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Best Automotive Paints: Color Your Car Right

Getting the best look is all about picking the right paint.

With decades of combined experience covering the latest news, reviewing the greatest gear, and advising you on your next car purchase, The Drive, is the leading authority on all things automotive.

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BY/ LAST UPDATED ON January 25, 2022

If you're a car person, you appreciate making a personal statement on some level or another. That does not mean you need to rock a goatee and wear cutoffs that show off your killer tats. While the make and model is enough to let people know what you're all about, that paint job does all the heavy lifting. If you're not in on the whole ratty car theme and aren't willing to pay someone else to do it, you're going to need to buy paint at some point or another. You need to do as much research as possible to make sure you do the work right. I can still provide you with some insight on what paint to consider and give you some tips along the way.

Best Overall

Speedokote High Gloss Jet Black 2K Acrylic Urethane

Summary

This is a forgiving, fast-drying, easy-to-apply high-gloss jet-black paint. It comes with three-quarters of a gallon of paint and a quart of medium activator.

Pros
  • Kit keeps things simple 
  • Affordable 
  • Fast dry time
Cons
  • May be too thin for your liking 
  • Requires more coats than usua
Best Value

Dupli-Color Paint Shop Finish System

Summary

An affordable one-quart can comes in a wide variety of ready-to-apply colors that go on easily and provide a high-quality finish.

Pros
  • Budget friendly 
  • No mixing or specialty equipment required 
  • Very easy to use
Cons
  • Perfect match limited 
  • Not enough for painting entire car
Honorable Mention

Restoration Shop Jet Black Acrylic Ename

Summary

The single-stage system many DIYers are drawn to. The kit includes the paint, activator, and mixing sticks. The paint is easy to lay and produces a finish that’s surprising for the price.

Pros
  • Competitive price
  • Easy to apply
  • Kit includes strainers and mixing sticks
Cons
  • Quality control issues are common
  • Some feel paint is too thin
Best Automotive Paints: Color Your Car Right

Our Methodology

You already know how we stick to our trusted routine of doing all of the homework for you to ensure anything on this list is worth the money. Painting is an art. You can go about it like it's just a coating to add protection and color and use the first thing in front of you. However, if you are after a specific texture or shade, you really want to dive deeper. Talk to pros, go to shows, ask questions, and do the research to make sure you do find the paint that'll provide the look your heart desires.

Why Trust Us

Our reviews are driven by a combination of hands-on testing, expert input, “wisdom of the crowd” assessments from actual buyers, and our own expertise. We always aim to offer genuine, accurate guides to help you find the best picks.

Learn more

Best Automotive Paint Reviews & Recommendations

The Speedokote takes our top pick for several reasons. For one, it's a single-stage paint system that's relatively easy to work with. Despite the affordable price, this kit comes complete with a three-quarter-gallon can of jet-black, high-gloss paint and one quart of medium activator, that when mixed together, yields one full gallon of product. There's more than enough here to paint the average car, and because there are only 5-10 minutes of flash between coats, a fast dry time and the respectable durability makes it worthwhile. 


As with many DIY-friendly kits, the paint is a little too thin for some folks. Also, you may need to lay down more coats than usual to get the most out of it, which is a deal breaker for some.


Specs

  • Manufacturer: Speedokote
  • Color: Jet Black 
  • Application Type: Spray gun

Pros

  • Kit keeps things simple 
  • Affordable 
  • Fast dry time 

Cons

  • May be too thin for your liking
  • Requires more coats than usual 

This one-quart can of paint lacquer comes ready for use in a sprayer. You can buy it in a single can or a two-pack for good measure. There are 20 colors to choose from to ensure you can at least get close to the shade of your liking. Once applied, you can wet sand the paint easily. Because this is spray paint, it doesn’t require any mixing or reducing before you use it. There’s also no recoat window, which means you can reapply at any time. The paint is easy to work with, goes on smooth, and you can save whatever you have leftover for future use.


Unfortunately, you can use this paint up quickly, and it can get expensive if you attempt to repaint an entire vehicle. While the colors are coded, they’re limited in shades, so there may not be one that perfectly matches your car’s exterior paint.


Specs

  • Manufacturer: Dupli-Color 
  • Color: 20 shades 
  • Application Type: Aerosol

 Pros

  • Budget friendly 
  • No mixing or special equipment required 
  • Very easy to use 

Cons

  • Perfect match limited 
  • Not suited for painting entire car 

Restoration Shop's paint line certainly grabs the attention of many DIYers. This particular offering sits at a competitive price point, and it's a single-stage paint that's easy to work with. On top of that, this package includes the strainers and mixing sticks you need to get rolling. As for application, it goes on nice and easy, and the jet-black finish is certainly impressive for the price range.


