How to Paint Phantom Ghost Flames on Your Car

by Jack Hathcoat
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SONY DSC image by Tim Osborn from

There are two approaches to painting ghost flames. The most popular is to select a color that is close to the vehicle's paint job, lay out uniform paint stripes and mist the paint into the flame area. This gives a very distinct pattern that may or may not achieve the look you want, especially after pin-stripes are applied. A more "ghostly" approach is to use templates and freely spray paint directly onto the base coat where the colors can become blended. In the art world, the first approach is called the linear method whereas the second is the painterly method.

Step 1

Decide which approach you will take in painting your ghost flames, either linear or painterly. If linear, mask off your flame design, creating symmetrical patterns on both sides which mirror one another. Either use templates or the pounce-bag method. For the pounce method, draw your flames on a large sheet of paper, perforate the drawing lines then strike the pounce-bag on the surface, getting chalk into the tiny holes. Be sure to flip the paper over for use on the opposite side of the vehicle to create a mirror image. If you go with the painterly approach, respray the entire area to be flamed in a base coat. No flame masking is required. Use flame templates to create flame edges with fades extending into the base color.

Step 2

Choose paints that are a similar hue and limit the color palette to no more than three values (slightly lighter or darker) to paint a linear-style ghost flame. The pin-stripe must also be similar. Choose a wider range of colors for the painterly style but limit the colors to a thinned-down wash effect to keep them ethereal and ghostly. Lighten overly dark tones with a finish wash of transparent white and pearl. Use the flame templates to make the flames overlap, twist and leap. They do not have to mirror from the left side to the right, but they must be balanced.

Step 3

Spray the final finish on your flame job with clear coat. Allow it to cure fully before buffing. Pin-stripe the linear technique for the job to look right. Do not pin-stripe with the painterly style.

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