Surfboard Colorwork: Paint / Airbrush vs. Resin Tint

COLORWORK. This is an important aspect of your surfboard when it comes to achieving your desired aesthetic as well as considering the long-term durability of your custom surfboard. There are multiple ways of applying color onto your board: paint (also called airbrushing or paint spray), resin tint, printed graphics, resin panels etc. Here I’ll primarily be tackling the main two: paint versus resin tints. We’ll get into what the differences are, the pros/cons of each and how it affects the durability of your board.

Paint is pretty much as simple as it sounds. Typically after shaping is finished and before the glassing process begins, acrylic paint is applied directly on top of the finished foam shape and lays underneath all the fiberglass & resin. The biggest ‘pro‘ of paint is that there aren’t really any layout limitations since it’s done on the blank slate of finished foam and it’s done in its own individual phase. So masking tape can be used to mask off areas, stripes, shapes, etc and virtually any layout, design, etc of color can be achieved. At least on my boards, I typically apply paint via HVLP spray guns to ensure the thinnest layer of paint possible is applied, and not hand-painted which can apply too much paint and degrade the strength of your board as well as add unnecessary weight. Sprays are also how perfect gradient fades are achieved, which simply can’t be achieved with resin tints, at least not nearly as well or cleanly as paint sprays. The rails can be taped off and painted, or painted with a glow fade.

Here’s just a few paint sprays I’ve done:

So paint can certainly be beautiful and/or badass. Paint does have some one important ‘con‘ to consider though, and that’s a potential effect on your board’s long-term durability. That layer of paint sits between the fiberglass and foam, so the penetration of resin into the foam and therefore purchase of the glass to foam, or glass to foam bond strength, is inherently weakened and can result in easier delamination, where the fiberglass can release or pull away from the foam. Even with a super proper & professional ultra-thin sprayed paint, it’s just an inherent property of paint that needs to be recognized. Some builders will apply paint on the outside of a finished sanded surfboard to try to get around that, but that requires either a clear coat or extra coat of resin that just results in extra weight, resin-to-resin bonding issues, etc. So it’s generally best for that paint to be right on the foam.

You’ll notice the paint example boards in the gallery above nearly are all in FocusFlex Tech, or more importantly for this case in an epoxy resin construction. I find that the long-term durability is far less affected by paint with epoxy resin than traditional PU/PE construction with polyester resin. Epoxy just has much more of an ability to bond with paint. So much less of a concern in my experience with epoxy boards, and I do really like sprays with performance shortboards – I think they just look badass especially with my FocusFlex Tech construction.

I generally really try and steer my customers away from paint and PU/PE construction whenever possible for durability reasons. If you are going to request paint on a PU/PE board, I’d highly recommend keeping it to just the rails where it’s far less of a durability concern.

Paint also tends to have a 2-dimensional or flatter appearance, which is neither here nor there, just a point to recognize aesthetically.

Resin tints are by far my preferred method of coloration particularly & especially for PU/PE construction boards. There is no paint or other medium that is added to a board in an additional step compared to a “plain white (or clear)” board. Instead, liquid or paste tints, pigments and/or dyes are added to the clear resin which is then absorbed by the fiberglass cloth & foam. The ‘pros‘ are led off by absolutely no degradation of strength or durability whatsoever assuming professional construction (tinted resin does need to be treated differently during construction and if it isn’t can degrade the final strength, but that’s no concern here!). So that’s huge in knowing your board will be as strong & durable as possible. Beyond that, something really cool & special is that the coloration is naturally highlighting the fiberglass on the board & organically making the overlapping layers of cloth visible via color. So super clean & professional resin tinted surfboards will look super clean & professional, but less-than-stellar glasswork will be called out by resin tints and look sloppy. I’m especially proud of my clean & tidy resin work I strive for!

Most surfboards have 1 full layer of cloth on the bottom of the board that wraps a couple inches around the rail and onto the deck, called the deck lap, and then 2 layers of cloth on the deck, one of which wraps a couple inches onto the bottom, called the bottom lap. On a well-built clear board, those overlapping layers aren’t typically visible unless Volan cloth is used. But when doing resin tints, those overlapping layers of cloth become apparent. So a board that has a fin box patch plus a tail or deck patch, even when glassed with a single color resin tint, will have upwards of a dozen hues of the same color naturally & organically from overlapping layers of fiberglass. The more layers of glass overlapping in an area, the deeper the hue of color. Usually I do cutlaps, where I’ll mask off the laps with masking tape and very carefully & cleanly cut the edge my hand with a razor blade once the resin has kicked but not fully cured. Absolutely beautiful.

Unlike paint, translucent resin tints tend to have a more 3-dimension, layered & gem-like quality to their appearance. Opaque resin tints can look more 2-dimensional and almost plastic-like. Most of my customers tend to prefer translucent resin tints, but opaque resin tints are cool too and having both interplay on the same board can have some rad & unique results. No right or wrong or better or worse, all just different artwork to be held in the eyes of the beholder!

The main “con” compared to paint is that, since it isn’t done in its own phase and rather is done in conjunction with the fiberglassing process, it doesn’t have unlimited layout and things like those perfect gradients or glow fades aren’t quite possible. However there are TONS AND TONS of possibilities from the cleanest, classic aesthetics to beautiful marbleized swirls to crazy abstracts. So while there may be more physical limitations, there are still seemingly endless possibilities.

Here’s some examples of resin tints (I tried to put the decks & bottoms of each to visualize the layers of fiberglass):

There are other additions such as pin lines, inlays, resin panels & more that we’ll dive into in another post.

It may seem as though I vastly prefer resin tints, and I suppose I do in general, especially since I’m so dedicated so building not only the best surfing & performing boards but also the most durable & long-lasting. But paint sprays do have their place and look incredible in their own way. And again, we’re talking about artwork & aesthetics which is all personal preference, and my preferences change & evolve over time. Granted I’ve always loved resin tints and how special they are, but when I first started building boards I loved messy, abstract resin tints with bright, vibrant colors and lots of contrast. Then onto neatly done, organized resin swirls. After a couple years that evolved into almost the opposite, preferring clean single color dark resin tints. Then that evolved to lighter resin tints with a single focal point of contrast. I still am somewhat in that phase, but now also love light/dark contrast as well as low-contrast subtle tonal swirls & minimalist aesthetics. At least all for my own personal boards. The toughest part is making a choice since our colorwork ideas far outweigh the number of boards we own!

There are many, many more examples to be seen on my page. Be sure to show your support by following, liking & commenting on your favorites!

Have a rad day!
-Davey