Tips for decorating a caravan | Painting a caravan exterior

I’ve been meaning to write this post for AGES; I’ve had so many messages from people over recent months, asking what I use for painting a caravan exterior, that I thought I’d finally jot down my method — before another year passes by.

My first DIY caravan makeover post — Tips For Decorating a Caravan — concentrated on painting and wallpapering a caravan interior, so this next instalment concentrates on the outside!

DECORATING A CARAVAN » PART 2

Painting a Caravan Exterior:

When we were renovating Dolly 1, I did a little bit of research on paint suitable for caravan exterior; seeking the advice from other caravan enthusiasts in particular. I’d read on various forums that whilst standard  gloss paint may seem like a good idea on the face of things (and look good initially) I was warned that it may crack and peel over time.

So after speaking to various train, boat and motor enthusiasts, I decided to do as they all suggested and use Tekaloid — or coach enamel.

Apparently Tekaloid 318 is ‘a superior coach paint with excellent flow characteristics and is particularly suitable for brush application but can be sprayed. It has excellent gloss and colour stability, a superb appearance and durability’.

Sounds great doesn’t it?

Also a bonus that you can get it mixed to any colour you choose.

I had a look online and found a fab company called Avenue Online who sell coach paint (amongst other things), mixed to order.

You can imagine my joy when the little pots of Tekaloid paint arrived, in exactly the right shade of powder-blue that I’d picked from my Pantone book.

Definitely a case of easier said than done

When it came to painting with said coach enamel, all the promise of ‘excellent flow’ kind of fell flat.

All the years that I’ve been using paint — everything from oils, enamel, gouache and watercolour — to emulsion, gloss, eggshell and chalkpaint — I have never come across anything that behaves quite like Tekaloid.

For a start, you can’t paint the middle then cut in the edges afterwards (or vice versa); if you do, you’re left with a really uneven texture — you can almost see the division between the different coats.

And if you paint in wind or sun, you get really odd strands of paint — almost like spun sugar — coming off your brush. It’s bizarre.

That said, it does give a lovely high gloss finish and it’s tough and flexible, so no cracking or peeling. Even after a few years — that I can vouch for.

So would I use it again?

Yes.

And I did!

When we bought Dolly 2, I decided that I’d use the same paint but — using the knowledge that I’d gleaned from Dolly 1’s makeover — a different method to apply it.

With Dolly 1, I’d used a brush for the edges and filled the middle in with a roller.

I was left with (what I thought was) a very visible paint line around the edge; the paint layers didn’t merge at all, they literally just sat on top of each other.

So with Dolly 2, it was all about the prep.

This is what I did:

Method For Painting a Caravan Exterior

1. First, I gave the paintwork a good wash, using sugar soap, to get as much grime and grease off as possible.

2. Then I gave a really, really light sand (medium grade sandpaper) to the surface of the areas I planned to paint.

Dolly 2 before her mammoth caravan makeover! ABI Tristar — before painting
Dolly 2 before her mammoth caravan makeover!
Tips for decorating a caravan and Painting a caravan exterior. This pic shows Dolly The Caravan before her makeover. ABI Tristar.
Definitely no curb appeal

3. We removed vent covers, handles — and any other bits and pieces that could be taken off. These were sprayed separately with Pinty Evolution.

Removing vent covers makes it easier to paint a caravan exterior
Taking off vent covers etc makes it easier to paint the caravan exterior

4. Next, I masked off the edges of any areas that I didn’t want to paint with automotive masking tape.

This stuff is BRILLIANT. It’s really flexible, low tack and gives a lovely clean, crisp edge, when you peel it back after painting. It’s absolutely key to use this — rather than standard decorators masking tape.

5. Once all the edges were masked off, I began painting the outside of the caravan with the Tekaloid coach paint.

This time, I used a mini gloss roller (make sure you definitely use the foam gloss kind, not the hairy emulsion ones!!) to fill in between where I’d masked, stroking over the joins with a soft decorators paintbrush to get a lovely even finish.

This worked SO much better than trying to paint the middles and cut in the edges separately!!!

Hand-painted coach paint is never going to give the same modern, professional finish as vehicle spray  paint; but for a vintage caravan look — which I wanted for Dolly 1 and Dolly 2 — hand painted coach enamel is, by far, the best option.

