How To Re-Paint A Car – Part One – General Info

With Mechanical Repairs off my list of things to do for a while due to ongoing problems with my back I thought I would do a tutorial on what I know about Re-Painting a car. No, I am not talking about getting a tin of Mission Brown Enamel and the widest brush you can find like old Fred did down the road!

The real key to achieving a successful repaint is in the preparation. Sure it is hard, labour-some (is that even a word?) and you will feel like just skipping this part and throwing some paint on but trust me, if you take the time to prepare the car properly you will be rewarded with a good result.

How To Paint A Car

The first thing to do is to decide on which type of paint you are going to use for your re spray. The most commonly used paints today are 2 Pack and Acrylic Lacquer.

Acrylic is by far the easiest and safest for the ‘car handyman’ to use however here are some pro’s and con’s of each to help you decide.

Acrylic Lacquer Pro’s

  1. Relatively easy to apply.
  2. Dries in minutes.
  3. Easily sanded back and touched up when you strike trouble
  4. Used with a clear-coat over the top and then buffed and polished can produce an awesome finish.
  5. Lends itself well to being lightly sanded between coats.
  6. Is not as harmful on your health, although precautions still need to be taken.
  7. Over-spray is easily removed
  8. Cheaper to buy, although you need more of it.

Acrylic Lacquer Con’s

  1. Has to be ‘buffed’ and polished to achieve a good shine.
  2. Is not as chip and scratch resistant as 2 Pack.

2 Pack Pro’s

  1. Has a shine straight off the gun, great for areas that are hard to polish such as engine bays and door jambs.
  2. Is very hard and scratch/chip resistant once set.

2 Pack Con’s

  1. Can only be used in a controlled environment such as a spray booth and must be used with a fresh air breathing apparatus.
  2. In my opinion is harder to achieve a nice flat finish with, could just be me though!
  3. Used in ambient temperatures can take hours to dry and the car needs to be kept dust and insect-free during this time.
  4. Over-spray is hard to remove, particularly from your garage-come-spray booth floor, not to mention the washing machine, dryer, laundry sink, you get the picture! She is still not over that one.
  5. Is difficult to ‘touch up’ and usually requires the affected panel to be completely re sprayed.
  6. Once set is a bi*ch to sand out any runs or blemishes.
  7. Is more expensive as a hardner, thinner and of course the paint itself needs to be bought.

As you can see, Acrylic is really the only choice for the ‘car handyman’ however in a lot of places spray booths can be hired out for a day or more if you are set on using 2 pack. Sure saves a lot of work on setting up your own booth and breathing gear and still forgetting to cover important white goods.

For ‘How To Re-Paint A Car’ Parts Two and on we are going to re spray a VN Commodore that has been sitting around for a while. We are going to use Acrylic Lacquer with a clear coat over the top. The clear coat is necessary in this case as the colour is a metallic silver and the clear is required when painting with metallics.

In Part 2 we are going to start the preparation, taking the flaky clear coat off and straightening out any dents we find along the way. We will also be sanding between coats and generally doing anything we can to see if we can get a finish from Acrylic that comes close to the finish that can be achieved using 2 Pack, bit of a trial and error learning curve for us and hopefully some useful information for you at the same time.

I am going to put a picture up here of my Commodore that I painted in 2 pack about twelve months ago and once the VN is done I will put it’s picture up alongside to see how we went. Not that pictures do justice to what’s been done but hopefully it will give you a better idea of what can be done with each of the different types of paint. The picture of the blue VK was taken about a day after the painting was finished and the paint has not been touched at all, straight off the gun and covered in a lot of dust. This is the advantage of 2 pack and I’m sure we will have a lot of polishing to do on the VN to get it anywhere near this. It will be interesting to see though.

Part Two, albiet a bit late can be found here.


89 thoughts on “How To Re-Paint A Car – Part One – General Info

  1. Hi Bazz,
    I’m not very familiar with enamel paints I’m sorry. I’ve done a respray with two pack enamel but as far as the properties of the paint or possible problems I’m not up to speed. Perhaps a chat with your paint supplier might shed some light on it for you.


  2. hi just wanting to know the step by step to respray a car panel using arcylic

    i have everything preped and ready to go but just abit confussed on the painting

    1 when spraying with arcylic do i wet sand inbetween coats

    2 spray 2 coats then add clear coat

    any help or a step by step quide will be very useful im hopeing to get the color just right to match the rest of the car

  3. Hi Ray,
    I will try and answer your questions as best I can, but please keep in mind that I’m not an expert and that this info comes from what I have learnt over the years doing respray’s for myself and some friends.

