The Technical Guide to Automotive Painting

Stew Broward
Head of PR (Enzo Collision)
February 17, 2023

Automotive painting can be a daunting task to take on. This is true even for experienced auto paint technicians and hobbyists. It requires detailed knowledge of the various tools, materials, techniques, and safety protocols.

Before starting any automotive painting project, it is important to plan ahead. With the extra cost of painting a car in Los Angeles, it can be cost-effective if done right.

However, success depends on having the right information and tools, such as air compressors and body fillers, at your disposal. In this post, we’ll share with you the nitty-gritty of auto painting straight from our certified technicians. 

The car painting process

If you’re wondering how to paint an automotive, here’s the car painting process step by step: 

Have safety gear

One of the first steps to painting a car is ensuring that you have all the necessary safety gear and equipment. This means making sure you have a face mask, protective eyewear, gloves, and coveralls. These protect your skin from any potentially hazardous chemicals. 

Get the right equipment and accessories

A car wrap is helpful if you’re doing spot jobs. Masking tape is essential as well.

You’ll also need the proper equipment. Different paint types can be applied in various ways.
Spray painting is the most common method used in automotive painting. This involves spraying the paint onto a surface. It’s usually done with an air or electric gun. 

Lacquer and enamel paints are often applied this way. With this, they dry quickly and offer a glossy finish. 

For more intricate designs, some may choose to use brush-on paints such as acrylics or urethanes. These take longer to dry but provide better coverage for detailed artwork.
Make sure you have everything you need to paint a car. This helps avoid delays in your project. 

Prepare the car’s surface

The process of painting a car can be divided into several steps. Each step requires specific materials and techniques. 

One of the crucial steps in painting a car is properly preparing the car’s surface. This step is important in creating a smooth, even finish that will last for years. 

First and foremost, it’s important to ensure the vehicle is free of dirt, oil, grease, or rust. Clean and degrease the surface thoroughly. 

If there is any rust present, it must be removed either with sandpaper or a chemical rust remover. Once the car’s surface is clean, use a primer or sealer to cover up any scratches or dents. 

Applying automotive paint

Now, let’s dive into the car painting steps: 

Choose the right spraying technique

The right spraying technique can make all the difference when it comes to automotive painting. Different techniques can produce different outcomes, so it’s important to select the best option for your project.

The most common spraying techniques are: 

  • Airbrush: Airbrushes provide the most even coverage when used with thinned paints. 
  • HVLP (High Volume Low Pressure): HVLP systems offer increased control but require more time to achieve desired results.
  • Conventional: Conventional spray guns can be used for thicker paints and provide a faster finish.

Apply the base coat

The base coat forms the foundation for your paint job. It should be applied in thin coats with an airless sprayer using even strokes. 

Begin slowly moving the sprayer from side to side then in circular motions. Keep the sprayer at least twelve inches away from your vehicle’s body panel. Doing this will ensure the base coat has a uniform finish. 

Be mindful of color consistency

When painting cars, it’s important to be mindful of consistency. This is especially true if you’re doing spot jobs. 

This may seem like an obvious point. However, many amateur painters overlook it. 

Often, they end up with a patchy or uneven look. To ensure your colors are consistent, always mix your paints in the correct ratio before applying them on the car’s surface. 

Remember to have enough paint as well. You want to have enough to cover the entire surface without running out before you finish. 

Put on a clear coat

Next, you need to apply a clear coat. This is a layer of paint that acts as a seal and provides the car with an added layer of protection. 

The clear coat also helps the colors remain vibrant. It gives your car or truck its signature look.  

Pro tip: Use a spray gun for the best results. 

Wet sand and buff

Wet sanding is an important step in the automotive painting process. It’s used to smooth out any imperfections in the paint to create a uniform finish. 

After wet sanding, you must buff the car with a polisher or buffer to bring out its shine and luster. 

Understanding automotive painting

Before you start painting a car, it’s important to understand the basics of automotive painting. Car paint is designed to protect the body of a car from weathering and rust. It also gives the vehicle its unique look.

Car painting involves using specialized equipment. This includes spray guns, air compressors, mixing machines, and pressure washers. The process entails prepping the surface with sandpaper or other materials. 

This removes any imperfections and creates a smooth finish. Do this before applying primer, base coat, and clear coat. 

Types of automotive paint

It’s important to know the different types of automotive paint before you begin a painting project. Automotive paints come in two main categories: solvent-based and water-based. These paints are composed of resins, pigments, and solvents.

There are different types of car paint: 

Enamel paint

Enamel is one of the most common car paint types. It is a solvent-based type of paint that gives cars an attractive shine. 

Enamel is highly durable in all types of climates. This type of paint is created with a combination of pigment, resin, and solvents. 

The solvent evaporates over time and it leaves behind the pigments and resins to form a hard surface. Its longevity makes it great for vehicles that will be exposed to harsh elements or frequent use.   

Acrylic paint

Acrylic paint is a fast-drying paint that can be used on many surfaces, including bare metal and plastic. 

Acrylic paints are also noted for their durability. This is because they’re resistant to water, rust, and chemicals. They come in many bright colors and provide excellent coverage with just one coat of paint. 

Urethane paint

Urethane paint is another popular auto body paint for cars and trucks due to its durability. It is usually applied in two coats over a primer. Then, the second coat is applied for added protection.

This paint also offers some flexibility when it comes to customization. This is because you can mix different colors and shades to create unique looks. 

However, urethane paint does require special equipment and ventilation. As such, it’s best left to professionals for application.  

