A Colour Lover’s Guide to Pakistani Truck Art

I can’t believe I’m writing this. I finally ticked off the number one goal on my travel bucket list: to see Pakistani truck art in Pakistan.

momtaz sitting and hanging out of a colourful pakistani truck art

I’ve long been obsessed with the images of colourful Pakistani truck art I’ve seen online. To witness it for myself in its homeland is an experience I’m still pinching myself about.

My first long-haul destination since the Covid pandemic hit in 2020, I’ve just come back from an epic vacation in Pakistan. As well as visiting the cities of Lahore and Islamabad, I also spent time in Gilgit-Baltistan, in the north of the country. I’d heard that this was the best place to see Pakistani truck art. I never imagined I would visit such a far-flung destination – but I did!

So, for the first of my blog posts from Pakistan, I’ve of course chosen Pakistani truck art.

a large yellow based old style of pakistani truck art with wooden hood parked at a service station
Art on wheels – a traditional Pakistani truck

In my guide I explain all the basics you need to know about this traditional folk art technique including:

  • What is Pakistani truck out?
  • Where to see Pakistani truck art
  • Where to buy Pakistani truck art
  • How to try Pakistani truck art yourself

Fasten your seatbelt as I take you on a colourful journey through the vibrant, creative world of Pakistani truck art…

What is Pakistani truck art?

One way of knowing that you’re in Pakistan is that the vehicles look different. And by different, I mean better than anywhere else!

The trucks driven by long-distance drivers in Pakistan are decorated in colours, textures and patterns. They brighten up the streets by day and night, when they light up – we’re talking strings of rainbow lightbulbs adorning their exterior.  

momtaz is holding onto the inside of the truck but hanging outside it
Though it was an unplanned, impromptu shoot, I happened to be wearing my truck art scarf!

Truck art is engrained in the nation’s psyche. Every truck is different but has a distinct aesthetic. Each truck tells a story often connected with the truck driver or the region they are from. But the aesthetic isn’t only reserved for trucks. The joyful style has been applied to other modes of transport from public buses to private cars. And in recent years all manner of other things too.

But before I go into that, let’s start at the beginning by explaining what truck art is all about and why it began…

The history of Pakistani truck art

Why did truck art start?

heavily decorated close up of pakistani truck art
The devil is in the detail – close up of the corner of a Pakistani truck

When trucks gained prominence in Pakistan as a convenient way to transport goods in the 1920s, drivers started painting their trucks as a means of personalising them. But it wasn’t just to look good. These drivers were away for long periods of time and decorating their trucks reminded them of home. Sikh drivers would incorporate images of their gurus to bless their journeys while Muslim drivers painted images of Sufi saints, as a means of protecting them. Some truck drivers even referred to their trucks as their wives and decorating them was a way of showering them with respect and appreciation.

Changing styles of Pakistani truck art

After independence in 1947, a patriotic theme began appearing on trucks, celebrating the visuals of Pakistan like the landscapes, flowers and animals.  

a colourful van or public bus in Lahore
Typical sight on the streets of Lahore – a modern vehicle inspired by traditional truck art

During the 1960s the trucks became more political and carried images of political leaders which helped share propaganda and influence decision-making. But it wasn’t long before celebrities like film stars started appearing on trucks. The first international, non-Pakistani to appear on a truck was martial arts star Bruce Lee.

One aspect that remained elusive though was the artists that became truck decorators; they were largely unknown; despite thire art being appreciated by thousands of people daily. This has changed and master artisans now known and respected, but the earliest artists were not usually credited.

Truck art as communication

Truck art has historically been used as a form of communication; a way of spreading news. Trucks can reach areas that are often inaccessible by other means. They can even access places where there are no phone lines or internet so they play a key role in getting messages across.

In a pre-social media age for example, a major story such as Pakistan winning an important cricket match, could be painted on a truck. Then, as the wheels hit the road, passersby would see the images and understand the celebration.  

Truck art for a good cause

In 2019, Roshni, a missing person’s helpline in Pakistan, teamed up with paint brand Berger paints and artist Samar Minallah Khan who painted the faces of missing children on trucks. 3000 children go missing in Pakistan each year and it was hoped the artform could help them be found. The campaign proved successful and in the first month, 20 trucks were painted which led to three children being found. Since then, over 100 children have been reunited with their families, all thanks to their portraits appearing on trucks.

Types of Pakistani truck art

There are different elements to Pakistani truck art that you’ll see on trucks and in truck art-inspired pieces. Artisans often specialise in a specific technique, associated with different regions in Pakistan. These techniques are often combined in one vehicle.


close up showing the wooden hood and carvings on a pakistani truck

Woodwork such as wood carved panels tends to originate from Peshawar in North West Pakistan and is more commonly seen on older trucks. So like this one I saw, a truck may have a large wooden hood above the cabin, where the driver sits.


close of of truck showing the hand painted motifs of birds and flowers
Combined techniques, painting on top, stickering in the bottom section

Traditional folk art paintings are the specialism in Rawalpindi. Truck art painters are regarded as Master Artisans who have studied their craft for years. Sadly, just like other folk art practices around the world, it’s on the decline and that’s why you’re less likely to see colourful hand-painted trucks on your travels. Instead, it’s common to see paint that’s faded from years gone by.


close up of  a peacock using the chamak patti stickering technique, pakistani truck art

Vinyl stickering and metal embossing are a combined technique, also called chamak patti and is synonymous with Karachi. ‘Chamak patti’ translates as ‘shiny stickers’ but it’s usually the metal that adds the shine while the vinyl elements comprise bright colours.

