Paint Finishes: How They’re Created, and How They Affect Collision Repair
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Paint Finishes: How They’re Created, and How They Affect Collision Repair

There’s more to an automotive paint job than just color. With finishes including flat, matte, pearlescent, candy and more, there are a lot of ways to change the look of your car. Here’s how auto body technicians get these looks, and how they can affect the way your vehicle is repaired.

What Goes into Painting a Car?

Modern auto paint uses three stages:

– The primer coat bonds to the metal, giving the paint a surface it can adhere to.
– The color coat gives the car most or all its color.
– The clear coat uses clear paint that is hard-wearing to protect the underlying color coat. It also gives the car a glossy sheen.

Making changes to each stage can affect the final look of the paint job.


Primer is available in several colors, so it seems logical that you would want a color that is closest to the final color to get the best results. However, the color coat should be thick enough that the primer doesn’t matter. What does matter is getting a primer that works with the paint system.

Paint Types

There are four types of paints used for the color coat. Each formula comes with advantages and disadvantages.

Lacquer was used on cars from the 1920s to the 1960s. It leaves a glossy finish without much work, but it’s also soft and prone to cracking and flaking. This paint is only used on antique cars that need a period correct appearance.

Enamel paints are harder than lacquer, but they require more finishing to get a smooth surface. Some paint formulas are left open to the elements, while others require a clear coat for protection. This type of paint replaced lacquer in the late 1960s.

Urethane paint is the most common type of paint used in modern cars. The paint base is mixed with a reducer and a catalyst to get the right consistency and drying time based on current weather conditions. This paint is toxic, so it’s applied in a booth with an air filtration system by a technician wearing a protective suit and mask. Once painted, the car can be “baked” to speed up the drying process. Urethane is always clear coated.

Water-based paints are a recent innovation. They’re far less toxic than urethane-based paints, but color choices are limited. As more colors become available, this new type of paint is slowly replacing urethane. It also requires a clear coat.

Flakes, Pearls and Candy Paint: Changing the Look of Clearcoat

Clearcoat can be mixed with different materials to alter the way that light bounces off the paint. Here’s what is used for each clearcoat effect:

– Metal flake is fine glitter.
– Pearlescent paint uses a fine semi-transparent powder called “paint pearls.”
– Ghost flames and stripes are made with transparent paint pearls.
– Candy paint is made by adding dye to the clearcoat.

All four materials are expensive and are used sparingly in factory paint jobs. Metal flake and pearlescent coats add a few more steps to painting a car, but they don’t add a huge amount to the overall repair costs. However, custom paint jobs can use large amounts of these materials to get a dramatic effect. It’s not uncommon for show cars to use well over $1,000 in raw materials just for this paint layer.

Matte Paint

Whether you call it flat, low gloss or matte paint, this finish is the most misunderstood of all automotive paints. Flat paint jobs have been a staple of hot rod culture since the late 1940s, but they started making their way into factory finishes about a decade ago, mainly in high-performance sports cars.

Modern matte paint jobs use the same three-part process as glossy paint. Clearcoat normally adds shine, but that doesn’t mean matte paint is bare. By giving the clearcoat a rough finish, it dulls reflections to give the paint job the desired look. In some cases, the flat finish comes more from the clearcoat than the underlying color coat.

Getting a matte paint job to look right requires extra preparation and careful sanding between coats to get the right finish. As a result, collision repair takes longer and costs more.

Get Your Car Back Looking Like Nothing Happened

When you want quality collision repair, the choice is simple: go to Merton Auto Body. We use the Spies Hecker paint system, which is certified by more auto manufacturers than any other paint on the market. We’re also an I-CAR Gold Class certified shop, so our technicians have the latest training for new paint colors and finishes. We’re located between Lisbon and North Lake in the heart of Waukesha County.


Book your appointment now!

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