It's not exactly a pro-grade product, which is to be expected. Still, a few people feel it's way too thin and would prefer to mix in the reducer themselves. Quality-control issues seem to be common. In some cases, the colors are wrong, making it crucial to test the product before applying it to your entire vehicle.


Specs

  • Manufacturer: Restoration Shop
  • Color: Jet black
  • Application Type: Spray gun

Pros

  • Competitive pricing
  • Easy to apply
  • Kit includes strainers and mixing sticks

Cons

  • Quality control issues are common
  • Some feel paint is too thin

If you're looking for that iconic custom paint job that's sure to take home some trophies at the local shows, House of Kolor is the name to look for. We picked Brandywine because it's a very popular color from the line, but it's far from all the brand has to offer. This is just one part of a two-stage system, and the right clear coat will help it to last the life of the car. House of Kolor does offer it in different quantities for those who need to touch up or color-match panels over time.


Being a professional-grade product, it does sit on the expensive side of the scale, and the price of a single quart is about the same as you'd pay for a gallon of DIY paint. Also, you’ll need an experienced painter to lay this paint correctly.


Specs

  • Manufacturer: House of Kolor
  • Color: Brandywine Kandy 
  • Application Type: Spray Gun

Pros

  • Show-quality color 
  • High durability
  • Available in various quantities 

Cons

  • Expensive 
  • Somewhat difficult to use 

VHT's caliper paint might not be the first thing that comes to mind when talking about auto paint, but it is an essential part of any project. Coming from experience, VHT's part-specific paint is a fantastic way to spruce up any project. It's affordable, easy to apply, and will last an exceptionally long time when applied correctly. This red caliper paint is also a great way to get the performance look many are after, at least until they save up for the big brakes they're after.


Also coming from experience, you need to be aware that some relatively common issues can ruin your experience. For one, old stock often goes out, and the paint won't adhere the way it should. Also, the spray nozzles tend to get clogged and make a total mess of things.


Specs

  • Manufacturer: VHT
  • Color: Red 
  • Application Type: Aerosol 

Pros

  • Easy to use 
  • Affordable 
  • Durable when applied correctly 

Cons

  • Relatively high risk of receiving old paint 
  • Might clog spray nozzle

If you don't want to dye interior parts of your car, you do have the option to use Dupli-Color vinyl and fabric spray. With the right amount of prep and when used properly, you can get surprisingly good, long-lasting results with this product. It is also very affordable, and the process is familiar to many, which obviously helps boost the popularity.


Don’t expect this to work as well as dye. While it is a flexible coating, it's likely to chip away over the years. Also, there is the issue of old cans floating around out there, which does mean there's a chance of getting poor results no matter how much effort you put into it.


Specs

  • Manufacturer: Dupli-Color 
  • Color: Flat black 
  • Application Type: Aerosol 

Pros

  • Affordable 
  • Easy to use 
  • Multiple color options to work with

Cons

  • Quality does not compare to dye 
  • Old cans often reach the customer 

While most paints focus on the bigger bits, SEM excels in bringing the trim to life. SEM's Trim Black paint is designed to match the satin-black finish most manufacturers put on vehicles. It's arguable that the finish of this product is much better than what many cars come with, and it can even be used to paint trim that wasn’t black, to begin with. Like many others on our list, this product is affordable and easy to apply. You also have the option to buy it in one-quart cans for spray guns or in an aerosol can to keep things simple.


There really isn't much to dislike about this product. Some say you should play with the spray-gun variant to get the mix just right, but that's easy to live with. The same is true for complaints regarding issues trying to use this over silicone products that were previously used to retouch faded trim.


Specs

  • Manufacturer: SEM
  • Color: Satin Black 
  • Application Type: Spray Gun

 Pros

  • Quickly restores black trim
  • Can be used as paint
  • Affordable

Cons

  • Mixing instructions may be misleading
  • Will not adhere to silicone

The Rust Bullet Automotive Rust Inhibitor Paint is something you'll want for the bottom half of that prized ride. This is the only rust coating to hold a patent. In fact, it has two patents: one kills rust, and the other prevents its reoccurrence. We like this product because it's easy to apply with either a paint sprayer, roll, or brush. The patented formula soaks into your rustiest and most damaged areas to actually strengthen the metal. Subsequent coats continue to build on and provide heavy-duty protection. You can apply this paint directly without the need for a primer or a top coat, and the silver finish is something many like about this product.


If you skipped to the product page before reading, you might have had a heart attack. The price is high for a rust inhibitor. On that note, the best results are achieved by painting over it. That drives up the overall investment of time and money.