Stickering is an intricate craft form where sheets of metal are decorated with colourful vinyl stickers cut into shapes. The sheets are also embossed to create texture. It was the most common type of truck art I saw on my trip.


While these details can be seen on the exteriors, the art doesn’t stop on the outside.

interior ceiling inside a pakistani truck, truck art
Every inch of the truck’s ceiling is adorned in art

Inside, the trucks are just as lovingly decorated with soft furnishings.

the driver's seat in pakistani truck
Best seat in the truck, view of where the driver sits

Ceilings are covered in fabrics, while windows are dressed with curtain, seats have cushions and all manner of trinkets are hung up and displayed.

colourful curtains inside pakistani truck art
Curtains inside the truck behind the driver

Where to see Pakistani truck art in Pakistan

Typically you’ll only see trucks on the roads that trucks typically travel on, so you won’t spot them in the city centres. But head to the highways and mountains and you’ll see colourful trucks sweeping past you. Pakistan was the only destination I’ve been to in the world where I didn’t want to fall asleep on the long drives as I didn’t want to miss seeing them.

My enthusiasm didn’t wane; every truck was a masterpiece, even the older, faded ones have a charm about them. When I did spy newer more sparkling trucks, or several colourful trucks go by in a row, it was a joy to behold. I couldn’t stop beaming at their beauty.

vibrant painted truck

The only problem was, the trucks are always on the move. If you’re trying to take photos of them, it’s most likely going to be when you’re a passenger looking out of the window. So, with that in mind, I don’t have too many photos of trucks because most of my pictures ended up blurry!

side video of a colourful orange truck on the road
Taking photos from a moving vehicle isn’t easy but the streets are where you’ll find colourful trucks

But there is one way you can see a truck up close and personal and perhaps like me, even get to climb inside…

Seeing inside a Pakistani truck

a traditional pakistan truck, driver and assistant beside it
Proud Azmat with his truck and his assistant driver

My impromptu, unplanned but dream photoshoot with a truck came from seeing one parked up at a service station stocking up on fuel. The owner Azmat Hayat was extremely hospitable and let me and my fellow travellers have a good peek inside and take photos; an experience I will forever be grateful for.

Momtaz is perched by the drivers seat and door and we see the side of a truck
Living my travel bucket list dreams in Pakistan

Azmat and his assistant were impressed I managed to climb up in a dress; the door and front seat are high up. Every detail of the truck was exquisite from the hand-painted details to bells, trinkets and woodwork. This was a loved truck that had seen a lot and no doubt its wheels had many tales to tell.

I’m confident that if you pull over at a service station at some point you will see a truck like this, but the one we stopped at was called Bhera North and there’s a Bhera South too. It’s on the drive between Islamabad and Lahore.

Pakistani truck art at Islamabad airport

On an internal flight from Gilgit to Islamabad, I was surprised to discover that the airport’s luggage carousel belts were decorated with panels of Pakistani truck art created by truck art collective Phool Patti. Hands down, the most beautiful luggage collection point in the world.

panels of colourful truck art at islamabad airport
Why are more airports not this colourful?

Every belt had a different design and there were 3D sculptural pieces juxtaposed against painted panels, metal, stickering and woodwork. If you’re travelling on a domestic flight in Pakistan, this section of Islamabad airport is a must-see. It’s a chance to appreciate the contemporary style of truck art that’s currently being created in Pakistan.

The strangest thing happened, while I was in Pakistan, the Phool Patti artists who created the airport artwork were actually in London promoting their art. I’ve been following them online for sometime and I couldn’t believe they travelled all the way from Pakistan to my hometown when I wasn’t even there – what are the chances?

Beyond, the truck. How the traditional technique of Pakistani truck art transformed a nation with colour

It’s not just trucks that are embellished with art. Increasingly, you’ll see the inspiration appearing on other vehicles from tuk-tuks to public buses and bicycles. I even saw bins painted with floral motifs.

public bus in skardu covered in colourful stickers
Colourful public bus in Skardu, Pakistan

You can even commission artists to transform your car or motorbike or opt for non-transport related artefacts.

a bicycle where the frame is covered in the pakistani truck art stickering technique
Pimp your bike!

On my travels I saw all manner of hanging signs, vases, kettles, cups and even clothing with a Pakistani truck art aesthetic. Speaking of clothes, I bought two truck art scarves, a handbag and trolley case.

colourful tuk tuk in old lahore pakistan
Beep! Beep! Best ride in town coming through!

