DIY Car Paint: How To Paint a Car?

Painting a vehicle can be a job not suitable for everyone. Apart from the right tools and products, it is also essential to be a good painter so that later the project does not become a total disaster. It is advisable to go to an expert or a professional workshop of autobody and painting. But if you want to know how to paint a car on your own, there is no impediment to give a new life to your vehicle or some ancient relic that has been left in your garage.

Things Needed Before You Start

First of all, you will need a lot of time. A car painting job can take anywhere from several days to a couple of weeks. You will need a shed or garage with excellent ventilation, minimal dust, good lighting, electricity, and lots of room to work around the vehicle.

A home garage may not be suitable because of the presence of furnaces or water heaters. This may cause ignition of paint fumes which can accumulate during the painting process. But you can get by if you take certain precautions. Once you secured your painting location and set aside time to get the job done, you’re ready to gather your materials.

Paint Requirements:

The amount of paint you’ll need is going to vary on car size and the volume of the vehicle’s areas requiring paint.

  • Small to Medium sized cars- 1 gallon of primer, 3 gallons of topcoat, and 2-3 gallons of your clear coat is recommended.
  • Larger sized cars- 1 ½ gallon of primer, 4 gallons of topcoat, and 3-4 gallons of clear coat is recommended

If you want to repaint areas with the same color as the existing paint job, have your paint color matched by finding the color code – usually located on the vehicle’s compliance plate – and take this information to an auto shop.

But you’ll need more than just paint.

Essential Tools Needed:

  • 1200- and 2000-grit wet-and-dry sandpaper,
  • An electric sander, 
  • Masking tape,
  • An air compressor or a spray gun,
  • Newspapers for masking off,
  • Face masks,
  • Safety glasses, and
  • Paint thinners.
  • Dust extractor. It’s not essential but will help keep the air free of debris.

How to Paint a Car?

Once you gather all your tools and materials, it’s time to prepare your workstation. Start by cleaning your workstation. Sweep the floor and make sure you have enough space to work. Obstacles in the way will only make the job harder especially if you’re working inside a shed or garage

If you plan to paint outside, use water to hose down the nearby area to settle the dust. Never paint under a tree or anything else for that matter as contaminants can drop onto the wet paint, ruining the entire finish.

No matter where you choose to paint, don’t forget to wash the car as well. Remove any surface contaminants such as dirt, grease, and road grime from your vehicle.

Before you start the entire process, be clear what you specifically want to paint. Do you want to paint the engine bay, trunk, or inner doorsills? Painting these can add time and complexity to the project.

In this article we want to explain how to paint a car in 7 simple steps:

1) Sanding

First, you must sand the surface of the vehicle and then you will use a solvent to clean the remaining impurities and dirt.

But before you begin, remember to remove any chrome or plastic trim which can be taken off easily. Much of these body panel moldings used on vehicles can be snapped off and snapped back on easily. If a gentle try to remove them is unsuccessful, do not attempt to force it off. You can visit local stores that sell tools providing aid in the process of removing the trim.

You start by sanding your car in circular motions, removing the clear coat, top coat, and finally base coat. This can be done easily with an electric sander. It would be slightly tough to handle the corners and crevices. That’s why it should be done at the end by hand.

Sand the entire vehicle back down to the bare metal. Once you have completed the entire sanding process, wipe down the exterior with a clean rag and paint thinners. This will help remove any dust. Wait until any residue from the thinners evaporates before continuing.

2) Fixing

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In case the vehicle has significant rusts, bumps or dents you can fill them with putty and smoothen them until the dent disappears. Do not use layers greater than 5 mm. since you can have adhesion problems both in the putty and the paint. If the defects are very noticeable, it is better to do some bodywork or replace the part if possible.

3) Priming

After dents are fixed, you must apply the primer and sand it again. (Fine sanding).

Its imperative to use paper and masking tape to cover all surfaces that are not supposed to be painted. This includes glass, window trim, door handles, mirrors, and grills. Ensure there are no holes in the paper and masking tape that will allow overspray to get through.

Protecting your garage with plastic is also a great idea to avoid your garage from getting colored too.

Wearing your face mask and goggles is necessary to avoid paint contact with the lungs or eyes. Safety should be the topmost priority.