Water-based automotive paint

Water-based automotive paint is a type of paint commonly used for painting cars. It’s easy to use, dries quickly, and provides excellent coverage. 

As such, it’s the ideal choice for those just starting out with automotive painting. The downside is that waterborne basecoats can be more expensive than other types of paint. 

Nonetheless, its long-lasting finish makes it well worth the investment.  

Components of automotive paint types

To learn to paint cars, you should also know the components of automotive paint. This can prepare you for how to paint cars.


Pigments are the color-producing components of solid paint. These can be either organic or inorganic. 

Organic pigments include things like carbon black. Meanwhile, inorganic pigments are generally metal oxides such as iron oxide (rust). These pigments also help protect the vehicle from UV radiation and other environmental hazards.  


Binders are the key component of any type of paint. This includes automotive paints. It’s composed of resin. It binds together all other components into a solid film when dry. 

It also provides adhesion to the surface. Moreover, it adds durability, gloss, flexibility, and chemical resistance to the finished product.
Binders used in automotive paints include alkyd resins, acrylic resins, and urethane resins.  


Automotive paint typically contains a combination of solvents. This includes ethanol, acetone, toluene, and xylene. These solvents help to liquefy the paint’s ingredients. This way, solvent-based paint can be evenly applied to the vehicle’s surface.  


Additives are substances added to paint to improve or enhance its properties. An example would be hardeners, which make the paint dry faster. 

Another is flow improvers that help spread the paint evenly and reduce brush marks. Additionally, UV blockers protect against fading from exposure to sunlight. 

There are also wetting agents which help ensure an even coat of paint.  

Troubleshooting common paint issues

Even the most experienced automotive painter may occasionally run into problems. Know how to troubleshoot and fix these issues. It can be the difference between a successful project and an expensive disaster. 
Here are some of the most common issues you may encounter when painting your vehicle:

Orange peel

Orange peel is a common issue in automotive painting. This can be caused by a number of issues.
It occurs when the paint applied to the vehicle has an uneven or rough finish. It then resembles an orange’s skin texture. 

This defect happens mostly due to improper techniques used during application. This includes spraying at too close of range or incorrect pressure settings on the spray gun. Not having enough flash time between coats can also be a cause.

To prevent this problem from occurring, it’s essential to practice proper spraying techniques. This includes maintaining the proper distance between the spray gun and the vehicle’s surface. Make sure to set the correct pressure on your gun as well.  

Runs and sags

Runs and sags happen when the paint is either too thick or thin or when it’s applied unevenly. To avoid these problems, use a spray gun to distribute the paint in light coats evenly.
If you notice any runs or sags during the process, stop. Let them dry before applying more coats of paint. 

Fish eyes

Fish eyes occur when there’s an oil or grease residue on the vehicle’s surface. This repels the new layer of paint. 

To fix this, clean the area with wax and grease remover. Then, sand it down and rinse thoroughly. If these steps don’t work, try using a tack cloth. 

Blistering and bubbling

Blistering occurs when air bubbles form beneath the surface of the paint. Bubbling happens when water droplets collect underneath. Both cause bumps or raised spots on your vehicle’s finish.
To prevent blistering and bubbling, it’s crucial to ensure the surface is completely clean of any dust or dirt particles. 

Make sure to use even brush strokes in one direction across the surface. This will help create an even base that won’t easily bubble up when exposed to moisture. 

Color mismatch

As mentioned, you must be mindful of color consistency. Color mismatch can be caused by several factors. This includes a difference in the type of paint being used or an incorrect mixing ratio.

Start by checking the manufacturer’s instructions regarding the type of paint and mix ratio to use.
Pros like Enzo Collision uses computer matching for auto paint to ensure that they can match the color of your car.

They can also find rare colors that you can’t simply find on DIY projects.
Contact our experts to avoid color mismatch and give your car that perfect finish. 


How do you paint a car?

Painting a car is a multi-step process that requires the right materials, tools, and patience. It involves cleaning and prepping the car’s surface.
Then, you must apply primer and sand it down to create a smooth base. Afterward, you need to apply several layers of paint.
Make sure each one is completely dry before adding the next. Finally, a clear coat should be applied and left to cure for at least 24 hours before buffing. 

What kind of paint is used on cars?

The type of paint used on cars is usually specialized automotive paint. It’s designed to resist chipping, fading, and peeling in various weather conditions.

What are two types of automotive paint finishes?

The two main types of automotive paint finishes are solid and metallic. A solid finish is a single-color coating that is usually applied to the entire car. Metallic and pearlescent paint has tiny flakes of metal mixed into the paint to give it a shimmering appearance.
Both types of finishes protect the vehicle’s body from corrosion, UV rays, and other environmental conditions. There’s also matte paint if you want a matte finish. 

What are the alternatives to painting a car?

You can opt for vinyl wraps and decals, giving your car a new look without painting. Alternatively, touch-up paint is available in spray cans that can be used to cover minor scratches or chips.

Working with an auto body shop is another option. Rather than DIY-ing it, you can have a professional apply more durable, chip-resistant paint to your vehicle. 

Finding the best automotive paint technician

Painting vehicles requires a great deal of skill and expertise. While you can do it yourself, it may end up with a sub-par result. 

The best way to ensure your car looks great is to hire a professional automotive paint technician. Our experts at Enzo Collision can provide you with the highest-quality automotive painting services. 

Our commitment to excellence and attention to detail make us the ideal choice for your automotive painting needs. We use only the best materials and the latest techniques to ensure your car looks its best.

Contact Enzo Collision today to learn more about how we can help you achieve a flawless finish.  

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