First impressions matter. No parent is going to want to take their kid to a dumpy(or worse, creepy), rusty old hunk of junk ice cream truck, no matter how good your ice cream might be (well, this may not be completely true but it doesn’t take much effort to have a clean looking truck and it makes a lasting impression.)People are going to make assumptions based on how professional your paint job is and it’s your job to keep your truck looking good.
Figuring out what you want your truck to look like is one of the hardest decisions you will have to make. Once you paint it you can’t go back without loosing all the familiarity that people have built up with your old image. Here are some ideas:
This design is good because it appeals to kids and looks good without being overly complicated. It has a nice retro look and you would be able to do this on your own, though it would take a lot of time (tens of hours) to finish. I would have separated the “Ice Cream” text out a little more with a white background bubble behind the text to make it stand out more.
The “Plain Jane”
This truck is simple, elegant, and gets the job done. This look is better if you are driving around in the suburbs as opposed to the city, where this truck paint job won’t grab people’s attention as well. Notice also how the decals are positioned. Similar ice creams are grouped together, and decals with similarly colored background’s are grouped together as well.
The “American Dream”
You can’t go wrong with red white and blue. This picture looks like it is a little old but I actually really like the old school look. If you can paint your wheels like this guy did, it ads some character to your truck. If you are doing soft serve or hard ice cream I would suggest you go this route because you will appeal to more adults. This is what ice cream trucks used to look like back in the day and the illustrations on the side of the truck of the sundae and shake give this truck a lot of class. This design is great for basically anywhere; beaches, in the city, and out in the suburbs too.
This is a great example of how to make a cargo van work for you. On the creepiness scale this van is pretty close to zero. I would guess that this van would do well anywhere, and would attract a lot of adults who were interested in the organic food movement. If you are operating in a low income area this may not be the best option for you; a good spot in a city or a wealth suburb would be ideal. I would also recommend this look for someone with more money to invest and who is serving hard ice cream or soft serve, as you will be attracting more adults and people who are willing to spend more for a high quality treat.
How much do you want to spend?
A good paint job from a professional is going to set you back at least $1000. If that is too much (it was for me) you will have to paint it yourself. I painted mine using white automotive paint with a roller and a small paintbrush for the corners and detail work, and used automotive spray paint for color details. If you do it on your own and stick to a few simple colors you can get it done for under $200.
What will you need?
Automotive Paint – You can get away with spray paint but you don’t want to use spray paint for your entire truck. No matter how good you are with spray cans you will not be able to get a perfectly even coat and you will start seeing drips of paint running down the side of your truck after you put on just a little too much. I painted my truck “Fleet White” and paid about $70 for a gallon. I needed a gallon and a half for my truck, which was a full sized ice cream truck, so if you have a van or a short truck you could get away with one gallon.
Rollers – Rollers are the best way to put the paint on if you are doing it yourself on the cheap. The edges of the roller do show up when you put on the first couple coats but when you are on the last coats (usually 4th or 5th) the edges will disappear. Know, however, that the finish won’t be like the factory paint on a normal car, it will not be shiny or perfectly smooth. You get what you pay for though and if you are going for a simple design nobody will care.
Roller Trays – Get a few of these, and don’t get the cheap flimsy ones. I spilled a bunch of paint on myself because I got these 50 cent ones from Home Depot. Spent a little extra or just get one sturdy one that you can reuse.
Sanding Paper- Get the rough stuff. Make it easy on yourself and get a sanding tool or a handle to hold onto when you are sanding.
Face Mask - After the first day of painting I developed a cough from the fumes that lasted for almost a full week. I bought the mask and was surprised how cheap they are, about 15 bucks. Don’t get the paper ones that you see people wearing in smoggy cities, go for the ones that have a filter and are made out of rubber.
Clothes - *Note: I started by going against all this advice and karma punished me.* Wear shoes you don’t care about and long sleeves and jeans. Also always have gloves on. I don’t say this because I am a clean freak, its because you WILL get paint on you and it is very hard to get off. You won’t be able to rub it off when you are done with soap and water; it will stay on your skin for two or three days at least and if you are painting with red you will get weird looks. I also started wearing plastic glasses after I almost got paint splattered in my eye when I was putting my brush into a can of paint. I don’t understand how it splashed up but it did, so if I were you I would wear the glasses, especially since you are already going to be uncomfortable with the paint mask on.
How to Paint
I’ll keep this short since its not too hard….but if you aren’t an expert painter you shouldn’t skip this. Oh, and before you do anything take a picture. It will be cool when you are done to have a before and after pic.
0. Sand around the sides of the truck, but you don’t have to go crazy except on the spots where the paint has chipped off. You want to sand down those edges until they are smooth.
1. Put tape on and around anything you don’t want to get paint on. This includes door handles, the rubber edges of windows and the rubber on your wheels. Make sure you push the tape on tight because if you don’t you will pull it off and paint will have seeped underneath it. This happened to me and I had to use a wire brush and this strong noxious paint remover to get it off.
2. Put on your first coat of paint. Don’t try to put it on thick and don’t let air bubbles form. When they do form just keep on rolling over them till they go away. You are going to have to do 4 or 5 coats minimum, which yes is very annoying, but just accept it and go slow. Maybe put on some music. Don’t worry too much about leaving edge marks at the edges of the roller, they are find as long as its not raised up above the rest of the paint. Spread the paint as thin as you can and you will do fine.
3. Wait 15 to 30 mins between coats. What I did was start on one side of the truck and work my way from left to right. By the time I got to the right edge the paint on the left side was just getting dry enough to put a second coat on. You can tell its ready if you put your finger on the paint and it’s not tacky anymore.
4. Take off the paint and make any touch-ups with a small handbrush.
How to Use Spray Paint
This is the stuff I used:
It’s not cost effective to buy a full gallon of auto paint if you just need a red stripe down the side of your truck or want some bright green bumpers. There are two way to use spraypaint for smaller areas on your truck.
1. Spray for about 30 seconds into a cup or the cap of the can until you have enough liquid to paint with. Then paint it on using a handbrush. The paint is thin so you will have to do 3 coats at least using the brush, which is annoying.
2. Mask off the area with tape and use a full sheet of newspaper around the area in addition to the masking tape to isolate the area you are coloring. I tried just using masking tape to spraypaint the curved little plastic awning above my window blue and I ended up with a bunch of little particles of blue paint on the white side of my truck that I had to paint over with 5 coats of fleet white to completely hide. I did my bumpers with newspaper and didn’t have any problems. You would be surprised how wide the cone of spray for these spray cans actually is…