How To Get A Matte Finish On Your Car

There’s nothing quite like the look of a new paint job, especially if you are following the latest trends and choose a matte finish rather than a traditional shiny top coat. If you’re considering getting a matte finish on your car, where do you start and how do you get that flat matte look without breaking the bank? And once you’ve got it, how do you take care of it?

First, Pick Your Color

Before you start painting, it’s a good idea to decide what color you’re planning on painting your new car. Do you want to match it to your car’s original color or you do you want to paint it something totally new? If you’re planning on matching the original paint color, you don’t have to look any further than the paint code on the inside of the driver’s side door jam.

Many car manufacturers offer paint code names to make the paints themselves easier to find — just do a bit of research before you start loading up on matte paint.

Step 1 — Gather Your Supplies

You want to make sure you’ve got everything on hand that you’ll need to complete your paint job, especially if you’re doing it yourself. You really don’t want to have to take a trip to the store mid-paint job, after all. Thankfully, you don’t need much. Pick up some:

  • Sandpaper — both 100 grit and 320 grit
  • Car wash soap
  • Matte paint in your chosen color
  • Paint spray gun
  • Painter’s tape

That’s about all you need — the rest is all elbow grease and patience.

Step 2 — Wash, Dry and Sand

The next step is to get rid of the original paint. Start by thoroughly washing and drying your car. Once the car is dry, break out the sandpaper and start sanding. If there are any surface imperfections, use the rougher 100 grit sandpaper. Use the 320 grit for the rest of the surface.

The goal here is to prep the car's exterior so that it can be primed and painted. Finish this step by hosing off the car to get rid of any residual sandpaper dust, and let it dry completely before continuing. This can take a couple of hours, so be patient and don't try to dry it off with towels or cloths — you could end up leaving small fibers on the car's surface that could get caught in the paint. 

Step 3 — Prep and Prime

This step is similar to painting in your house — break out the painter's tape and start covering everything that you don't want to paint. This could include windows, door handles and grilles.
Once the car is taped up, it's time to prime. Spray primer works the best because you don't need to worry about covering up brush marks. One coat of primer is usually sufficient but be careful to give it plenty of time to dry before you start painting. 

Step 4 — Paint

Now it's time to break out the paint. Matte paint is available in spray cans, but your best bet is to utilize a spray paint gun to ensure that you've got plenty of even coverage. Overlap each pass by at least 50% to provide full coverage.

Wait at least 15 minutes between coats. You want to apply at least three coats, but you can apply more if you want a thicker overall finish.

You can't add a traditional clear coat to a matte finish — it kind of defeats the purpose of the paint — so you need to take other steps to protect it. You have a couple of options here. Either choose a matte clear coat to keep the finish as flat as possible, or choose semi-gloss or satin clear coats to give the car a little bit of shimmer while still showcasing that matte paint job. 

Step 5 — Maintain It

Keep your car out of the automatic car washes if they're not touchless after you finish your new matte paint job — the plastic bristles can scratch up your paint and ruin your hard work. Opt for hand washing your car whenever possible. You don't need any matte-specific car washes — anything designed to clean cars will be safe for your matte paint.

After the car is clean, though, what can you do to protect it? You've got two options here as well:

  • check
    A wax specifically made for matte paint. You don't want to use a traditional wax because it will create an odd and often uneven gloss over the matte paint.
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    A matte sealant. This is sprayed on and preserves the matte finish while protecting it from debris and UV light.

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When you wax your car, it's usually good for a while — most waxes recommend reapplication every five to six months or so. Matte sealant isn't as durable as traditional wax, so you will need to have your car washed and resealed more frequently.

Matte finishes are becoming more and more popular, but you may still be hard-pressed to find a detailing shop that knows how to handle your new paint job properly. If you do find a place willing to work with you, let them know not to use traditional wax and to only wash your car with soft clothes and brushes. Anything that's hard or plastic could scratch the paint.

If you're not confident in your car painting skills, you do always have the option to have your car painted professionally. Make sure you discuss all the details with your auto body shop before they start painting. Everything from the color to the finish should be agreed upon before they break out the first piece of sandpaper.

If you're painting it yourself, be patient. Give your car plenty of time to dry after washing and between paint coats so that you don't end up with smudged paint or primer mixed in with your perfectly colored matte paint. Don't sit around watching the paint dry — simply paint your coat and walk away until it's time for the next coat. Your car will look amazing, as long as you're patient enough to wait!

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