Ghost Flames on Motorcycle Gas Tank

I’m a new user on the Pub, so I can only post one image right now, but later I’ll come back and edit this to add more images. I was going to include a lot of photos in this post, so I’ll replace them right now with Coming Soon, and then edit it once I have permission…

Toward the end of the live video that @TonyB did last night, he mentioned that he’s going to customize a motorcycle gas tank into a lamp, and will be doing some custom paint work as part of that project. Sounds like a fun project!

Around the 33 minute mark he mentioned that he had seen some of my work and was asking what grit he should sand with before final clearing over the custom work. I said 600 or 800 wet, and that I would post some more info here on a project I did last year, so here goes…

A buddy of mine is restoring an old mid-80’s Suzuki and he knew I was learning to paint so he asked if I would spray his motorcycle tank and side skirts. He told me I could do whatever I wanted and we agreed on $100 basically just to cover the materials cost. He’s a friend and since I’m learning I wasn’t going to charge him for my labor. In fact if I was tracking my time on this project I would have lost a ton of money! But he was in no hurry (I still don’t think he’s done with his project and it is almost a year later now!) so I could take my time and just play with it when I felt like it. And my materials costs would be covered. I do this stuff for fun, not to earn a living.

Here’s are a few pics of the original tank. You can see it’s pretty rough with peeled paint…

And Dents on both sides…

And lots of surface rust on the bottom…

Anyway I decided to paint it black and do some white pearl ghost flames on it. I watched a bunch of Youtube videos on ghost flames to learn how to spray them. The idea with ghost flames is that from a distance you really don’t see them, but when you get up close you will see them more clearly. I had previously done some basic graphics work with vinyl tape on another project but had never laid out flames.

So I watched more Youtube videos to learn how to lay out flames and then I practiced on a sheet of metal, spraying the black base, laying out the flames with tape and masking, and then shooting my white pearl over it to make the flames. It came out OK but the flames were too bold, so I decided that when I would paint the tank I would spray fewer coats of pearl, so the flames had a better ghosting effect. Here’s my test panel after it was clear coated:

Far from perfect but good for getting some first time experience. So I laid out the flame pattern on the tank with 3M Fine Line Vinyl tape and then masked it off with yellow tape. I’ve skipped over the bondo work to fill dents, removing the rust from the bottom of the tank, priming the whole thing with a high build DTM primer, and spraying the black base.

I also sprayed a couple coats of intercoat clear (also known as base clear, HOK-SG150) over the black before doing any graphics. Then this was wet sanded with 600 to get a very good surface for the pearl paint to stick to. This intercoat clear is always a good idea when doing graphics, so if you screw up you can sand the graphics off and that intercoat clear will protect your base so you don’t sand into it. You can start your graphics over without having to re-base.

Here’s the tank first with the blue fine line tape…

And then masked off with the yellow tape for flames before spraying the pearl:

Its hard to see the blue tape on the black tank with the yellow tape over it, but the edges of the flames will be defined by the blue tape. The yellow is just so that the pearl doesn’t get on other parts of the tank outside where the flames are supposed to be.

Next, here is a trick that I learned, all credit for this goes to Everett M. who is part of the LABAP VIP Facebook group. When something is taped off, to protect from having “blow outs” - where paint sneaks under the tape edge and wrecks the look, then before spraying the color shoot one coat of clear Intercoat. Just dust it on lightly, don’t spray the intercoat heavy. That forms a seal so that the next coat of color will not sneak under the tape’s edge. It shouldn’t go under the tape anyway if it is stuck down right, but just in case.

If the clear intercoat sneaks under the tape a bit, no big deal. It won’t appear later once you have clear coated your work. And if it sneaks under the tape, then once it flashes when you spray your color that will not go under the tape, because the clear has sealed the gap. I used HOK SG-100 for this, as it is thinner than SG-150. I didn’t want a large build up of paint here, just enough to seal it. Here is another close up pic of the tank once I sprayed the Intercoat, but before spraying the pearl:

You can see I sprayed it lightly, not heavy. Then I mixed up my pearl (a HOK white pearl, man that stuff is expensive $$! Something like $42 for a few ounces!) Since I wanted a ghost effect where you almost see through the pearl, I used a mix ratio of 10 parts SG-100 intercoat clear to 1 part pearl. I used a mini spray gun with a 1.0 tip and I set the spray pattern very tight, like a small circle, and I set the fluid to very minimal, not the normal full fluid. Maybe only one turn open on the fluid adjustment. You are just barely painting anything in one pass.

To spray these flames I wanted it to work more like an airbrush where you spray multiple coats just dusting it on. To get a heavier effect near the curves and tips of the flame, I sprayed more coats, and then in the middle of the flames I sprayed just a few coats. To do these ghost flames you only spray the outer edges, and don’t spray the inner part of the flame. This whole thing of how to spray flames came from watching Youtube videos, just search for Ghost Flames on Youtube and you will see lots of videos for how to do this from guys who actually know what they are doing!

