Different Types of Car Paint

Les différents types de peinture automobile

Most car buyers don’t think beyond the color when considering paint. If they like blue, then they’ll choose a blue car without a second thought about the specific paint type.

However, this decision should be about more than just the color. The type of paint plays a big role in the vehicle’s look.

Of course, knowing how different paints affect a car’s appearance is only part of the matter. It’s also crucial to understand the pros and cons of each type.

I’m going to cover the main styles of paint you can pick from when buying cars. I’ll also discuss why your decision matters and how to get the paint you really want.

Why Is the Type of Car Paint Important?

Anything beyond selecting your paint color might seem like an arbitrary decision. However, you’ll find that the paint style plays a key role in several areas.

First off, you want to consider the look you envision for your car. Are you fine with a standard paint job? Or are you seeking something that sparkles?

Solid paint will accomplish the first goal just fine. Meanwhile, pearlescent paint produces a look that sparkles thanks to the way it reflects color.

Cost may be the biggest issue of all. If you’re on a budget, you either need a cheaper finish or one that comes with no additional charges.

Also note that you’ll have to pay higher repair costs to fix a more-advanced type of paint. You can spend well over $1,000 to fix top-shelf finishes.

Perhaps you’re lucky enough to not have to worry about money. In this case, you may want a paint job that sets your car apart from the rest.

Buying a car features plenty of important steps. But as you can see, the paint job shouldn’t be overlooked during the process.

What Kinds of Car Paint Are There?

Manufacturers offer a variety of paint types for the cars they sell. The selection may be confusing at first, especially if you have absolutely no prior knowledge on the subject.

However, you can quickly figure out which paint is right for you by looking over the different kinds. These styles differ in terms of their added costs, effects, advantages, and disadvantages.

Solid Paint

Solid paint is the default choice among new car buyers, because it doesn’t cost anything extra. Instead, you simply choose a basic color, such as black, blue, grey, red, silver, or white.

Other solid colors beyond these options may be available. But most manufacturers concentrate on basic options, especially nowadays.

This type of paint job begins with a single-color application. Next, a protective coat of lacquer (a.k.a. clear coat) is applied to minimize the chances of scratches and fading.

Some car makers mix acrylic paint with an isocyanate hardening agent. This “two-pack” product offers extra protection and lets manufacturers skip having to use lacquer.

One of solid paint’s benefits is that it makes repairing scratches easier. Unlike some of the fancier paints that are covered later, these basic colors are easy to work with.

Another big advantage is that solid paint is cheap. You don’t normally have to pay additional charges when opting for this style.

The downside is that solid paint is more prone to the “orange peel” effect, meaning the surface texture becomes similar to an orange peel. Manufacturers don’t put as much time into solid paint jobs, which increases the chances of orange peel due to poor technique.

One more drawback includes the limited color choices. You may not appreciate having to pick from a bland variety of black, blue, grey, or white.

Metallic Paint

Metallic paint is basically just solid paint with powdered metal added to it. This extra bit of metal reflects light in a specific manner and adds more shine to the finish.

This paint will also hide minor imperfections better than a solid finish. You just need to make sure that the surface is clean enough for this benefit to come through.

Do note that metallic paint costs more than the solid variety. This cost generally ranges from $250 to $500, depending upon the car.

It’s also worth mentioning that metallic repairs are trickier. Body shops have a tougher time finding a proper match, which requires more time and effort.

Sometimes repair shops will merely find the closest thing they can. Using a slightly off-kilter version makes for the possibility of swirl marks showing up in the paint.

Pearlescent Paint

A pearlescent finish is similar to the metallic version. The one difference, though, is that it uses ceramic particles to reflect light (rather than metal).

This effect is more pronounced with pearlescent paint. The ceramic particles cause a refracting phenomenon, where the finish is split into a variety of colors.

The end result is a sparkly effect that stands out more than a metallic finish. This paint also offers a very rich overall color.

The biggest downside, though, is that a pearlescent finish costs more. You may pay anywhere from $1,000 to $3,000 for one of these jobs.

Pearlescent paint is similar to a metallic finish in that it requires more-extensive repair work. It’s hard to find matches for and requires a good deal of skill to fix.

Matte Finish

A matte paint job creates a non-shiny look. This style was inspired by older muscle cars, which often featured a flat appearance.

One way to create a matte finish is by using solid paint with high PVC content. Another method involves putting a flattening agent in the lacquer coat.

While matte painting sounds simple enough, it’s actually much tougher than a regular solid. The difficulty comes in the fact that one can’t simply buff out mistakes.

You might pay anywhere from $2,500 to $5,000 to have matte applied to your new car. You’ll also have to front expensive repair bills if your paint ever gets severely damaged.

Given the costs, it’s no wonder why matte is a specialty finish that’s often found on luxury cars, such as some Bentley and BMW models.

How Do You Get the Type of Car Paint You Want?

The perfect time to get the paint type you want is when buying a car. Just keep in mind that dealerships mostly keep solid colors on their lot.

You may have to custom order a car if you don’t find one with your desired paint job. The dealership can help you through the process and quickly get what you’re looking for.

You might need to wait on your car anyways if it’s in demand, which happens every year with popular new models. This scenario is a great time to choose your desired paint style, because you’ll be waiting anyways.

Wait times on custom-order cars depend upon the company. BMW is among the quickest, since they generally deliver new cars within 1-3 weeks.

