It’s the nightmare of every person who has just bought a new car. They open the door and it hits something nearby, chipping the paint. Or maybe your customer has run their bumper into a curb. The resulting scuffs and paint chips can make the car look less than ideal, no matter how old the vehicle is. Enter your car paint touch up job.

Paint serves many purposes on cars, not least of which protecting the metal underneath it from rust and road damage. Paint is more than cosmetic and can affect the life of the car. Thankfully, there are some great tips and tricks that can make paint matching and car paint touch ups seamless and long-lasting.

If you have a tough car paint touch up job in front of you, never fear! These tips and tricks will make your paint touch-up job a breeze! You might even want to specialize in this area of car repair once you see how easy it can be to repair damaged paint! And with great results comes customers impressed with your service and repeat business!

How to Wow Customers with Great Vehicle Paint Touch-Up Jobs

1. Wash the Vehicle Before Paint Touch Up

You really can’t tell anything about the damage to the paint if the vehicle is not clean. Beyond that, you will only damage the paint further by driving road grit into the paint as you try and repair the damaged paint. Grit and surface grime will also impede applied paint from adhering properly.

Always wash the car thoroughly and then wipe the affected area clean with a microfiber towel and some rubbing alcohol. This is the basic prep that you will need to do in any situation where the paint needs to be corrected.

2. Determine the Depth of the Paint Job Damages

Car paint has layers. It is not just one coat of color sprayed onto the car. Anytime that you are looking at a paint issue, you will need to determine how deep the damage goes into the paint. Every paint job begins with a primer layer, then is follow up with a base coat and a mid-coat which is where the color is added. The whole thing is then covered up with a clear-coat layer.

Many of the paint chips or scratches that you will see are at least as deep as the mid-coat. Remember that the process is not the same if you only need to reapply a clear coat to the damage. You will need to know which kind of fix is needed before you start on your correction.

3. Use the Right Grit Sandpaper Before Touching Up Your Vehicle Paint Job

Orange Volkswagen with need of new paint

Deeper gouges or scratches will always need to be sanded down at least a little before you can apply paint touch-ups. 1200-grit sandpaper is your friend in these cases. 

Sand down the rough area carefully, making sure to wipe away dust and paint remnants with a microfiber towel and some rubbing alcohol as you go. You will know that the area has been sanded down enough when there is no gloss left on the surface.

4. Prime Your Automobile Properly Before Paint Touch Up

Never use a cheap primer if you need to re-apply all the layers of paint from the ground up. You will need at least two coats of this primer and you must make sure that it is completely dry before you move on to paint. Avoid priming on a wet day as the weather will work against you.

Sand again if needed after your primer has dried. You don’t want to apply paint to a rough surface. You may have to sand off any primer that did not cure correctly and re-apply.

5. Match the Right Paint, So the Paint Touch Up Blends Perfectly

color samples for car paint

If the car that you are working on is newer, you will likely be able to look up the manufacturer’s color code for the car’s original paint color. You may not be able to access the color yourself, but you can get the name of the color and have it matched for you. If you have a color matching camera available to you, this will be a breeze.

The color of the paint is always annotated on the tag inside the doorjamb of the car that has the other manufacturer’s information on it. This actual code can be very useful if you are planning to get the exact color of paint from the manufacturer. 

Even if you order the “exact” color from the manufacturer, you will want to make sure to test it before you apply it to the car. Color variations occur over time and manufacturers often do not tell you that the color you have ordered is the second or third variation of that paint code.

Older vehicles will likely always require more artistry in matching the paint because the manufacturer will no longer make the color. Wear and tear and sun damage can also make it harder to do a touch-up on an older car. This is where you will need to take advantage of color-matching assistance from other tools.

Be clear with your customer that an older car will be harder to color match due to damage to the paint on the rest of the car. You may not be able to match the paint precisely, and they need to be aware of that.

6. Wet Sand or Level Before Touching Up a Car or Truck

For paint that is suffering from orange peel, deep scratches that have to be filled in, or lots of swirls that were created by dirty car wash brushes, wet sanding is the only way to go. This requires some skill, so it is always wise to practice this before working on a client’s car.

This process works best with a quality orbital sander. Keep the surface wet and apply even pressure as you run the sander over the car. This is a process that needs to be done on a day that isn’t too hot since you will need to keep the car wet to prevent sanding through all the layers of the paint. 

This is the right kind of prep for a large paint job where you will be repainting the entirety of the car. You can also use this process if a large area of the car needs paint correction.

The paint will look dull and dry after you have sanded away the very top layer, but it will be ready for the next steps in the paint correction process. This will also make sure that your surface is perfectly prepped for paint and clear coat.

