When Painting a School Bus Conversion, Here Are 3 Options

Do you need to paint a school bus? Are you in the middle of a school bus conversion and trying to decide if you can paint your bus yourself? Well today, I am going to tell you 3 options for painting your skoolie. We choose option #3 and painted our bus for under $200 and do not regret that decision at all.

 Before I get to explaining the painting project, let me catch you up on what’s been going on with Bus #2 .

Jeff has started working on the outside of the bus because around this time of year it rains. The ground gets damp, and then the snow begins to fall. Jeff says that we go from the “rainy season” (autumn) straight into winter. The ground does not dry out until late April. As you can see in the pictures below, the bus is parked in our yard. This will be a muddy, slippery mess once the rainy season starts.

Are you converting a bus into a RV or a tiny house? Here are 3 options for painting the school bus.Click To Tweet

Option #1 – Take it to an auto body shop that paints cars.

This was going to cost around $2,000. There had to be a more economical way!

Option #2 – Take the bus to a place that repairs RVs/campers.

This option was going to cost around $1,600. That sounded better but we decided to look into other options. If we took option #2, I was going to have to give up some cute décor inside the bus. Now ladies, you know that having to sacrifice the cute and pretty things was just not an option I liked. So… Option #3 was a must find.

Option #3- Paint the Bus – DIY Style

Jeff and I looked over several websites and we found this site.  Total cost would be under $200. Now, this option sounded like a winner to me.

There were a few things that had to be done before Jeff could start painting the bus.

Do you need to paint a bus cover the windows

1. Jeff had to cover up the windows that we no longer wanted to use.

He started by gluing Styrofoam insulation to the windows using Liquid Nails. Next, he measured the windows and cut Trim Coil Metal Siding to fit each window. (The siding comes in a roll and can be bought at your local home improvement store.) Jeff glued the siding onto the foam with Liquid Nails and then used 1/2 inch self-tapping metal screws to secure the metal siding in place around the edge of the window.

 Do you need to paint a bus rear prep

He even covered up all the glass on the back door and the holes where he removed some of the lights.

2. He washed the bus with a pressure washer.

3. Jeff used an electric sander to sand all the rust and rough spots.

4. Finally, Joshua and Jeff removed all the reflectors that needed to be replaced. Then, Jeff spray painted the bus black in spots.

Now just imagine my face, when I woke up the next morning and saw black spray paint all over the bus! It looked like a graffiti artist painted the bus after drinking a six pack. I was quite surprised!

After breakfast, I politely asked my husband to explain, “WHY DID YOU SPRAY BLACK PAINT ON THE BUS!” Of course, his sweet reply was the bus would rust if it rained and he would have to sand it again.  To which, I ever so calmly said, “OHHH, spray painting was a great idea!”

Do you need to paint a bus using spray paint?

5. Now that the bus was ready to paint, we had to decide on the colors.

I came up with what I thought was an ingenious idea, which was to have the children enter a contest for the best bus paint design. I drew the bus, printed it off with instructions, and handed them out to the children. Let’s just say they didn’t think it was such a good idea. Bummer!!

Therefore, Jeff and I sat down and searched the internet for RV colors. Also, we looked at several designs of skoolies. I wanted something with stripes and swirls. Jeff wanted simple and easy. Well, I had to give in because I was not the one painting the bus.

However, Jeff is a sweet guy and said that he would put one stripe on the bus just to entertain me. Aww… I told you he was a sweet guy and great at compromising too!

So, I got out my colored pencils and set to work coloring our bus! We decided to go with blue, tan or almond, and a gold or copper stripe.

Skoolie Paint Job
This is the right side of the bus. I left the stripe white because we hadn’t picked the exact color.  The back of the bus is going to be solid blue.

  Here’s How to Paint a School Bus DIY Style

Jeff called  several different stores before finding one who had the paint we needed. The next day, he left to go get the paint. Around 3:00, he returned with NO paint. He had driven to several stores and no one had what he needed; even though, they told him on the phone that they carried the product. Finally, at the end of the day, he talked to a lady in a town over an hour away and she said that she could help him the next morning.

