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It's my first time trying my hand at spray painting my bicycle. Do I really need to spray paint with primer first?

I've already dismantled and sandpapered the bike and was thinking of giving it two coats of matte black instead of Primer.

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If you're painting bare metal you need a primer -- one speced for metal -- even if the paint claims you don't. (You can get away with spot-priming if only a few areas are down to bare metal.) If you're going over old paint you just need to clean it and sand lightly before painting, though without a primer you may experience paint incompatibility in a few cases. There are, alas, many ways the job can go bad. – Daniel R Hicks Jan 10 '14 at 13:07
Too bad the comment by Mr Hicks is a comment rather than an answer, because it's a very good one. – Gary.Ray Jan 10 '14 at 13:18
If you're painting aluminum, you definitely need a primer. – WTHarper Jan 10 '14 at 13:30
Aside from primer protecting the metal and making the paint stick more easily, primer also lets you get the color right more easily. A can of primer is like 5 bucks and a few hours of drying time, so you really have little to lose by doing it. – Batman Jan 10 '14 at 15:04
If you took it down to bare metal, you'll definitely need a primer. If you only put a key on the paint by scratching the current finish, the new paint may stick it to it quite well. – Rich Wagenknecht Jan 10 '14 at 17:41
up vote 11 down vote accepted

I have extensive experience painting metal. Here are my rules of thumb.

  1. Rough up the metal, lots of nooks and crannies ensure the primer will stick. Sanding or sandblasting is the best way to do this. As pointed out in the comments, aluminium should be roughed up "nicely" :)
  2. Clean the surface with some type of alcohol after you're done sanding. After you've cleaned it, wear gloves when handling the frame from now on. The oils on your hands can taint the paint job.
  3. I always double coat the metal with primer because metal is prone to oxidization. Effect is diminished in aluminium, but can't be too careful. If your bicycle frame is aluminium, you'll need a special type of primer. Ask the guys at the hardware store or a car repair place what they recommend.
  4. Single component paint works better on aluminium.

In conclusion:

  • Primer is necessary for all types of metal
  • Special attention is needed for aluminium
  • The amount of effort you put into the paint job will show in the final product. Do it right once and your bike will look fine for years.
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You should be careful with roughing up the metal, esp if you're painting Aluminium (see the following article by John Allen): – Batman Jan 10 '14 at 14:44
Yes, good point. I added it to the answer. Thanks Batman! – Tyler Jandreau Jan 10 '14 at 14:47
Thanks for the link Batman, It is an aluminium frame. My rims of course are iron since recently, since iron was 'stronger' but super at rusting. : S. – Bravo.I Jan 11 '14 at 3:54
Thanks Tyler! Bike's down to bare metal. Now to go get some Primer. And 'rubbing' alcohol as suggested in a tute on youtube. – Bravo.I Jan 11 '14 at 3:57

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