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Car Wrap vs Paint

Automobile wrapping and painting photo collage.

If you wanted to update the look of your car or repair a damaged paint job, there was only one option until fairly recently. You could get a car wrap as far back as the 50s, but they were far out of reach for most people. 

Now, both wraps and paint are legitimate and accessible, options. This can leave you wondering which one you should choose. 

To answer this question, you’ll need to know the ins and outs of each method, including pros and cons.   

What is a Car Wrap? 

In addition to having a unique wide body package, carbon fiber components, forged wheels, and low profile tires on a drift, the BMW M3 F80 is wrapped in chameleon vinyl.

You’ve probably seen a car wrap at some point. It’s very common on vehicles used for advertising, for good reason. It gives the vehicle a custom design for a fraction of the price of a custom paint job. 

There was a time when advertisers or business owners were the only people who wraps were popular with. In recent years, this has changed. 

It’s unclear which came first, but somewhere along the way the price of wraps went down, and the popularity soared. Now, they are popular with vehicle owners, and not just for advertising. 

Put simply, a car wrap is a vinyl decal or sticker. They can be used on all or part of the vehicle, even the windows. 

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A wrap allows you to change the look of your vehicle, without repainting. 

What is Car Painting? 

Red paint being sprayed on an automobile up close in a special booth.

You are certainly familiar with this one. In this case, your car is partially or completely repainted. Style and quality vary greatly based on the type of paint job you choose. 

Types of Car Paint 

There are two basic types of car paint. Urethane paint is the new kid on the block, relatively speaking. It’s the type that is used on vehicles today and has been since the 1980s. 

It is more difficult to apply, and should only be done by a professional. 

Acrylic paint is rarely used today, except on antique vehicles. It is easier to apply than urethane, but it will not last as long. 

Related: 9 Different Types of Paint for Cars

Finishes 

A photo of newly painted car in red color isolated on white background.

In addition to the paint itself, a finish is applied. Solid or gloss is the most common type of finish. You can think of this as a clear coat. It doesn’t change the look of the paint and is the finish that most cars receive at the factory. 

Metallic paint gives paint a metallic look. A pearlescent finish provides a beautiful pearl finish that changes color based on the light. Matte is the last type. It’s similar to gloss, but without the shine that gloss provides.  

A Note About Car Paint 

In the rest of this article, you can assume that we are talking about urethane paint with a gloss finish, unless otherwise mentioned. Because this is the type of paint that’s usually used on vehicles, it makes sense to compare it with car wraps. 

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Types of Car Wraps 

A modern automobile covered in matte vinyl in the color grey is shown up close.

Car wraps give you more options than paint. This means there are also more types of car wraps. Let’s take a closer look at the types of car wraps and paint. 

Full or Partial Wrap 

A wrap can be either full or partial. You can wrap one area of the vehicle or the entire vehicle. Wrapping a portion of your vehicle can be a great way to change the look of your vehicle, without a huge price tag. 

There are also blackout wraps. This means that areas like your grill, which aren’t traditionally painted, are wrapped as well.   

Interior or Exterior 

A expert in car wrapping applies vinyl foil or film on the vehicle.

A car wrap can be applied to the interior or exterior of the vehicle, just like paint. Essentially, any surface that is metal or plastic can be wrapped. This can be a great way to change the look of your entire car, including the interior. 

Protective Wraps 

Protective wraps are a bit different than most types. Instead of changing the appearance of your car, these are designed to protect your paint job. The wrap is clear, allowing your paint job to shine through, without exposing it to the elements. 

Wrap Finishes 

Close-up of a car wrapping professional applying vinyl foil or film.

Just like paint, wrap comes in different finishes. 

Gloss 

Gloss finish is designed to mimic the look of gloss paint. This is the most popular and common type of wrap finish. You can expect it to give the same shine as a paint job. 

Matte 

Close-up of modern car coated in matte vinyl in a gray tone.

This is designed to look like a matte paint finish. It’s not nearly as popular as gloss, but it does offer a unique look. 

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Satin

In simple terms, a satin finish is a cross between a gloss and a matte finish. However, it can also have a bit of a metallic appearance. It’s considered an upgrade from the standard gloss or matte finish. 

Carbon Fiber 

Close up look of car side mirror from the carbon fibre, black and white.

A carbon fiber wrap is designed to look like carbon fiber material. Carbon fiber is an expensive material. This makes it something of a status symbol. Of course, it’s also very attractive. 

Carbon fiber wrap has actual carbon fiber pieces woven into the wrap. This provides some of the texture of carbon fiber, as well as the look. 

Features of Car Wraps vs Car Paint 

Now that we know a little bit about car wraps and car paint, let’s take a look at the features each provides. This will give you a better picture of which option might be better for your situation. 

Looks 

Shiny car in the parking lot, car security, and contemporary city transportation.

This is probably the most important consideration for you. You are considering a car wrap or paint because you want your vehicle to look good. 

When you think of car wraps, you may think of flashy or eye-catching designs. However, they don’t have to be that way. You can actually get a car wrap that is one solid color, and even matches the original color of your car, if you wish. 

