How To Respray A Car – Part Eight – Topcoats

Now for the fun part! As I explained in Part Seven I am not able to go through with the complete respray of our project VN at the moment due to a re-occuring back injury but I am hoping that by showing you the basics that I was taught on one panel you will be able to ‘scale it up’ if you are doing a full respray.

Fingers crossed I will be able to hold a spray gun for more than 10 minutes at a time in the near future.

At this stage we should have a nice primered surface ready for the topcoats, the car masked up and the panels wiped down with Wax and Grease Remover or Prepsol.

How To Paint A Car

Time to fire up the compressor and check our pressure setting. When spraying the undercoat I prefer to use anywhere up to about 50psi of air pressure, but when it comes to the topcoat I believe a lower pressure is better as it limits the amount of overspray. There is nothing worse than spraying the roof for example and finding that you have a ugly, rough stripe down the middle where the overspray has mixed with the wet paint. My preference for topcoat is around 30psi, but once again this is only my preference and you should first check the instructions that came with your paint and also experiment a bit first to find the best setting for you. Also be sure to drain any condensation that has built up in the compressor’s tank or in the water trap if you have one.

Next item on the agenda is preparing the paint. Most acrylic paints are thinned at a ratio of one part paint to one and a half parts thinner. I always use Premium Thinners for the top coat instead of the general purpose stuff, it costs a little more but does it make a difference? To be honest I don’t know! I was taught this way and have never tried just using general purpose for thinning the top coat, just a habit I guess.

When I’m ready to paint I usually mix up almost one litre of paint and thinners in an old spray gun pot (using a clean steel ruler for measuring out the two parts), double check the air pressure, half-fill the gun and we’re ready to go.

Just a quick note on air pressure, you will notice that even though you set the pressure at one level, when you pull the trigger on the spray gun the pressure will drop by a few psi. To combat this set your pressure slightly above the pressure that you want to spray at and by the time the paint hits the panel it will be at the desired pressure.

Like when spraying undercoat, the trick is to keep the gun as square to the surface as you can, at the same distance away through the entire stroke and keep an eye on the ‘wet edge’ of the paint to be sure you are getting adequate coverage. A good idea is to have a portable fluro light that you can move around with you as you spray and when set up in the right position it can make following the wet edge a lot easier.

I made the video below to try and show you how following that wet edge of the paint is the best way of ensuring that you don’t go too thick in some areas and that you don’t end up with patchy dry areas of paint ( and to show you my flash new pair of chinese safety boots 🙂 ). Following this edge is vitally important when doing the second and third coats of colour as it is almost impossible (depending on the colour) to see how the coat is being applied. The video is of the second coat being applied, I was hoping to video all three coats but some dufus, that’ll be me, kept standing in front of the camera.

With any luck your three coats of colour have turned out nice and even and have a bit of a shine to them. If the paint has turned out rough or almost sand paper like you have applied it too ‘dry’ and need to focus on laying down ‘heavier’ coats, likewise if the paint has some runs in it or has ‘built up’ areas you need to go a little lighter. The beauty of Acrylic is that once it is completely dry you can then go along and wet sand any areas that you are not happy with. The drying times should be listed on the paint tin.

Although the surface of our front guard turned out pretty good I left it in the sun for a few hours and then wet-sanded it with 1200 paper to give it a nice flat, even look before applying the clear.

As you can see from the photo doing this removes just about all of the gloss the paint had but once the clear is applied the gloss will be back better than ever.

Applying the clearcoat is exactly the same process as with the colour coats. Once again I am doing three coats as I expect to remove a bit with the buffing and polishing process.

That’s where we will leave this part of the never-ending story! I will let the paint dry overnight and put the panel out in the sun for a while tomorrow before going through the final step of cutting and polishing.

Stay Tuned for Part Nine, Cutting and Polishing our new paint job.

