Getting a new paint job on your favorite truck, Jeep, or SUV can be exciting. Deciding on a color is important, but equally important is the type of paint and finish for your color. There are several steps involved in painting a vehicle. Most average to high-end paint jobs consist of four layers: e-coat, primer or filler, basecoat, and clear coat. A topcoat refers to the combined layers of basecoat and clear coat. Some of your cheaper paint job will use 2-stage - primer and a top-coat (base & clear).
The e-coat is about 17-22 um thick and is primarily for corrosion resistance and paint adhesion. The primer coat is 30-35 um thick and serves for UV radiation resistance, anti-chipping, and providing a smooth surface for the basecoat. The basecoat is the color layer and is typically 10-20 um thick. This layer provides the visual appeal. Finally, the clearcoat layer is 30-50 um thick, is transparent and prolongs the lifespan of the layers below it.
Types of Paint
When most people think of painting a vehicle, they are thinking of the color layer which is technically just one layer of a paint job. The color layer is called the Base Coat. Base coats contain the color, but they do not have any hardeners or strengtheners. This layer won’t protect the metal or the primer level. There are several different types of Base Coat to consider. Automotive paint resins are usually one of three chemical compounds: lacquer, enamel, or urethane.
Urethane Most new cars are painted with urethane and most collision repair shops use urethane paints to repair damage, so it is a practical and popular option. Urethane auto paint generally lasts longer than other options. It is highly resistant to chips and can resist fading for up to 10 years. You can paint over a previous paint job without too much prep work. Urethane auto paint dries quickly and is less likely to run during application. It also provides some level of protection to the metal surface and primer layer.
Urethane car paint is more expensive than other options (like enamel). Urethane is a good alternative to lacquer. Be sure to think about the future though because lacquer cannot be applied over urethane on future paint jobs. Urethane is more difficult to handle than enamel, so it is not a good option if you plan to do the application yourself. There is a form of urethane paint called “aliphatic polyurethane” that is illegal in some states.
Acrylic enamel is a softer resin than urethane. Enamels are usually less expensive than urethane, and dry to a glossy finish. It forms a hard, strong shell over the whole vehicle. There are two kinds of enamel paint: single-stage and two-stage. The single-stage enamel paint has the basecoat and the clearcoat mixed together so that you only have to apply a single layer of paint. The two-stage enamel requires the basecoat to be applied first, followed by the clearcoat after the basecoat dries.
Acrylic enamel auto paint can be very hard to apply, so it is not a good choice for doing it yourself. A professional shop, like FlexBilt Customs, will have the proper equipment to “bake” the paint onto the auto, giving it a longer life.
Acrylic Lacquer was the very first auto paint and the only option for some time. Acrylic lacquer auto paints are the easiest to apply, they dry smooth, and have a high gloss finish. The paint is generally a high viscosity and mixed with a thinner for application. Many more coats are needed to cover the vehicle because of this dilution. However, these paints fade quickly, especially when exposed to UV rays. Acrylic lacquer paint is illegal spray in some states because it has negative effects on the environment. Lacquer paint becomes brittle with age and will crack and become chalky. Waxing and buffing regularly can lengthen the life span. Lacquer paints dry by evaporation, not by chemically bonding to the vehicle’s surface. The liquid portion evaporates, leaving a tinted resin layer as the color layer.
If you are restoring an antique or classic car, using an acrylic lacquer may be important. It provides the highest shine of any paint option. It is authentic to the auto’s origin. Most classic or antique cars are not used as daily drivers, so using this paint on a stored auto is a good option.
Acrylic Urethane paint is a newer option in auto paint. It lasts a long time (like enamel) and is easy to apply (like lacquer) without being illegal to use. Acrylic urethane uses a catalyst to promote fast drying, and has to be used shortly after it is mixed.
