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Painting a shipping container exterior goes a long way to ensure it looks sleek and professional. Shipping container paint is especially important if the unit acts as a customer-facing structure or investor meeting room. Most modified shipping container manufacturers, including us here at Falcon Structures, can paint the exterior of your container for you. However, if you plan to tackle container painting on your own, follow these guidelines to make sure you get the job done correctly.
The best paint for your shipping container depends on your intended use. We recommend using a waterborne paint system which is substantially better for the environment with lower VOC levels and—with proper preparation and quality controls—is equivalent or better at preventing rust compared to an oil-based system.
Industrial-grade alkyd enamel paint is also an option. This hard, shiny finish will last five to ten years. Plus, alkyd enamels are relatively inexpensive and forgiving to work with.
Use acrylic paint if you plan to paint a mural on the container. While acrylic paints may not have the longevity or shine of alkyd enamel, they have richer colors and additional coats of paint will have better adhesion. Acrylics are much easier to paint over with art and new colors.
Polyurethane paint lasts for many years but is more appropriate for heavy industrial use than basic retail and storage functions. The chemicals involved tend to be more hazardous, and there may be special procedures for mixing and application. If you have special circumstances that call for polyurethane paint, we recommend consulting a professional for its application.
We don’t recommend sandblasting your container for a couple of reasons. One, sandblasting an entire container becomes very expensive. Two, sandblasting strips off a lot of great protection. Not only does sandblasting remove a very high-quality marine-grade paint, but it also removes the protective zinc coating that prevents rust. It’s unlikely that a home paint job is going to offer the same protection as the original coating. Instead, prime and paint over the existing marine paint.
Prepare your shipping container for paint by paying special attention to rust patches and pressure wash off any dirt and dust. Sand rust patches down with a wire wheel and then spray a rust-inhibiting primer over the affected area.
We highly recommend painting your shipping container on a dry, sunny morning. Cool damp weather can prevent your paint from properly setting. Even containers painted on a warm afternoon risk being covered in dew before the paint sets. In some cases, water can even become trapped beneath the paint’s surface creating ugly, blister-like pockets.
On that perfect morning, when the container is completely dry, you can either roll or spray your paint onto the container. You will likely have to apply a primer coat. Consult with your paint vendor to determine how long the primer coat should dry before applying the pigmented layer—you may need to wait an entire day. Also, be sure to get a thick coating of primer to ensure the topcoat with your color sticks to the container.
Over time, rust will inevitably form on your container, but you can keep it to a minimum by treating rust patches as they appear. Like paint prep, you should sand down rusted patches and then apply rust-inhibiting primer to the affected area. For a clean touch-up, mask off the surrounding unaffected area before priming and painting. You can gently sand down the edges of the little square that may appear due to the additional layer of paint.
If your container has an alkyd enamel base, there’s a good chance the graffiti paint won’t stick very well, and it’s worth trying a basic graffiti removal product from a hardware store. You may get lucky and manage to scrub off the graffiti.
If the graffiti resists cleaning solutions, your options will depend on your container’s base paint. If the container has acrylic paint, as we recommended for murals, it’s probably easiest to paint over the tagging. If you’re painting over graffiti on an alkyd enamel base, there’s some extra work. To get proper paint adhesion, you’re going to have to roughen the affected area with sanding, and then reapply your primer and pigmented topcoat.
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