Best Automotive Paint: Ultimate Selection Guide
Of the coolest stuff you could do with your car, repainting it is probably the most satisfying. But with so many types of automotive paint in the market, it can be a chore to figure out which brand and version are best for the job. You’ll be looking at urethane or enamel in single-stage or two-part forms, and you might be wondering what base coats are all about.
Be aware that painting cars and other vehicles can be a long and engaging job. You will need to figure out the best automotive paint for your particular color scheme and the gear and method needed for it. We‘ve put up this short list of automotive paint reviews to help get you started on redoing your car’s look.
Quick Comparison: Top 5 Automotive Paints
We list here a small selection of automotive paints, followed by helpful points on application and quality.
**Below, you'll find my more detailed reviews about the automotive paints, but you can also click the links above to see current prices or read customer reviews on Amazon.
The Best Automotive Paint Reviews
We review these products here while spelling out the strengths and issues of each.
The Best Automotive Paint With High Quality Single Stage Urethane Topcoat
For bigger jobs, it’s good to have your own spray equipment to take advantage of paint bought and applied in bulk.
This paint can be applied in a single stage as high-quality urethane top coating. It is a two-part system that uses acrylic urethane pigments for coloring and is activated with another compound, with lower than 2.8 pounds per gallon VOC.
The item comprises three-fourths of a gallon of glossy black resin packaged with one quart of activator, yielding a gallon for direct spraying. It is, therefore, mixed at a ratio of three to one and can be optionally reduced by 5% by using a urethane-grade reducer.
Out of the can, it seems a bit thick and needs thinning with the reducer. It could also use more pigment, as multiple coats are needed to achieve the most gloss. The primer’s smell can also be strong and sharp. Still, the glossy jet-black results on curvy metal are worth it.
Speedokote High Gloss does require a lot of coats for the most shine. But for those with spray equipment and in need of an inexpensive and low-maintenance finish, it’s our budget pick in automotive paints.
Hardens in a few hours
Good weather resistance
Iffy chemical smell
The Best Automotive Paint For Light-duty And DIY Touch-up Jobs
You don’t need to shell out a lot for big cans of paint and spraying equipment for smaller jobs. Dupli-Color Perfect Match is a good example of an affordable aerosol paint.
This is a ready-to-use acrylic lacquer spray paint that dries quickly and is formulated to precisely complement the original factory coloring of your car. As a one-part spray system, it’s good for touch up work and other handy jobs on all kinds of OEM finishes.
There is a wide range of matching colors for popular older models and newer domestic and imported vehicles. This makes it convenient for restoring scratched surfaces as well as paintable accessories. For added glossiness and protection from the elements, you can take the final step of finishing it off as a base coat. Dupli-Color’s own Perfect Match clear top coat would be ideal.
Paint in aerosol cans is not as cheap as other stuff sold by the gallon, but once sprayed on it shines just as fine.
Readily applied, single-stage system
Exact factory color match
Match may not be exact with weathered finishes
Expensive per-ounce pricing
The Best Automotive Paint For Easiest Applying
Of the best automotive paint brands, Dupli-Color is well-known for its paints that are easy to apply. If you have a garage with spray gear, body paint like this will make sense for many large jobs.
This three-stage lacquer paint leads to a higher quality, glossier finish when primer, color, and clear coatings are applied as instructed. It sprays on readily and dries fast, after which additional coatings can be applied at a later time.
The formulations were ready for spraying out of the box, with no need for reduction or mixing. Once the required top coat is dry it will be ready for buffing into one of the smoothest finishes you can achieve. This is a system formulated for users who expect the best finishes, and it shows.
Dupli-Color’s Paint Shop finishes will help you get professional results in body jobs. It’s our pick for the best automotive paint that’s able to impart the glossiest looks.
Mixing not needed
No window for recoating
Painting in stages can be a chore
The Best Automotive Paint For Quick Paintwork
For those working in garages loaded with work, PlastiKote lacquer spray paints will probably be their go-to for small jobs. They are a safe choice and among the best automotive paints available for quick paintwork.
Serious DIYers like to use lacquer paints for the glossiest looks, and the brand has long produced convenient aerosol sprays for redoing such coatings. Its one-part acrylic lacquer system continues this tradition.
If you need to restore your car’s finish in spots, this durable and quick-drying base coat is available in matching factory colors for most popular vehicle models. As a two-stage paint system, it’s ok to apply as color/top coat in touch-ups and other odd jobs on various factory finishes where you can get to the primer or a base coat.
If the three steps of applying primer, base, and clear top coat are followed, you should be able to get the best results. For spraying onto surfaces that can be sanded to the existing primer layer, it can be readily sprayed on a quick color coat.
Glossiest finished with multiple coatings
Exact factory color match
Naturally UV and fade resistance
Traditional two-stage preparation can be a chore
High cost per ounce
The Best Automotive Paint For Durable And Weather-resistant
Rust-Oleum is a well-known brand known for durable, weather-resistant finishes. Their three-stage system applies like other lacquers for a high quality gloss.