Auto Paint Finishes
Auto paints have finish options. This is a protective coating applied after the color layer has dried. The most common, and least expensive, option is a plain, solid paint. It is relatively inexpensive, easier to apply, and repairs or touch ups are simple. Nearly all stock autos come with solid paint. Solid paints work well on a vehicle that has great form or lines because the paint won’t detract from the body style. It can also be jazzed up with good choices of accessories or trim options. Solid paint coats are usually covered in a protective lacquer coat called a “clear coat”.
Metallic paint gives a subtle, eye-catching sparkle. Aluminum powder in the metallic auto paint catches sunlight for a beautiful, sparkling shine. This dynamic finish will help cover up dings or small scratches. It tends to be more expensive, and it can be difficult to match later. Metallic paints have a more limited color palette, so you may not be able to find exactly what you want in a metallic auto paint. However, the range of colors is much better than it used to be.
Pearlescent paints are similar to metallic, but the aluminum powder is replaced with ceramic (mica) crystals. These ceramic crystals reflect and refract light, giving the illusion of more depth and color. It creates a dazzling, subtly colorful look that changes with light and direction. As with metallic paint, it can be very difficult (if not impossible) to match in the future. Pearlescent color palettes are limited in options too.
Matte Paint is the latest hot item. They are more expensive, and the maintenance is much more difficult. The matte finish is achieved by using a primer coat or other agents in the clear coat. The effect is a velvety, satin or silk finish. The look is reminiscent of the old hotrod or muscle cars that were driven around between paint jobs. Most paint repair and maintenance tools are for gloss paint. Products and equipment used to buff out scratches or detail a car may leave glossy areas on the matte finish.
Carbon fiber, or bare carbon fiber, finishes are at the very high end of paint jobs for autos. Most carbon fiber on large areas of the vehicle are wraps. However, many smaller accert pieces of the vehicle may be made from actual carbon fiber, which is known for its extreme lightweight and durability/strength.
Clear Coat is actually a type of auto paint without pigment. The purpose of clear coat is to protect the pigment layer, primer layer, and metal. Clear Coat finished usually have specialized chemicals that provide easy adherence to the flexible components, like a plastic bumper. The clear coat layer also has UV inhibitors to prevent ultraviolet rays from fading the vehicle’s color layer.
Other Considerations – Preparation is Critical
Even a basic paint job is not inexpensive. There are several other things to consider when taking on the project of painting a vehicle. Preparing the vehicle to receive paint must be done correctly if the finished product is going to look good and last a long time. Decide the extent you would like damage (such as scratches, dents, gouges, rust spots or rock chips) repaired. Some are easier to repair than others, and all require labor and materials.
After any repairs are done to the surface of the vehicle, a primer layer is applied. It is usually a shade of grey or black. Primers help the paint adhere to the surface of the vehicle better, and they can even out tiny imperfections. Primers prevent moisture from reaching the base metal which will cause rust or oxidation. Primers are porous and require sanding between coats so the final paint will adhere smoothly.
Determine if the company performing your paint job will remove parts prior to painting, or just tape off parts. The best way (and at FlexBilt, the only way) is to remove any part that is not receiving the new paint application. We have outlined the different types of paint in this article, but there are different price points within those categories. As with most things, you get what you pay for. Make sure you understand the expected life span of the paint you select for your vehicle paint job.
Syphon spray guns used to be the application method for painting vehicles. They were used with lacquer paint, and syphoned the paint from the bottom of a bottle attached to the spray gun. These are no longer used because they required 45 to 70 psi but only delivered about 40% of the paint to the surface of the vehicle.
Now days, a high-volume, low-pressure (HVLP) spray gun is used. These feature a tank on top of the spray gun which gravity feeds paint into the nozzle. These HVLP spray guns deliver about 80% of the paint and only require 10 psi to operate.
Painting cars, trucks, and Jeeps has gotten more technical than ever. There are many considerations to research, and more options available to create a unique finished product. Understanding the process and paint options helps you make a better decision on your paint job. Be sure to consult with an experienced company, like FlexBilt Customs, to ensure you are happy with your newly painted vehicle!