The A-Z Guide to Car Painting and Detailing

There are many rules that you should follow if you want to learn how to adequately paint and/or detail your car. Some of the companies out there are going to make you promises that are not true and are going to offer you services for your vehicle that you really do not need.

Do not worry though, we are here to walk you through the process and share all of the information that you need for painting and detailing your vehicle.


Tips for Car Painting

Of course, if you are thinking about painting your own car, you probably are reading this to find out all about the tips that will help you to be more successful. Most of the time if you want to get your car painted, it is probably a good idea to take it to a professional or a body shop.

This way you can be sure that they have all of the tools and special equipment that you need. Plus, they are aware of the safety protocols and regulations for where you live.

If you are training to become a technician or if you want to have your own do-it-yourself experience, there are some tips that are going to help you to be successful.

Taking the proper safety measures and being willing to get very dirty is half of the battle when it comes to painting a car. If you are willing to do these two things and are willing to put the time into your vehicle, you will find that you can actually save thousands.

You will want to plan to paint your car in a shed if possible. This helps to keep the paint job protected from the elements. If you are going to be painting outside, make sure that you find nice weather with no wind and stay far away from the trees.

What You Need

There are several things that you are going to need to be able to paint your car on your own.

  • 1200 grit wet and dry sandpaper
  • 2000 grit wet and dry sandpapers
  • Masking tape
  • Air powered or electric sander
  • Newspapers
  • A spray gun
  • An air compressor
  • A buffer
  • Paint thinners
  • Safety glasses
  • Facemasks
  • Undercoat (you are going to need at least one gallon for a small car, but definitely more than one gallon if you have any size of the car that is bigger)
  • Clear Coat Lacquer (you are going to need two or three gallons at the least, but likely will need more of these as well)
  • Topcoat enamel or acrylic paint (you are going to need three or more gallons of the paint and possibly more depending on the size of your car)
  • Dust extractor (this is not something that you have to have, but it is going to be something that will help you to keep the area clean)

Basic Directions to Help You Paint Your Car

  1. The first step is to wash the car and hose down the area surrounding the car. Make sure that you block off areas of the car with masking tape and paper if you want specific areas of the car to have details.
  2. Use a circular motion and use the power sander so that you can strip away the old paint. Of course, remember that you are going to have the tricky areas or corners where you will manually sand these areas. You will want to go from the front to the back and make the surface as smooth as possible. This helps it to be able to be as smooth as it can be. This will help you to have the best finish for your paint. After you sand the car, you will be able to wipe down the whole vehicle completely. There are imperfections in the paint if the dust, sandpaper remnants, and other debris.
  3. Next, you will have to mix the primer and the thinner. By doing this you will be able to apply the primer working from the roof down. This process generally takes two to three coats to cover the surface completely. You are going to need to take at least ten minutes to apply the primer and then twenty minutes for it to dry. When it is dry, you will be able to apply the second and third coat. When the primer is dry it is a powdery surface. The next step is to use the 2000 sandpaper to smooth it all and then you can wipe it down.
  4. Cleaning the spray gun and wiping down the primed surface with a rag slightly dampened with thinners. One thing to remember is that if you apply too much thinner, you are going to strip the primer off that you have previously applied.
  5. Then you will need to apply three to four coats of paint with the same sweeping strokes that you have used with the primer. Next, you are going to need to remember that it is going to take some time. You have to apply one coat and then allow it to dry completely before doing the next one. Just remember before you apply your final coat, you will be able to go over the car with the sandpaper. Then you will clean it with a rag that removes the final residue.
  6. Apply the clear coat lacquer.
  7. Remove the masking tape and the paper while the lacquer is still wet. During this step look for problem areas. If you find any, you need to sand them with a 2000 grit wet and dry sandpaper and then re-spray that area.
  8. When everything is dry, you need to buff the entire thing with a soft buffer and using a circular motion. You cannot stay in one spot for too long as it would ruin the finish.


Tips for Car Detailing

If you have ever wondered how professional detailers and valets are able to make your car look so shiny and clean, then wonder no more. We are bringing the tips that you need to be able to make sure that your car is looking shiny and clean all of the time.

Top 15 Tips for Car Detailing

1. Dry glass surfaces in two directions

If you are cleaning glass windows you will want to use two different directions to ensure that you do not see streaks. The easiest way to do this is by moving in one direction to dry the windows on the inside and the opposite direction on the outside.

2. Do not forget to clean the very top of the windows

So many times you are able to avoid unwanted smears by winding down the windows to clean the topmost portion of the glass. The product can build up in the window jamb and result in streaking and dripping along with other marks.

All you have to do is wind the windows down one or two inches so that you can make sure that each area of the window is cleaned completely so that all of the dirt, excess product and debris are moved.

