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Car Painting Basics: How Much Paint to Paint a Car and More Painting Tips

How Much Paint to Paint a Car

Having a car painted professionally is expensive so many opt to do the job by themselves. One of the first questions people ask when deciding to DIY is how much paint to paint a car. The answer to this question depends on several factors. If this is not your first time or you are a professional, it would require half the amount of paint than you did the first time. Car paints are available in pre-measured amounts, typically in pints, half-gallons and gallons. Keep in mind that it is a good idea to buy more than what you need if you have no experience painting a car before. This is to cover the amount used in case you’d need to do fix-ups and extra coats.’

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For a small- or midsize car, these are the approximate amounts of paint you’ll need: 3 gallons of topcoat, 2-3 gallons of clear coat, and 1 gallon of primer or base coat. If this is your first time, you would need to use about a gallon for 2 or 3 coats of paint on a car. This will consume an additional amount of paint so better have the extra amount of paint already with you instead of taking another trip to purchase more paint. When painting the car with the same color, a gallon to a gallon and a half would do. But if you are painting the car with a different color, 1 ½ to 2 gallons is recommended. 


Bigger cars will need about 4 gallons of topcoat, 3-4 gallons of clear coat lacquer and 1 ½ gallons of base coat. These amounts are probably more than what will be needed and professionals will use less. However, it is safer and better to have more paint than to have less than needed. If you are inexperienced in painting a vehicle, 2-3 coats of paint on a car would take about 2 gallons. Two gallons of paint is enough if you are going to paint the car with the same color. If using a different color, then it is recommended to have 2 to 2 ½ gallons.   


Also, it will take more paint if the door jambs, under the hood and trunk will be painted as well. If you are going to use an airbrush technique, it will use twice the amount of paint. How much paint to paint a car basically depends on two main factors: the size of the car and the experience of the person who will do the paint job.


Note: To match the original color of your car, search for the color code located on the car’s compliance paint. An auto paint shop can also match it. 

How much is a gallon of paint for a car?

$100 to $250 per gallon – clear coat paint


$566 – the average cost for a basic paint job with little prep work which includes one coat of synthetic enamel paint. 


The average cost of a car’s paint job can climb to an average of $1,316 for a higher quality paint work with better paint and more prep work. For painting a specific area of the vehicle, like a door, the cost can be between $300 to $1,000. 


The cost of basic paint colors on ordinary cars are usually cheaper, while specialty paint colors or bigger cars nearer to the top of the range. If you want to have a bumper-to-bumper racing stripe, expect to spend at least $500, price will also vary based on the color, size of the stripe and the type of the car. 


Note: Before choosing a shop, make sure that they remove the old paint and prep the car by sanding it. Take off the necessary interior parts of the car and give enough time between coats for the paint to cure. Usually, the auto body shop masks the vehicle to protect areas they don’t paint like the trim. They repair or sand down scratches or dents.


$5,000 is the average cost of specialty paint jobs and will vary based on the type of paint and complexity of the job. The cost can range from $2,500 to $20,000. 


Note: Always let the DMV know if you are going to change the color of your vehicle. In case your car is stolen or you experience any other legal trouble, you want the vehicle’s description to match your registration.


Cost of DIY Car Painting


Labor costs make up the most of the overall cost in a painting job. This is why if you are confident with your painting skills, you may opt to paint your car yourself. You’ll only spend around $100 for the materials needed for painting your car, depending on what you already have. Car painting materials include: brushes, drop cloths, primer, auto paint, top coat paint, sandpaper. Car paint costs vary depending on the quality of paint you want. 


Acrylic paint – estimated price is $30 per gallon.

Enamel paint – estimated price is $50 per gallon

Urethane (high quality paint) – estimated price is $90 per gallon. This type of paint has the advantages of lacquer and enamel paints, offering a long-lasting paint job.  


As expected, the bigger your car is, the more amount of paint is needed to complete the job. Most cars usually require:


  • 1 gallon of primer
  • 2 to 3 gallons of auto paint
  • 2 to 3 gallons of top coat


Spot painting can save you money and time if your car has a scratch or ding. The cost will depend on the size of the spot and the prep work needed. But it usually costs a lot less than painting an entire car. It is always a good idea to let a professional do your spot painting job to make sure that the spot blends in well with the rest of the car.