Jeff left early, hoping to get home by lunch, so he could get coat number one on the bus before dinner. Didn’t happen! He got to the store and the clerk had trouble mixing the paint. After 2 hours, he had the blue and almond but they were having trouble with the gold. Jeff called and explained the problems he was having and I suggested to just get a grey paint for the stripe. If we didn’t like the grey stripe we could just paint over it with blue.


Do you need to paint a school bus with oil based paint

Just look what color he came home with! See the color on the bottom of the can on the right!!

What color does that look like to you?!?

Let me tell you, I was told it was Heritage Gold. I said, “OH HECK NO! That is SCHOOL BUS YELLOW!” Yep, I bet you thought the same thing!!

Jeff said that he honestly didn’t think I was going to like it but he was just tired of the clerk continuing to mix the color wrong.

After the day Jeff had, I did what any wise woman would do. I just sashayed my bottom right up to the house and started fixing dinner. (shaking my head and talking to myself all the way to the kitchen)
After dinner, Jeff and I went back outside to the bus where we agreed that the stripe would look much better black, which is the color Jeff suggested in the beginning. I had to admit I was wrong when I suggested gold or copper. Well, that suggestion just cost us $30! Ugh!
The next morning, Jeff washed the bus again. Then, wiped the entire bus down with paint thinner. He decided to just go to Lowe’s and get an oil based exterior paint in BLACK for the stripe.
Do you need to paint a school bus with almond color
Here is when you need to decide if you are going to use a paint sprayer or roll the paint on with a roller.  Jeff chose to use a roller and a good paint brush. After lunch, he started painting the almond color.
Do you need to paint a school bus with a roller
The next day, he painted the blue.
When Jeff finished painting the blue, there was some comments made by family members that it resembled a prison bus.
Truthfully, there are days I feel like a warden, so traveling/living in a prison bus would make me feel right at home!!
Do you need to paint a school bus almond and blue front
The following day, he marked off the stripe. He decided to wait a few days before painting on the black stripe.
After being sick for several days, I walked outside and saw this sitting in our driveway…..
Do you need to paint a school bus final side

It is so pretty!!!

Jeff took the “Blue Bird” letters off and painted them black and came up with the design on front of the bus. He did an amazing job, don’t you think?

Here is a before picture.

Do you need to paint a school bus before photo

       Here is the after picture.

Do you need to paint a school bus after photo

What do you think about our bus paint job? Click here to share your thoughts on our Facebook Page.

Wow! We are pleased with the results for the money we spent. Jeff wanted me to tell you all that this paint is extremely hard to paint with and it does bubble up. Because he was painting the bus outside, bugs were attracted to the paint and got stuck in it. He removed them and touched up the spots the following day. Also, Jeff said that if we had taken option #1 or #2 the paint job would have a professional look. We both agreed for the price difference, we were pleased with the results.

What option would you have chosen? Please tell us in the comments below.

If you are thinking about turning a school bus into an RV and want to paint it yourself, Jeff is available for questions. Just comment below and you will get an answer the same day.

Do you need to paint a school bus?

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  1. YooperBus February 25, 2016 at 10:01 pm - Reply

    I think you did a great job! It looks beautiful! Funny that the fam was making prison bus comments….i wanted to paint mine grey or silver and got the same comment. lol. with family, you just can’t win, they’ll find SOMETHING. lol. but I’m still undecided about color. i love ALL colors so much, it’s so hard to choose. we have a BLUEbird bus too, so we’re leaning towards blue…but there is a vote cast for green. we’ll probably go with blue, the question then becomes, WHAT SHADE OF BLUE? ugh. the decision is so expensive, its practically permanent. but hey, would you want to follow us and give us pointers as we build? id really appreciate another schoolie persons advice as we move forward with our conversion, we just started. and of course I’d follow you too! Find us on fb and instagram! @YooperBus