Specs

  • Manufacturer: Rust Bullet 
  • Color: Silver 
  • Application Type: Multiple 

Pros

  • Flexible application methods 
  • Fights and stops rust 
  • Patented formula strengthens rusty metal 

Cons

  • Premium price point 
  • Relies on paint for best results

Why make touch-ups difficult? This kit from ERA Paints comes with two aerosol spray cans: one for the base coat color and the other for the clear coat. One color paint can will cover a 4-by-4-foot area with two coats. This paint also comes in OEM specific paint codes, meaning you don’t need to make due with what’s out there if it’s available for your vehicle. It even comes with a paint test match card and easy to follow documentation and instructions.


Unfortunately, it’s not the most affordable touch-up system on the market, and it only covers a small portion of the vehicle. Also, color options are fairly limited, meaning few vehicle owners can take advantage of it.


Specs

  • Manufacturer: ERA Paints 
  • Color: Multiple colors available 
  • Application Type: Aerosol 

Pros

  • Paint and clear coat included 
  • Detailed instructions and materials make application simple 
  • Matched to OE paint codes 

Cons

  • Premium price point 
  • Only covers a small area 

This system is easy to use, and the Fire Red Pearl Coat serves as an excellent example of how color choices can be breathtaking. It also comes with the mixing sticks and strainers you will need to get rolling.


It's nice paint, so you shouldn't be surprised to see that the price isn't exactly budget friendly. It's important to note that the reducer is already mixed in and may be too thin for some people's liking. 


Specs

  • Manufacturer: Restoration Shop 
  • Color: Fire Red Pearl Coat
  • Application Type: Spray gun

Pros

  • Easy to use 
  • Kit includes mixing sticks and strainers
  • Show-quality color 

Cons

  • Expensive 
  • May be too thin for some painters 

Our Verdict on Automotive Paint

Again, Speedokote High Gloss Jet Black Acrylic Urethane takes our top pick based on the quality, price, and ease of use. However, the Dupli-Color Paint Shop Finish System is another solid choice when the budget is tight. So many factors determine what works best for you. Be sure to reach out and let us know which paint you like most.

What to Consider When Buying Automotive Paint

The last thing you want to do is grab the first paint recommended to you without knowing at least a little bit about what you're dealing with. Below you will find info on the different types, the brands you should know about, and some tips to keep in mind. Again, you should do as much research as possible as there are a lot of factors that will determine what exactly you need for your situation.

Types of Automotive Paint 

Plasti Dip

Plasti Dip is an affordable rubberized coating that works as an alternative to traditional automotive paints. With enough coats and depending on where on the vehicle it is applied, Plasti Dip can weather prolonged use relatively well. However, excessive wear and tear can cause the Plasti Dip to deteriorate prematurely, requiring removal and reapplication. It’s important to note that using Plasti Dip is a craft in itself and getting it right does take experience.

Spray Paint

Spray paint is often viewed as a way around paying for professional equipment and good paint. Some spray paint jobs can be very impressive, and spray paint is a great way to touch up imperfections or panels if the budget is tight. However, painting the entire car will consume a surprising amount of it, and ultimately the cost won't be far off from a DIY job with a paint gun. The results also won't be quite as good in most cases.

Water-Based

Water-based paints only include a small amount of solvent used in the process of adhering to the vehicle. They’re not as toxic to work with and actually dry faster than solvent-based paints. You might think you’d need to apply more coats, but that’s not the case. The water acts as a carrier and dissipates once the paint is applied, so you won’t get as many toxic chemicals off-gassing, even after the paint is cured.

Solvent-Based

When people typically think of automotive paint, solvent-based paints are what usually come to mind. Solvent-based paints typically have higher amounts of toxic chemicals that mandate the use of respirators and proper ventilation. These types of paint can have lacquer, enamel, or urethane as a basis, each with their own pros and cons. These solvents act as a carrying agent and bring the paint molecules to the vehicle’s surface.

Single-Stage

As you’ve probably deduced from the name, single-stage paints lay down in a single stage with no additional top coats needed. These are easier to apply on a vehicle because they simplify the process, but there are some trade-offs. The paint isn’t all that durable. Buffing and polishing will quickly pull away layers, it’s susceptible to premature breakdown, and it’s often harder to get that glass-like finish with it. Single-stage paint jobs are typical when the owner is trying to replicate what a car originally came from the factory with.

Two-Stage

Two-stage paints use a color coat for the base, which is followed up with a clear coat. This is almost always the superior choice unless you're after a period-correct finish. The clear coat offers excellent protection from the elements and other harsh conditions and provides depth to the paint job. It will take more time and money but might last longer and look better.

Part Specific

Sometimes you don’t want to paint your whole vehicle; you want to simply highlight a certain feature or improve the overall look of that area. You can use part-specific paints for things like brake calipers, wheels, engine blocks, and any other area that will take paint. What makes them part specific is that they are designed to resist specific threats to certain areas such as heat.