European manufacturers can take several weeks or even months to ship a car to America and have it completely assembled. This kind of wait time will make you think twice about ordering a specific paint type.

Just remember that ordering special paint puts more time between you actually driving the car. Manufactures aren’t like pizza places when it comes to taking special orders. They instead mass produce vehicles and worry about custom orders on the side.

Of course, you can always get the car first and worry about the paint later. Take it to a local autobody shop or dealership and ask if they can do the work.

Chances are that you’re not going to get an appointment immediately anywhere. But the shop will probably finish the paint job quicker than if you wait on the manufacturer.

One more option is to do the work yourself. This method is perfect if you’re heavily into cars and feel confident in your painting abilities.

You can find plenty of YouTube videos and blog posts online that discuss how to apply different types of car paint. Just be warned, though, that the more-advanced paint jobs are really hard for beginners.

Tips for Keeping Your Paint Job Safe to Avoid Huge Repair Bills

The last thing you want to do is go to the hassle of getting a certain style of paint, only to badly scratch it. I covered earlier how expensive these fixes can be.

Therefore, you want to be aware of the different events that can cause harm to your exterior. Keep the following tips in mind so that you can better protect your paint.

Use Touch-less Car Washes

A touch-less car wash uses high-pressure jets and chemicals to clean your exterior. It doesn’t, however, rely on harsh brushes and rags that could scratch your vehicle.

Contrast this to self-serve wash stations. They often feature outdated equipment, including old brushes that have the potential to leave behind tiny scratches.

You may choose to forgo wash stations entirely and do the job yourself. In this case, be sure to avoid using an abrasive rag that could leave behind little blemishes.

Park Away from Everybody Else

Parking lots are the most-dangerous places on earth for your paint. Everything from a careless person opening their door to a runaway shopping cart have the potential to cause scratches.

You can’t control what everybody else does, but you can control where you park. Look for spots that are away from both cars and shopping carts.

You may have to bite the bullet and park next to somebody, especially at a busy shopping mall. The best you can do in this case is to at least park with equal distance from the two cars that you’re in between.

Avoid Parking on the Street

Sometimes it’s a necessity to park on the street. For example, you may go to a friend’s house who doesn’t have anymore room in their driveway.

But it’s definitely best to avoid parking on the street whenever possible. Use your driveway at home or a parking garage downtown.

Doing so avoids the possibility that your car will get sideswiped by another vehicle or even a bicyclist. The latter can sometimes scrape parked cars with their handlebars.

Don’t Drive on Unpaved Roads

Gravel and dirt roads have lots of stones and other debris lying on them. Your car’s tires kick up these objects, which can potentially cause scratches.

Avoiding unpaved roads is the best way to prevent this type of damage. You shouldn’t have any trouble with this if you live in a fairly populated area.

Of course, you may occasionally find yourself having to travel down a stone or dirt road. Drive slow in these cases to reduce the chances of pebbles and anything hitting your car at a faster speed.

Be Careful when Brushing Off Snow & Ice

Chances are that you won’t be storing your car outdoors if you spend any considerable amount of money on the paint,. Nevertheless, your car can still get covered in snow when you go somewhere and have to park outside.

Your goal may be to clear the snow off as quickly as possible. But this haste can cause you to hit the paint with the scraper and/or knock big ice chunks onto the exterior.

Ideally, you’ll turn the defroster on for a while to help melt the snow and ice. If you’re in a hurry, though, be sure not to scrape recklessly and risk damaging your paint.

Be Careful When Loading Your Car

Moving heavy items in and out of your car carries some of the greatest potential for ruining a paint job. You can easily scratch the exterior with one foul slip.

Don’t worry about speed when loading up your car. Instead, focus on getting each item in/out without hitting the paint.

Even taking small items out to the car holds some risk. You may feel tempted to lean what you’re carrying against the door when opening it.

While doing so may seem harmless, the items you’re holding could scrape the door. If you have to push things against the door as part of a balancing act, then you’ve probably got too much in your arm.

Look for Scratches After Taking Your Car to the Body Shop

You probably don’t think about mechanics harming your car. After all, they’re paid to fix problems and provide helpful services like oil changes.

But you’d be surprised at how many people take their car to the body shop or dealership, then later find scratches. This damage can be caused by anything from a tool being dropped on the paint to the mechanic hitting something while backing in.

Hopefully you’re dealing with the type of place that’ll let you know about the damages and offer to fix the problem. However, you should still be on alert and do an inspection yourself upon arriving home.


Choosing your car’s paint type isn’t just an afterthought. The style of finish dictates how your car looks and how much it costs.

Most people just go with a solid paint job. A solid finish doesn’t cost extra money and it’s cheaper to repair. It also allows you to quickly drive off the lot in a new car.

However, you won’t have many options when picking a solid color. This type of paint is also the most prone to the orange peel effect.

Metallic paint offers a shiny finish for the cost of a few hundred dollars. But repairing a metallic finish is costlier than the solid version.

Pearlescent paint contains ceramic particles that create a sparkling appearance. However, it costs more than metallic paint and also features the expensive repairs problem.

A matte finish is common on certain luxury car brands, making it stand out from the pack. Just note, though, that you’ll also pay heavily for this non-shiny look.

No matter what type of paint you pick, it’s important to keep the finish intact. You want to avoid doing things like parking on the street, using manual car washes, and driving down gravel roads.

Repairing any paint job can be expensive. It only gets costlier when you have a metallic, pearlescent, or matte finish.

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