The Technician’s Guide to Automotive Paint


When you look at a car, one of the first things you probably notice is the color and condition of its paint. A shiny, even layer of paint makes a vehicle much more desirable, whereas faded, chipped paint can instantly lower the value of a car.

Painting a car might seem like a simple task, but it’s actually quite a complex process. Collision repair technicians must know about the various types of car paint and how they should be used, whether a vehicle is being painted for the first time, or whether the paint is being repaired after a collision or from fading due to wear and tear.

Keep reading to learn about the different types of car paint and how they apply to the career of a collision repair technician.

What Kind of Paint Is Used on Cars?

Car paint is used to protect vehicles while also being pleasing to the eye. Adding color to a car gives it a sense of personalization — and for many drivers, it’s a way of expressing themselves.

As with many automotive components, the quality of car paint has evolved over the years. In the past, car paint would fade and chip much quicker, and it would be much more susceptible to different elements like acid rain, dust, tree sap and bird droppings.

The process used to paint vehicles has also changed. When cars were new to the scene, paint was applied manually and had to dry for weeks at room temperature. However, as more and more cars were manufactured, this became inefficient. Today, paint is applied in several coats and dries in just a few hours.

Read: What Damages Car Paint? 13 Things to Look Out For

What Types of Car Paint Are There?

Most modern vehicles use an acrylic polyurethane “enamel” with a primer, basecoat and clear topcoat. Paint comes in several different forms, including:

  • Spray: This type of paint is ideal for someone painting their own car.
  • Liquid: Polyurethane paints are often in liquid form and require a compressor to apply.
  • Powder, or “powder coating:” This is essentially paint with the solvent part removed. The coating is applied electrostatically and then cured under heat, which causes it to form a kind of “skin.” Usually powder is used to coat metals, but there are many potential applications.

Car paint also comes in removable and nonremovable forms. Removable paint is used to customize vehicles and puts a rubberized coating, or “wrap,” on the vehicle that can be peeled off later. Nonremovable paint is typically used when initially painting a vehicle or doing touch-ups.

Read: How to Restore Faded Car Paint

A Breakdown of Automotive Paint Types

There are many different kinds of paint that can be applied to a vehicle. Each type comes with pros and cons, and the choice is made depending on the make of the car and the desired look. Some paints are more difficult than others to apply and will require special equipment.

Here’s a quick breakdown of some of the most common types of automotive paint:


In the early days of vehicle painting, lacquer was a common paint choice. However, it’s been discontinued by many manufacturers as brands continue to release new paints that offer better shine and surface protection. In some cases, owners of antique and classic cars will look to have their vehicles restored using lacquer paint to mimic its original look.

Single-Stage Paint

This type of paint mixes the color and gloss into one formula. Single-stage paint usually comes in a solid color and is often used on commercial vehicles and trucks. Typically, single-stage paint comes in nonmetallic colors like red or white, but it can be found in metallic shades. The application technique varies based on whether a metallic or nonmetallic shade is used.

A coat of paint is applied to a vehicle.

Basecoat Clear Coat Paint

This is a two-stage paint system that includes a coat of colored paint (solid or metallic) followed by a separate clear coat. This process is more complex; however it provides both shine and protection for the vehicle. The clear coat is designed to be durable to provide high shine and keep the paint underneath intact. For example, it contains UV inhibitors to prevent oxidation and fading.

Tri-Coat or Multi-Stage Paint

This paint system is commonly used for high-end vehicles. It starts with a base coat, followed by a mid-coat that is translucent and contains pearls or another additive to enhance the solid color underneath. Lastly, a clear coat is applied to protect the color and add luster and shine.

Waterborne and Solvent-Borne Paint Systems

Solvent-borne paint systems have been used in the automotive industry for years. However, they contain large amounts of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which present both environmental and health concerns. To solve this, waterborne paint systems were introduced, which are a much better alternative for the planet.

Waterborne paints attach to particles of water rather than solvents and provide great results without harming the environment. As solvent-borne paints have become banned in some areas, there are now plenty of options when it comes to using waterborne paints, like water-based acrylic and polyurethane paints.

What Collision Repair Technicians Need to Know

Understanding the different types of car paint and their applications is essential for collision repair technicians to know. In Universal Technical Institute’s Collision Repair & Refinish Technology (CRRT) program, students learn how to properly apply and repair waterborne and solvent-borne paint systems.

Students also have the chance to take courses on a variety of other topics, including:

  • Exterior Panel Alignment & Repair
  • Welding and Cutting
  • Structural Damage Analysis
  • Introduction to Refinishing
  • Vehicle Preparation for Painting
  • Finish Applications
  • Power Systems & Controls

The CRRT program is unique in that it gives students the opportunity to earn I-CAR credentials, which are highly valued in the industry and recognized by employers. Thanks to UTI’s industry relationships, students can train on equipment from leading brands like 3M, Axalta and Chief Automotive Technologies.

Start Training for an Exciting Career

UTI’s CRRT program is designed to be completed in 51 to 54 weeks and is offered at two campus locations: Long Beach, California, and Houston, Texas. Classes start every three to six weeks, so you can get going and start preparing for a career sooner.1

To learn more, visit our program page or request information to get in touch with an Admissions Representative today.

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1 ) UTI is an educational institution and cannot guarantee employment or salary.
2 ) For program outcome information and other disclosures, visit

Universal Technical Institute of Illinois, Inc. is approved by the Division of Private Business and Vocational Schools of the Illinois Board of Higher Education.


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