    • discoveringus February 26, 2016 at 12:38 am - Reply

      @YooperBus, Thanks for taking the time to comment on our blog. I love the blue, tan, and black paint scheme. We just sold this bus and will be starting our third bus next week. We are thinking on going with red and silver. I agree with you, “I love all colors so much, it’s so hard to choose.” Sure, we will follow you. We will look you up on FB and Instagram. It is always great connecting with other skoolie owners. Let us know what questions you have and we will try our best to help. We are always starting a new blog series called A Beginner’s Guide to Converting a School Bus. http://discoveringusbus.com/beginners/ We have a FB page https://www.facebook.com/discoveringusbus/ and Instragram @discoveringusbus if you would like to connect with us across other social media site. We look forward to getting to know you.

  2. Quincey Myers April 18, 2016 at 3:32 pm - Reply

    Good afternoon,
    I truly learned so much from the article that you so eloquently put together with excellent detail. I’m so glad in took the time to search the Web for what I was looking for in particular the painting of the bus. My wife and I have recently purchased a 1990 Blue Bird bus and we cannot wait to begin our conversion project together. We’re actually prepping to paint the bus but we didn’t know how to approach this task. …and that’s when I found your link and JUMPED for joy. …..I want to thank you for your post (and thank your husband for his experiences as well) Your story made me laugh and learn at the same time. I believe we’re going the same route in reference to painting our home/bus as you did. Did you paint the bus last or first because we’re planning to paint first and then gut out the bus to begin the process of insulation and flooring and (seats have already been removed). Any tips you could pass on would be greatly appreciated. ..thank you so much.
    The Myers’s

    • discoveringus April 18, 2016 at 5:28 pm - Reply

      Hi Myer’s,
      Congratulations on your recent purchase of a Blue Bird! We painted our second Blue Bird Bus about 1/2 way through the conversion because we wanted to get it done before winter set in here in TN. We are painting our 3rd bus this week. We have a basic build already started but want to get the bus painted just because it looks cool when the bus is painted sitting in our yard. The neighbors seem to complain less. LOL Look up our Facebook Page and I don’t mind chatting with you if you have any questions. https://www.facebook.com/discoveringusbus/ We are going to try something a little different this time around. We are going to use a paint sprayer instead of rolling and have covered the windows differently. I will blog about it as soon as Jeff is finished. Thanks for your complements on the blog. I appreciate you leaving a comment. Let me know if we can be of any help in the future. – Missy

  3. Hazel Owens April 21, 2016 at 9:35 am - Reply

    Wow! I really like how the bus turned out! I think the blue and off-white really complement each other. I like that you pointed out the importance of pressure washing and sanding the vehicle before painting it, since that will prevent random gunk from making bumps in the paint. Thanks for sharing!

    • discoveringus April 21, 2016 at 2:17 pm - Reply

      Hi Hazel, Thanks for stopping by our website and leaving a encouraging comment. We are getting ready to paint our third bus. Check back in a few weeks and chime in on what you think.

  4. Andy June 21, 2016 at 11:00 am - Reply

    Enjoying your website as I begin work on a 1990 Grumman Stepvan that I once used as an ice cream truck. Now it is on to a tailgate/camper life for local football games. Lots of great ideas, and I am painting next with your suggested paint. Did you use a foam or standard roller? I am anxious to hear how your spray paint job turns out. Thanks for your blog and website!

    • discoveringus June 21, 2016 at 10:24 pm - Reply

      Hi Andy, I appreciate you leaving a comment and trilled you are finding our blog helpful. Jeff used a standard roller when he painted the bus. He just finished painting our latest bus and decided not to spray paint but he did use a different paint that he liked much better. I hope to update this post soon. Until then, I will let you in on this one tip – we used Rustoleum High Performance protective enamel oil-based. It dries faster and goes on easier. We will use it again instead of the XO. Let me know if we can help you in any way.