88 thoughts on “How To Respray A Car – Part Eight – Topcoats

  1. Hi Craig,
    Like everyone else. I love the info. However I thought you may like some info yourself with regards your back. For some reason I think you live at (or close to)Brisbane. I’m on the Goldy.
    I HAD the same issues you have, until about four years ago. Was back at work 3wks after treatment and within six months was able to do whatever i wanted including water skiing, surfing and lifting and carrying heavy things.
    Email me direct if want some more info. I got my life back.
    Cheers Jason

  2. Hi Craig.
    I’ve been DIY painting cars on and off for about 25 years and from one experienced amateur to another, well done!
    The reason I found your site is I’m spraying my Falcon Ute today (yes, days of prep have been done!) and I always go “back to the books” and read through the process the morning before I pick up the gun. It never hurts to refresh and your site is excellent!
    One litte tip for those spraying metalics (I hate metalics! The ute will be Monza Red!), make sure you stir it well and keep the mix moving in the pot/gun. The metal flake can settle and give an uneven appearance otherwise. Oh, and the difference between an amateur and a pro? The amount of sanding and buffing required for a great finish! Once again, thanks Craig for you’re great work! Cheers, Chris

  3. Cheers for the feedback Chris. I also appreciate you sharing your knowledge with us and I like your definition of the difference between an amatuer and a pro, sounds about right to me!


  4. great read, lots of useful info here.
    Question, I am spraying a dark blue metalic colour on a 200sx, and I was wondering if sanding the 3rd final coat before the clear was only advisable for flat colours, not metalics? Can you shed some light on this?

  5. Hi Adrian,
    I don’t have a great deal of experience with metallics, but from what I have heard it is advisable not to sand the final colour coat of a metallic, particularly a dark colour as it messes with the metallic fleck in the paint. I was hoping that someone with more experience on this might reply, or perhaps a call to a auto paint supplier might help you out some more.


  6. Hi Craig hope the back is getting better great thread you have going here
    just a small question if you were changing the color of the car would you mask up the windows or have someone take them out and put them back and also can you put acrylic over tupac paint or should i sand it then puttyprimer it first

    regards Derrick

  7. Cheers for the feedback Derrick. I suggest that you simply mask up the windows, it’s a lot easier however just be sure to get your tape edges exactly where you want them. The more care you take with this the better the end result will be.

    The way I would go about changing the colour and spraying acrylic over two-pac is to first lightly sand the existing paint, just enough to take the shine out of it. Then I would apply a primer, not necessarily a putty type primer, just a primer/surfacer will do. Then you can spray the colour coats on. I wouldn’t suggest spraying the acrylic straight over the two-pac as it is likely to peel down the track.

    I hope that helps, but please keep in mind I am not a professional spray painter, I’m just someone that has made a lot of mistakes over the years!


  8. Hi Craig
    Love you work.
    Looking forward to the sanding and the clear coat bit. As a rank amateur I reckon 2 pac is just too much trouble. I would be a nervous wreck using it! Why not keep going with lacquer: its easy to use, cheap and will not kill you like 2pac can.
    Anyone who sprays their car is going to look after it by polishing etc anyway so the durability thing is not an issue
    Cheers Tim

  9. So true Tim, nothing wrong with good old acrylic lacquer. Glad you liked the articles, my back is slowly improving so I’m hoping to finish them very soon.


  10. Craig, it’s been a great read though these eight parts, no doubt extremely helpful to those of us who are new to it all.
    I’m a paintless bloke by trade, but reading through the pages has given me a better appreciation to what the guys in the body shop do.

    Best of luck with the back injury, hope you can bounce back and finish off the last part!

  11. Hi Craig,
    I am considering re-painting my HJ60. All the clear coat is lifting. while this can be caused by the deteriorating paint, I have suspicions that the previous owner (who was a spay painter) may have done a dodgey and just re-sprayed another coat of clear to make the paint look good without a lot of preperation.

    What would the best way to tackle this?

    p.s. Sorry to hear about your back! Looking forward to part 9!

  12. Thanks for your concern Richard, I wouldn’t wish this pain on my worst enemy! I can remember doing a Corolla some years back that had the same thing happening and unfortunately I do remember it involving a lot of hard work to get rid of all the flaking clear coat.

    From memory we used a 80 -120 grit dry sandpaper on a circular air-powered sander to remove the majority of the clear and then went around with a higher grit paper to remove any sanding marks from the actual paint layers. A lot of elbow grease!

    In the comments section of the first ‘repaint your car’ article that I did a guy stating that he is a professional spray painter left his email address for anyone wanting advice, I do wonder if he would have any better advice for you? If you feel like sending him an email his email address is

    Hope that helps!