    Wet sanding between coats is a really good way to get a nice flat, glossy finish. Obviously this takes extra time when waiting for the paint to dry, rubbing it down, drying everything out and on to the next coat. Personally I only do it when a really good finish if required and I know of a number of people that simply lay all the colour coats down, throw a few coats of clear over the top and then cut and polish the paint with an electric buffer and while this can look ok too, in my opinion the finish is never quite the same as when you wet sand between coats.

    So please yourself on that one, if you have the time and you are looking for a really good finish then I would recommend it, otherwise spraying all the coats and then buffing the paint can work too.

    With regards to the number of coats, I like to get a minimum of two coats of colour on before applying the clear and if you decide to go with wet sanding between coats I suggest that you go with three coats of colour because even though you are using a light sandpaper (1200 or thereabouts) you still remove some of the paint in the sanding process and you might find two coats a little thin.

    Two coats of clear over the colour should be fine. If you decide to cut and polish the panel with an electric buffer after all the coats are on just be careful along the edges as it is easy to ‘burn’ through the paint.

    Getting the colour to match the rest of the car is really a fine art, certainly if you put some time into it you will be able to get the same ‘texture’ or ‘look’ of the existing paint but if it is even the slightest bit faded you will more than likely have trouble actually colour matching the new paint. Even some of the best spray painters around have trouble getting colour matches perfect so I honestly can’t advise you on the correct way of doing this!

    Good luck and if there is anything else you need to know shoot me an email and I’ll do my best to answer it for you.


  4. i am wondering if their was any heavy wax that would polish base coat acrylic with out using any laquer it would make things a lot easier thanks for all help

  5. Hey Sean,
    You could use any ‘cut and polish’ type product to polish up your basecoat, however if your colour is metallic it will need a couple of coats of clear laquer to protect it and to get a good shine out of the surface.

  6. Hi There,
    I have a 1993 Hyundai Scoupe turbo… it was originally painted in red..but the paint has gone funny and needs to be polished and buffed with a red wax every other day…so I’d like to paint it black and I was wondering what would be better two pack or acrylic? I was thinking I’d take it to the body works to get it done..but would like to get some information so I don’t look like a idiot and get taken for a ride. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated 🙂

  7. Hi Hannah,
    I imagine what has happened with your existing paint is that the top clear coat has gone ‘off’ and the paint won’t keep it shine or proper colour unless you keep a lot of polish up to it (very typical of cars around that era). The problem with this is that to repaint the car properly all the clear and the dodgy colour coats have to be removed, not back to bare metal but certainly all the paint that is not 100% has to be removed and if you are going to do it yourself it is a lot of hard work. A lot of hard work!

    Something else to consider also is that Black shows up every little dent and blemish in your panels and you will need to keep the polish up to it if it’s going to last. Also from my experiences you need to be fairly competant with a spray gun to do a good respray in black and in my opinion acrylic paint would be the way to go as you can easily touch it up if something goes wrong, plus two-pack is harmful when not used in a controlled environment like a spray booth.

    Also have you considered whether or not you will get the door jambs, engine bay etc sprayed as well? If you do want the whole car to be the one colour expect to pay quite a bit for someone to do it for you as they will most likely have to remove the engine etc to do it properly. If you chose to do it yourself there will be a bit more work involved in respraying these areas obviously.

    If you do decide to get it done by a panel shop the good thing is that they will use two-pack which is a lot ‘hardier’ than acrylic but of course there is the cost to consider. Getting a few quotes is a good idea if you decide to go that way, the price can vary quite a lot between the different shops.

    I hope I haven’t put you off the idea! And I hope I have answered all of your questions. If there is anything else that you would like to know please don’t hesitate to get in touch and I’ll do my best to give you an answer.


  8. Hi Craig

    Love this site….. I am going to do my car myself because after the storms in Perth I think I would have trouble finding someone to do it for me…..

