The topflight car builders—the guys who win the Ridler and AMBR awards and have their own TV reality shows—all have at least one thing in common. They use professional design artists to help them plan their car builds. These shops won’t start a project without a full set of vehicle renderings to map their way.

Traditionally, homebuilders seldom use professional artists for their project rides. They tend to assume it’s too expensive, but that thinking is changing. Even at the so-called casual car-builder level these days, show-quality paintjobs can easily run five figures, pro interior work is equally pricey, and the latest wheel/tire combos aren’t cheap either. If you want the perfect look the first time and you just can’t afford to pay for do-overs, a set of renderings could be the best investment you ever made.

Depending on your needs, a professional artist can do far more than simply show you different paint schemes, graphics, and wheel/tire combos—although that alone is worth the price. Designer Murray Pfaff equates his approach to an architect working with a client on a custom home. “I use my training and experience to help the clients visualize their desires,” he says. “My job is to make their dreams come to life.”

With their backgrounds in automotive and industrial design, many car artists, including Sean Smith and Tavis Highlander, can go hands-on in the build process, for example with clay models of scoops, valances, and other body mods. Some artists, like David Ross of Busta Design, often serve as build managers, supervising projects as they go from fab shop to painter to upholstery shop and so on, and also networking with potential project suppliers and sponsors. It all depends on how far you need to go.

Here’s a great group of automotive artists we surveyed, from award-winning veterans to up-and-coming young guns. Their methods, media, and even their rates cover a surprisingly wide range, but one thing for sure: They’re a talented and fascinating bunch. Check ’em out.

If you want the perfect look the first time and you just can’t afford to pay for do-overs, a set of renderings could be the best ...

Ryan Curtis
Sin Customs
Price range: $285 (single view), $1,500 (four to six views)

“I’m a digital artist,” Ryan Curtis says. “That defines my work. I start with a digital drawing done directly on the computer using a Wacom drawing tablet and stylus directly in Adobe Illustrator. All my renderings are vector-based so that they can be printed at any size without losing any detail.

“The first phase is a line art sketch similar to in a coloring book. This allows for a lot of the details to be ironed out like body modifications, stance, and wheel choices. After I have client approval, I proceed with the second phase, coloring the illustrations. When the colored rendering is approved I provide a high-resolution JPEG file and giclee art prints of the approved renderings.”

Carter Hickman
Carter Hickman Designs
Phone: 314-570-9751
Price range: $500 for two views, typical projects $750-$800

Carter Hickman’s method is unique among the artists we contacted in that he employs special three-dimensional rendering software (Modo, by The Foundry + Luxology). This software allows the vehicle to be rotated to any position and profile for viewing. He performs all of his artwork digitally, or as designers term it, “in the tube,” even though CRT monitors have been made all but obsolete by flat-panel displays. In the world of technology, the advances often outpace the language.

A veteran car designer with many well-known builds under his belt, Hickman believes renderings of all types are a boon to homebuilders. “You want to be comfortable with the project before you start,” he says. “Why not know going in that it’s going to work? What’s that worth to you?”

Paul Kuras
Kuras Custom Renderings
Price range: $75-$150 per view $300 to $380 per view for photo-realistic renderings

Paul Kuras, with a BFA in Industrial Design from the College for Creative Studies, is the old-school craftsman in our group, performing all his work by hand without the aid of the computer. For $70 to $150 per view to start, he supplies project-quality color renderings on 12x16-inch Canson Mi-Teintes paper.

Nevertheless, for the customer who wants not just a reference sketch but also a truly memorable record of the vehicle, Kuras can supply renderings with a level of detail far beyond the typical color design sketch. Kuras uses multiple layers of ground pastels, colored pencils, pens, and white gouache (opaque watercolor) to obtain an effect that is virtually indistinguishable from a photograph. It’s amazing, have a look.