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How to Paint a Car Like a Professional

How to Paint a Car Like a Professional

NAPA is here for all those auto body painters who like to take on new challenges and DIY projects! We know there is always a sense of pride when you handle a project by yourself and it turns out great. And applying automotive paint like a professional is not as difficult as you might think. However, there are vital steps you should take—like sanding the vehicle first—and products you should have on hand from trusted sources like NAPAonline and 3M™ Automotive to help you follow through with the multistep process. 

3M™ Automotive partnered with NAPA to bring you state-of-the-art performance spray guns to get the paint dispersed evenly with the added bonus of a faster cleanup and a lightweight design. The brand also offers a 1-Step Paint Finishing System, which enables you to get a deeper, glossier finish and removes any fine defects. This takes the place of compounding, thus saving you time. It also created abrasives, like sanding disks, specially developed for increased throughput, which grind faster and live longer than other premium abrasives on the market. 

How Do I Begin Prepping My Vehicle Before Painting?paint masked truck

Check for rust on your vehicle! This is one of the first things you need to tackle because it is difficult to reverse once the process of rusting begins. If you live in conditions where there is a lot of humidity or if you live by salt water, you might need to take a closer look than those in dryer climates when searching for rust spots, flaking and any signs of steel oxidation. Note that some vehicles like Suzuki’s, Saturn’s, Pontiac’s, some Fords, the Volkswagen Polo Hatch, Nissan Altima’s and several more makes and models are more prone to rusting. 

If you do not properly treat your rust spots before painting, it may cause unsightly bubbling under the vehicle’s paint. You will find rust spots that are easy to buff out with sanders and other areas covered in rust that might warrant a replacement, such as rusted fenders or smaller parts that are easy to replace. This is important to identify because you may want to purchase necessary OEM products on and book services with the NAPA Auto Care professionals before beginning your DIY painting project. 

There are a few things that you might consider picking up to make your life easier:

  1. A measuring cup/mixing cup comes in differing sizes and serves as an inexpensive solution, which helps with prepping your paint and easy cleanup.  
  2. A spray paint can filling machine is a more expensive tool, but it can make consistent paint jobs a lot easier to handle, especially if you’re getting into collision repair, fleet and commercial painting, restoration and custom paint jobs. The machine is easy to install and requires no cleaning. 
  3. A dry guide coat kit reveals surface imperfections such as pinholes and scratches, requires no drying time and is applicable in both wet and dry sanding conditions. 
  4. Paint protection films are specially engineered to protect surfaces like your repair shop walls and garage floors. The nonwoven construction traps airborne contaminants, helping to control dust and overspray. 
  5. Paint measurement sticks are a convenient way to hand mix paint and measure levels. 
  6. Playing with colors? A paint test panel is the best little device to help you settle on the perfect color through color evaluation, and it sports a pre-punched hole for hanging. 
  7. A handy paint strainer ensures a true color match. 
  8. Make sure you have the proper protective gear on and buy a cool-looking paint suit that to keep your clothing and skin protected. 

You may not need all of the above-listed auto paint supplies depending on the magnitude of the paint job and how you choose to complete it. And, quite frankly, you may need even more tools than what are listed. But the above are helpful options, which can make automotive painting a fun and rewarding experience.

Looking to fix small spots on your vehicle? Consider reading “How to Apply Touch-Up Paint Like a Pro” and “How To Use Touch-Up Paint.” 

How Can I Avoid Some of the Most Common Vehicle Painting Mistakes? 

One of the most common painting mistakes is proceeding as if painting is a one-step process. Succeeding in painting your own vehicle starts with patience and meticulousness. If you become impatient during the process, it is easy to miss process monuments, which will cost you more time, effort and money to redo. 

What Is the Hardest Thing About Painting a Car?

It is well-known among vehicle painting enthusiasts that masking is the most challenging part of painting a car, truck or SUV. This is because there are several pieces—like trim, mirrors and exhaust pipes—that don’t need painted and are easy to skip. While masking these parts is tedious, you should know that not doing so will mean having a nightmare cleanup on your hands. 

From high-powered sanders to liquid cleaners, auto body and paint projects come with lots of hazards. Always read the instructions before applying chemical compounds and removers like adhesive cleaning solvents. Park your car on a flat, level service and ensure you are working in a well-ventilated area. Never start a paint job without the proper safety equipment, such as a face shield, safety goggles, coverall suits and respirators with hoods and filters.

How to Buff Out Paint on a Car

3M Automotive has a superb line of sanding options and abrasives to get that car, truck and SUV ready for a makeover. They come in the form of sanding discs, sanding belts and sheet rolls and are available in all different grades and sizes. Remember that when your sanding device starts to get dull and worn out, don’t try to squeeze the last bit of use out of it because it won’t smooth your vehicle’s surface evenly. When the sander begins to get dull, replace it with new sandpaper. Perhaps start with a 40-grit, then move to an 80-grit or 120-grit sandpaper. If you’re unsure, you can always downgrade the grit. Just pay attention to the surface and keep in mind you are trying to get everything smooth and flat. 