    BUT…… id rather YOU do it for me…. any chance ;o)


  9. Hi
    Great site, very informative. We are restoring a 67 split screen kombi. The body is quite straight and it will be getting soda blasted to bare metal. It needs a little welding and body work but nothing major. I have done a little body work before but never sprayed. We want a neat daily drive not a show car so will probably spray it ourselves in acrylic. Questions:
    After we get it back in bare metal, should the first coat be etch primer?
    When the body is welded and filled, do i apply primer? If so, how many coats?
    I am not is a hurry so will sand between coats, is wet/dry 2000 the best.
    Given all the above, is it fair to say that it require 1 coat of etch primer, 2 coats of primer, 4 of colour with sanding between coats and 2 clear with light buff? Is this over kill?
    Keen to get your thoughts.

  10. Hi Kent,
    An old split screen Kombi, half your luck! Quite rare on the ground these days I believe.

    Yes, as you are getting the body soda blasted I believe the best course of action would be to use an etch primer for the first coat. The etch primer provides better adhesion to the bare metal than a normal primer/surfacer would.

    Once the body work is finished I usually go with three coats of primer, simply because I like to guide coat the primer and wet sand the body until all imperfections are taken out. If you are not looking for a “straight as a dye” type finish I think that two coats of primer followed by a light wet sand before the colour coats would be adequate.

    Regarding the grade of sandpaper to use between your coats, it really depends on how “flat’ you are able to spray the coats. If there is a fair bit of roughness to the paint then you might have to drop down to 1200 grade paper, but if you manage to lay the paint on nice and flat you would be better off with 1800-2000 grade paper. Does that make sense?

    What you have laid out there regarding the number of coats for each paint type is about right in my opinion. You could possibly drop down to three the number of colour coats if you find that the paint is going on nicely and you are only having to do minimal sanding between the coats but with what you’ve outlined there it shouldn’t be too hard to get a nice glossy finish.

    I hope that helps and please let us know how you get on with it.

  11. Hi Craig,

    Very imformative thanks, i’m going to re-spray my faded, yellowing, formerly white 91 rodeo white again. I have glass fibre filled the few dints and rust spots and have primed those small areas and then sanded the entire vehicle smooth with 2000grit. I’m still a bit unclear though whether I need to prime the entire vehicle or can just spray over the exhisting paint with acrylic? If I do need to prime what should I use as the few spots I have done I have just used a pressure pack primer. Also, maybe a stupid question, but as I live in the middle of no where (far central-west QLD) and can’t ask anyone who might know, is acrylic house paint the same thing as acrylic car paint? Also with the clear, is there a special automotive clear or will any clear acrylic do? Do I need clear at all or will a good buff on a few coats of colour do the job? Any help you could give would be a GREAT!!!


  12. Hi
    im painting a vs commodore with acrylic, and i have a body kit that has been stuck on with silkaflex , the problem i have found is that when the silkaflex is painted over the paint cracks, does any one know how to stop this ? i know its from the silkaflex moving , i need something maybe to put over it ,spray putty , or something like that , theres lots of gaps i had to fill with it like bog, so need it to look good . any help would be great thanks . great site.

  13. Very Helpful site, Having a go at re spraying my Restored BJ40 Landcruiser myself and your site has helped me to no end, I had no idea and was sceptical about doing it my self, but im have a go and it is coming up great, real personal satisfaction and a total cost of about $ 400.00 for everything including Full undercoat and Acrylic paint,

    Thanks again

    Im now looking for my next landcruiser to have a go at


  14. Hey I want to re spary paint my whole car I got screeches all over it what’s tue best thing tO do 1st I got an Idea how to do it but how to I sand down my car and what paint is best to use to make the car look pro

  15. hi,ive sprayed possibly 10 cars with arcylic and clear normally about 4-5 coats colour 3 coats clear i always got very little white spots close together on a panel or 2,this time i sprayed a honda with red paint and almost every panel has spots,but not seen when painted but after a light sand 1200 wet and dry it comes up after compounding gun with 1.8 nozzle paint /clear mix 1-1.5 ratio clean and dust free panels

