School Bus Conversion-Painting the Bus


One of the first things we decided on after buying the bus was that we would need to paint it. Oh man, it was a huge and time consuming job and isn’t totally done yet.

We were under the impression that is it illegal to own a yellow school bus that is not affiliated with a school or church. But we kept seeing skoolies that were still yellow and it was causing some confusion. How the hell did they get that past the DMV? I looked into it and it is illegal to keep a bus yellow if you are using it for commercial purposes to transport passengers but you can keep it yellow if it’s for private use. Oh well, too late now and I don’t like school bus yellow anyway.

We decided to DIY our paint job. It’s a massive vehicle and, since we were trying to keep our conversion as cheap as possible, we didn’t want the expense of getting it professionally done. Neither of us have ever painted a vehicle before and we were quickly informed that we wouldn’t be able to get it as glossy as a car since there’s an extremely shiny clear coat that cars get at the end of the painting process. Rats.

We were looking at using Rustoleum (the brush on paint, not the spray paint) since it was recommended online and we found several tutorials on how to paint a car (that looked good at the end) using it. They involve a lot of layers and sanding. Frankly, I don’t think either of us had the patience or really even the time to paint a bus that way. Plus, Rustoleum is a bitch to paint on. It gets really sticky, really fast and is just difficult to apply and work with. And it has a very limited color range. We talked to a lady at the Lowe’s paint center (we have found since then that we really should take everything Lowe’s and Home Depot employees tell us with a grain of salt and research before accepting that they totally 100% know what they’re talking about) who recommended using the Valspar interior/exterior high-gloss enamel paint (it is 100% acrylic latex) with a stain-blocking and bonding primer.

Awesome, that opened up a huge range of colors we could choose from. We knew we wanted something lighter. Not yellow. Neither of of us wanted a black, white, or grey bus (I love grey and white, they are my favorite colors, but I thought it might look a little too prison-y?). I didn’t want an orange or red bus. Mike didn’t want a purple or pink bus (how cute would a light pink bus have been? so cute). That pretty much left us with blues and greens. So we decided to compromise and go with a light blue-green. We painted the roof and ribs white so we thought that all would look great together. We decided on a color called Sea Tickle. It’s really a light blue. There’s no green there. Maybe the lighting and the other color swatches influenced how we perceived the color because I really thought we were getting a light blue-green. I like the color a lot, it’s just not exactly what I thought I was getting.

Prepping and painting the bus really became a family affair. Prepping the bus was a huge job just on its own. We had to wash the grime off and it was dirty. It took me and my sister a weekend to wash the whole thing and it never got totally clean. We had to scrap off the old stickers (reflective strips, they were cracking and peeling). We had to sand where we had scrapped the paint off in our quest to get the stickers off and we had to sand the whole hood of the bus because the paint and shellac were bubbling off. My sister and I were covered in yellow dust for days.

At this point, we had decided to focus more on the inside of the bus and we would finish painting later (this became a huge problem when the Florida summer thunderstorms started rolling in and made our daily painting window very small) and my mom began offering to help out. She was more than willing to paint. At first, I declined her offer. It was generous. It was too generous and we were already taking up her yard and porch with the bus, our tools, and construction debris. Her and her boyfriend had already made several trips to the dump to take away the old seats and he was lending us so many tools. I felt like we had imposed enough on them. But my mom is a persistent lady and offered again and again.

Finally, it began to dawn on me that with our newly imposed deadline of August (when we would need to move to Texas) we would never finish in time and my mom began painting the bus. She put a whopping 52 hours into it. She primed the entire thing, she painted the roof, she painted bits and pieces and did fiddly cutting in. She taped off the entire bus. *Note-Mike and I also painted but my mom did the bulk of it*. She was a painting machine and it helped out immensely. We ended up cutting it very close to our deadline anyway (as in we were still building stuff in the morning of the day we left) and I can’t imagine how behind we would have been if she hadn’t done all that she did. We still need to do the final coat on the ribs and front door but otherwise the bus is painted

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So do I think this was a good paint choice? Probably not, in the long run. It stains very easily when things like bugs, bird poop, or wet leaves stay on it longer than a week or so. I’m not washing the bus every week. I assume this is less of an issue on a house-stuff can’t sit on vertical surfaces for as long. It doesn’t chip but it does peel. Like if I can get a bit of paint off I can peel off a big hunk with it (this is fairly typical for latex based paints but it didn’t dawn on me until it was too late). That created some problems when removing the tape from around the windows where it would peel off additional paint and I’d have go back in and touch it up. I just don’t think it will end up being durable enough for a vehicle. Eventually, we’ll look into what other types of paint to use or bite the bullet and get her painted professionally.



  1. Hi, Love the colors of the bus. On the first bus we painted, we used the X-O Rust paint. It was a pain in the butt to say the least. We decided that NEVER again would we use it. The next bus we painted, we decided to go with the Rustoleum and you are right. It is sticky and is limited in colors. We also found that it takes forever to dry. What we have found to work with great success is the Valspar Oil based paint. I love the colors you chose and whenever you decide to repaint I am sure you can Do-It-Yourself. Oh and thanks for clarifying the “can’t drive a yellow school bus” issue!

    • Thank you! If we decide to repaint it we’ll definitely check out the Valspar oil-based paint. It sounds like that might be a better option for vehicles.

      • We are using a Sherwin Williams implement paint for our bus. We sanded and sanded and the washed it three time and wiped it down with acetone. I am spraying it on as it is a water based ackyl(?) that needs no primer just a clean surface. Its touted as great for farm equipment so we are trying it. Let yall know how it goes.

        • Please do! We’d love to know how it goes and how it holds up. I didn’t even think to check Sherwin Williams for options.

  2. We are working on a 2001 International Thomas Built 7 window. Having worked in an auto supply house that mixed paint, we experimented with mixing our own color. We used rustoleum paint exclusively. A mix of blue, green, and white. It came out a little darker than your bus, but we do like it. We also mixed in some of that little insulation beads stuff. We will see if it helps with heat and cold. The rub strips were painted with almond, and the top of the hood and the grill are flat black. The interior was painted almond with the insulation beads mixed in. The insulation gives the paint a sandpaper texture when it is dry. We are totally happy with the rustoleum paint, and we will see how it holds up

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