  13. Hi Craig,
    Thank you for the widely informative site and believe me,some of your tutorials really make it sound simple and I am sure it is.Is it?
    This is my 1st time I am trying out spray painting and I need your advice.
    1, Is it possible to apply clear coat ontop of a 2k paint finish?
    2, Is it possible to mix clear coat with a bit of 2k paint for the final coat?
    If not, what are the consequencies and if yes,what are my benefits?

    Please Help!!

  14. Hi,
    I would really like to say it is a simple job to do and to be honest it is not all that difficult, but I can tell you I have made plenty of mistakes over the years!! As long as you follow the instructions to the letter for the particular paint you buy and put a lot of effort into preparing the car you should be right.

    To answer your questions – yes, you can certainly apply clear coat over a 2k paint finish. Just be sure that the clear coat you use is suitable for applying over 2k paint. Applying clear coat is a good idea as it ‘protects’ the colour coats underneath and also gives you something to fine sand if you are not completely happy with the finish or gloss.

    I have heard a number of times of people mixing clear coat with the paint for the final coat and achieving a good result. I have not done this myself though so I can’t really comment on it’s effectiveness. I believe that there is no harm in doing this, however I would prefer if you spoke to your paint supplier rather than taking my unedecated opinion!

    Hope that helps!


  15. Craig,

    Thanks for the help. I tried on one test panel with 2k paint mixed with clear coat and on the other I used 2k paint then applied clear ontop and I must say I liked the finish on the one that was mixed. The gloss looks decent yet classy.

    On the one where I sprayed the clear ontop, I didnt like the fact that anyone can tell that the vehicle just had a new paint job done to it.

    Thanks for the facts,they help.


  16. Hi, great thread with a lot of useful information for me. My car is currently in primer and I wi be spraying the car within a week or two. One question I did have is that after you had the primer on the car ready for paint, you mentioned that you wet sanded the car with 1000-1200 grit sand paper before paint. But as I am trying to gather as much knowledge as I can, other websites and forums mentioned using a 400 grit sand paper on the primer before the painting stage, to me that sounds a bit rough and I just wanted to know if 1000-1200 grit sand paper was the better way to go
    Thanks for any help

  17. Hi Daniel,
    Personally, I have always used 1000-1200 grit wet and dry paper (used wet and with a sanding block) to smooth out the primer. I would think that 400 would remove too much of the primer and I’m sure, no matter how careful you were, you would have areas that went back to the original surface, and obviously this is not good!

    Perhaps if you were using a ‘hi-fill’ type primer in 2-pac you might need a light rub with 400 but certainly for an everyday primer-surfacer I see it as overkill.

    Are you planning on using an acrylic lacquer or 2-pac paint for your topcoats? The reason I ask this is that I have not long finished doing a full respray in acrylic that has come up nice and I could run you through what I did if need be.


  18. Hi craig, I was planning on using 2pak paint as I heard that 2pak paint is easier to get a good finish from the gun without color sanding etc. But I heard that 2pak paint is also a lot more harmful than acrylic paint so I might just use the acrylic paint and put more effort within the coats just to be on the safe side

  19. G’day Craig, I have read your info from start to finish. I am a beginner who is very keen to have a go at painting my cars. I am eventually going to restore my factory V8 Ford XC ute, but first I would like to give my old Landcruiser HJ60 a new coat of paint (white). I was initially planning on bringing it back to bare metal, but I don’t have alot of time, and the paint is in reasonable condition so I would rather just paint over the paint. Aparantly it got a paint job 4 or 5 years ago. I’m not sure if the paint is 2 pack or acrylic. I would like to use 2 pack paint on my car as it is alot stronger (4WDing overgrown tracks). What I need to know is how do I prep the body so it’s ready to paint. Please correct me if i’m wrong. 1) rub back the paint job and take the shine out of it (what grade of sand paper is best? is it wet or dry sanded?) 2) apply 2 pack primer (high fill primer is best right?) 3) sand the coats of primer back so they’re smooth and ready to take the top coat. 4) clean off all the dust from sanding with a blow gun or something similar. 5) apply top coat, mixed with thinner and hardner according the the paint can. Is this correct? Can you offer me any further advice?