  16. Hi Craig, just after some advice from you… I want to rep-spray my 83 e30 bmw with acrylic lacquer. The original paint (acrylic I think), is in ok condition so I am going to sand back the shine for keying of the new paint. I am after a pretty nice, flat, showy finish. I am adding a fibreglass bodykit which I have already sanded back with 400. The front fibreglass bumper I have taken back to the gelcoat. The bonnet has minor stone chips/rust in the stonechip dents.
    Should I spray on an isolator or etch primer first at all for adhesion of the new paint?
    Should I just sand the stonechips and tiny dings with rustspots back to metal, use a rust neutraliser, then use filler and then hi-fill primer over the top?
    For the bumper should I apply a flex agent after the first prime?
    After everything is hi-fill primed I will wet sand, then repeat so I have 3 coats of hi-fill primer.
    This will be followed by 3-4 coats of colour with wet sanding of 1200 in between coats.
    No wet sand following the final colour coat.
    Two to three coats of clear with wet sanding of 2000 in between.
    Then buff and polish afterwards.
    Would this be a suitable process? I havnt sprayed a car before. Ive read Pat Ganahl’s book, but he mainly concentrates on 2pack which I dont want to use for safety and novice reasons.
    Cheers, Travis

  17. Hi Craig
    great write up, has helped alot, thanx heaps

    i want to paint my VZ Commodore ute, just wanted to know what i could set up in my garage as far as a spray booth, i want to paint my panels seperatley i.e front/rear bumpers, side skirts, sailplane etc obviousley i havnt got the proffesional booth with ventilation and lighting and all that so i just wanted any tips or ideas on something i could set up that would keep overspray from getting all over everything

    i had an idea of putting up 4 walls with a tarp for the booth itself then maybe having a pedastool fan behind me blowing the overspray towards the back of the booth… would the fan blowing the overspray affect the paint in any way or affect how the paint will adhere to the panels? any advice would be great

    thanx again


  18. hey guys,
    i have a vn ss commodore in atlas grey, am asuming its metalic and am wanting to respay it, the body is straight and the paint not to bad , want to do a respay on it, can you tell me how much metallic paint and how much clear ill need to paint the entire car and should i lay some primer down before colour or could i just sand and paint the base4 coat

  19. Hi,
    I am after some direction on painting plastic bumpers and wheel flares on a holden rodeo any help would be great and also if you know of a good paint store in the sydney area to buy the required paint to paint these.
    Thanks heaps

  20. Craig,
    Have a chat with your paint supplier but I was taught to always use a primer under any acrylic top coat as the top coats need the primer to adhere to the surface. Acrylic’s may be better these days but I still believe they need a primer.

    2 pac is a different story as the top coats will bond quite well to just about any surface that has been lightly sanded or scuffed.

    If you are just doing the outside (no engine bay or door jambs etc) you should be right with 4 litres of primer, 4 litres of colour and 4 litres of clear coat. You will need around 18 litres of thinners, depending on the mixing ratio of the primer and clear coat, but it is typically 1 part paint to 1 1/2 parts thinner. I highly recommend using a good quality thinner for the colour coats and the clear, I think it makes the finished product just that little bit better.

    I don’t know how much spraying you have done, but you might notice a ‘stripey’ effect or ‘blotchiness’ when spraying the colour coats on. This is typical of metallics and very typical of silver/grey metallics and I have found that spraying a final colour coat (before you spray the clear) that is almost all thinners helps to ‘blend’ the paint.

    Hope that helps.


  21. Hi Ben,
    Apologies for the late reply, got a bit going on at the moment. Hanging tarps or plastic sheets is a good idea for a makeshift spray booth, just be mindful of how clean they are as anything that can be dislodged by air pressure from the spray gun will most likely land right on what you are painting at the time, been caught out a few times there! Also don’t forget the floor and the ceiling, once again as clean as possible (dust wise) is good.

    I use an industrial fan to ventilate the garage when I’m spraying, however I set it up so that it creates a draft rather than have it aimed directly in the area I’m spraying in. Does that make sense to you? You do have to put up with a bit of overspray in the air this way but it doesn’t circulate any dust or crap in the air as much.

    Lighting is a bit issue too. You can’t have enough light when ur spraying as far as I’m concerned. The last job I did I had a 2-fluro light strapped upright to a stand so that I could see how the paint was going on the sides of the car and it made a huge difference. If you don’t get what I mean I’ll see if I have a photo or two of the setup and send them over to you.

    Hope that helps.


  22. 2pack orange peel and runs. Can I sand with 800 then 1200 then buff, or only 2000. How long should I leave the 2 pack before sanding and buffing? Car is inside,day temp 21, night 12. Cheers Geoff

  23. Hey Craig I am doing my sons hilux up by shaving the tub and cab never done it before so it wil be a challenge then I’ll be painting it acrylic I am just wondering for the prep and painting of it can u give me a list of wot I need and also the ratio for thining the paint and clear coat to cheers lynton P.S. can u email me the details cheers

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