3. Take the time to treat the trim first

You will want to work with black plastic trim differently than other materials. If you do not take the time to do the maintenance on the trim, it is not going to last as long as the rest of your body.

To keep it looking best it is best to treat it with a restoration product made for the color of trim that you have. Then you will be able to wax and polish it.

This is going to help to ensure that you are restoring the color and protect the trim from chemicals, abrasions, and grim. The wax and polish can stain bare plastic so make sure that you treat these areas first.

4. Remember to apply the wax with a powerful buffer

But, do not remove the wax with one. The best way to get professional results is with a power buffer. However, make sure that you know how to use the buffer if you are going to use it.

Be careful so that you are going to be able to remove the wax and polish with a buffer, but this is going to lead to an uneven finish and will have swirls in the clear coat.

Next, you will have to apply the wax with a power buffer before removing a dry and soft cloth. By covering the buffer pad in wax you will prevent the machine from being able to burn the paint layer and end up with an evenly distributed and thin coat of wax.

5. You can check the surface with a plastic bag

One of the things that you can do before you seal the paintwork with a fresh coat of wax is that you can always check to make sure that dirt and abrasion have been removed.

The biggest problem is that you can get fingerprints all over the freshly washed and polished bodywork. One of the easiest ways to feel areas of dirt and abrasion is to put your hand in a plastic bag and run it over the surface of the car. This is going to help you to feel any bumps and bits of dirt without getting greasy fingerprints on the paintwork.

6. The type of cloth that you use is important

The most common tool is a sponge for washing cars, but you need to make the switch now. The sponge is not the best option for washing a car.

The best option is the natural soft microfiber cloths because they make it easier to wash, rinse and dry the car without the risk of scratching or scrubbing. These clothes offer lower friction and are great to get a quick and effective wash in as well as helping to rinse and remove spots.

7. You will want to invest in a dual action polisher

Polishing is sometimes considered the most important step in cleaning the car. This is going to require you to pay for the right equipment.

Buying a dual action polisher is the best choice and it is a great way to ensure that you can clear out the areas of abrasion while removing all of the old wax. Plus, they are the best tool in helping you to have a long term shine.

8. Another important thing to consider is to make sure that you are using static electricity carpets

Carpet fibers naturally help to trap dirt, debris, dust, and bits and make it difficult to remove them when you are vacuuming. When you are trying to vacuum your car and there seems to be dirt that you cannot get, it can be very frustrating. You can move these stubborn bits by using static electricity to draw them up and out of the fibers. Check out our list of best Vacuums for Car Detailing.

9. Make sure that you are brushing the carpet each and every time that you are vacuuming

This is going to help you to make sure that the fibers have been cleansed of dirt. Stiff wire brushes work best at helping to get this dirt where it can easily be vacuumed up.

10. Make sure that your vents and other areas have been cleaned as well

Compressed air is a great way to deodorize your vents. This will help you to be able to get that new car smell. When dust, moisture, and dirt are inside the air vents this is going to cause there to be unpleasant odors that circulate.

11. Wash your car when the bodywork is cool

If you are going to have bodywork done, or if you have just done bodywork, make sure that you wash your car when the bodywork is cool.

Keep the car out of direct sunlight while you are washing as this will help you to ensure that you do not have watermarks from the water evaporating in the heat too quickly.

12. Cleaning your tires is also important

You will want to dress your tires last. Be careful when dressing your tires to not get any of the silicone based products on your bodywork as it will ruin the wax job and could cause other issues.

This might interest you: How to find the best tire shine products.

13. Don’t forget other areas

Do not forget to clean the boot, bonnet, door or other areas that might get overlooked. There are many things that you can do but make sure that your exterior is cleaned well is important.

14. Drying the car is also important

The absorbent microfiber towel is going to help make sure that there are no marks on the paint. Plus, you will be able to keep the car from having watermarks.

15. You will want two buckets when washing your car

One is to be used with the shampoo or detergent and the other is without. This will keep you from putting the dirt from the first bucket back onto the car. One great tip is to make sure that these buckets are large in size.


Understanding Car Painting and Detailing Jargon A-Z

There are some terms that you are going to want to familiarize yourself with before you look into having your car painted or detailed. These are the most looked up words for painting and detailing in the customer care dictionary so they are a great set of terms that you should know.


  • AIO — AIO stands for all in one. The all in one product typically do more than one job. They are generally used for cleaning, adding protection, and glossing the surface of the car in one nice and easy step.
  • AMPS — The term AMPS stands for amperage. This is the unit that is used to measure the total amount of electricity that is being consumed.


