DIY: Simple Race Car Graphics That Can Be Done At Home

Graphics don’t have to be expensive.

There aren’t many things more satisfying than a new race car, and looking forward to rolling a brand new piece out of the trailer for opening day. When everything is nice and shiny, it is important to add some individuality to your beauty. You want your pride and joy to stand out from all the rest. I’ve come up with a few simple methods of applying graphics to your ride which you can try doing yourself.

Eye-catching graphics are a necessity on a race car.

There are many factors which make eye-catching graphics a necessity on a race car.  First, you need a good set of numbers on your hot rod. Nothing says race car better than a cool set of numbers. Most organizations bring electronic timing and scoring systems to the track – so scoring is seldom an issue. However, the announcers need to be able to see your car number to tell the crowd who is who is on the track. The fans also rely on the graphics to find their favorites. It is critical for your race car to have a set of numbers easily visible from long distances, with enough contrast so they are clearly legible from the stands in daylight and at night.

Flair

Graphics are what give your race car its flair. Color choices, fonts, styling, along with the coordination of these various elements, are all necessary factors to consider when choosing an overall scheme. An attention-getting race car will certainly be a crowd favorite. An eye-catching race car may earn you a new group of fans, or better yet, a new sponsor.

Attractive and eye-catching graphics can be done at home.

Making your sponsor proud is definitely a goal of any racer. Sponsor names of those supporting your racing efforts should be displayed clearly, accurately, and without compromising the spirit of their logo or theme. Keep in mind, most sponsors want to see their name on your car more than anyone. On-track results are good, but many are just happy to see their company represented. Off-track exposure is great too. It is vital to keep up the appearance of your race car in order to maintain the relationship and to show your appreciation for their help.

A common misconception these days is racing graphics have to be done by a professional, and they must be expensive. While it isn’t necessarily true, hiring a specialist to design and apply a set of vinyl decals to your race car is certainly easier. With a little effort and creativity you can accomplish a very effective result for a fraction of the price. I’ve managed to pull off a few creations at home, and I’ll share just how painless it was.

Have some fun with your graphics!

To start with, you need to focus on two main ingredients – color combination and number layout. These are the primary items which set the tone of your scheme. If you have several sponsors, or have a more grandiose vision for your car’s appearance, you’ll also need to determine what shapes, patterns, and arrangements appeal to you.

Either way, the first choice is the base color. For full-bodied cars, this is the color you’ll choose for the skin. Open wheel racers have to also consider the exposed frame color. As you can see in the photos, I’ve had decent results from applying vinyl straight onto unpainted white or black gel coat.

Basic Scheme

Next, determine what colors stand out from the base color to select as the color of the numbers and lettering. Don’t be afraid to try things outside of your comfort zone. You never know what contrasts may actually work well together. I recommend looking at photos online, or flipping through racing magazines for ideas. I don’t condone stealing a graphic concept from another team, but take inspiration from the ones appealing to you.

An example of simple DIY painted graphics with vinyl numbers.

Once you have an idea of the basic scheme and color combination you want on the race car, then determine how much effort you’re willing to commit in order to make your vision become a reality. This can vary from simply ordering vinyl decals online to full-blown painted graphics and hand lettering. If you’re doing this for the first time, you may want to consider something in the middle. Here are a couple of ideas not requiring a huge investment of time, money, and very little talent.

Our first example is a clean and simple look, yet bold and classy. This is accomplished by relying on a numbers package which makes a statement, enhanced by a few minor graphics or sponsor logos. This is a perfect choice for the first time do-it-yourself approach, since it doesn’t require heavy artistic experience or skill at applying graphic materials to curved surfaces. It also works nicely for competitors replacing body panels often.

These vinyl letters were designed using online software.

Pro Tip #1: The secret is to keep it simple. There are vinyl decal suppliers with computer software on their websites to allow you to design your own numbers, letters, and graphics online. The programs I have used offer a ton of variations in fonts, outlines, colors, sizes, and fill patterns. They also have pre-designed packages you can customize to your own specifications. I’ve spent hours playing on these sites, stretching numbers and adding various colored outlines. It is actually quite enjoyable and somewhat therapeutic.

Pro Tip #2: It is highly recommended for everyone to measure everything at least twice before ordering anything. We also suggest ordering numbers and graphics slightly smaller than what you think will fit. We have learned this from experience.

Also, I suggest purchasing multiple sets of decal packages. I like having a spare if I need to replace damaged body panels, or in case I screw up with the initial application. Most decals come with step-by-step instructions for wet or dry applications which are easy to follow.

If you’re feeling artistic or crafty, you can take your graphics to the next level by adding customized flames, scallops, stripes or patterns. There are a couple of very basic applications I have used with moderate success. The first involves simply ordering bulk sheets of vinyl, cutting out your own patterns, and applying them yourself. Another similar method is to create a stencil for painted graphics.

These flames were hand cut from carbon fiber looking vinyl.

Making vinyl stickers is fun and very rewarding. The sky’s the limit. Recently, I purchased sheets of vinyl with a carbon fiber appearance and cut custom flames out of the vinyl sheet. These were applied to blue body panels of our race car. It was quick, easy, and was definitely unique on the race track.

I recommend purchasing sheets much larger than you anticipate using. This gives you some extra for any race damage repair. Start by sketching the desired shapes onto cardboard to use as a template. Then hold the cardboard stencil up to the body panel and trim to fit. Once you are satisfied with the fit, trace the outline of the pattern onto the vinyl sheets and cut them out.

Pro Tip #3: Make sure to make a mirror image of one side for the other! Check and double-check. After convincing yourself that you laid everything out okay, simply cut along the lines, peel the backing, and carefully applied your creation to the race car. Boom – professional looking graphics done in a few hours on the kitchen counter.

Another tried-and-true method involves a very similar approach, except this one uses the vinyl to create a stencil used to paint graphic patterns onto the panels. The vinyl template must be cut as a mirror image of what you want painted on the panel.

These painted flames were done using a vinyl stencil over factory powder coating.

If you’re feeling really gutsy, you can try outlining the patterns with pinstriping and adding hand-painted lettering as well. Word of caution: This is not as easy as it sounds. I suggest practicing on a harmless surface if you haven’t tried it before.

If those methods seem difficult, try picking up a roll of shelving paper at the local store. This stuff is great for practicing, and makes some neat homemade stickers. Just keep in mind, if you’re racing on dirt or going to use a pressure washer to clean your race car, this stuff is made of very thin material with a weaker adhesive which won’t hold up more than a couple races.

Have some fun with shelving paper.

Masking tape works well to create a stencil. Grab a roll of masking tape and go to town covering different areas of the bodywork, then gently use a razor blade to trim to the desired shapes. Spray paint it and remove the tape when the paint has dried. Add a few coats of clear and you’re done.

Using masking tape to create a painting stencil.

The important thing is to just have fun with it. Be creative. Get crazy. Be different. Remember, the best part of DIY is you can always scrap it and start all over. In the worst case, you can just plaster the car with stickers!

About the author

Doug Bushey

Doug Bushey cut his teeth in Auto Racing by spending the majority of his youth racing Quarter-Midgets on the West Coast. Hooked on the sport ever since, he had been involved in Motorsports for over four decades.
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