  5. Alaska Girls June 23, 2016 at 5:08 pm - Reply

    Love your colors! We are buying our first bus tonight! I am thinking bright silver and bright blue, but may go with a glossy red… Hope our conversion goes ok, we have 2 ½ months to get it done 😥

    • discoveringus June 23, 2016 at 11:55 pm - Reply

      Alaska Girls, buying the bus and getting started is exciting. You will be amazed at what you can get done quickly if you have the funds and time. We love the blue and silver color scheme as well. However, this is not what we originally had in mind. Jeff wanted maroon and silver. He tried several times to get the right shade and didn’t like any of the colors. One color he brought home looked like Barney! Thus the blue and silver color scheme was born. Congratulations on your bus.

  6. lisa July 10, 2016 at 11:21 am - Reply

    how many gallons? please share your shopping list

    • discoveringus July 10, 2016 at 1:51 pm - Reply

      Hi Lisa, 2 gallons of silver (Rustoleum), 1 gallon of Valspar Anti-Rust Armor, 10 1/4 rollers, paint pole, trim brush, Paint thinner(mineral spirits), painters tape, and wear old clothes.

  7. Alaska Girls July 25, 2016 at 11:18 am - Reply

    Sorry to bother you again… I have a question for you. Does the paint hold up over time? I ran into a guy who does autobody work asking me questions about what what I was painting (because I was covered head to toe in paint) and said when I do the outside, the only paint that will last is actual auto body paint, which costs a fortune. Any thoughts?

    • discoveringus August 1, 2016 at 12:38 pm - Reply

      Alaska Girls,

      No bother at all!

      I can’t really say how long the paint job will last. Ask me again in a few years. 🙂 We have painted two buses this year but don’t have the data to prove the longevity of the paint job. My first thoughts are that there are several DYIers that paint there buses this way. If it fades, it would be less expensive to reapply in a few years than pay out of pocket for auto body paint and labor. I am extremely pleased with the look of our “Katie Lynn” and wouldn’t pay the cost of auto body paint. I kinda apply the theory “beauty is skin deep”. It is the outside. We prefer to spend the money on making the bus a home on the inside. But that’s just my two cents. What do you think?

  8. ben August 9, 2016 at 11:33 am - Reply

    thanks for your upbeat and helpful site!

  9. Judy August 20, 2016 at 9:53 am - Reply

    I really enjoyed reading your blog. We recently acquired a Goshen shuttle bus and I am intending to design the inside for comfortable travel that has room for company. I don’t know what the passenger count was listed as but the interior is 21′ long behind the driver’s seat and 80″ wide so it’s pretty roomy. Thanks for the info about painting the exterior as this has been the topic of conversation more than once. Color? Method? Type of paint? You helped a lot, I now have confidence moving ahead with the DIY approach. I can’t wait to see your Bus #3.

    • discoveringus August 20, 2016 at 10:15 am - Reply

      Hi Judy, Thanks for stopping by our blog and leaving an encouraging comment. I am glad you found this post helpful. Deciding on a color is always a topic of lengthy conversations between Jeff and I. Keep checking back on the blog. In the near future, we hope to have several more resources to help DIYers. Also, I am starting up a FB Group for women who have a camp or live in a bus. It is a work in progress, but I am hanging out in the group and will answer questions every day. Here is the link if you are interested, https://www.facebook.com/groups/1564363513865112/

  10. Cory August 21, 2016 at 11:39 pm - Reply

    Hey Missy! First of all, this tutorial and bus conversion is absolutely amazing! Now, I was wondering if you could explain how you covered the windows differently this time around! I can’t wait to see updates:)

    • discoveringus August 22, 2016 at 12:10 am - Reply

      Hi Cory, Your complement made me smile! Thanks a bunch! At this point I can’t decide if I am going to update this post, write the new information in an EBook, or write a free guide for our email subscribers. Either way, if you sign up for our blog, you will get notified when the new content comes out. Are you in the middle of converting a bus? If so, include where I can connect with you on social media below this comment. Jeff and I love connecting with other Skoolie owners. Thanks again for the sweet comment and for visiting our blog.

