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Types of Car Paint: 4 Different Finishes Explained

Among the many, many things you’ll have to consider when buying a new car is the colour of the vehicle itself. With such a dizzying array of colours available it can be difficult to know where to start, especially when you factor in the many different types to choose from, too.

Aside from the cost, how do these various types differ and are there any benefits to picking one over the other? To help you choose from the options, we’ll explain the different finishes, along with their pros and cons, on the way to making that all-important decision.

Waterborne and solvent paint

Before we get into the various finishes, it’s worth noting the differences in the material from which automobile paint is made with regards to waterborne and solvent-based types.

Solvent-borne: Traditionally the auto paint that’s been used for many, many years, solvent-borne types are primarily comprised of a solvent base like a lacquer, urethane or enamel. They contain a vast amount of volatile organic compounds, which has raised both health and environmental concerns as a result.

Waterborne: Because of these concerns, the focus is increasingly turning towards the waterborne type since they’re primarily comprised of water and contain around 10% solvent.

So, which one is better? Some shops and garages have noted that waterborne paint doesn’t adhere as well as the usual solvent-based paint. However, modern technology means that auto paint manufacturers can produce high-performance water-based paints. As a result, more shops have started using waterborne paints in order to comply with environmental regulations, while also keeping their employees’ health in mind too.

Solid paint

The majority of cars – aside from the pricier ones – are available in a no-cost basic, solid colour, usually in white, red, blue or black. It’s often the case that if a paint colour doesn’t add to the cost of the car then it’s a solid paint.

Cars with solid paint undergo a single application of the colour, followed by a lacquer coat (called a clear coat) above it, protecting it from chips, scratches and poor weather conditions. Many manufacturers use what’s called ‘two-pack’ paint, where the acrylic paint is mixed with an isocyanate hardening agent to form a superglue-type consistency, removing the need for a separate clear coat.

Pros:

  • Solid paints are often inexpensive.
  • They come with several maintenance benefits: minor stone chips can be repaired with a touch-up pen of the same colour. These are available at your local large motoring store and don’t cost too much. More serious damage can be taken care of at a body shop at little cost in minimal time.

Cons:

  • Since they’re cheap and quick to apply, a lot of solid colours tend to have that “orange peel” finish on closer inspection, which isn’t ideal.
  • Their limited colour palette (white, red, blue and black) means they’re a little boring.

Metallic

Pretty much the same as solid paints, metallic varieties differ thanks to the addition of a small quantity of powdered metal added. The size and type of metal added varies depending on manufacturer choices, but it’s usually about 1 part in 50 of aluminium powder. The metal particles in the paint pick up and reflect more incident light than the basic paint colours, adding a sleek look that’s undeniably cool.

Pros:

  • It hides very minor damage from a distance in a much more effective way than solid paint.
  • Providing it’s kept clean, metallic types hold up better than solid paint.

Cons:

  • When damaged, it’s much harder to get metallic paint to match properly. Even professional body shops can’t guarantee a match, and poor polish jobs will show up swirl marks more noticeably.

Pearlescent

Rather than metal particles, pearlescent paints are made with ceramic crystals which don’t just reflect light but refract it, too. This splits the finish into different colours by allowing some light in and slowing it down as it passes through, giving the paint a sparkle that varies depending on how you look at the car.

Pros:

  • Pearlescent paints can disguise scuffs and minor damage to the bodywork.
  • Unusual, stand out variations add a unique finish.

Cons:

  • Pearlescent paints don’t come cheap. Even the most inexpensive variations cost more than £500 while the majority will come in between £1,000 and £2,000, depending on the model.
  • Not exactly inconspicuous, so if you don’t like the attention then pearlescent paint isn’t for you.
  • Hard to replace, so it can be expensive and time-consuming to replace any damage.

Matte finishes

The most uncommon type, matte finishes tend to come in grey or black, adding a premium, high-end look to any motor. Sometimes they have a more reflective satin or silk finish than a proper matte look, but they’re broadly the same. The finish prevents the paint coat from reflecting light, which gives the car a hazy, flat quality that’s becoming increasingly popular.

Pros:

  • Has an undeniable prestige to it.
  • If it’s applied as a vinyl wrap – literally where the car is wrapped in vinyl to give it a different appearance – it can be easily removed.

Cons:

  • Unsurprisingly, matte finishes are expensive – a BMW M3 with such a finish added £3,000 more.
  • Damage to the paint shows up more than other varieties.
  • It’s hard to maintain and look after. Polishing matte paint with a normal abrasion polish could leave gloss patches on your car.

Shopping for car paint

When you’re looking for your new car colour, keep the following in mind:

Colour match: If you’re just doing a touch-up, then make sure the paint you’re buying is factory matched to the vehicle. There should be a colour code on the driver’s side door or in the car’s manual for reference.

Compliance: Make sure any paint you buy is in compliance with environmental rules and regulations.

Preparation: A clean, well-prepared car will save you time, money and effort whether you decide to do the job yourself or take it to a body shop.

We hope you’ve enjoyed this article. Looking for more from Brindley Garages? Head here to check out more news from the motoring world, or if you’re in the market for a new car, see how we can help at our homepage.

Added: 20 December 2019

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