  • Baked Dry — This is where you use heat in order to help make the drying and/or curing process go by quicker. This is something that you have to do with paints, films, clear coats, and other types of chemicals.
  • Body Shop Safe — One of the things that you will want to look for when you are looking at different chemicals is to make sure that they are labeled in this way. This is a chemical that is not going to mess up any of the painting processes so you do not have to worry about adhesion or other things.


  • Carnauba — This is one of the best waxes that is available on the market. It is a high-quality premium wax that is sourced primarily from Brazil. There are two different ways in which you can find this product. It is either in a liquid form or a past form as an automotive paste. It is mixed together with a few different chemicals to form the paste.
  • Cutting Pad — The cutting pad is an aggressive pad that is going to help you to remove surface imperfections that are noticeable. You add the cutting pad to a buffer to get the results that you are looking for. It is one of the best things to help even out the paint surfaces and clear coats.


  • Degreaser — A degreaser is a special type of solvent that removes the unwanted grease and oil from a surface. It is done by emulsifying the oil and then flushing it away.
  • Dwell Time — When you have a chemical that you are going to put on a surface, there will be a dwell time. This is the total amount of time that the chemical can sit on a given specific automotive surface.


  • Enamel Paint — Enamel paint comes in both clear coat form and pigmented form. The paint has a type of finish that dries hard and gives a glossy finish. It is a resin-type of finish.
  • EPA — EPA stands for the Environmental Protection Agency. This is a U.S. government agency that is going to regulate the emissions and will regulate the types of pollutants that can be in the environment. The reason that this is important is that there are a number of chemicals that are regulated as well as vehicles themselves. Depending on where you live, regulations might be more strict or more relaxed.


  • Fish Eye — If the vehicle surface is not cleaned properly, you will get a fish eye in the area where dirt or contamination is present prior to the painting. This is an irregularity that happens during the painting process.
  • Foam Lance — The foam lance is the part of the wand where the suds are formed. The suds are formed from soaps and detergents and then you can easily use them for cleaning the outside of the vehicle. This apparatus is attached to a pressure washer to be able to form the suds.


  • Gel Coat — The gel coat is a type of epoxy coating that will help you to be able to achieve that desirable smooth finish that everyone wants. The finish is put over the carbon fiber, composite materials, and fiberglass.
  • Ghosting — Ghosting is a problem that can happen with vehicles. The most common example of ghosting is when there is an invisible mark appears on the surface of the vehicle from decals, other kinds of seals, and/or batches are peeled off of the surface. This is because the area that was under the surface of the sticker is going to be perceived differently so that you can see the contrasting presence.
  • Glaze — The glaze is the product that offers a high gloss finish by helping to cover feeding the single-stage finishes that are porous or making sure to temporarily cover the surface defects. This offers a mix of oils and solids and helps to specifically design for this purpose.
  • Grit Guard — A grit guard is designed for the main purpose of helping to settle dirt and particulate matter so that it falls to the bottom of the working bucket. This means that you can prevent the washing mitt and washing sponge from getting soiled over and over.


  • Headliner — One of the things that you should do is make sure that you look at the interior of the vehicle’s roof is that it is covered with a special protective covering. This is generally made from vinyl or suitable materials that will work. It is called the headliner.
  • Hook and Loop — Hook and loop is a type of fabric that can connect with another fabric that is the opposite side. One side will be the hook and one side will be the loop. This is great for use in different areas of vehicles and for cleaning tools.
  • Industrial Fallout — When you accidentally get iron particles embedded within the paint surface it is called industrial fallout. Sometimes this material is known as rail dust.


  • Iron Remover — An iron remover helps to ensure that ferrous materials are attached to the outer surface of the vehicle. This iron remover is able to easily remove the materials if the remover is a higher quality.


  • Kevin Brown Method –– The Kevin Brown Method is a set of instructions that are aimed at maximizing the performance of a typical random orbital polisher. This machine improves the final polishing and cutting quality by ensuring that the main factors are calibrated for continuously. The first thing that happens is that a wetting agent is used, then a regular applicator pad does the cleaning, an optimum application pressure is maintained, and the pressure that is used is low polishing.
  • kWh — kWh is short for kilowatt hour. This is a unit that is used to measure the consumption of energy.


  • Layering — Layering is where you apply multiple layers of wax, paint, sealant, or clear-coat over a surface to obtain the build-up film which is known as layering. The way that this is done is with a process where the painting is done over a substrate or when there is an application of a protective agent or a wax over a painted surface repeatedly.
  • LSP — LSP stands for last step protection and is taken for the painted surface to be protected.


  • Micro-suede — Microsuede is a material that is very similar to natural suede. It is a synthetic fabric that is comprised of fine fibers that are woven together tightly.


