One of the better parts of building a custom bike (after riding it…!) is to get a little satisfaction from your work. A great way to do this is by painting your bike, and one of the most prominent parts is the gas tank. Some people just go to a paint shop and let someone else do it, but I prefer doing it myself. Not only by the fact that it’s a lot cheaper; when your ride is ready it will remind you every time you’ve painted it yourself.

And if you follow these steps, I’m sure you’ll get a lot of satisfaction ;).

Please note that these are the particular steps I took and that I’ve used rattle cans. There are a lot of different ways and some people have some other tips and trick, but these steps gave me the result of a professional looking paint job!

Paint Motorcycle Gas Tank: What do You Need?

In this specific situation we’re stripping down the gas tank to bare metal. For this you need:

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  • Different grids of sanding paper: from about 100 to 1500 (rough for removing old layers, fine (wet) for sanding between layers)
  • Different cloths: dry and wet
  • Buffing cloth and wax
  • Sanding block/pad
  • Masking tape
  • Thinner or other paint remover (eg. acetone)
  • Automotive primer
  • Automotive paint
  • Automotive clear coat/finish
  • A place to spray and dry
  • Patience…


If your gas tank is in a pretty good shape you also can choose to sand it down to it’s original primer. In this case you can forget about thinner and rough sanding paper (only 400 and up for removing the color layer).

Always read and follow the instructions from the products u use, especially with primer, paint and coating! 

Quick process overview

  1. Remove Gas Tank
  2. Remove Old Paint or Rust
  3. Make it Smooth…
  4. Bringing on Primer Coats
  5. Bringing on Color Coats
  6. Finish with Clear Coat

Preparing the Gas Tank for Your Paint Job

A good preparation is everything when it comes to painting. Painting is about 70% of preparation and 30% of actual spraying chemicals on a surface!

Step 1: Remove Gas Tank

This sounds a bit obvious, but it starts with removing the gas tank from your bike. Before you remove it, be sure that there is no fuel left. If you have fuel left in the tank:

  1. grab a jerrycan (with a funnel)
  2. close fuel valve(s)
  3. remove fuel lines from the carburetors and direct them to the funnel
  4. open the fuel valve(s)

When most of the fuel is removed you need to close the valve(s) so you can remove the gas tank off the bike. When there is still some fuel left, you can hold the tank above the funnel and reopen the valves again.

When the tank is off: remove the gas cap and valve(s) and protect the openings. You can also just protect them by wrapping them in tape.

Step 2: Remove Old Paint or Rust

Now it’s time to remove the old paint or rust or everything else whats on the tank what you don’t want there…

For this you need some rough sanding paper (100 – 200 grit) and a sanding block. So roll up your sleeves, find a good position and start sanding with the lowest grit, moving up to the 200 grit and sanding block. Sand, sand, sand till you’ll see the original primer and have a nice and smooth surface. Please note that this takes a while!

If the tank is in good condition without rust or bits in it, you can choose to work only to the original primer and start from here. Please note that ‘some say’ that not every primer/paint will ‘love’ the old primer and that they not attach properly. If you want to strip it down to the bare metal: grab the thinner (or acetone) and a dry cloth and make sure that you’re in a well ventilated area.

Put some thinner on the cloth and rub the tank in. Let the thinner ‘work’ for a couple of minutes and start sanding again. You’ll see that the paint/primer is getting off more easy. Repeat this until you’re only see bare metal.

Tip: also check the inside of your gas tank! If it’s dirty/rusty, check out this video how to clean the inside of your tank.

Step 3: Make it Smooth…

When you’re down to the original primer or bare metal, it’s time to give the surface a last sanding job to make the surface smooth. If you still have bits, nuts and dents you will have to use some metal filler/putty. You can not only see if the surface is smooth, but you’ll also need to FEEL it with your hands. Use a fine grit (+800) to smoothen the surface.

Painting Your Motorcycle Gas Tank

Now it’s time for the fun part! As mentioned before, the biggest part of the paint job is the preparation, but now you can actually start spraying (but still needs a little sanding…!).

Step 4: Bringing on the Primer coats

Important: only use automotive spray paint
Important: keep a good spray distance; 8 to 10 inches away from the surface

After the hours of sanding and smoothening it’s time for your first layers of primer coats! You need a minimum of 3 layers, but 4 or 5 is better. Every layer should be applied like this:

  1. 1st light spray, covering 30% of the surface
  2. 2nd light spray, covering 80 – 90% of the surface
  3. 3rd light spray, covering 100% of the surface

Let this first layer dry for about 30 minutes (please be sure to follow the instructions on the can) and then repeat this process for every layer. After your last layer: let it dry for a 1 or 2 days (the longer, the better).

Step 5: Bringing on the Color coats

When your primer coats have dried for at least 1 day, it’s time to bring some color on your gas tank! The technique is pretty much the same as with the primer coats. Before you start painting, make sure that the surface is clean. For this you can use the wet and dry cloths.

When you’ve hit a minimum of 3 layers (remember: 4 or 5 is recommended) it’s time to let it dry for a couple of days; the longer, the better!

If you want to bring on details or striping, this is the moment. I personally don’t have any experience with this, but maybe this instruction will help… 

Step 6: Finish with Clear Coat

The clear coat gives your paint job extra protection. But before you can start with the clear coat, it’s time to grab your sanding paper/block again! for this final round of sanding, make sure u use a fine grit (+1000) and do it with water (wet sanding). Most important in this step is to do it gentle, you don’t want to sand off the color coats, it’s just to rub of dust and bits. Bring on 1 or 2 layers, using the same technique as with the primer and color coats. And then: let it dry again!

