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Ultimate Guide to Protective Paint Ceramic Coatings

For decades car owners, auto enthusiasts, and professionals have experimented with a variety of products in search of that one that not only had the perfect shine but was also easy to apply and long lasting.

Fortunately we live in a time when that kind of a product has become a reality.

I’d like to introduce you automotive paint coatings!

What is Ceramic Coating?

Paint coatings are a relatively new product to the car care scene. You’ll see them go by many names: nano coating, ceramic, glass, quartz, etc…

They are a liquid last step product that you apply to your paint, like wax or sealants, which are meant to provide an additional layer of protection for your paint.

Unlike waxes and sealants, paint coating are designed to bond to the paint and last considerably longer. Once cured a paint coating is like a second clear coat.

Most coatings last at least a year, and some up to 3 years or more, before they need to be re-applied!

How are Ceramic Car Coatings Made?

Most paint coatings are resin or quartz based. These nano particles are typically suspended in a solvent that evaporates or flashes off when it’s spread thinly across your paint.

Typical coatings are delivered in either a syringe or a spray and wiped onto the paint.

How do Paint Coating Work?

Paint coatings work by bonding to the paintwork of your vehicle. Most waxes and sealants sit atop your paint while paint coatings crosslink or adhere with your paint.

The typical coating is applied by wiping it onto the paint and then wiping off the excess as coating’s solvent flashes off.

The thin layer then cures to your paint and becomes a hard, semi-permanent layer of protection. It will provide properties such as beading and shedding/sheeting of water, chemical resistance, uv resistance, higher gloss appearance, and act as a buffer with very light scratches.

Wax vs Sealant vs Ceramic Coating for Car

Out of the three, waxes last the shortest amount of time. Wax is also more forgiving when it comes to surface prep and time to apply. Wax typically gives paint a soft warm glossy appearance and is very soft to the touch.

Sealants have been engineered to last longer than most waxes (several months on average) and in some cases be easier to apply. Sealants are made up of man made chemicals. Sealants typically give paint a sheen or glossy wet look.

Paint coatings are the least forgiving when it comes to application but last the longest. Surface prep is key to a paint coating lasting the advertised time. That said, coating are by no means difficult to apply. The gloss that most paint coatings provide is very glossy like a candy coating.

Having use all three, I can’t imagine ever going back to waxes and sealants. Not having to do anything other than keep my paint clean for over a year is amazing.

What are the Benefits of a Paint Coating?

Paint coatings provide the longest duration of protection. Depending on the brand and version of a coating it can last from a year to 3 years or more.

Coatings provide properties such as being hydrophobic (beading and shedding of water), resistant to chemicals, resistance to uv, and it acts as a sacrificial layer protecting against things like etching from water, bug guts, and bird droppings and light scratches.

Mckee's 37 paint coating water beading

You’ll find that with a paint coating your car seems to stay cleaner longer. This is because dirt and contaminants just don’t stick to coatings as easy as they do paint.

Ceramic coatings also greatly enhance the appearance of paintwork. Most ceramic coatings instill a sharp candy coating like appearance to paint as opposed to the soft warm appearance of traditional waxes.

What are the Drawbacks of a Paint Coating?

The biggest drawbacks to coatings are the cost and prep work required before applying the coating. I suppose if you’re the type that likes to routinely rub down their car then the longevity could be considered a drawback haha.

Coatings vary wildly in price. Some diy coatings can be very affordable, such as McKee’s 37 Paint Coating which runs about $10 per application (one bottle covers multiple cars). Some coatings, namely the super long duration professionally applied coatings like Opticoat Pro, can cost a couple to a few hundred per application.

All coatings, however, require impeccable surface prep. Usually this consists of a compounding or polishing and wipedown with a solvent to remove any polishing oils or waxes. If you’re not willing to do that then I advise you stick with waxes and sealants.

What Types of Paint Coatings Exist?

Epoxy, polymer, nano, ceramic coating, glass, quartz, silicon… They go by many marketing names. The truth is there are two typical classifications of paint coating, polymer or quartz.

