Painting vs. Gelcoat - Fiberglass RV

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Old 04-28-2010, 10:45 PM   #1
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Pamela S.'s Avatar
Name: Pamela
Trailer: 1984 Fiber Stream
Posts: 183
I would be happy to just rejuvenate the gelcoat on my camper, but I had to repair a good-sized crack on the front street-side corner with new fiberglass cloth. So, obviously the color doesn't match the rest of the camper at this point.

I had assumed that I would have to repaint the entire camper to get a consistent color and a nice, finished look. However, I was browsing the West Marine site, and found that it is possible to buy gelcoat for repairs.

What would be a better approach, spiffing up the old gelcoat, and adding new gelcoat to the repair, or repainting the entire camper?

Based on what I've read on this site, I would use something like Marine Interlux with an extra small, high quality roller if I went the route of repainting.

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Old 04-28-2010, 11:13 PM   #2
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Name: Rachel
Trailer: 1974 Boler 13 ft (Neonex/Winnipeg)
Posts: 3,012
Hi Pamela,

Assuming the rest of your gelcoat is either in good shape, or can be brought back (compounding or buffing) - and that you like the color - repairing a small area of it will probably be much less work and expense than painting.

Prepping for paint and then doing a good paint job is no small feat. It is a lot of work to do it right, and supplies are expensive. Especially if you use a premium coating, like a two-part LPU (more durable and the gloss is much longer lasting than a one-part paint such as Interlux Brightsides, which is a modified alkyd paint).

Now, that's not to say you shouldn't paint. A good paint job is a wonderful thing. Some high-end boatbuilders are delivering new boats with LPU paint instead of gelcoat right from the get-go. But making a gelcoat repair is going to be much easier and more cost effective, if it is feasible.

(And if you decide to go ahead with a repair we can give you tips.)


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Old 04-28-2010, 11:53 PM   #3
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Name: Pamela
Trailer: 1984 Fiber Stream
Posts: 183
I think I can probably revive the bulk of the gelcoat with poliglow or something. I didn't realize that I might just be able to fix the gelcoat on the repaired area. I thought gelcoat was only applied when the fiberglass was first molded.
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Old 04-29-2010, 12:37 AM   #4
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Name: Rachel
Trailer: 1974 Boler 13 ft (Neonex/Winnipeg)
Posts: 3,012
Well in a sense you are correct. The trailer is made in a female mold. First gelcoat is sprayed in, and than after that the fiberglass is applied (sprayed chop, or hand laid, or etc.). The gelcoat is mostly a cosmetic thing, but it is part of the molding process.

Gelcoat can be "painted on" or sprayed later, but in my opinion you have then lost the main reason to use gelcoat, and might as well put on something like a good LPU coating (meaning, if you had a bare fiberglass egg with no gelcoat and wanted to coat it, at that point why use gelcoat) (but that is just my opinion and others might have different opinions).

Anyway, the main point is that gelcoat can be patched - it's done on boats all the time.

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Old 04-29-2010, 07:30 AM   #5
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Name: Donna D
Trailer: Escape 5.0 TA, 2014
Posts: 24,556
Too it depends on your expectations when finished. Your trailer is 26 years old. The gelcoat is not a consistent color across the body of the trailer. If you're expecting a perfect match on every patch, you may be disappointed. I would imagine every single patch would need to be judiciously color matched.
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Old 04-29-2010, 07:39 AM   #6
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Name: Roy
Trailer: 1972 boler American and 1979 Trillium 4500
Posts: 4,965
A few years back I got some video's from the local library on gelcoat repairs. The interesting thing is that when you colour match gel coat, the colour does not change like paint when setting.

Link to my original post on videos.

I did a quick test while repairing my door using a brush on technique without colour matching and the gelcoat repair has held up.

Ray Massen totally redid his gelcoat. I've poured over Ray Massen's work a number of times to read how he did it. If I was keeping my boler American, I was going to try it.

If I understand him correctly, the prep work is the same as prepping for painting. Applying the gel coat is about the same as painting, and getting the shine is about the same as restoring an old finish. IF I had a shop to work in and a place to store it, I am positive that is the way I would go. I even found a local supplier of gel coat that does custom colour matches.
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Old 07-14-2010, 03:32 PM   #7
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Trailer: Boler
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Gel coat is relatively easy to work with. You can spray, roll or brush it on and it can be sanded with superfine wet & dry sandpaper to get the same smooth finish as it comes from the factory. Once it is sanded smooth, buff & polish to bring up the shine.

You may have to tint the gel coat to match the patch are for colour, the closer you come to the surrounding colour, the more invisible that patch will be. The down side is the catalyst that is required to make it harden.


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paint, painting

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