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50 Shades of “eh?” – Car paint types explained.
Since the primer is the first layer to ever be put on the vehicle, it makes sense to start by discussing that.
Primer - With a prep or undercoat finish — a.k.a. the primer — expect shades of grey or black. Just like when painting the walls of a house or other wood-based product, the primer is used to get the surface of the vehicle ready for painting. How? Because, primers (in general) are put on in order to help the surface of the paint stick to the vehicle. Trying to throw a base or clear coat on a metal surface without the primer would not only look shoddy, but the paint wouldn’t bond consistently. As a result, you could see flaking and chipping. Therefore, you can think of the primer as the binding layer.
Spray paint primers are also available, and keep moisture away from the bare metal surface. If you paint on moisture, then you run the risk of causing oxidation or rust.
For those DIY fanatics, you should know that the primer is often porous. Meaning you’ll need to sand it down to create a flat surface. If not, the next layer of paint could look bumpy, and potentially not adhere properly.
Base coat - The base coat paints are basically the paints that go on top of the primer layer. You need to remember that base coats do not have any hardeners or strengtheners because they are only raw paints coated on top of a primer. They do not offer any protection and are not typically left there by themselves; otherwise, blemishes can be seen in the paint. When this happens, the moisture will creep in and will eventually result in the rusting on the surface of the frame.
To avoid this from happening, base coats are used together with a clear coat or a urethane base coat. This will provide better and effective protection to the paint, primer, and frame from the elements. It also gives a glossy finish to the paint because of the clear coat. Using a base coat and a clear coat is one of the most common methods for painting a car because when combined, they can make a surface protected while looking shiny at the same time.
Clear coat - is the top layer of modern day, factory paint jobs. Clear coat is just that; clear. Simply put, clear coat is paint without any color. Its purpose is to provide protection to the paint underneath and to make it look shiny. Clear coat finishes contain chemicals which make it a lot easier to adhere to certain flexible materials and components.
One of the reasons why paint gets damaged is because of the sun’s UV rays, and that is why clear coat finishes contain UV inhibitors in them. UV inhibitors prevent the color of the vehicle from fading. This is especially important in climates like Australia's.
The Difference Between HS & MS Clear Coat
This is a question with many answers for sure. Two different categories of clears with progressive reduction of solvent content are presented below:
MS (medium solids) – solids content 40-45%.
HS (high solids) – solids content 45-50%.
MS (medium solids) – the resin particles are larger compared to HS or UHS clearcoats. The amount of thinner necessary to obtain the right application viscosity must be about 20% greater than the other types (usually VOC 550-580 g/l).
HS (high solids) – the resin particles are smaller compared to the MS ones, and the amount of solvent is around 15% (usually around 420 g/l).
Not all the producers actually include this information on their labels. Solids content is measured in percentage by either weight or volume. Some vehicle refinishing professionals judge clear coat on the number of layers you need to achieve appropriate film thickness. Simplistic categorization of clear coats according to the number of coats applied looks as following:
MS (medium solids) – 2 or 3 coats.
HS (high solids) – 2 coats.
Some painters will even describe the difference between HS and MS as one is thicker and you can really lay it on, while the other is runny, rather liquid.
Acrylic Lacquer - This is a paint does provide the most glaring shine on a vehicle but has been discontinued by many manufacturers, simply because they are now considered outdated. Base coats with a clear finish on top provide a better shine with better protection.
Although if you are looking to restore a model that might be considered antique, you’ll want to pay close attention to this section.
Acrylic lacquers are used on classic or antique cars, because these vehicles aren’t used as daily drivers. But, this sunglass-inspiring shine comes at a price: it doesn’t provide nearly as much protection as a clear coat finish would and so should only be used on limited use cars.
Solid paint - Almost all cars – other than the most expensive ones – are available in a no-cost basic, solid colour. The most common options are white, red, blue or black, and chances are that is a paint colour doesn’t add to the cost of your car, then it’s a solid, non-metallic paint. In basic form, the solid paint is a single application of the colour, followed by a lacquer coat (called a clear coat) above it to protect the paint from chips, scratches and the weather. Many manufacturers now use what’s called “two-pack” paint, in which the acrylic paint is mixed with an isocyanate hardening agent to make a kind of coloured superglue, and removes the need for a separate clear coat. Solid colours work brilliantly for a completely even single-shade finish. They’re inexpensive too and come with several maintenance benefits. Minor stone chips can be repaired with a touch-up pen of the same colour, available for not a great deal of money from your local large motoring store. More major thwacks can be sorted at a body shop for very little outlay and, since two-pack paint cures with heat, not a lot of time – spray it on and put it under some heat lamps and you’ll have a durable finish in an hour or so. You can even do it at home with a paint compressor, though you’ll need to take care not to inhale the mist. However, because they’re cheap and quickly applied, a lot of solid colours show up “orange peel” paint finishes on close inspection – and since they tend to be limited to the white, red, blue and black shades, a little boring.
Metallic - are effectively the same as solid paints, only with a small quantity of powdered metal added. The size and type of metal added varies depending on manufacturer choices, but it’s commonly about 1 part in 50 of aluminium powder. Although it’s not that much more expensive to produce and shouldn’t make a great deal of difference when applied to a small car (it’s a little less practical to apply to a coach, for example), many manufacturers charge a premium for an upgrade from solid to metallic. This price increase is usually put down to the need for multiple coats of both paint and lacquer. The metal particles in the paint pick up and reflect more incident light that the basic paint colours, giving your car a much more appealing shine than with solid colours – so long as you keep it clean! It will also hide very minor damage from a distance much more effectively than solid paint. However, it’s much harder to get metallic paint to match properly, making more difficult to repair when damaged.
Rust Converter - Converts rust to an inert black compound and seals out moisture and other elements, preventing future rusting. It can then be painted afterwards. Because of the way rust converter is applied is ideal for large objects such as fences, tractors, vehicle frames & larger components, tanks, metal roofs ect.
2K or Two Pack Paint? - Two Pack or 2K paint is paint that requires a hardener to be added in order for it to cure. Usually Acrylic enamel will be a 2K paint, as will almost all Urethane paints. 2K paint is super toxic, so the use of proper respirators and protective gear is absolutely necessary. It’s common to confuse one and two pack paints with single and two stage paints, but remember - “Pack” or “K” refers to the need for a hardener or activator, whereas “stage” refers to the need for a topcoat of clear paint.