Here’s the tank after I finished spraying the pearl ghost flames:

You can hardly see any color at all, right? Don’t worry, once this gets cleared they will pop as you can see below. With ghost flames, less is better, and it is hard NOT to spray more so they really show up. But I learned to go light after spraying too heavy on my test panel.

So next I needed to remove all the masking and vinyl fine line tape. Here’s the tank with masking removed, ready to pull off the fine line tape:

Like Tony always says in his training, when pulling the tape go slow and pull at a 45 degree angle to the paint so you don’t pull up the paint. Here’s the tank with all tape removed…

You might notice that there is sort of an edge on the flames and you can see lines where the blue tape was. This will all disappear once it gets clear coat. So next I wanted to knock down those edges on the flames, so the tank will have a very smooth surface once it is cleared. This is a bit dangerous, but I very lightly wet sanded those flame edges with 800 grit to knock them down a bit. I was very careful to not sand too hard as I didn’t want to change the color of the flames by sanding through them (made that mistake on my test panel in one place.) After that I cleaned the tank again with Wax & grease remover and then sprayed 3 coats of intercoat clear (HOK SG-150) over the whole thing and let it sit overnight to cure well before continuing.

Here’s a tip: When you are doing custom work you might need to take your time and do it in stages, on different days, to give things time to cure well. If you have to go away from a project for more than a day (outside the respray window) then spray intercoat clear over the whole thing. Then when you come back later on another day you can hit that with 600 wet and pick up where you left off. If you don’t cover the custom work with some type of clear, you may end up having to sand into the custom work which changes the color if its candy or if you sand through to the base. So make use of the intercoat clear, which you can then wet sand later to get good adhesion and continue with other custom layers. You don’t have to do 3 coats like I did here, just one will suffice, so that you can wet sand it a bit so you will have good adhesion.

I think it was about a week later when I had time to come back to this project. I wet sanded the whole thing with 600 grit to knock down any edges that I could feel around the flames, and then wet sanded the entire thing with 800 grit so I wouldn’t see any sanding scratches through the clear (on dark colors sanding scratches can show up more, so that’s why I used 800.) I cleaned it well, and shot 3 coats of a high solids clear. This was the Wet Wet Plus clear, but now I’ve switched to Tamco products which are top quality and not expensive like other high end clears, PPG, HOK, Spies, etc.

This was off the gun, and I was really pleased with the outcome! I did end up having a run on the other side of the tank, which I had to sand out and reclear. Later I cut and buffed the whole thing, and cleaned up the chrome emblems and I cleared them as well just for protection since the chrome was 30 years old and pitted a bit in a few places. Reassembled everything and here is the final project before returning to the owner.

One final note: A while after I finished the project and returned it to my buddy, I learned that especially for motorcycle gas tanks, fuel spillage can damage the clear coat - no duh! As mentioned I’ve switched to Tamco products and they have a high impact clear that is great quality which will hold up to fuel spills. I told my friend to be extra careful when filling up this tank, and if he spills fuel and damages the clear then to bring it back and I’ll re-clear it with high impact clear.

I’ve now used that high impact clear on another project and its awesome. If you want more info about the Tamco clears or their other paints, talk to @rsflores05 as he can get you a $25 discount on your first purchase. I get NO kickbacks from this, just recommending a good product and Ronnie can hook you up.

For anybody who wants to see 200+ photos of this project, I document my work that way and here’s a link to the online photo album. I added comments to many of the photos to explain what I was doing, or remind myself later what the photo was about, including my boo-boos.

I hope this post is helpful as we learn together!


@HankScott. Very nice work. I checked out the online Photo Album link you posted too and WOW nice job documenting your project. :+1: Can’t wait to see more of the pictures here.

Kent aka “Genesis”

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Here’s a video as well that I shot and shared with the LABAP VIP Facebook group after I was done with the project. It shows the final results a little bit better and I talked about a couple other issues I had with the project, not mentioned in my long post above.

2 minute recap video of this project

If the screen just opens to a window with a picture of the video, then click it to play it and hear the audio.



@HankScott nice to see the images here! I checked out the G drive and that was sweet too. Lot’s of pics lol! Thanks for posting this. I think I’ll roll and test shooting over 800 grit on my Yellow tank. Looking for some nice Harley decals now.


Tremendous work @HankScott, looks like a 20 year pro did that. Big thanks too for the excellent write-up, now I have no excuses for doing flames on a future project!

Good idea on spraying intercoat first thing after you laid on the pinstripe tape, to keep bleed-through out; I heard the same thing on an instructional video from Auto-Air. After all the hard work taping up, it’d be hard to take, noticing paint creep under your stripes.


Great work keep it up your on your way.