I reckon most folks put more effort into lure painting than any other aspect of lure making – and more time and money gets wasted on it, too. And while the whole process can be lots of a lot of fun and very rewarding, it can also be incredibly frustrating.
For newbies, there’s a lot to learn, and tons of ways to burn your time and money. Even for seasoned lure makers there are plenty of pitfalls.
So to start your lure painting off on the right foot, today’s article will give an overview of the process and some links to further resources. We’ll take a brief look at the equipment and materials you’ll need. And we’ll touch on some lure painting techniques, too.
Lure Painting Secret #1: Airbrushes
Using an artists brush and a few pots of poster paint is an ok way to get started at wooden lure making. But for professional looking DIY lures you’ll need to invest in a decent quality airbrush and a few accessories.
Now, you don’t need to mortgage the ranch to buy an airbrush, we’re lure makers not graphic artists. But it’s worth buying the best quality you can afford. You’ll get better results, enjoy your lure painting more and it will be cheaper in the long run.
For your first airbrush, I suggest a double action, internal mix, gravity feed model with a nozzle size of 0.30 to 0.35 mm. Over the years I’ve found that this combination of features gives the best all-round performance. It makes base coating pretty fast while still allowing you to get some pretty awesome fine detail. And it handles the metallic and pearlescent products we love to use in lure painting.
There are lots of cheap and nasty airbrushes on the market these days. Ebay and amazon are littered with them. But I recommend giving them a miss and going with a quality brand. Iwata is by far my preference, but Paasche, Harder Steenbeck and Badger also make some pretty reasonable airbrushes.
For more information about the ins and outs of airbrushes for lure painting, check out my article 7 Tips For Choosing An Airbrush For Painting Fishing Lures. My all-time favorite airbrush for lure painting is the Iwata HP-C Plus, but if you need cheaper option the Neo CN is almost as good
Lure Painting Secret #2: Paints
Getting yourself a good quality airbrush and putting rubbish paint through it is like buying a Ferrari and filling the tank with diesel. It just doesn’t make sense.
Opinions vary, but in my view it’s hard to go past water based airbrush acrylics. These paints are especially formulated to maximize the performance of your airbrush. The pigments are ground ultra fine to pass through a small nozzle. And the solvents keep the paint flowing without clogging the airbrush.
The other reason I recommend water based airbrush acrylics is that they are non toxic, non flammable and low odor. This makes them suitable for use around home without having to worry about the kids or the family dog falling sick.
For more information on the paint products I use, check out my article on the best paint for fishing lures.
Lure Painting Secret #3: Wood Preparation
Like most forms of painting, the preparation you do before you pick up an airbrush determines the final quality and durability of your lures. And ironically, water is the enemy. In fact, moisture under the paint surface is the #1 cause of any paint failure, not just lure paint.
Acrylic paints are porous and raw wood is like a sponge, so good preparation of your lure bodies is critical if your lures are going to last. Don’t reply on clear coat, it’s just the final barrier to moisture. A single chip or crack can allow enough water in to destroy a lure.
Ideally, your raw lure blanks should also be hardened against dents and to fill grain and imperfections. If you’re using a timber like cedar that contains tannin, it’s important that the product you use will seals that in too. Otherwise you may find ugly brown splotches appearing in the paint in the days or weeks after the lure is clear coated.
There are various options for treating the raw wood, but my preference is Envirotex Lite. As a single product, it can seal, waterproof, harden and fill your raw wood lure bodies. You can check out my process for treating raw wood blanks for more information.
Lure Painting Secret #4: Paint Atomization
Atomization is the conversion of liquid paint into a fine mist by the airbrush. And basically, the finer the droplets of paint in the mist, the better. Large or randomly sized droplets give a lure a grainy appearance. I usually explain it as being like the difference between a newsprint picture and a glossy magazine one.
When it comes to atomization, there are 3 factors that all interact :
- Paint viscocity. Airbrush paints are concentrated and are not designed to be used straight from the bottle. For lure painting we’re using small nozzle sizes, so they need to be properly thinned using the recommended reducer. Don’t be tempted to use windex or water to thin airbrush paint, it’s false economy and affects paint performance and durability.
- Air pressure. Higher air pressure gives better atomization of the paint. And rather than reduce their paint, many newbies simply crank up the air pressure. That’s a mistake because it reduces the control you have over paint delivery and makes it impossible to get good results with stencils and masks.
- Airbrush quality. One of the invisible features of quality airbrushes is the design and baffling in the internal chambers. Often you’ll struggle to get good atomization with a cheap airbrush, even if the paint is thin and the air pressure is reasonably high. It’s one of many reasons I recommend starting your lure painting adventure with a good quality one!
Lure Painting Secret #5: Airbrush Sealer
This step in the lure painting process should’t be confused with sealing the raw wood (Lure Painting Secret #3, above). That process is about waterproofing your wood and giving it a smooth, hard, non porous surface to paint.
Airbrush sealer is about spraying a thin coat that helps the color coats get good adhesion on the lure surface. I like to think of it as a layer of glue between the paint and the lure. I normally find that two or three light coats are all I need, then it’s time to move on to base colors.
Lure Painting Secret #6: Transparent Paints For Detail
When I first heard about transparent paints I couldn’t understand the point. Why would I need a paint that was see-through?
These days I consider transparent paints to be one of the most useful and versatile products in my lure painting arsenal. In fact, I have more transparent colors than just about all of the others combined. I use them for color transitions, mixing new colors, over foil and metallic bodies. And I use them to tint airbrush sealer, too.
But one of the most valuable applications of transparent paints is for detail painting……
I find transparent paints are brilliant for stencil and mask work, scaling and freehand detail because they’re thinner than opaque paints. With properly reduced transparent colors I get near perfect atomization at super low air pressures. This is what gives me the paint control I need to build color in multiple layers and make adjustments along the way.
Lure Painting Secret #7: Quality Clear Coats
I’ve always found airbrush acrylics to be soft and porous. Unless you apply a decent clear coat they probably won’t last more than a few casts.
Over the years I’ve tried dozens of clear coating options. I’ve found a few that are awesome, plenty that are ok, and a few complete failures! Here are the most popular options among lure makers today:
- Moisture Cure Urethane. Personally, I’m not a great fan of these products. I don’t like their toxicity. And their shelf life in humid climates is too short – even when I mess about with bloxygen to purge the moisture out. Commonly used products are flooring urethanes, KBS Diamond Clear and Glisten PC.
- Automotive 2 Packs. Again, I don’t like the toxicity of these catalysed polyurethanes. And my personal experience is that they are too hard and brittle, resulting in cracks when you smack them against pylons and such.
- Epoxies. There are a few of these around. Devcon 2K is often used in lure painting. Personally, I prefer Envirotex Lite, as I find it’s clearer, easier to work with and less prone to both yellowing and cracking.
Sadly, in all my years of lure making I’ve never yet found the perfect clear coat for lure painting. Envirotex Lite gives a near perfect result, but it’s tricky and time consuming to use. Still, for my money it’s the best of a bad lot!
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