But this paint features a special formulation that inhibits rust growth. This makes it a prime candidate for coating undersides and wheel wells, or any surface exposed to flying debris and corrosive effects.
The paint as delivered was ready to use and needed little to no mixing. More coatings can be sprayed on at any time with no window limitations, and it sprays on nice and dries in about 30 minutes. With a Rust-Oleum top coat applied, once everything dries it can be buffed to a brilliant shine.
Rust-Oleum’s Auto Body Paint is already a pretty good base coat. Its superior anti-rust properties make it a standout pick for colorful undercoating as well body paintwork.
Great weather resistance
Clear coating required for the most gloss
Slightly pricier per ounce than other bulk lacquers
2K fast drying
1K No re-coat window
1K no-recoat window
Ins And Outs Of Automotive Paint
Automotive paints are normally formulated with three components, the pigment itself, the binder, and the carrier. The carrier is basically the chemical base in which sticky resins are held in suspension, liquefying them until the paint is applied. This agent works by bonding the resin coats containing the pigments to the metal or primer surface before it evaporates away. Termed the binder, resins are composed of sappy hydrocarbons that set when exposed to air. The tint of the pigments is what accounts for the coat’s coloring.
Paint of any type or quality is more likely to look ugly once if it’s not properly prepared and applied. Enamel paints are less expensive than those formulated from urethane or acrylic lacquer and their softer resin coats normally result in glossier finishes. But this comes at the cost of durability, thus enamel is less used in body work. Urethane paints tend to be the most durable and easier to maintain, but they can be trickier to apply via spraying.
Single-Stage Or Two-part Paint?
Once you’ve chosen the lacquer or urethane type that is most applicable to or your situation, you will have to figure out which single- or two-part versions can do the job. The single-part (1K) and two-part (2K) component correspondingly refers to the absence or presence of a separate component that chemically activates drying. You will also have to decide if the base and clear coat methods applied in stages are in order, or if the single-stage painting is enough.
Single- or one-part paints can be sprayed on and dried immediately. They require solvents like thinners mixed in, for the paint to feed readily through spray nozzles. But single-part paints are not typically applied to a car’s entire shell.
Two-part schemes require an additional activating or hardening chemical to set the bond between the surface and the paint layers, known as the evaporating or drying coat. Two-part formulations are non-porous and weather-proof and benefit from longer shelf lives as they do not readily dry in the absence of their activators.
Base Coat, Clear Coat, And Single-stage Jobs
A single-stage paint is good for basic glossy looks. Basecoat plus clear coat schemes are more flexible since they can be made to dry into matte or semi-gloss finishes and can acquire more gloss with the application of more clear layers.
For basic yellow, black, or red colors, you can actually save upon your budget and time by going for single-stage paint. If you want to go for a metallic finish, though, it’s better to follow schemes based on the basecoat and clearcoat system.
The additional layers of clear coat provide more protection to your car’s finish against chips and scratches. Plus, it will allow you to do some wet sanding for a super-smooth glossy finish. For pearl or metal flake colors, you will be using the basecoat and clear coat system as the treatments are applied right after the color and then succeeded by a clear coat.
Professionals recommend that in doing a paint job, you should pick a particular brand for all your paints. This way, the compatibility of every layer won’t be compromised, right from the etching primer up to when you apply the topcoat.
You can also read this informative article on the best paint for automotive work.
What type should I get?
Lacquer, Urethane, and Enamel
The resins in automotive paint are usually made up of one of three basic formulations, namely lacquer, urethane, or enamel.
The chemical formulation impacts the durability and the look of a paint’s finish, the manner by which it is applied, and its costs. These are the general terms for the combination of hydrocarbon polymers that form the resins in paints.
Urethane-Acrylic and Enamel paints are good options for a decent job, although they come in different varieties. These are acrylic, synthetic, as well as hybrids made up of the two resins. Lacquer is known to be easy to apply and dries up to a glossy finish that’s fit for any show car, although it needs more maintenance over time.
What about lacquer’s advantages?
Compared to other widely-used paints, Acrylic lacquer can be made to look really deep and glossy with multiple coats but does require more care. The color coats tend to become brittle as the years go by and the top coats wear off. Its liquid components such as toluene are highly toxic and the laws prohibit its use in many States.
Although lacquer may be the greatest for show cars, it is not the most practical choice for people who just want to drive. Lacquer has its advantages, it is naturally highly resistant to UV and water, and resists fading or yellowing so long as the top coating is maintained well. But those who are too busy to regularly attend to its upkeep may find its maintenance requirements unsatisfying in the long run.
Paintwork That Shines
Depending on the coloring chosen, all these schemes when applied properly can offer pleasing finishes that you can be proud of.
With its proven three-stage formulation and flexible application, Dupli-Color’s Paint Shop Finish is the best automotive paint for the glossiest lacquered painting jobs.
We think that Speedokote High Gloss Jet Black 2K Acrylic Urethane delivers a great low-maintenance urethane finish for the price. It’s our budget choice for practical paintwork.
Whatever you choose, stick to the same brand for all your paints and supplies to ensure the highest quality possible.
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