where they will see them often, ensuring that they can live
with their selected design direction.
Here are a few pointers for designing di;erent ele-
ments of your paint scheme:
Straight lines: If straight lines are your style, keep
them thin and elegant to accentuate the aircraft and make
it look sleeker and longer. Too wide, and the aircraft will
look short. Too thin, and they will merge together visually
as you move away from the aircraft.
Curves: ;e most common mistake in designing
curved stripes is that they tend to be too skinny. Do not be
afraid to go a little bolder. Also, avoid kinks (sudden
changes in radius) and flat spots in your curved lines, as
they are what will catch the eye.
Split bases: It is common to see aircraft painted in two
separate base colors, most typically a dark or strong color
and white. When the dark color is on the bottom, it o;ers
the advantage of hiding the oil and stains on the underside
of the aircraft, allowing you to fly longer between washes.
Tail, wingtips, and wheelpants: ;ink of
a paint scheme like a suit. ;e tail, wingtips,
and wheelpants are like the shirt, tie, and shoes. Everything
should match and tie into the
Once the customer has settled on the design he or she
wants, the engineering phase of the work begins. ;is
entails conversion of a three-view of the airplane into
detailed instructions that will be used by the customer’s
paint shop. It’s one thing to draw a scheme onto a flat piece
of paper, and quite another to create the paint masks or
decals that will be applied to curved surfaces that are full of
holes, latches, antennas, bumps and other irregularities. We
create our own computer models of all the aircraft we deal
with, and include important details such as rivet and bolt
heads, lap joints, various openings and fairings. We try to
adjust the scheme to avoid the most di;cult of these features, for instance, by not having the edge of stripes or
letters along lap joints of the surface aluminum. ;e result
of the engineering phase of our work is a packet of color
prints with all the details the paint shop will need. If the
shop requests it, we can provide all the paint masks, too.
When it comes to the choice of paint, Scheme recommends that our clients “marry” a paint shop, not a
particular paint manufacturer. A good shop will have built
up experience with a particular paint and is unlikely to
change to something else. Based on our experiences, we
recommend a number of shops around the country that
have given our clients good service; a list is found on our
website. Prices vary tremendously. With a typical scheme, I
would assume an RV to cost between $9K and $12k.
Similarly, a C172/Cherokee 180 type should be between
$10.5K and $13K. You can certainly find cheaper, but often
quality is compromised. Except for a new homebuilt, these
costs include stripping and metal prep.
Our last advice—obtain a color chart for the paints
used by your paint shop to assist you in determining the
exact colors for your aircraft. Err on the dark side when
choosing colors, as paint will lighten up over a large
surface. Look at the chips in natural sunlight to see the
subtleties between colors, and make sure you have su;-
cient contrast between colors for proper e;ect.
TIPS FROM AIRCRAFT OWNERS
As the driver of the AirVenture vintage tour tram for the
past 23 years, Chip Davis has gained an appreciation for
the di;erence a well-designed paint scheme can make. His
own plane, a white 1960 Cessna 172A with faded orange
and brown stripes, was the butt of jokes at the grass strip
where it was tied down before he had it painted.
When I acquired N7502T in 1997, it was in excellent condition, was fully instrument flight rules—equipped, was
regularly flown, and had what appeared to be a new interior and a paint job only a few years old. When it came
time for a new paint job, I decided to stick with an original
scheme. I knew that Cessna employed some talented
designers back in 1959. How could you go wrong with the
original factory colors and layout?
Gene Soucy’s ShowCat is a good example of how an exciting paints scheme can turn a utilitarian aircraft—the Grumman AgCat crop duster—into a head-turner. Soucy’s wing walker, Teresa Stokes, an award-wining aviation artist, designed the scheme.