How to Paint a Car at Home

  • Start with laying down your protective materials so you don’t accidentally spray paint the kids’ bike in the garage or unintentionally redecorate your floors and tools. 
  • Look over the vehicle’s body and wipe it down with a wet coat of wax or grease remover to check for unevenness on the primer. Do sanding touch-ups as needed during this step. 
  • Use the guide coat method, which acts as a thin mist of contrasting paint over the primer. It is helpful in showing you where you might need to sand or where you have over-sanded. This step will help you to get your paint coating even.  
  • Using a sealer over the primer will fill in any sand scratches you were unable to smooth out and cover any bare metal. Use the sealer that is recommended for the base coat of the paint you choose. 
  • If you’re using a spray gun, you’ll want to test the spray pattern as getting your technique down is absolutely necessary! Each automotive spray paint gun varies in its gun angle, speed, path and distance patterns. Keep the gun 10 to 12 inches from the vehicle’s surface and keep the automotive spray gun as parallel as possible. You’ll want the coating to appear smooth and glossy but not runny.
  • Next, paint your automotive basecoat while carefully following the instructions on your paint’s technical sheet. Most paint products come with a technical sheet and guide that tells you how you should apply it, how long it takes to dry etc. 
  • Finish the job with a beautiful clear coat and allow the vehicle to fully dry. 

What Are the Finishing Touches After Painting a Vehicle?

When all the steps to painting your vehicle are completed, you’ll want to end the cycle with 3M Automotive’s Perfect-It 1-Step Finishing Material, designed to eliminate the need for heavy compounding and deliver deeper, glossier finishes. There are finishing pads that go along with this product and make it easier to apply, giving you a showroom finish while reducing the damage to your finished product. Need to remove ultrafine swirl marks? Try the 3M™ Perfect-It EX Ultrafine Machine Polish

The list of automotive paint supplies is extensive. Beyond the brushes, auto body paint and spray paint, you might also need etching primer, surfacing primer, body filler, hardeners and binders, as well as additives, clear coats and ceramic coating. To get the best use of these fluid and spray supplies, auto body tools like paint mixing equipment, electric agitators and paint masking dispensers will help fill out your customization station for your DIY automotive paint project. 

Frequently Asked Automotive Painting Questions: 

Do I Need to Sand in Between Coats of Paint?

Note that sanding between layers of paint is only needed if, after drying, you notice paint runs, unsightly drips or uneven areas of paint.

How Much Paint Do You Need to Paint a Car?

How much paint you need depends on the size of your vehicle and how your spray gun is spraying; however, you’ll likely need approximately 1 gallon for two coats of paint. Paint coverage, in general, is largely impacted by the color and quality of paint you and the original vehicle color that you are covering.

How Many Coats of Paint Does a Car Need?

Make sure to refer to the manufacturer’s directions—this can vary from two coats to four coats, and the technical guide will indicate the number of coats you need, as well as drying times. 

How Much Does It Cost to Paint a Car at Home?

The cost of taking on the automotive painting process at home can range because the starting state of your project-vehicle makes a big difference. If you’re restoring a heavily rusted old-school automobile, sanding and replacing essential parts might require more investment. 

It can cost anywhere from $250 to nearly a thousand dollars. Painting a vehicle in a home garage, for example, may require purchasing tools you might not already have available, so keep these costs in mind and lay out a plan for what you need to estimate your cost. 

How Much Does It Cost to Get a Car Painted Professionally? 

It can cost you upwards of $10,000 to get a vehicle professionally painted; of course, this cost goes way up if you want a creative paint job or if you have a lot of prep work that needs remedied, like metal flaking. This cost is possibly worth it if you lack the confidence to make your automotive paint job a DIY. 

The benefits of getting an automobile professionally painted include a higher potential resale value, a new sleek finish and less hassle than painting the vehicle yourself. If you are curious about what services NAPA provides and how much those services cost, please visit the NAPA Auto Care Repair Estimator, put in your year, make and model and select your service. Call up a local NAPA Auto Care center near you for specifics! 

How Long Does It Take to Paint a Car? 

Suppose you have all of your materials ready to go. In that case, you can have a brand new-looking automotive paint job in just a few days, letting your vehicle fully dry according to the paint manufacturer’s directions after every coat. 

What Is the Highest Quality Automotive Paint?

There are so many brands of well-trusted auto body paint, which professionals use to get that glistening finish, including scratch and fix paints used for automotive touch-ups, metallic colors, matte finishes and several fun colors to suit your style and give you that professional finish. 

How Do You Spray Paint a Car Professionally?

The NAPA experts have outlined several ways to get you on the right path to spray painting your vehicle successfully. Still, 3M Automotive provides the best overall kits, like performance spray gun Systems, rebuild kits, spray gun needles and products for finishing the paint job. 

If you’re thinking about spray painting your car with spray paint that comes in a can rather than a professional spray gun, please read “How to Spray Paint a Car (If You Must).”

All the Ways 3M Automotive Products Help You Paint Like a Professional

The spray gun system lets you enjoy faster cleanup, greatly improves cycle times and sprays a full range of automotive coatings using a lightweight, ergonomic system, which allows you to replace atomizing heads and connects directly to the 3M™ PPS™ Series 2.0 Spray Cup System. Rebuild kits allow you to refresh your automotive paint gun trigger pull, include a fan and fluid control with new springs and seals is an economical way to keep your equipment operating like new. 

From performance spray gun needles to atomizing head refills, NAPA has you covered. Paint your vehicle confidently and reference other helpful guides like “10 Car Paint Prep Tips” for more information. Shop on NAPAonline or find a local NAPA Auto Parts store—you can even take advantage of our Buy Online, Pick Up in Store service. Or order all the parts you need plus connect to our professionals from the palm of your hand by downloading the NAPA GO App today. NAPA offers a full range of vehicle painting accessories, and one of our highly esteemed brands, 3M™, offers everything you need to paint like a pro.

Featured image courtesy of Pixabay.

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More than 90 years ago, the National Automotive Parts Association ("NAPA") was created to meet America’s growing need for an effective auto parts distribution system. Today, 91% of do-it-yourself customers recognize the NAPA brand name. We have over 6,000 NAPA Auto Parts Stores nationwide serving all 50 states with a unique inventory control system that helps you find the exact part that you need.

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