    For your information, I have a 2.5hp 40 litre direct drive air compressor with a water filter/regulator, and 2x hvlp spray guns. 1x 1mm nozzle with 250ml capacity and 1x 1.4mm nozzle with 600ml capacity. Thank you for your time, I look forward to hearing from you.

  20. Hi Craig,

    I picked up some 3M primer surfacer from Supercheap Auto, thinking it was a reasonable product… but the range of 3M colours they stock is pretty limited.

    What brand of colour do you generally use? Can you recommend a good off-the-shelf brand?


  21. hi craig,
    just like to know if you sand between 3colour coats, and same with 3 clear coats,
    very good info you got here mate, very helpful.

  22. Mate

    thanks a lot for the great artical with it I painted my 1989 Partol and it came up pretty darn good for a first time go thanks to your advice. the finish has a slight sand paper finish on it so Im thinking I put it on to dry. To fix this do just increase the flow of the gun? Wouldn’t have tried it with out this artical mate do have any other one’s out there by any chance?

    I think I will think about changing the colour next.

    Mate look after that back of yours hope to see you back at it soon.

    Stay safe and well


  23. Hi Craig

    Great site and thanks for the effort.

    One question… mentioned three coats – however, I wasn’t sure if this was meant to be three coats straight after the other or if there was a gap between coats – and if so, for how long??


  24. Hi Bryan,
    Thank you for the feedback! There is usually a ‘flash-off’ time that you need to wait between coats and this varies quite a bit between different paints and paint brands. Typically this will be stated in the application instructions on the paint tin, but if not I suggest asking the person that sells you the paint, they should be able to give you this info.


  25. hey craig i have just resprayed my car bonnet following ur very useful guide. I have not applied a clearcoat and dont really plan on doing so yet as i want to respray my whole car in due time. I was wondering if i can cut and buff the paint or do i need to apply a clearcoat first ?

  26. Hey Billy,
    Thanks for the feedback! I highly recommend not cutting and polishing the paint until you get the clear on as you will have trouble spraying the clear over a surface that has polish or cutting compound on it, it simply won’t ‘stick’.


  27. Hey Craig,
    I’ve been doing a DIY paint job and it’s been going fantastic right up until the clear coat.
    When i sprayed the clear coat on, it went grey and very rough.
    I used a spare guard to test on and tried applying heavier coats and lighter coats and no matter what i did, it always came out grey.

    If you have any advice at all, I’m dying to hear it.

  28. Hi Levan,
    That’s a bit of a hard one! Did you have the clear thinned to the correct ratio? To me it sounds like either a thinning/mixing issue or perhaps an air pressure problem. Have you spoken to your paint supplier about the problem at all?


  29. Hi Craig
    Awsome thread, great Detail. Ive sprayed afew projects, had a panel beater teach me alot but its great to freshen up and to follow your tips, cheers mate now to attack my LJ

  30. Hi Craig,
    Have recently sprayed topcoats of clear but has come up frosty not glossy.
    Any ideas what I am doing wrong?
    Cheers mate.

  31. Hi Joe,
    I can’t say that I have come across that before, my thoughts would be perhaps the coats have been too thick or not enough thinners in the mix? Hopefully one of our readers might be able to help you out more.


  32. Hi Craig
    Just found this and find it a great read. I am doing up an old 1966 2a LandRover, all aluminium. So far I have rubbed the majority of it back to bare aluminium as there is about 4 coats of just about any sort of green paint the previous owner could lay his hands on, but the seat box (which came out of another car) has a factory original yellow paint in job in great condition. To change the colour, do I need to take all the yellow off and etch prime it or if I just rough up the yellow, do I etch over the yellow or just put green straight on. Both colours are DuPont Acrylic. Thanks again for a fantastic write up.
    Cheers Ian
    PS, Hope the back is better, got a mate who broke his in the military, they pensioned him off and left him to his own devices, and I see what he goes through.

  33. Cheers for the feedback Ian. The back is slowly getting better, I’m walking every day now which has helped a lot.

    With the seat box I would just take the shine off the yellow, i.e. scuff it with light dry sandpaper, and then apply your green over that. There will be no need to use an etch primer doing it this way.

    I wish you good luck with the restoration.


  34. Hi Craig

    With the old series 2a I painted, one thing I didn’t do was put a clear coat over the colour. Do I need to rub it back a bit since its been on the car since October before I put a clear coat on it or do I have to do something else.

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