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How to Spray Paint a Car [Step by Step]

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How to Spray Paint a Car [Step by Step]
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Painting a car and painting your house are two different things. One requires a can of paint and a few paint rollers or a paint sprayer, while the other involves a list of products, primers, clear coats, and a car paint sprayer.

That’s why professional car paint jobs are usually quite pricey. The process is complex and involves some skill, but that doesn’t mean you can’t paint your car yourself without spending money on the next auto body shop.

Interestingly, repainting your own car might sound like a tedious task but it’s actually not as difficult as it seems. It’s simply not rocket science, and with the right equipment and guidance, anybody can do it.


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Whether you’re dealing with blemishes, rust spots, or just want to update the entire look of your vehicle, the right tools and a clean workspace are what you need to save some money and do it yourself.

In this post, you’ll learn how to spray paint a car even if you’ve never done it before.

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Materials Needed for the Job

The first thing you’ll need is time. A paint job can typically take anywhere from several days to a few weekends to complete; therefore, finding a garage or shed will make the job easier for you.

Once you’ve gotten a good painting location and reserved some time to get the project done, you’re ready to assemble your materials.

Apart from the car paint, other important tools you’ll need include:

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  • Electric sander
  • 1200- and 2000-grit wet-and-dry sandpaper
  • Masking tape
  • Automotive spray gun or an air compressor
  • Hand gloves
  • Newspapers for masking off
  • Safety glasses
  • Paint thinners
  • Face masks

You can also get a dust extractor if you can afford one. It’s not important but will help keep the air free of debris.

Additionally, for small or medium-sized cars, you will need roughly 2-3 gallons of clear coat, 1 gallon of primer or base coat, and 3 gallons of topcoat.

On the contrary, larger vehicles will need around one and a half gallons of base coat, 3-4 gallons of clear-coat lacquer, and 4 gallons of topcoat.

These are perhaps more than what you will need – and professional painters will use less; however, it’s better to have too many paints rather than too little.

Also, if you decide to match the original color of your vehicle, then it’ll be worth checking out the color code located on your vehicle’s compliance plate. A car paint shop can equally match it.

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Necessary Preparations Before Painting

Once you’ve gathered the necessary materials, the next step is to move onto prepping your car for painting by first cleaning your workstation.

If you’ll be painting inside a garage or shed, you’ll want to sweep the floors properly and ensure that you have lots of space to work. This is because obstacles along the way will only make the job more difficult.

And if you’ll be working outside, use water to hose down the area to get the dust settled, and do not paint under a tree or anything else for that matter. This is to avoid contaminants dropping onto the wet paint and ruining the finish.

Once you’re done with the above steps, the next step will be to wash the car, getting rid of any surface contaminants like grease, dirt, and road grime.

Additionally, before you begin to sand the car and apply primer, determine exactly what you plan to paint. Do you wish to paint the inner doorsills, engine bay, or trunk?

Painting these areas can add more time and difficulty to the job, especially if you plan on painting the engine bay, which might require some mechanical experience to remove the engine and other fittings.

However, if you only want to improve the exterior of your car, then simply use the masking tape and newspaper to mask off the areas you don’t want paint to touch.

Stripping off Old Paints

With a shelf full of painting equipment and your workstation clean, you’re now set to get to work. Start by sanding in circular motions, stripping the top coat, base coat, and clear coat.

You can do this with a sander, but you’ll have to sand the corners and cracks by hand. In order to achieve a perfect finish, sand the whole vehicle down to the bare metal, this will give the new prime coat a smooth surface to adhere to.

Furthermore, if you’re working under limited time, then sand the surface until it’s as even and as smooth as possible. Once you’ve stripped the car to your desired surface, use a clean rag and paint thinners to wipe down the exterior.

This will help get rid of any dust, then wait until every residue from the thinners fades away before you continue.

Applying Primer

Remember to mask off the areas you don’t want paint to touch, and then mix the primer with thinners. It’s important to read the instructions provided by the manufacturers for the correct ratio.

Before you start painting, it’s best to practice, which can be done by getting a piece of steel or preferably a cheap used vehicle panel from a junkyard.

Hold the paint sprayer at about six inches from the car panel and spray in a side-to-side sweeping movement. Apply the trigger only when you’re moving the sprayer.

If you hold the trigger down continuously, you will achieve a continuous spray of paint, which will result in the paint being thicker in some areas and could make the paint to run.

Now, once you’ve mastered your painting technique, you can then begin to apply the primer to your car. It’s essential to work from the roof-top down, applying the primer in thin, even coats. Covering a surface usually take two or three coats.

Additionally, each coat will take around 10-minutes to apply per car panel and another 20 to 60-minutes for the primer to properly cure between coats.

The primer will have a powdery finish when you’re done, and you’ll need to smooth it using 2000-grit wet-and-dry sandpaper.

Aside from that, you will equally want to clean the automotive spray gun and then using a rag that’s slightly dampened with thinners, wipe down the primed and cured surface. You want to be careful here as using lots of thinners could strip the primer.

Painting Your Car

You’re now ready to paint. Following the recommended ratios you’ll see on the paint instructions, mix the paint with the thinners. The same spraying tactics you used while applying the primer will also be used for the topcoat.

Like the primer, you’ll also need around 10-minutes per panel to apply the paint and about 20 to 60-minutes for the paint to cure properly between paint applications.

Following the drying time specified on the paint can, apply 3 to 4 coats. But before applying the last coat of paint, it’s essential to remove any powdery residue using 2000-grit wet-and-dry sandpaper and then wipe down using a clean rag.

Repeat the last two steps with the clear-coat lacquer – and before the clear coat dries up, remove the newspaper and masking tape you used to cover the spots you didn’t want the paint to touch – being careful not to get any paper or tape stuck on the wet paint.

After that, you can now leave the clear coat to cure for the specified time. When the clear coat is cured, check the finished project for runs or other flaws. And if you find any, simply sand the affected area again using the 2000-grit wet-and-dry sandpaper and then respray.

Use a buffer to buff paint in circular motions – but don’t hold the buffer in one spot too long to avoid burning the paint.

With a methodical mindset and little practice, a do-it-yourself paint job is can be done – and you’ll be very happy to it yourself while saving some money.

Paschal Okafor is NaijaTechGuide Team Lead. The article How to Spray Paint a Car [Step by Step] was written by NaijaTechGuide Team. The article was last modified: November 4th, 2019
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