Car Paint Types: Which Kind is Right for my Project?

A close up of a car hood painted with metallic green paint with the words "Car Paint Types"

Painting a car can be exciting, but the number of paint options can also make it overwhelming. Once you’ve finally decided on your color and whether or not you want any decals, you’ll find out that there are still choices to be made – namely, what type of car paint and finish you want. Whether you want to paint the car yourself or you want to get a professional to renovate your paint job for you, this information can help you decide on the right paint for your job.

Different Car Paint Chemical Make-Ups


Urethane car paint is generally the longest-lasting car paint option out there. It’s highly resistant to chipping and can resist fading for 10 years or so. You can also paint it over pretty much any previous paint job. Urethane paint dries quickly and doesn’t tend to run like enamel paints can.

Due to its higher quality, urethane car paint is more expensive than enamel paint. Urethane is often considered a good alternative to lacquer, but make sure that you are 100% sold on urethane since lacquer can’t be painted over urethane paint.

If you’re wanting to paint the car yourself, urethane is not recommended since it’s tricky to handle. Also be aware that a certain category of urethane paints – aliphatic polyurethane – is illegal in some states.

Acrylic Enamel

Acrylic enamel paint lasts a long time since it creates a strong, hard shell over the whole of the car. There are two kinds of enamel paints: single-stage and two-stage. Essentially, single-stage enamel paints have the basecoat and clearcoat mixed together so that you only have to apply a single layer of paint; two-stage enamel requires the basecoat and clear coat to be applied separately.

This is another paint that is not recommended for DIY painting projects for two reasons. One is that – like urethane – acrylic enamel paints are very hard to apply. The second reason is that shops have the equipment to “bake” the paint onto the car so that it lasts longer.

Acrylic Lacquer

Lacquer was the very first car paint and was the only car paint option for several years. The pros of this kind of paint are that acrylic lacquers are the easiest paints to apply and they have a high gloss. The cons are that this paint fades quickly – especially when exposed to UV rays – and that the paint is now illegal in many states due to its environmental impact.

Acrylic Urethane

A great new option for paint is acrylic urethane. It lasts a long time like enamel and is easy to apply like lacquer (but isn’t illegal anywhere). The only difficulty with this kind of paint is that it contains a catalyst to make it dry quickly, so it needs to be used as soon as it’s mixed.

Types of Car Paint Finishes

Solid Paint

The most common and least expensive paint option out there is solid paint. Solid paint is inexpensive, and it’s also easier to repair since the color is easy to match and scratches can be seamlessly hidden. The only downfall of this paint is that it’s the most boring option.

Metallic Paint

If you’ve ever wondered what gives certain cars an eye-catching subtle sparkle, the answer is metallic paint. The aluminum powder in metallic car paint can catch the light of the sun for a dazzling shine, and its light-catching abilities can help to cover up small dings and scratches.

Metallic auto paint tends to be more expensive. Since the color is hard to match, it’s usually more difficult to actually repair dings and scratches, so this paint is more expensive in the short and long term. Furthermore, you’re a bit more limited on color options when you choose metallic paint.

Pearlescent Paint

Pearlescents are similar to metallic paints except that they replace the aluminum powder with ceramic (mica) crystals. These crystals can appear to be any color of the rainbow since they don’t just reflect light – they refract it as well. If you’re looking for a dazzling, subtly colorful paint that looks different from every angle, pearlescent is the way to go.

Of course – like metallic paints – the color is hard to match and therefore hard to repair. Pearlescent paint is also significantly more expensive than solid paint.

Matte Paint

The latest craze is matte paints. A matte paint job is going to run you a pretty penny, and the maintenance on the paint is quite difficult. Most paint repair and maintenance tools out there are meant for glossy paints; trying to buff out a scratch at home could leave your car with one glossy spot in a sea of matte.

Have you decided how you want to paint your car? Need more help deciding? Either way, City Collision Center is happy to help. They have years of experience doing body work and a passion for car restorations. Give them a visit or request an estimate today.

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