A car wrap can look like a high-quality paint job, and be nearly indistinguishable from it. In fact, wraps give you design options that aren’t even possible with paint. 

One of the benefits of vinyl wrapping is that there’s much less variation in quality. If it’s properly applied, a wrap is essentially guaranteed to look great.  

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When it comes to paint, there’s a huge range in quality. An economy paint job is miles apart from a high-quality paint job. This affects durability, as well as the initial attractiveness.  

There’s also much more room for error when painting. An experienced professional can give you a mistake-free paint job. However, if you choose the wrong company, the paint may have mistakes. 

Vinyl wraps are not error-proof. They do require skills to apply. However, they are much easier to get right than applying paint. 

Design Options 

A man putting color-changing vinyl foil to a car in a detailing studio.

Both car wraps and paint offer you many design options. However, car wraps offer designs that would be out of reach or impossible with paint. 

Both paint and wraps are offered in solid colors. This is the simplest option. When it comes to paint, it’s by far the least expensive option.  

Both options also offer designs and patterns. When it comes to paint, this requires a lot of skill. However, because wraps are printed, there’s no extra skill involved in creating designs. 

It’s also possible to create designs with wraps that would be very difficult or impossible with paint. 

Durability

In general, paint is more durable than a wrap. However, there are lots of factors that affect durability. 

The average car paint job will last between 10-15 years with proper maintenance. The cheapest paint jobs may only last 5 years, while high-end paint jobs can last for longer than 15 years. 

Car wraps usually last 5-7 years, with some easily lasting 10 years with proper maintenance. 

Costs 

Rainy day, chameleon holographic color car, side mirror with water drops up close, car covering.

Whether painting or wrapping your car is cheaper will spend on the quality and design you are looking for. In either case, you’ll pay a bit more if you have a larger vehicle. 

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Costs to Paint a Car 

The costs of painting a car vary greatly. In simple terms, the more expensive the paint job, the more attractive and durable it will be. 

If you are dreaming of a painted-on design, a custom paint job can be very expensive. 

A basic paint job can cost between $300 to $900. This is the lowest quality, and you can expect only the areas that are visible to be painted. According to Car and Driver, 1/3 of consumers who paid $500 for their paint job weren’t happy with it. 

However, a standard paint job can give you a nice look without a huge expense. This can be considered a “good” paint job. You can expect to pay at least $1,000 to $3,500 for this type of painting. 

Of course, painting a vehicle can cost much more than this. Some paint colors or types are very expensive. If you want a custom design, this also adds significantly to the price tag. Custom paint jobs can easily cost between $10,000-$20,000. 

Costs to Wrap a Car 

An individual installing car protection film is shown up close.

Wrapping is more expensive than a cheap paint job. However, it’s less expensive than a custom paint job. 

A quality wrap can cost between $1,600 to $6,000 for a professional full wrap. The most expensive wraps can cost up to $10,000. 

Wrapping your car is more economical if you want your car to look nice for years to come. If you want a special color or design, wrapping is much more economical than painting. 

There’s another economical advantage to wrapping your car. When the wrap comes off, the paint underneath has been protected. If your paint was in good shape when the wrap was applied, it will still look good when the wrap is taken off. This can save you the costs of a new paint job if you get tired of the wrap. 

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Time Considerations 

A wrap usually takes 7-9 hours to complete. If you want a complete wrap, you can expect your car to be at the shop for 2-3 days. 

Paint, on the other hand, can take much longer. A quality paint job can take 40-80 hours. Of course, budget paint jobs will be completed much faster than high-end jobs. 

You can expect your vehicle to be in the shop for a few days to a few weeks. This depends on the quality of the paint job, and any damage that needs to be repaired before painting.  

Benefits of Car Wraps 

Close-up of a car wrapping professional applying vinyl foil or film.

Car wraps can be used for interior and exterior. This makes it easier to completely change the color. If you change the exterior color, you may find the interior no longer matches. Wraps allow you to quickly remedy this. It also makes your vehicle look more unique. 

Of course, interior surfaces can also be painted, but the process is more expensive and more involved. 

They are also economical. You can get the look of a custom paint job, with a much lower price tag than painting. 

If you hate waxing your car, you are in luck. Car wraps don’t require the same care as a paint job. However, you will need to keep it clean and use the appropriate products for your wrap. 

Lastly, a car wrap will usually look great for the life of the wrap. Fading, peeling, and chipping are rare before the wrap is nearing the end of its lifespan. 

Benefits of Painting   

Painting does have benefits as well. A good paint job will last longer than a wrap. You are already familiar with paint. You know how to care for it, and what to expect with a new paint job.  

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If you don’t want to rewrap or repaint your vehicle in 5 or 10 years, a high-quality paint job might be the better choice. 

Which is Better? 

Close-up shows a young man tuning a car's body by gluing it with carbon film.

Should you choose a wrap or a new paint job? It really depends on the look you want to achieve. Personally, I prefer wrapping instead of painting. 

It gives you so many more options than painting, for a fraction of the price of an exotic or custom paint job. It’s also a much faster process, which is important if you don’t want your vehicle in the shop for a long period of time.