What You Need to Know About Car Paint Types

Car Paint Types

Your car. Remember when you first purchased it? The new car smell. The superior performance. But above all? That glistening, factory fresh paint job that dazzled and shined. But that was five years ago. And no matter how much time and care you put into it, your vehicle’s exterior has turned drab, lifeless and dull. There’s a million different types of car paint available on the market. But for many drivers the choices are simply overwhelming. Basecoat painting. Acrylics. Primers. It can seem so overwhelming, it simply makes more sense to have your cars’ paint job performed by a professional.

But whether you’re considering taking your car to a professional paint service or simply doing it yourself, you’re going to need a basic understanding of the painting process. Because car paint isn’t simply a one-step formula. It takes multiple layers to restore your car to its original state. And (we hate to say it) sometimes professionals can take advantage of a lack of preparation and knowledge.

If you’re confused about the different types of car paint, we’ve prepared a brief introduction to help familiarize yourself with the process.

Types Of Car Paint

Whether you’re looking to make your car seem brand new or just give it a quick touch up, there’s essentially only five factors you should be aware of when it comes to car paint types:


  • Primer
  • Basecoat Painting
  • Clear Coat Finishing
  • Acrylic Lacquer Car Paints
  • Specialty Paints


The first two are absolutely necessary for any auto painting. Without them, the finishing will be ineffective at best; at worst, splotchy and embarrassing. Your choices for all five will be limited by budget, although the latter three can be subject to both availability and preference. Keep in mind  that while you don’t always necessarily get what you pay for, when it comes to car paint you frequently do. Choosing between budget brands and professional strength brands can mean the difference between repainting your car in six months and six years.


If you’ve ever painted the interior of your home, then you’re already familiar with what a difference primer can make. And it’s no different with car paint. Just like house paint, it’s used to get your surface ready for painting. Without it, the paint will not stay on consistently—particularly on metal. Primer is the primary binding layer for both your base coat paint as well as your finish. Without it, you’re going to see a lot of flaking and chipping.

One helpful suggestion if you’re painting your car yourself is to use a spray paint primer. These are actually more helpful in keeping moisture away from surface metal, which results in oxidation and rust. However, it can result in a porous texture. For those who would prefer a smoother finish, try sanding it down very gently—ideally, with a power sander set on its lowest setting. Too much sanding and any primer job will be ineffective.

Base Coat Paints

Base coat paints go on top of your primer layer. But it’s important to remember that base coats don’t have any hardeners or strengtheners. They’re only the raw paints coated on top of a primer, and not the finish itself. They don’t offer any protection and you definitely don’t want to use them without finishing. Not only will any blemishes be noticable, moisture will creep in and surface rusting of your frame will be inevitable.

To avoid this, use a base coat paint together with either a clear coat finish or a urethane base coat. This will provide a much more efficient and comprehensive protection to both the paint, primer, and your car’s frame from the elements. A clear coat finish can offer a glossy finish, however, so it’s subject to your preferences. Some people prefer a flat matte look to their car’s finish, in which case we’d recommend using base coats with a urethane coat. Both can offer protection. But because clear coat finishes result in your car looking shiny and new (and is an excellent cover up for light scratches) it’s the more popular choice. The end result is up to you.

Clear Coat Finishes

As we said, clear coat finishes tend to be more popular. As the name suggests, clear coat finishes don’t have any color. They’re applied to restore your car to its original color and to provide added protection. Not only is the restoration color seemingly miraculous, but it adheres much easier to flexible materials and components as well as your frame. And while clear coats can be applied manually (yes, just like house paint!),  use a spray clear coat for the most even and consistent finish. A word of caution however: don’t use budget clear coats! They’re inefficient at best, and can blotch and warp at worst.

There’s a million reasons why car paint gets damaged and fades. Light scratches. Age. Dings. But probably the chief culprit is UV rays from the sun. Clear coat finishes typically contain UV inhibitors in them to prevent fading, which means a car parked day after day in the open air will have minimal age to the exterior.

Acrylic Lacquer Car Paints

Acrylic lacquers are increasingly harder to find. Chiefly because there’s only a handful of specialty managers who continue production. When they’re used, they’re used either on showroom, classic or antique vehicles because the glare is simply overwhelming. It’s the sort of shine you might see at a classic car show or a showroom Mercedes Benz. The sort of shine you can use as a mirror.

Ideally, you don’t want to be using acrylic lacquers on a vehicle you’re driving daily. The protection doesn’t hold up anywhere near as well as a clear coat finish. But if you do, keep in mind that you’ll be paying considerably more because of its relative scarcity. And if you do, remember what we said earlier: it’s a paint which is better suited for vehicles you don’t drive daily.

Specialty Paints

Specialty paints aren’t as rare as acrylic lacquers, but they’re far from common. A great example of a specialty car paint is a metallic finish. From our earlier description of acrylic lacquers, you’d think they’re primarily used for performance cars but that’s not the case. What specialty paints provide is a flashier version of an underlying base color. We’d recommend using them in lieu of acrylic lacquers unless you’re familiar with the latter. Not only is the protection significantly better (although nowhere near as complete as clear coat finishes), they’re much easier to come by.

Should You Paint Your Car Yourself?

That depends on how much confidence you have. Because it’s a relatively time consuming process and the results can sometimes turn out underwhelming, many car owners prefer letting professional car detailing services handle their paint jobs when they can be assured of quality.

But… they don’t necessarily come cheap. Especially if your car has dents and rust. In Illinois, the cost can range anywhere from $600 (for very basic touch ups) all the way up to $2000 for cars with considerable wear and tear. Nor are all car painting professionals equal in service. It’s not unheard of for less than reputable detailers to use low quality materials and craftsmanship, knowing the same vehicle will be returning in six months for an additional touch up.

Consider your vehicle an investment. Not only for you, but for your family. An investment that may not bring a financial return, but one that can bring you both security and pride. And as with all investments, what you get out of it depends on what you put in.

Bad credit shouldn’t stop you from having a beautiful car. At Carfect, we’ve been helping Chicago and Waukegan residents finance the vehicle of their dreams where other options won’t since 1990. With five different locations, you can rest assured our staff will help you with integrity and honesty. Visit us today at https://carfect.com/ or call (224) 836-4767


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