Now you have 2 choices:

  1. you’re ready: put the gas tank back on your bike and enjoy, OR;
  2. you want to take the extra mile and polish the gas tank for some extra shiny effect.

The extra mile? Grab your sanding gear (very fine grit, wet. And yes: this is the last time!). Just remove dust and bits and grab your buffing cloth and wax. Think of Karate Kid’s Mister Miyagi: wax on, wax off. This extra step will give a very nice and super shiny effect. Cool huh?!

Finally… Enjoy!

And that’s it! I hope that this post will help and inspire you to paint your motorcycle gas tank yourself. Remember that there are a lot of other different ways and that I’ve excluded specific instructions for striping or details. But if you have some constructive feedback or some more tips: please let me know!

Need a step by step building plan for your café racer? Check out this post!

By Published On: September 14, 2015Categories: Articles10 Comments on How to Paint a Motorcycle Gas Tank6.7 min readViews: 1249

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About the Author: Ron Betist

Ron Betist grew up with motorcycles with a father heading the Amsterdam motorcycle police force. He has been riding (legally) for over 40 years and motorcycles are his true passion. With a life-long career in marketing and sales he has a huge international network. He joined as a contributor at BikeBrewers in 2017 to spread his word about bikes with the rest of the world.


  1. Gary Roberts July 2, 2016 at 9:18 am - Reply

    The gas tank respray sounds great and I did it but when I put petrol in and spilt some on the tank,,,the paint ran everywhere. What did I do wrong? What do I put on the sprayed tank that is petrol resistant?

    • Joeri July 2, 2016 at 9:48 am - Reply

      Hi Gary,

      That’s a bummer man…

      Sounds to me like the paint was not “hard” enough. How many layers of primer, paint and clear coat did you apply? And how much time was between them?

      What paint did you use?


  2. Tom Adams May 12, 2017 at 1:14 pm - Reply

    Do you sand after the primer to make it smooth for paint? Nothing listed here.

    • Joeri May 15, 2017 at 4:20 am - Reply

      Hi Andrew,

      That’s up to you. I didn’t do it, but a quick sand (+1200g) wouldn’t harm the surface.

      Good luck!

  3. Randy Barger October 20, 2018 at 7:12 pm - Reply

    Thanks for your instructions. I am about to tackle this myself. I had the tank front and rear FENDER and the side covers painted on my 04 Harley Davidson Electra glide Classic FLHTCI a couple of years ago. I went to the school and it looked like the students did a good job sanding & priming everything. I had paid a guy $500.00 to take the bike apart & put it back together the pieces once it was painted. Because of an earlier wreak I had bought new saddlebags inner &outer fairing already Vivid Black so I didn’t get any of that stuff painted. Also put a 60 dollar truck on it. This guy at the school called me at about 11am & said come get your parts. I had bought some Street glide badges for the tank. When I got there he was putting them on the tank. I ask him how much money he wanted after always telling me he was not going to charge me anything because it was a school project. Anyway he said yeah I’ll take $150.00.When I got the parts back to the guy who tore it down. He said dam there still wet & he barely used any paint no clear coat. But I must say it did look good. Now 2 years later it looks terrible. So I am going to paint it this time myself. With spray cans. I realize I will have to rough up the outer fairing & saddlebags. Wish me luck & thanks for your step by step instructions. P.S. I took the Trunk off I’m going for the Street glide look. Randy Barger.

  4. Jester February 15, 2019 at 1:23 am - Reply

    These are good instructions for newbs and do-it-yourselfers, As a tip as well if you have a used tank see if you have an ultrasonic shop near you, some offer chemical dips and will charge $90 total. (pick it up an hour or so later) The tank will come out spotless and once dry it needs primer asap otherwise it starts to oxidize. You can also get them to chemically dip it to a shotgun metal (no primer required) it will halt oxidization and you can clear coat it once dry and it looks sick.

    something all should consider as well is that one of the first things everyone notices with a motorcycle is the paint job, unless your a pro get a pro to do it, especially if your concerned about how it looks. It can make or break a build, or the overall perception of your bike.. if your not concerned about the looks do it yourself chances are it will run somewhere or have some imperfections that others will point out eventually.

  5. Vinnie August 4, 2020 at 10:45 pm - Reply

    What are good paints and primers to use for this? What are your “go to’s” ?

  6. dequin April 28, 2022 at 6:42 am - Reply

    je voudrais avoir un conseil sur une étape à réaliser sur mon réservoir moto, je dois poser des stickers sur le réservoir, une fois peint peut-on attendre que le réservoir soit bien sec, posés les stickers, et vernir ? car j’ai lu que pour le vernissage il fallait attendre de 30 à 40 minutes après la dernière couche de peinture.
    merci de vos conseils.
    Bien Cordialement.

    • Adnane Bensalah April 29, 2022 at 1:01 pm - Reply

      En général, plus il sèche longtemps, mieux c’est. La peinture et le vernis doivent durcir, cela peut parfois prendre 2 à 7 jours !

  7. Melanie Samsel August 7, 2022 at 9:36 pm - Reply

    Vielen Dank für den Artikel! Ich würde auch gerne das Design meines Gastanks ändern. Daher ist es gut zu wissen, dass ich die Wahl zwischen einer Lackiererei und eigener Arbeit habe. Da ich handwerklich nicht so begabt bin, werde ich die Arbeit wohl jemand anderem überlassen.

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