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9 Different Types of Paint for Cars

A row of different color of cars.

There’s a saying you might have heard of, and it goes like this:

“If you want something done, you gotta do it yourself.”

Maybe you need car paint to patch up the rust, or you want to make your car look like yours and not everyone else’s. Otherwise, you perhaps want to prepare your vehicle for resale.

Whatever your reason is for studying the types of car paint available, learning the pros, cons and usage of different types of car paints will help you.

Before You Continue Reading This

As you read this, you’ll find out that different types of car paint may cross over one another. For instance, you’ll soon learn about both urethane and acrylic as standalone paint types, and you’ll find out how these two different substances work together.

You must also keep in mind the Kelly Blue Book standards for choosing the best paint colors for your car if you plan to touch it up before you sell it.

Base Car Paints

1. Urethane

Restoration Shop - Fire Red Pearl Acrylic Urethane Auto Paint - Complete Gallon Paint Kit - Professional Single Stage High Gloss Automotive, Car, Truck Coating, 4:1 Mix Ratio, 2.8 VOC

This car paint type comprises elastic substances that hold the colors added to it together. It typically has a glossy or semi-glossy appearance. You’ll often find it mixed with acrylics when applying it to an automobile.

You also can find it as a base paint, which usually adheres to bare steel and aluminum.

Pros

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This paint dries fast. It also prevents corrosion, which you probably would think is good news if you want to sell your vehicle.

It also prevents abrasion and reduces scratching or more severe damage that could occur upon impact. In addition, it withstands weather elements such as rain, snow or UV rays.

Moreover, you can add urethane paint over other materials, including lacquer paint without any negative reaction. They also do not easily chip, discolor or fade.

Cons

If you don’t want your car to have a plastic-like appearance afterward, you might not want to use urethane. You also need to have the most protective gear on you that you can possibly obtain because it does emit harmful environmental fumes.

What’s more, it may not always flow through paint spray guns as easily as you would like it to.

2. Acrylic

Restoration Shop - Pure White Acrylic Urethane Auto Paint - Complete Gallon Paint Kit - Professional Single Stage High Gloss Automotive, Car, Truck Coating, 4:1 Mix Ratio, 2.8 VOC

This type of car paint consists of a variety of substances, such as coloring, plastic materials and stabilizers or defoamers. It may contain cobalt, cadmium, manganese, chromium or lead.

Pros

It produces a glossy finish when applied, so use it if that’s the kind of result you want. You also can paint it on any oil- or wax-free surface.

Even though its water-based, it will dry quickly, and it does seem to stand the test of time and provides you the vibrant color appearance you want.

Acrylics also contain less toxic ingredients than other paint types. In addition, they adhere to most materials, including car metal. Furthermore, they will produce a hard-shell appearance that most car owners want.

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Cons

Acrylic paint coats might fade after some time. They also might not stand up against rain, snow or UV rays, as well as the urethane types might.

This may explain why you see urethane and acrylic paints combined. Both together seem to achieve desired results better than one or the other types of car paint.

3. Lacquer

Rust-Oleum 323350 Automotive Premium Custom Lacquer Spray, 11 Ounce (Pack of 1), Rugged Black

Lacquer paint produces a hard finish once it dries. It resists water than other types of paint that appear to have a soft texture after drying. It comes in a variety of colors, but you can find it in clear to use as a finish if you want.

Pros

They dry quickly, and they seem to develop an insensitivity to dust. This makes lacquer paint one you can apply in extreme heat outdoors without much disturbance to your desired outcome.

You also will find this paint type easier to use with a spray gun or when applying from an aerosol can.

Cons

Although it does provide resistance to sun and weather elements, it may not last as long as when you apply urethane paints. Lacquer paints might also chip or crack more easily if hit by gravel or other road debris when driving.

In addition, you might need multiple coats and require precise brushing to prevent the appearance of streaks.

4. Enamel

Dupli-Color Epae10000 Premium Acrylic Enamel Spray Paint (Pae100 Gloss Black 12 Oz), 12. Fluid_Ounces

If you want to use enamel as a single-stage painting application, you’d apply the all-in-one basecoat and clearcoat together. This will allow you to cover your car in one session instead of two.

