primer, since DP tells me that aluminum oxidizes and must be primed before painting; I would also guess, based on years I spent in homebuilding (okay, I was a carpenter, but I paid attention to everything else that went on around me) and maintenance for a hot springs resort, that, in addition to preventing oxidation from damaging the paint I want to apply, it also provides even better "tooth", or roughness for the paint to adhere to.

Now: what paint can I use? I really don't know. I want to work with brushes, for at least some of it, because I want a very painterly effect as well as as much texture as I can get, at least at times. And I'm hoping to work with paint that's as environmentally friendly as possible--and that's least hazardous to my health--without sacrificing durability and archival acceptability. I was hoping acrylics would do what I want, including plenty of metallic and semi-metallic layers of glazing, but I really don't know. I know the paint I apply needs to be as flexible as the sheet metal itself, or it would surely peel off, and this aluminum is ever-so-slightly flexible due to its gauge.

I am thrilled to hear about the Top Coat and its properties, but I could use help with the middle step (well, plus any help on other topics whatsoever--such as, perhaps, making curved sheet metal hang on the wall without visible means of support--although I may explore visible means as well).

Thanks in advance!

Terri K [last name deleted for privacy by Editor]
- Lucerne, California


Q. I am interested in doing some contemporary paintings on copper sheets. What type of paint do you suggest using? I have read on different websites to rub the copper with garlic first to help the paint adhere to the surface. Do you know if this is effective?

Anne M [last name deleted for privacy by Editor]
- Memphis, Tennessee


Q. Hi All,

I'm very interested in and happy to find this thread and would like it to continue/to continue it.

I'm interested in all the same questions asked above!

SARAH S [last name deleted for privacy by Editor]
- Richmond, California

February 17, 2008

Q. I have just started working with galvanized metal and I sand before painting but have never used a top coat, does the "top coat" make it shiny? I want to keep my weathered -- any suggestions?


Sharon Goodwyne
- Punta Gorda, Florida

April 2, 2008

A. I am attempting painting on sheet metal, most likely oils. I'm going to sand, and search for a topcoat, but I guess there will be no priming. I've done work on wood, also, and I didn't prime because I wanted the natural wood grain to show through... I'm just having difficulty with primer, basically. So, fellow metal-painters, good luck

Bella Callahan
- Sunrise, Florida

July 3, 2008

A. Hi there. I have a project that requires painting on metal as well for a support rather than canvas. My understanding is that if one sands down the metal, you can prime it (the safest bet) or just paint on it from there, and then put a poly or varnish on the painting when you are done if you choose to avoid peeling and scratching issues. Now, what is exciting is that I discovered just recently, that most major art companies, golden, liquitex, etc., make a CLEAR gesso [affiliate link to product info on Amazon] (aka primer) ... so if like me, you want parts of the metal to be exposed in the painting ... this is the perfect solution. Hope that might inspire someone out there, or help.

Chris Wikman
- indian head, sask., Canada

September 14, 2008

Q. I am in the Lower Ninth Ward in New Orleans volunteering with a non profit relief organization. I have a BFA in painting and have maintained a steady studio practice for years. Now I'm focused more on community arts initiatives than my own work. I've been given the opportunity to create a mural on a community bus here in the Lower Ninth. I have never painted on metal and need all the advice I can get. I will try the vinegar solution and follow the suggestions above. If anyone has experience painting murals on automobiles I would be most appreciative for any advice. Thank you.

Dave Whelan
artist - Massachusetts

November 21, 2008

Q. I'm so delighted to find all these comments regarding painting on metal. It's new to me, also.
I'm going to be doing something on an old SAW. Then on the hood of a car.

Both adventures will be a "First" for me.

Any advice will be very welcome.
Thank you.

Eddina Symns
- Hutchinson, Kansas

March 17, 2009

Q. I am adding pressed tin in an art project. How do I decrease the edge sharpness? Thanks

Helen White
- Nevada, Missouri

March 17, 2009

A. Hi, Helen. If sandpaper doesn't work -- if for example the tin is so thin that it remains dangerously sharp even after rounding the edges with sandpaper -- one possibility is to roll the edges =>

Of course, this assumes I understood what you were talking about, which isn't always a good bet :-)


Ted Mooney, Teds signature
Ted Mooney, P.E. - Pine Beach, New Jersey
Striving to live Aloha

June 13, 2009

A. Just thought I'd add a little information that, through lots of trial and error, might help those wanting to paint on metal. I am an oil painter and -- believe it or not -- oil paints will adhere to metal with no priming or gessoing. For acrylics you'll need a clear gesso like GAC 200. It took me ages to find out that oils can be applied directly (I've tried it on aluminum, copper, zinc, and brass) you just need to prep it properly. Of course after all of my experimenting, I found that a small family run business is starting to make metal painting panels. I saw them at a trade show, they gave me a free sample, and now it's my new favorite way to paint. I hope they (something like Duho Studios) keep with it.