Granted, it’s not going to be totally perfect and without it’s defects, but that’s how people used to paint caravans in years gone by, and the flaws and imperfections are part of the charm.

6. I let the paint cure for a full 24 hours before painting a second coat. If I’d had more time, I think I’d have left it even longer between coats. We don’t have a garage — or covered space — large enough to fit Dolly though, so painting the caravan exterior took place over a dry bank holiday weekend.

Making sure that the weather is going to play ball is imperative — you definitely dont want water marks on your new paintwork!

7. After a couple of hours, I removed the masking tape.

Dolly the yellow and white caravan
The yellow paintwork after removing the masking tape! A million miles better than before.

7. I waited a couple of weeks before painting the white section.

I used a window scraper to remove the Tristar decals and ‘go faster’ stripes, and followed the same procedure as above; sanding the area, before masking it off and painting the areas with a gloss roller.

From Beige to Beautiful

Whilst a sunny yellow caravan may not be everyone’s cuppa, it’s definitely ours!

But — even before I painted Dolly 2 — we’d agreed that the caravan makeover wasn’t going to stop at just the paintwork.

I had designed some vinyl decals and the next stage was to find a company to make them. But more on that in another post.

Our little yellow and white caravan! Dolly the caravan after her makeover.
Dolly after her makeover!

For now, this was a good start.

Just to reiterate, hand painting a caravan is never going to be a match for spray-paint.

If you want an unblemished, modern paint finish — similar to that of current day vehicles — get it done professionally.

But if you’re wanting to renovate a vintage caravan — or give your ugly old caravan a new look, coach paint is a brilliant option.

Both our caravans were in a pretty sorry state when we first bought them and it was never my intention to spend lots of money on renovating them.

But I did want to give them a little makeover and give them the look and feel of a vintage caravan. I’m so glad I didn’t go down the route of painting the caravans with exterior gloss. I’ve spoken to so many people recently who’ve done this and said that it’s cracked over time and has ended up looking really awful.

Tekaloid — or coach paint — has been designed for this job; it’s what people have used for donkeys years. The difference these days is, you can get it in literally every colour under the sun.

It’s definitely a tricky paint to work with but it gives a brilliantly, shiny finish that protects the van and will last for years and years.

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Painting tips: what I used to give my caravan a vintage caravan makeover, including paint to use on a caravan exterior

Painting tips: what I used to give my caravan a vintage caravan makeover, including paint to use on a caravan exterior

About Caro Davies

Caro Davies art directed fashion and interiors before leaving the world of design to pursue a career in social media. She can now be found chasing the light — and two small twin boys.

4 thoughts on “Tips for decorating a caravan | Painting a caravan exterior

  1. Hello! I love your caravan makeovers, you have inspired me to finally be brave enough to do the exterior of our old Caravan!! I done the interior a few years ago and is still an ongoing project. So, I was wondering, before you done the first coat of exterior paint, did you not do an undercoat first? Or is there no need for an under coat with Tekaloid?
    Many Thanks Caroline

    1. Hi Caroline! Fab news — it’s really exciting having a caravan project in the pipeline!

      I painted both vans exactly as I said in my post; gave a light sand to the surface and painted directly on — giving two coats.

      If you want to undercoat your van, I guess it would probably give a better finish but — as I said in my post — the finish of our van is by no way perfect and without it’s defects, but the flaws and imperfections are part of the charm.

      Good luck!

  2. thank you for this. I have bought a old caravan, 1992 , I think, and it looks tired, worn and ugly. I was going to vinyl wrap it, but after looking at videos, I decided not to, apparantly its not a good option . Then I thought, just paint it, but what with? so this was really helpful. I love what you have done, and the colours are not overwhelming, but it looks like new, and and nice and cheery.

    1. Hi Kelly! Thanks so much for your lovely message!

      I thought of vinyl wrapping Dolly, originally, but I just couldn’t justify the cost — it wouldn’t have been worth it for us. Painting the exterior has definitely given her a new lease of life — even if the finish isn’t particularly flawless! If we had a more expensive/more modern van, I might consider getting it professionally sprayed, but Dolly is also 1992 and it just wasn’t worth the outlay. The Tekaloid is a great and inexpensive option! :)

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