Automotive Paint Key Features

Finish

The color and finish go hand in hand to produce the look you're chasing. If you want something simple but with some shine, gloss is the way to go. You can also knock the shine down by opting for satin or matte paints. Pearlescent coats are always an option for those who really want those body lines to work their magic. It's hard to describe the exact textures you can achieve with finishes, so you will want to look around for visual representations to find what you're after.

Paint Type

Before you get your heart set on any shade, consider what type of paint will be best for your situation. Consult our paint type section above for reference. Will you be transporting the vehicle outside and in the elements for most of its life? You should probably choose a two-stage paint. If you want to stick to the original finish, single-stage will likely give you the results you’re looking for.

Automotive Paint Pricing 

You're going to spend more on paint than you initially think. While most aerosol cans cost $10 to $20 apiece, you can count on buying a ton of it if you intend to paint an entire car. A $50-$100 DIY-grade gallon of paint will cost way less in the long run. Specialized coatings for chassis and trim generally fall within the same price range. If you're looking for an OE paint job, prices start to increase, and you'll spend $150-$300 on a gallon of paint. Of course, the high-end stuff can cost even more than that. On that note, don't forget to factor in the cost of primer and clear coat to do the job right.

Tips and Tricks

As with something you do for decades, you pick up a few tips and tricks along the way. That’s the case with us and automotive paint. To help you bridge the information gap, here’s a selection of what we’ve learned along the way.

  • Use proper safety equipment. That includes a disposable set of coveralls and a high-quality respirator. There’s a reason those painters on TV work in a well-ventilated area and wear this type of equipment.
  • If you’re unsure about the painting process and want to practice before you use up your expensive paint, take a dry run with a test piece bought from a local junkyard. Perfect your technique and write down what works best for you so that you can use it come crunch time.
  • Painting a vehicle requires a lot of time. Read the instructions on your chosen paint and work out the schedule. Setup will easily take an hour or two, after you’ve already prepped the car, which could take days. Factor in drying times and the maximum number of coats. That way, if you stop before those last few coats, you’re still on schedule.
  • Speaking of prepping the car before painting, make sure you’re as thorough as possible. You may not be able to stand one more minute of sanding, but it will make a huge difference in the end. Those clean, smooth lines don’t just happen overnight.
  • Before you don your paint suit, go through the motions to determine what supplies you need, where to place them, how you’ll track the number of applied coats, etc. This includes planning out how you’ll spray the car as well. Will you move from the front to the back? Beginning and ending in the same spot each time ensures a better coating and a smoother finish as a result.
  • Every painter has their own unique process. It’s like any artistic skill. At the same time, watching other painters can do a lot to help you not only understand the process but work out the kinks as well.
  • Keep track of the number of coats you apply via a large poster or piece of paper. You can either write down the coats as you apply them, check them off as you go, or even write down the times a coat was applied to determine drying periods. Make sure you differentiate between base coats, topcoats, and clear coats if necessary.
  • Maintaining your paint job is just as important as the process itself. Though it might be tempting, wait at least a month before waxing your vehicle or taking the buffer to it with gusto. This allows the paint enough drying and setting time to adhere to itself and the layers below it. Ideally you’ll want to keep the car beneath a roof during this month for best results.

FAQs 

You’ve got questions. The Drive has answers.

Q: How much paint will I need for my car?

A: That depends on the size of your car. If you're working with a mid-size car, you can expect to use around a gallon of paint to get it done. As the vehicle increases in size, more paint will be necessary. It's also always a good idea to buy more than you need to accommodate mistakes.

Q: Are there alternatives to completely painting my entire vehicle when it comes to repairing blemishes?

A: With the right tools, you can easily use touch-up paints and paint correction techniques to refresh your paint job. However, you will be better off repainting the car at some point. This is especially true when the entire surface is covered with imperfections.

Q: Can I buy my vehicle’s specific paint from the dealership or manufacturer directly?

A: Touch-up paint can typically be bought from a dealership or online. Beyond these small amounts, however, your specific paint might not necessarily be available in larger quantities. A call to your local dealership is the best way to answer this question.

Q: Can I paint over my car’s existing paint job?

A: Merely painting over the existing finish might inhibit the paint’s ability to adhere to the vehicle’s body and could cause flaking and disrepair. It’s always best to sand down the vehicle’s exterior to bare metal so that the primer and subsequent coats have the chance to create a solid bond. These paint jobs typically last longer than those painted over existing top coats.

Q: What's the difference between acrylic paints, urethane paints, and lacquer paints?

A: Lacquer paint is reserved mostly for vehicles meant solely for show. Extremely demanding when it comes to care, lacquer paints are less and less popular these days, due in part to their high toxicity. Urethane paints are more common in the automotive world, as they tend to be more durable. They are more difficult to spray than acrylic paints. Acrylic is just another type of resin used to deliver the paint to your vehicle’s surface.

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