Other Things You Should Know in Car Painting


  1. Red and yellow paints are the most expensive colors to paint your car with. This is due to the higher cost to make and finish these colors. It may cost you a few hundred more dollars than other colors.
  2. It could take three to seven days to paint a car and will depend on the complexity of the paint job. When shopping for the best shop to have your car painted, consider the turnaround time they’ll quote you with. A fast TAT may not come with the quality of work you would want.
  3. A car paint technically takes less than 24 hours to dry, but it is highly recommended for you to exercise caution with your newly painted car. Do not wash it with soap for a month to allow the paint time to cure. Also, avoid waxing and polishing your car for at least 3 months.
  4. Usually, it takes 2 coats of primer paint, 2 to 3 coats of colored paint, and at least 1 to 2 coats of top coat paint for a professionally done car painting job. Better quality paint jobs may require 3 coats of color paint to guarantee a thorough and long-lasting job.
  5. If you want a low maintenance car paint, go for a white, silver or gray car paint. You can go without washing for a few weeks with these colors since dust and debris stay well hidden as long as the car stays dry. 
  6. You should fix dings and flaws before painting to ensure an even paint job. 
  7. Know what areas the painters will paint like door jambs and trims. 
  8. Inquire about a warranty to make sure you have some type of protection in case the paint chips or fades prematurely.

What paint do I use to paint a car?

Understanding each paint that will be used to paint your car is important so you can find the type of car paint that is suitable to your car. Basically, an undercoat finish or more commonly known as paint primer is put down first. Next, you have the option to pick between a base coat, clear coat finish, acrylic lacquer, or some of the available specialty paints.




Expect shades of grey or black for your undercoat finish, also referred to as primer. It serves the same purpose as what the primer does in painting the walls of a house, it prepares the surface of the car for painting. Primers are put on so they can help the surface of the paint stick to the car. Without the primer, the paint would not bond consistently and would look shoddy. Consequently, the pain would chip and flake. The primer serves as the binding layer. There are also spray paint primers which keep moisture away from the bare metal surface. Painting on moisture can cause oxidation or rust. If you DIY, remember that the primer is usually porous which means you have to sand it down to make a flat surface. If you fail to do so, the next layer of paint could have bumps and may fail to adhere properly. 


Base Coat


As the term suggests, base coat paints are basic. It’s the actual colored paint of the car that would be put on top of the undercoat/primer layer. An important thing to remember is that base coats do not have any hardeners or strengtheners meaning it’s only raw paint, sitting on top of the primer. It cannot protect itself, the primer layer and metal layer very well. If left as it is, noticeable blemishes will appear in the paint and may let the moisture in and cause oxidation or rust on the surface of the frame. This is why a clear coat or a urethane base coat is also applied to protect the primer, paint and frame from the elements more effectively. It also gives more shine to the paint because of the glossy nature of the clear coat. In fact, the use of a base coat and a clear coat is the most typical way to paint a car.


Clear Coat


It is also called clear coat finish as it is put on top of the base coat. It does not contain any pigment or color. Its purpose is not to add color but to protect the base paint and give it shine. This is why most clear coat finishes contain specialized chemicals that give easy adherence to the flexible parts such as a plastic bumper. One of the main reasons paint gets damaged is due to oxidation because of the UV rays of the sun. Clear coat finishes contain UV inhibitors to prevent the fading of the paint due to UV rays. Clear coats are usually made from polyurethane or urethane which helps the car get that glossy showroom shine you see on new cars. This shine can last for years with proper care and maintenance. 


Acrylic Lacquer


This type is rarely used nowadays as many manufacturers have stopped producing them simply because they are now taken as outdated. Base coats with a clear finish on top just give better protection with a nice shine. Acrylic lacquers are used on classic cars since these cars are not used on a day to day basis. Some showroom cars also are painted with acrylic lacquers since they are the best in giving the most glaring sheen on a car. However, this type does not offer as much protection as a clear coat finish. Most of the time, these lacquers are mixed with a thinner to make spraying them easier since on its own it is very thick.




It is not as common as clear coats but not as rare as acrylic lacquers. There are many specialty paints. One example of specialty type paint is a metallic finish paint. It is often used on performance-oriented cars as it gives a more jazzed-up version of a base paint color. Another type and rarer type of specialty paint are chameleon paints. As the name implies, these types provide an illusion of changing colors such as a car that seems to change from gray to purple, depending on the angle you are viewing it. 



How much to paint to paint a car depends on the size of your vehicle and your experience in painting a car. Obtain more paint when you are a novice so you have enough paint in instances where you need to do some fixups and extra coating. To make sure you end up with the results you wanted, keep in mind the tips mentioned above and take note of the different types of paints and their purposes. 

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