  • OPMs — ORMs stands for orbits per minute. This measures the total number of times that the center of the backing plate rotates around the center of the machine per minute.
  • Orange Peel — Orange peel is a bumpy exterior that has been painted in a way that it is uneven and resembles an orange peel or the outer surface of an orange.
  • Original Finish — The original finish is not done at the body shop. This is the actual original finish that the car has after they are done at the factory.
  • ORM-D — ORM-D is the postal designation that is most often used by body shops and painters. It stands for other regulated materials for domestic transport only. This is something that is going to be labeled on any harmful products or products that are pressurized in an aerosol container.


  • Paint Gauges — The paint gauges is a set of precision instruments that determines how the paint film thickness is able to substrate correctly. This is done through an electronic or mechanical means.
  • PSI — The PSI is the unit of pressure that is used as a measurement for liquids. This means per square inch.
  • Quick Detailer — Quick Detailer is a special liquid that helps to lubricate between the surface of the towel and the surface of the vehicle. It works by removing oil and dust without affecting the painting surface in a negative way.


  • Random Orbital Buffer — The random orbital buffer requires one to attach a special backing plate to a buffing pad. It is a special tool that helps to spread the product evenly over the desired surface using oscillations that are random.
  • RIDS — RIDS stands for random isolated deep scratches and is a type of scratch where there are no patterns and it appears to be completely random.

Read our full guide on how to efficiently remove paint transfer from your car.


  • SDS — SDS stands for safety data sheet. This is a piece of paper that comes with products that are purchased and it offers all of the information that you need to know what is present in the product and the safety standards. It also goes into detail about what potential hazards that it may or may not contain and how it is to be properly used.
  • Sheeting Method — The sheeting method is a technique that uses water to dry the car quickly. It is a cascading effect that is created by water that is flowing from a high surface with an open-ended hose at a lower pressure to ensure that it can remove more than 80% of the water from the surface.
  • Short Cycle — The short cycle is a special fast arm movement that is used to decelerate the polishing action as it corrects or finishes the paint.


  • Three Steps — Three steps is a special technique that is used to help correct painting errors or defects by using a special series of three steps which are: 1) sanding process, 2) compounding, and 3) polishing.
  • Trim — Trim is the variety of fabric that is attached to the interior or exterior of the main body of the car. Trim only serves the purpose of looking better for the most part, but some of the exterior trim works to protect the vehicle. The trim can be made from a variety of materials or fabrics which include plastic, vinyl, metal, and leather.
  • Two Steps — Two steps is a special process that uses two steps to correct painting errors. The process is done in two steps which are: 1) compounding and 2) polishing. This is the desired sequence for any type of defective removal.


  • Vacuum — The vacuum helps for the quick and easy complete removal of grime and dirt that is both wet and dry. It is powered by an electric motor and features a suction that is generated by electricity. This helps them to be able to remove the dirt.
  • Vinyl — Vinyl is one of the most affordable and strongest materials that you can buy. It is made from a plastic polymer and is created so that it can be used in vehicles for a number of different types of accessories. This most often includes the dashboards and seat coverings.


  • Waffle Weave — Waffle weave is a term that refers to the waffle-like pattern that is featured on a microfiber towel. This is the best surface to use if you want to dry a surface after washing so that the car is streak free. It also works well for washing windows and keeping them streak free.
  • Wash Media — Wash media is the tool that is used to wash the exterior of the car.
  • Water Spot Remover — A water spot remover is a product that you use to help with removing minerals that sit on the surface of the car when the water has dried. The spots are not from the water itself but are from the minerals that are found within the water.
  • Waterless Wash — Waterless wash is not what you would first think. This is actually not the process of washing a car without water. Instead, it is a product that is made up of polymers that are suitable. It is a water saving product that uses very little water and uses polymer action to emulsify and encapsulate the grime and dirt so that it can be easily removed.
  • Wax — Wax is typically made from natural sources. It is a natural substance that is going to help to protect the car’s surface by ensuring that it stays glossy. It also helps to make sure that there are no detrimental effects from elements to the paint job.
  • Weathering — Weathering is a type of deterioration that happens when a vehicle has been exposed to the environmental elements.
  • Wet Sanding — Wet sanding is the process of sanding while using water at the same time. This is something that is going to help to ensure that the surface remains as clean as possible. Plus it helps the sandpaper to also stay clean.
  • Wool — Wool is one of the things that is used on polishing pads. They are made from wool as they are aggressive enough to remove defects. The wool that is used can be synthetic or natural.



Knowing how to properly paint or detail a car is a lot of work. This guide has been made to offer you tips and to explain the jargon that you will either see or hear when working on painting and detailing cars.

No matter where you live or what you do for a living, with the right tips and tools, you can actually paint and detail your car on your own.

Of course, many will still choose to go to a professional, but this guide provides you with the information needed so that you can inquire about the process and make sure that you are comfortable with what is being used on your car.

Further read:

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