House Grail is reader-supported. When you buy via links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission at no cost to you. Learn more.

3 Different Types of Car Paint (with Pictures)

Chemical Guys SPI_995_16 Meticulous Matte Detailer and Spray Sealant

A new coat of paint can transform your car, give it a new lease on life, and get rid of old pesky scratches and rust. If you are looking to re-coat your car, there are a few key things to be aware of. First is the type of paint that you decide to use. Some paints are illegal to use in certain states, and other paints need specialized techniques to apply.

The second important point to note is that car paint jobs are made up of three different layers, each with an important and specific purpose. These begin with the primer, followed by the base or color coat, and finally, the clear coat.

The 3 Different Types of Layers:

1. Primer

The first layer to go on your car is a primer layer. This layer gets the surface of your car ready to paint, in a similar way to when you paint the walls in a house. It’s usually a simple base color, like black or white, and helps your color coat stick to the car in a uniform and consistent way. Without it, the color would likely fade and chip off and be patchy and inconsistent.

Dupli-Color BSP100 Gray Paint Shop Finish System Primer - 32 oz.
  • Pre-reduced, ready-to-spray lacquer
  • No mixing or reducing required
  • Easy to apply and dries quickly

2. Base or Color Coat

The next coat to go on is the color. This is the actual final color that your vehicle will be. The primer acts as a binding layer for the color coat to adhere to properly. Color coats do not have any hardeners or strengtheners mixed in; these are added later on in the clear coat. Without a hardener, the base coat would diminish rapidly, being vulnerable to UV rays and the harsh elements.

Red Jaguar
Image credit: Red Jaguar by pixel2013, Pixabay

3. Clear Coat

This is the “finish” layer, protecting the color coat from fading and damage. Just as the name implies, a clear coat has no pigment — it’s a clear and shiny protective layer. These coats are often urethane or polyurethane and have mixed-in chemicals to protect the base layer from harsh UV rays.

USC Spray Max 2k High Gloss Clearcoat Aerosol (2 PACK)
  • 2 component aerosol clearcoat that is easy to apply, flows smooth and dries to a long lasting, high gloss finish
  • Easy to use aerosol. Activate, shake and spray. Unique nozzle delivers spray gun results
  • Dries to a high gloss finish. Excellent weather and chemical resistance

The 3 Types of Paint

There are three types of paint used on a regular commercial basis. While there are other paints available, these are the most common and will get the job done.

Ford Mustang GT
Image credit: Ford Mustang GT by oskaline, Pixabay

1. Solid Color Paint

As the name implies, a solid color paint job is the most simple and affordable means to paint your car. This is usually a common color like black, white, or red, which is what makes them an affordable option. Also, the more common a color is, the easier it is to fix scratches and dents with a matching touch-up paint or pen, compared to a “sunset orange” or “deep sea metallic blue,” for example. Even a major touch-up can be done relatively cheaply and easily at a body shop.

Because it dries with heat and not over time, a custom paint job can be done at home simply and easily. Provided that you have the space and a compressor with a spray-gun, it simply needs the application of even heat to dry quickly.

HomeRight Finish Max Series Handheld HVLP Paint Sprayer, Choose Between Quick Finish, Finish Max and...
  • PAINT SPRAYER FOR COUNTLESS DIY PROJECTS: The HomeRight Super Finish Max paint sprayer offers the ultimate DIYing experience. It’s...
  • ADJUSTABLE SETTINGS TO SUIT ANY PROJECT: You can adjust the air cap to spray horizontal, vertical, and round. You can also adjust the...
  • MORE POWER=SPRAY MORE MATERIALS: Offers 450 watts of powerful spraying experience. It sprays a wide variety of paints and stains such...

The downside? They are more susceptible to weathering compared to a metallic finish. Also, they can be a little boring. A solid-colored coat of paint may have great utility but not much style.

2. Metallic Paint

Metallic paints, on the other hand, have utility and style. Put simply, metallic paint, also known as polychromatic paint, is a solid color infused with powdered metallic particles. These particles give it a stylish, reflective look. They accentuate the body contours of the car more than solid paint. The shiny effect depends on the size and the density of flakes within the paint, and these vary between manufacturers. But generally, it’s roughly one part powdered metal to 50 parts paint.

Metallic paints are much stronger than solid colors. The powdered metal gives them an advantage over solid paints. They won’t fade over time from UVs like solids do, as the metal serves as protection. Another advantage is that metallic paints are seen as a “premium” finish in the car world, and cars with these finishes have a far higher resale value.

Dupli-Color BTY1619 Magnetic Gray Metallic Toyota Exact-Match Automotive Paint - 8 oz. Aerosol
  • The Package Length of the Product is 6.858 centimeters
  • The Package Width of the Product is 6.858 centimeters
  • The Package Height of the Product is 16.637 centimeters

Of course, this premium designation comes at a cost. Metallic colors are also much harder to match up for a repair, due to their unique metal/paint ratios. On the flip side, depending on the color, they can hide scratches quite well.

3. Pearlescent

Instead of metallic powder, pearlescent paints have infused powdered mica in the mix. What makes pearlescent paints particularly striking is that the embedded mica both reflects light and refracts it. Refraction means the light is moving slowly through the mica. The refraction causes the light to split into many different colors. This gives it not only a unique sparkle, but the color also varies depending on your viewing angle. You can imagine a moving rainbow across the contours of your car, as it moves slowly through a ray of sunshine. It’s a striking, beautiful effect.

Armor All Premium Car Wash and Wax + Protect Car Wash Soap - 48 FL OZ
  • Contains a pearlescent polymer that minimizes water left on your vehicle when rinsing (less water = less drying = fewer spots)
  • Specially formulated to enhance sheeting and beading
  • Safe on all vehicle surfaces

Just like metallic finishes, a pearlescent finish will hide scratches and blemishes well. But to fix these scratches is even more complicated than metallic paints and will leave a nice big hole on your wallet. Cars with this finish have a far higher resale value, due to their “premium” designation.

4. Matte

Matte finishes are rare, except on certain expensive vehicles. They give your car an “unfinished” look, with a dull finish as opposed to the shiny ones mentioned above. This look is achieved by adding a special flattening agent to the final clear coat or sometimes by adding a high PVC content to the paint itself. It’s a unique look that will definitely make your car stand out from the crowd.

Chemical Guys SPI_995_16 Meticulous Matte Detailer and Spray Sealant, 16 oz, Orange
  • Protectant and quick detailing spray for satin matte paints, matte finishes, matte vinyl wraps
  • Works great on glossy paint as well and partial matte/glossy vehicle finishes
  • Easily and gently removes dust, grease, grime, dirt and bird droppings without leaving an oily residue

A matte finish is both tricky to apply and even trickier to fix. This is because blemishes cannot be buffed out like a traditional clear coat finish. If you do buff it, you’ll end up with shiny patches all over your vehicle! This usually means that even a relatively minor scratch will end up requiring an entire panel re-spray to get it just right.

In Summary

There is a paint type for everyone, just as there is a car type for everyone. Some want their car to stand out from the crowd, with a flashy pearlescent finish. Others prefer utility over aesthetics: Your car will get scratched at some point, and fixing it should be cheap and simple.

In summary, a solid finish is a cheaper, easier finish for the budget-conscious or those with vehicles that work hard for a living. If money is no problem, pearlescent and metallic paints can make any car look like it belongs on the Hollywood strip and improve the resale value too. It comes down to your personal preference and whether style or utility is the most important factor.

Related posts

OUR categories

Project ideas

Hand & power tools