First Practice

It is best practice to master your spraying technique first. Here is how to do it:

  • Use a piece of scrap metal.
  • Hold the spray gun about 6 inches from the metal surface.
  • Spray in a continuous motion from side-to-side, pressing the trigger only when you are moving the gun otherwise, the paint will be uneven and blobby.
  • If you feel comfortable that you can apply a steady and even coat, it’s time to move on to priming.

Once this is done mix the primer with the thinners. You may need to read instructions for the correct ratio.

Start priming your car by spraying from the roof down. It may take about 2 to 3 coats to cover the entire surface evenly, and the curing times for primer will be noted on the can. Each coat of primer will take about 10 min per panel to apply and anywhere from 20 min to an hour to cure.

Allow the primer to dry completely between each coat before starting with the next coat.

Once primed completely, you’ll need to re-sand your car before painting to reduce the powdery effects and regain the smooth, even surface. Use the 2000-grit sandpaper, and then wipe your car down with thinners and a clean cloth/rag. Be careful not to use too much thinner as this can strip the primer off completely. This is not something you’re trying to achieve.

Clean your spray gun and take the time once more to ensure that areas you don’t want to be painted are covered.

4) Painting

Now you proceed to apply the Paint. Remember to first check what are the indications of each Paint manufacturer since they vary quite a lot between different types of paints. To make the mixes, normally 50% paint, 25% thinner, and 25% monolayer catalyst is used. You can also go for 75% of paint and 25% thinner. Recommended ratios will be on the back of the paint can.

You apply at least 2 coats of paint slowly and calmly and wait for 20 to 25 minutes per coat. If you have an appliance such as a portable IR (infrared) dryer, it will help you much better in the process by strengthening the layers of paint.

Before you complete the last coat i.e. topcoat, wipe down the vehicle and remove any powdery residue that may have built-up with 2000-grit sandpaper. Wipe the vehicle down again with a clean rag.

5) Lacquer

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Car lacquer is usually a clear layer applied on top of car paint by manufacturers, to give it a high gloss appearance as well as protect the paintwork. 

Repeat the above steps with the lacquer, covering with 1 to 2 coats.

While the clear coat is still wet, remove any masking paper from areas that weren’t being painted. Use caution to prevent spoiling the clear coat or getting tape stuck in it.

Allow the lacquer to cure for the recommended time. Once dry, check the vehicle for any blemishes. Sand these areas again lightly and respray.

Applying lacquer is a very delicate job since dust and dirt adhere very easily. That is why there are paint booths to work in a particle-free environment and obtain the desired results. If you risk doing the lacquer work on your own, try to do it in the cleanest possible environment.

6) Drying

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After lacquering you must wait a few hours for the varnish to dry completely, we recommend that you close the door of your workshop or garage and avoid staying in the area to avoid dirt. The next day your vehicle will be shining like a diamond, we recommend waiting 15 to 20 days for the paint to settle and then apply a layer of polish so that the paint of your vehicle lasts for a long time.

7) Buffing

Use a rubbing compound to buff/polish the paint that will bring out a gloss. This can be easily accomplished by hand, but there are buffing machines and power polishers easily available in the market that will help you a lot.

You have to be cautious, as they can ruin a paint job if misused. You have to make sure not to linger on one spot for too long as this could burn the paint. If you still want to use them it would be a good idea to spare the edges and buff them by hand.

Congratulations! You have successfully learnt how to paint a car.

With some patience, practice and a logical mindset, a DIY car paint job is feasible and you’ll earn the satisfaction of doing it yourself while saving some bucks that can be spent elsewhere.

Apart from the DIY Car Paint: How to paint a car, check out our Car Maintenance Guide that will help you keep your car in the best condition. We’ve collected 20 basic car maintenance tips, both exterior and interior, that will make your life a lot easier if properly followed.


3 thoughts on “DIY Car Paint: How To Paint a Car?

  • July 10, 2019 at 4:12 am

    Greetings, your post here was really good. I wanted to ask you something though… I’m curious your opinion on repainting a car vs vinyl wrapping a car. What’s the better way to go? I’ve been told a paint job can be thousands of dollars. I really appreciate any advice you can give.

  • July 26, 2019 at 1:21 pm

    I like what you guys are up also. Such intelligent work and reporting! Carry on the superb works guys I’ve incorporated you guys to my blogroll. I think it’ll improve the value of my web site 🙂

  • July 31, 2019 at 4:55 am

    I was recommended this website by my cousin. I am not sure whether this post is written by him as nobody else know such detailed about my difficulty. You are incredible! Thanks!


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