Nano is simply a term used to describe the technology used in all modern paint coatings. Don’t let the inclusion or omission of the word nano in a products name sway you.

Polymer (also called epoxy) coatings are designed to cross link with your clearcoat to form a permanent bond.

Quartz (also called ceramic, glass, or silicon dioxide) coatings are designed to be harder than traditional clearcoats to provide more durability.

Some coatings are even a combination of the two and promise the best of both worlds, though I’ve yet to see a difference first hand.

I’d also like to point out that the method of application has no correlation with the type of coating. Both spray and syringe application coatings can be polymer and quartz coatings.

Truth be told, in most modern coatings the name or makeup isn’t nearly as important as its ease of application and warrantied longevity. Typically cheaper diy coatings will have lower longevity and premium pro installed coatings will have longer longevity (and a warranty), though this gap is quickly diminishing.

How Do You Apply Paint Coatings?

Most ceramic paint coatings are delivered either via a spray or a syringe onto an applicator and then wiped evenly across your paint.

Some ceramic coatings require a flash time for the solvents in the coating to evaporate before you are allowed to wipe away the excess (called high spots).

The truth is you’ll have to consult your chosen coatings instructions for the proper way to apply it.

In the most general instructions, however, you would:

  1. Prep the surface of the car by polishing away any waxes or imperfections.
  2. Wipe the car down with a solvent meant to remove wax and greases.
  3. Apply a very small amount of your ceramic coating to your applicator and wipe it across your paint in no larger than a 2’ x 2’ section. I prefer to wipe up and down and back and forth until even distributed.
  4. Wait for the product to flash off if required.
  5. Wipe away the excess product with a soft microfiber towel until you don’t see any streaks or haziness (commonly referred to as high spots).

Tips for Applying Ceramic Paint Coatings

  1. If you’re using a spray coating, be mindful of windows and adjacent panels. Don’t let overspray dry.
  2. If you’re using a spray coating, be sure to clear the nozzle when you’re finished or it might dry shut.
  3. Less is more. If you wipe on too thick of a coat you’ll be more prone to high spots that are harder to buff away.
  4. Apply coatings in a place with ventilation. Most coatings put off strong fumes.
  5. Consider wrapping your foam applicator in a layer of suede. The coating will apply easier and not soak into the applicator (less waste).

When Should You Not Apply a Ceramic Paint Coating?

It’s not advisable to put coatings over new paint. New paint, even the water based paints used today, still have solvents and other gasses that escape while the paint cures. Consult your painter for how long they recommend you wait until coating your new paint.

As for new cars, it’s safe to put a coating on a new car. Factory paint is cured/baked during assembly so it’s ready to rip by the time you get your car.

How Do You Remove Ceramic Coatings from Paint?

The most reliable means of removing a paint coating is by compounding or polishing. A good coating is bonded to the surface of your paint so you can’t simply wash it away, even with soaps and solvents.

Is Ceramic Paint Coating Worth It?

Absolutely. I’ve seen firsthand the results of many of the popular paint coatings including Optimum Gloss Coat, Cquartz, GTechniq, and Ethos. They’ve all delivered on their promise.

Some people don’t want to let go of tried and true wax. They think anything new is snake oil. If only they’d give it a chance they’d see the results for themselves. There really is little reason to go through the wax on wax off routine when we have modern “nano” paint coatings that truly protect our paint and save us time.

Are Dealer Installed Paint Coatings Legit?

This is a tough one. There may be dealers out there applying legitimate paint coatings these days but I haven’t yet seen one. Most dealer installed paint protection coatings are nothing more than quick wipe down with a regular old sealant.

These sealants don’t last any longer than what you can buy at the big box store for $10 and are no harder to apply.

Save your money on the markup on the dealer installed coating and pick up a diy coating to apply yourself. You’ll save a shedload of money and get a real coating.

Something like Ethos Ceramic Coating is not only cheap but it’s as easy to apply as any quick detailer, wax, or sealant.

Best Ceramic Car Coating for Paint Protection?

Of the paint coatings readily available, my favorites are:

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