Brian Ford
- Los Angeles, California, USA

July 19, 2009

Q. I wanted more info from Brian Ford since he has some trial and error. Anyone else with experience will do though. I am a welder and oil painter and want to merge the mediums. I was happy to hear that I don't need a special base on the metal and wonder if I need to take a sander or grinder to the metal first. Another question is if the metal was once rusted and want to leave some of the rust exposed will that eventually cause problems on the painting?

Jon Little
- Black Mountain North Carolina

July 22, 2009

A. Hey Jon. Lucky for me, the copper and aluminum panels I bought from Duho Studios came pre-sanded so my oil paints didn't have a problem adhering. I've only tried painting on nonferrous metals and am not sure metals like steel will act the same way. But yes, I recommend a pretty hefty grit sandpaper or 0000 steel wool [affil. link to Rockler] to rough up the surface and then thoroughly degreasing and cleaning the surface. Unfortunately I haven't dealt with rust, I've only applied patinas to the metal, which can give a pretty cool rusty look. Also, the only clear gesso that I've found out there that will adhere to metal is Golden's GAC 200. It will cloud the metal a little, which is why I don't use it much, but it's useful if anybody is unsure or doubtful that the paint will go directly on the metal. I hope to hear how your art goes, it seems not too many people are doing this sort of thing and I'm still in the learning phase myself. All info helps, good luck!

Brian Ford
- Los Angeles, California, USA

July 26, 2009

thumbs up signThanks Brian, As usual with most art mediums they are forgiving. We will see over time, but as of now the oil paint comes out very striking on the metal. I think that gesso would have removed some of metal texture effects I want. I welded two pieces of sheet metal with one quite rusty and intentionally have a nice raised weld bead where they meet and then took a grinder and just had at it. I have found that you can do a good sketch of your painting with the grinder and I also added some weld beads to outline certain areas of the sketch with a nice raised effect. Another benefit is how the paint is affected by either rust or by the ground metal patterns. This frees me up to continue and plan on welding frames for these metal canvases and see where this leads me. If I am wrong I will still have my metal canvas and can clean it off and start again. I am happy to uploads photos of my progress, yet I don't see that option here. Is anyone familiar with websites that allow exchange of emails or photos of work?

Jon Little
- Black Mountain North Carolina

Ed. note: please send photos as "attachments" in email to the editor

July 16, 2009

Q. I have a project to paint on Steel metal patio chairs which have a baked on powder finish. My client wants to retain their current color as background, so I am concerned about "roughing it up" After a conversation at Sherwin Williams I found a site on line for Universal Tints (Mixol) which could perhaps give me the palette range I need when mixed with a base. I want to be able to get blended shades for the florals that my client wants. Any comments?

Allie Jensen
- Tulsa, Oklahoma, USA

August 6, 2009

Q. Thank you all for the useful above information. I am in the process of doing a painting on metal for a piece of outdoor art. So in addition to the knowledge of how to paint on metal I was wondering if anyone know if the top coat will provide a weatherproofing for the piece of art or I need to use an additional product
Thank you

Rita Myers
hobbyist - Tiburon, California

November 5, 2009

Q. Glad to have found this thread. I am working with aluminum flashing coil and need the underlayer to be white.

I can buy the flashing already primed white, and ideally would then just paint on it with acrylic or, as a second choice, a metal paint such as DeRusto from the hardware store. My question about the acrylic is, will it peel? My question about the DeRusto is, Will the color fade? Maybe the best solution would be to buy the coil unprimed, prime it myself with _______________(?), and paint with acrylic. Any thoughts? Thanks again.

Gordon Fearey
Artist - Irvington, New York

July 11, 2010

A. Hi there, I own a company and we build metal art surfaces for artists. Aluminum is the most popular. We prep the surface with an orbital sander, 80 grit and some gold scotch brite to even the finish out. I've never had complaints concerning long term adhesion. Surface prep and cleanliness is the key with aluminum. We also do hot roll, cold roll, galvanized, and bonderized as well but always remind the artist that this is not an archival surface and will deteriorate to varying degrees depending on what conditions they may be exposed to. Ferrous metals should be sealed, the best clear coat I've found available in gloss and matte finishes is "Permalac". It's expensive but this stuff is tough and made to handle weather conditions for extended periods. Also great for sealing copper and brass or bronze once the desired patina or tarnish is reached. Copper and Brass are great for mixed media folks who want to work with chemical patinas. Any metal surface that will have paint or chemical applied to it should always be given some "Bite" the chemical will react more uniformly and quickly and the paint, of course, will stay where you want it. Good luck everybody, with everything you do. Brian

Brian Fredella - Bedford, Texas, USA

April 7, 2016

A. Prime your surface with a phosphate wash primer - phosphoric acid with a bit of zinc oxide, or carbonate. This gives the surface some "tooth" which makes the paint stick.

dave wichern
Dave Wichern
Consultant - The Bronx, New York

February 10, 2019

Q. I want to paint pop art pictures on metal for display on fences. I am in Australia - where can I buy sturdy but not too thick, sheets of metal cut to size approx. A1 size. Thanks Adrienne

Adrienne Isnard
Artist - Bribie, Queensland, Australia

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