Pros

Enamel paint usually doesn’t leave brush marks on the surface after you apply it. Furthermore, it provides a glossy finish and seems to adhere to most materials, including metals.

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You also can paint over it without preliminary priming unless you use a lighter color over a darker one.

Cons

Cons of this type of paint pertain to certain conditions. For instance, enamel paint does have an efficient drying time but may not dry as fast as other paint types.

Although enamel coats don’t always require priming beforehand, you might need to prime before painting if you apply a light color over a darker one. 

Car Paint Finishes

In some cases, you might decide to just add a finishing coat after buffing the scratches from your car’s surface. All finishes produce a unique effect.

Make sure you choose the right finish for your case but choose the option simplest for you when possible.

1. Solid

Red solid paint Acura MDX on road.

The least expensive, uncomplicated way to repaint your vehicle usually involves adding as few coats as possible.

However, you sometimes need a finish over the top of another paint you did apply to your car’s body. Therefore, you might apply a solid paint finish.  

Pros

You won’t have a hard time finding the right color to match the original. Moreover, it will provide you an inexpensive paint solution and does help you hide existing scratches without much effort.

Cons

The solid paint options might bore you a bit. Furthermore, you might struggle with finding a solid finish that has the same texture as your original car paint surface.

For instance, you might need a solid finish to match either the matte or glossy finish you have. You won’t always find them in stock when you need them.

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2. Metallic

Gray metallic Audi e-Tron on parking space.

This type of paint provides a sheen you can’t achieve with any other color coat you would add to your car. It resembles electric conductivity and stands out more than standard paint.

Pros

Metallic paint gives your vehicle’s surface a sparkle. Additionally, it helps you hide scratches and dings. If the base color matches, it might not matter whether your original car color has a matte or glossy texture.

It also allows you the chance to give your “ride” a new look if you’re tired of the old one.

Cons

Finding your preferred paint color or appropriate matching shades may come as a challenge to you. It also might cost you more to use metallic paint than another type.

If you have dents or scratches after you paint your vehicle with a metallic finish, it could make restoring the body surface to its original appearance more difficult.

3. Matte

Orange matted finishes paint vehicle on road.

Matte paint surfaces don’t reflect as much as glossy or metallic ones do. It provides a distinct artistic style that doesn’t stand out too much but still makes a statement.

Some matte surfaces might have a bit of a glow as opposed to “flat” paint, but matte and flat paints may have almost the same attributes.

Pros

You can buff out minor scratches and cover over all imperfections and make your matte finish look like the original.

There’s less chance you will have to worry about blemishes appearing after you paint over them using the matte coat. This, of course, depends on if your original car paint material also was matte.

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Cons

It doesn’t seem to withstand weather elements as do other finishes that produce a hard-shell surface. Matte finishes also require more regular upkeep and seem to collect dirt and grime easier than glossier coats.

Wiping spilled substances that could cause stains also doesn’t come as easy as when using less porous finishes.

4. Iridescent

Red jaguar with iridescent finishes paint.

Iridescent finishes make your vehicle stand out more than just the standard paint. You might notice the shine a little more than if you were to apply a metallic coat. 

Pros

It can enhance a metallic paint coat, and it also enhances a shiny look if that’s what you want to achieve. It might also help you conceal hard-to-hide scratches and dents easier than when using solid-colored or matte coats.

You would use iridescent finishes to make sure your vehicle stands out amongst most others you see on the road.

Cons

You might have a hard time finding the same iridescent paints you used for the original job you did on your vehicle.

Body shops even have a hard time keeping up with the current versions. Make sure you have enough in stock in case you want to paint it this way again in the future.

5. Pearlescent

Gray Mercedez Benz with pearlescent finishes paint.

This car paint finish produces a similar result as the iridescent kind. It has a similar effect as an iridescent finish but may not appear quite as “flashy.” Consider it a compromise between conventionalism and individuality. 

Pros

It provides a shiny appearance without taking away from your base car color. You can use pearlescent finishes on just about any color car you have.

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Cons

You might not find the exact color as you want. Likewise, if you want to perform the same finishing action again, you might not find the exact pearlescent match again.

Make sure you have enough finish in stock in case you decide you ever need to paint your car the same way in the future.