I also did a tour of Old Lahore in a truck art-inspired tuk-tuk, featuring classic motifs like parrots and patterns. It was the best-looking ride in the city.

Where to buy Pakistani truck art

The price of truck art varies, firstly it depends on the type you buy and secondly where you buy it from.

The two types of truck art you’ll mostly see for sale are hand-painted objects and the second is items created with the stickering technique.

I did my shopping from two places. The covered markets in Anarkhali Bazaar Lahore had the best value. This intricate handmade sign cost £4.

colourful pakistani truck art hanging decoration
One of the gifts I bought back from Pakistan for a family member

The most accessible place to buy truck art which has a fixed and reasonable price is to visit one of the stores by the brand Gul Khan. They have a shop in a mall in Karachi but I bought pieces from their stand at Emporium Mall in Lahore. Or, you can order online and yes – they ship abroad! Their pieces costly slightly more than the market but not much. A similar hanging sign is around £7.

market stall sell pakistani truck art
I’ll take one of each! The Gul Khan truck art stand at Emporium Mall in Lahore

But what shocked me were the prices I saw at the upmarket hotel we stayed at in Islamabad. It had a gift shop inside and the truck art pieces there were more than double the prices at Gul Khan – a similar sign was around £15. It’s still cheaper than buying truck art in the UK (if you can track it down) but not worth entertaining when you can find it cheaper and, in my opinion, cheaper and with better designs elsewhere.

Pakistani truck art painting workshop in Lahore

Trying to arrange workshop with a Master Painter isn’t easy – they’re usually too busy and expensive. The next best thing is to attend one run by an appreciator of heritage and truck art. You can do this by booking a private session at The Lahore Heritage Club.

momtaz sitting and painting a flower on a tote bag at truck art painting class
Truck art painting class in Lahore

Co-owner Zarafshaan Yazdani gave us ideas and inspiration for using acrylic paints to create truck art-style designs. She went through the typical motifs you’d find on a truck like protective eyes, birds, wildlife, flowers and fauna.

examples of truck art designs
Graphic inspiration of modern truck art designs

For my design, I added a word in Urdu too – my name! It took me a little while to get the hang of writing the letters but when I discovered you can lengthen each character as much as you like, it became much easier to fill space, since Momtaz is a short word.

The painting was done in three stages. First, placing the big shapes like the large flowers on my design, then adding light areas by mixing in white paint and finally using a fine paint outliner to accentuate details.

Momtaz holding up the tote bag she painted with her name in urdu
With Zarafshaan who ran the truck art painting workshop

It was a fun and relaxing session and a workshop I’d love to revisit and try again.

DIY Pakistani truck art sticker decorations

Having purchased some Pakistani truck art a few years ago in the UK that used the stickering technique I was eager to see if I could recreate it myself.

selection of handmade truck art lid on a table, pakistani truck art workshop
Pakistani truck art inspired hanging decorations made at my workshop in London

 I devised a method that’s easy, affordable and makes for a fun activity for craft workshops. I’ve run these sessions in London three times so far (before I’d been to Pakistan) but now I’ve returned and seen Pakistani truck art in real life, I’m excited to run more workshops inspired by the designs and ideas I saw.)

supplies needed to make pakistani truck art
Participants tried vinyl stickering and embossing on metal sheets

If you’d like me to run a Pakistani truck art workshop for an event or private workshop,  drop me an email. Otherwise, here’s a simplified version to make your own Pakistani truck art hanging decoration yourself:

Craft materials

  • Tin foil
  • Card
  • A paper template of your shape
  • Self-adhesive vinyl sheets in different colours
  • Glue stick
  • Pencil
  • Scissors
  • Single hole punch
  • String

(optional: a small metal bells)


Take your paper template, draw around it on the card and cut it out. The shape is up to you. It could be a heart, star, moon or a shape that looks like a sign.

supplies needed to make pakistani truck art
    • Cut a piece of tin foil. It should be larger than your card template by about an inch all the way around.
    • Cover the card shape in glue. Stick the foil down in the centre and smooth it out so there are so lumps or bumps.
    • Turn the template around to its back. Trim off the excess foil leaving around 1cm all the way around. Then cut slits all along this edge of the remaining foil. Apply a layer of glue around the edge of the card and then fold in all the slits so that the foil is neatly stuck down. You can cut out another piece of card the same size and stick it over the back so you don’t see the foil edge.
    • Next, plan your design using the coloured vinyl stickers. Use a mixture of large shapes and small strips of colour for any details.
    handmade pakistani truck art
    • When it’s done, you can hang up your design by punching a hole through the top and tying some string through. You can also punch a second hole at the bottom and hang off a bell, or two!

    These photos are some of the creations made by participants at my truck art workshops in London. If you decide to give this project a go let me know by tagging me in any images so I can see your masterpieces!

    diy truck art workshop london

    Fancy visiting Pakistan yourself to track down truck art? Follow Sophie Hussain on Instagram, who organised the trip I went on for future dates and check out the regular tours by Aatir Virani.