  11. Cory August 22, 2016 at 12:30 am - Reply

    I’m all signed up! Looking forward to any updates….yes, I just bought a 1999 Chevrolet mini-bus on Saturday!! I can’t wait to start renovating. I have tons of ideas, materials, and family and friends ready to help:)…as of now I don’t have any content posted but you can follow me on Instagram @brickivy. Eventually, all of the renovations will be up there and I would love to follow you guys! Thanks for replying so quickly..Continue inspiring others with your beautiful renovations!!

  12. doraantoun September 5, 2016 at 6:11 am - Reply

    I truly delighted in perusing your website. We as of late procured a Goshen transport and I am planning to outline within for agreeable travel that has space for organization. I don’t realize what the traveler consider was recorded yet the inside is 21′ long behind the driver’s seat and 80″ wide so it’s quite open.

    • discoveringus September 5, 2016 at 9:09 pm - Reply

      Doranntoun, sounds like fun. Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment. If you check out my Pinterest board, you may find ideas under Short Buses or Van Conversions. https://www.pinterest.com/discoveringus9/ When you get finished hop on our Facebook page and share your photos. I would love to see how you organized your small space. Happy Converting.

  13. Claire September 14, 2016 at 6:01 pm - Reply

    Hi! We’re currently converting a mini school bus (@storybus on instagram). We decided to do a spray coat since we had access to spray equipment, rather than rolling the paint on, and unfortunately have some odd pilling issuses. We’re wondering if it’s due to forgoing wiping the bus with paint thinner – any thoughts? Does the paint thinner just provide a good clean surface?

    • discoveringus September 14, 2016 at 7:35 pm - Reply

      Hi Claire, I totally understand your frustration! Interesting story, when Jeff spray painted his first bus, the exact same thing happened. Our first thought was because the entire bus was not sanded or sandblasted. One thing that Jeff found through trial and error was that priming a bus before spray painting gave the bus a smoother surface. In our case, Jeff rolled the entire bus and it gave a even paint job. To answer your question, the paint thinner removes any debris that the naked eye may miss. Thanks for leaving your Instagram handle. I will go follow you now. Just wanted to let you know that I have a Facebook group, “Four Wheels and a Bra” just for women who travel, live or convert bus or any mode of transportation. I hang out in there everyday. Here is the link if you would like to join us. https://www.facebook.com/groups/1564363513865112/

  14. Dave Knowles November 26, 2016 at 11:26 pm - Reply

    Just a question is there any reason why you couldn’t use a water-based paint over primary bus I painted my mobile home with a water based paint and it looks pretty good just a question

    • discoveringus November 28, 2016 at 6:17 pm - Reply

      Hi Dave, When I first started converting buses all my research pointed me towards the oil-based paint. Often, I have wondered if I could use water-based because it is easier to use. Some people state that the water-based does not last as long. The paint fades faster. I tell Missy all the time that I would rather repaint in 2 years versus using oil-based. Maybe on my next bus, I will give it a try. If you decided to do so let me know your outcome. – Jeff

  15. jimships January 28, 2017 at 6:12 am - Reply

    Use lacquer thinner or toluene instead of paint thinner. It evaporates quicker and leaves no residue. Paint thinner is designed to take days to dry out and might leave a thin coating of base oil film on the surface if not completely dry.

  16. Anter February 1, 2017 at 5:57 pm - Reply

    This is Awesome!!! Did you use a brush for the black stripes (invetween the blue and beige)?

  17. El Lobo February 28, 2017 at 1:45 pm - Reply

    Hi, thanks the blog, excellent work! Maybe I missed it, but type of paint did you use? Oil based house paint?

    • discoveringus March 2, 2017 at 10:50 am - Reply

      Jeff used XO Rust Oil base. He found it to be sticky, difficult to work with, and it takes way to long to dry and cure. I have been meaning to write an updated post about painting and the things that Jeff has learned. One thing that Jeff wanted you to know is that you can use oil base paint from your local home improvement store. Using it will solve some of the problems listed above. I appreciate stopping by the blog and leaving an encouraging word.

      • david knowles March 2, 2017 at 10:56 am - Reply

        thank you for that update

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