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Unique Masking Technique Makes Hot Parts Look Hotter

March 1, 2005
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In the coating industry, masking has become a fundamental part of the design process. This is especially true for one small job shop in Ohio. Joe Lillicrap went from being a flight crew scheduler to making his own schedule about two years ago when the airline reduced its workforce, and Lillicrap lost his job. He was at a trade show when he first saw a powder coated chopper frame in early 2001, and the concept piqued his interest. "But when you are making a living and the money is rolling in, there is not as much incentive to start a business from scratch," he says. It wasn't until he lost his job at the airline that he decided to enter the coating industry, and Wicked Designs was born. Located in Huber Heights, Ohio, Lillicrap specializes in a propriety powder coating application technique that utilizes masking to create unique designs.

It was when Joe Lillicrap saw a powder coated chopper frame at a motorcycle trade show in early 2001 that the concept piqued his interest. He is now the owner of Wicked Designs in Huber Heights, Ohio.
The self-taught 25-year-old powder coater started his business in a 1,000 ft2 space - about the size of a two-car garage. For roughly a year, Lillicrap says he would experiment in his shop, attempting to come up with a unique approach to powder coating, because, "I knew I had to find something that no one else was doing." Before he could start coating customers' products, Lillicrap says he had to "mess a lot of things up." In the beginning, he says he made more mistakes than progress, but then one day he knew he had achieved a process that would yield the results that not only he desired, but results that customers would ask for.

With the help of his maskant supplier, EPSI, Menomonee Falls, Wis., and a trial-and-error approach, Lillicrap says he has the perfect recipe to create some "wicked designs." He says the biggest challenge when designing graphics is that the piece is always hot. He says that sometimes he incorporates a cool-down cycle, but with EPSI's A12 type of tape, which is designed to work on top of powder coating, often times the part is still hot. "And when coating is hot - whether you are coating it for the first time or reheating it - it is very susceptible and delicate." This could be the reason, he says, that many people do not succeed when trying to replicate his proprietary coating process. "If you do not do it correctly," he says, "you end up ruining your finish by burning the masking into the existing coating." He does divulge that in addition to the A-12 tape, he also uses EPSI's A35, K12 and K22 models. "These work the best for my powder coating applications," he says.

Wicked Designs' owner Joe Lillicrap uses a proprietary masking process to create his designs on cars and paint ball guns as well motorcycles, four-wheelers, go-carts, hot rod frames, engines, golf clubs, guns, monster trucks and all types of parts.
Lillicrap is achieving success in his business. Recently, he moved into a 4,800 ft2 building located just 15 miles down the road from his first shop, and he is building a new spray booth that measures 12' wide x 18' long x 10' high to go around his newly purchased Nordson powder collection system. Lillicrap also bought a used custom-built oven for his new space. A modified Volstatic gun and a Nordson gun are the tools that Lillicrap and his one employee currently use to create their unique graphics. "I am also looking into buying a Wagner sometime soon. I will be hiring another employee in a couple of months," Lillicrap says.

As for the type of coating that Wicked Designs uses, Lillicrap says he only uses powder, and the colors his customers pick tend to be polyesters. The image is created right into the powder coating. "No one else does what we can do with powder. Some people use vinyl graphics or stickers. I have not seen anyone that can replicate what we can do," Lillicrap says. His coatings of choice include Columbia Coatings super TGIC, and NIC Industries' Prismatic Powders polyurethane and polyester powders.

Because Lillicrap's approach is somewhat unconventional and safety is important to him, he and his employee wear 3M respirators. Good lighting is also key. And, of course, he says, you want to use common sense. "The oven floor is hot, so don't walk across it," he says.

EPSI's A12 masking tape is one type of maskant that allows Joe Lillicrap to create his unique designs on powder coating.
Even though his shop is somewhat new and he is not a veteran in the industry yet, Wicked Designs has managed to drum up business just fine. Lillicrap says he works on motorcycles, four-wheelers, go-carts, cars, hot rod frames, engines, golf clubs, guns, paint ball guns, monster trucks and all types of parts. "Anything that is not going to melt," he says.

Lillicrap says he owes a big thank you to Jim and Tom at Buckeye Custom Coatings in Lima, Ohio. "They are probably one of the few powder coating companies that works with me instead of against me," he says. "If they have smaller stuff that needs to be coated, they send it to us and if we get larger stuff, we send it to them." The two companies share information on what works best because they are "doing the same thing for different clients."

Lillicrap says he is starting to coat glass, too. Currently he is in the market for trying coatings that are made specifically for this purpose.

To contact Wicked Designs, call 937-214-7647, or visit www.wickedpowder.com. For more information about the suppliers mentioned in this article, they can be contacted as follows: EPSI, 866-275-3774, www.epsi.com; Nordson Corp., 440-985-4000, www.nordson.com; Wagner Systems Inc., 800-473-2524, www.wagner-systems.com; NIC Industries, 541-826-1922, www.nicindustries.com; Columbia Coatings, 866-388-7730, www.columbiacoatings.com; 3M, 888-364-3577, www.mmm.com.

Editor's Note:

Joe Lillicrap asked to thank the following people for the help they provide in his "daily madness." Victor at Schelle Sheet Metal; Tim Fitzpatrick at Fitzpatrick Steel; Kenny and Dan Hall at L&C Coatings; Matt Lewis at Lewis Detail Factory; Mahan Paint Striping; Aaron Turner; Mike Kiamy; Matt Stout; and J&M Precision.

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