7. Apply the Paint the Right Way When Doing Car Paint Touch Up

First and foremost, do a trial run that is not on the vehicle. Touch up paint or paint that was matched and sent to you may not actually be the color you thought! If you apply it and find out that it doesn’t match, you will have to start the entire preparation process all over again.

Paint on days that are not wet and not extremely cold. Also, avoid direct sunlight. Make sure your primer is dry and ready for you to cover up. Apply a basecoat that is not too thick. A single coat is all it should take. Let this layer dry.

Now you can add two to three more layers of color to match the rest of the paint on the vehicle. Use even strokes and hold the sprayer about 8 to 10 inches from the surface you are painting. 

Don’t linger when you are doing this part of the paint job because you will make runs or you could create lumpy paint. These coats will need to stand at least overnight before you can apply the clear coat.

8. Don’t Botch Your Clear Coat in the Paint Touch Up Process

Clear coat is not as easy as it looks. It needs to float over the paint without smears, runs, or blotches. Ideally, you will be applying this layer with a paint gun. Aerosol options rarely stand up to a clear coat that is applied with a proper paint sprayer.

Apply 6 to 8 inches from the surface of the paint. Apply light, even layers, and move quickly. If you need to cover a larger area, overlap your layers by 50 % so that you don’t miss spots and so that you don’t have streaks. Work from top to bottom, not bottom to top.

Clear coat takes some time and practice to get good at the application process. You can’t see it as you do the paint, so you have to learn to get the feel of when it is applied correctly. Expect to do some practice with this step of the process before moving on to your clients’ cars.

9. Be Patient and Let Your Car Paint Touch Up Job Dry

be patient, clock with deadline

You cannot rush the paint curing process. It usually takes about 3 days for the paint you have applied to dry. If you rush your final touches to the process, you can peel, dent, or smudge the work that you have just done, forcing you to start fresh.

Allowing the paint the time it needs to cure will also make your finishing touches that much better. You can’t force a good shine or a shiny finish into paint that has not cured properly. It will likely never look right if it has not set correctly.

10. Clay Bars Are Your Friend During Paint Touch Up

If you have just completed a color correction, or you are working on a large area that has needed many chips to be sealed and clear-coated, you will want to make sure that you put in the elbow grease of using a clay bar. 

Clay bars are worth the time that goes into using them and you really can’t deliver a finished paint touch-up to your clients without taking the time to use a clay bar on the entire car after you are done with your work.

You are done with the clay bar process when you don’t feel any more grit and grime with your fingertips under or in the paint. You will be amazed at how many little imperfections are actually marring the paint that you are working on when you run your fingers over the car’s surfaces.

11. Buffing Your Finished Paint Touch Up Job

This is another step of the process that can make a huge difference to the final project. This is a great final step to apply to really make your work shine. This step uses your orbital sander again, but with a buffing head attached. There are different kinds of buffing heads that you can attach, or you can buy a specific tool to use for this stage of the polishing process.

The best buffing work uses a polishing agent. You will proceed from this slightly rough buffing pad, all the way to a very fine and very smooth one. You really can’t create a final shine and polish if you try and do this step by hand, so don’t consider it. Invest in a quality buffer and get to work!

12. Use Quality Products To Ensure a High Quality Paint Touch Up Job

You really can’t expect to wow your customers if you own low-quality tools. At a minimum, you will need a quality clay bar and high-quality sandpaper for buffing. A paint sprayer should really be in your arsenal and you should avoid buying a cheap one. Pay attention to reviews that mention even spray, good coverage, and mention that the gun does not clog.

Buy a quality orbital sander. This step of the process is delicate and you shouldn’t trust it to a poor-quality sander. The same applies to your buffer. Buy a good one and get the proper buffing heads and attachments for each step of the process. You shouldn’t skimp and just buy half the heads or attachments you will need.

You will need an air compressor if you get a paint gun, so make sure that you get a good one that won’t cheat you out of the air pressure needed to apply even layers of paint. This is especially true if you plan to work on large paint jobs.

Lastly, don’t buy cheap paint or paint touch-up pens. Don’t do this to yourself or your client. Cheap paint never looks as nice as the original paint on the car and cutting corners on the paint itself is like admitting that you just don’t care about the outcome of your work. If you are going to bother doing this job at all, make sure that the paint is good enough to justify your time and effort.

13. Consider Building a Paint Booth To Make Paint Touch Up Jobs Better

Make your car paint touch up jobs better

While it is possible to do paint touch-ups in your garage or a shed on your property, the conditions in this kind of space will never be ideal for your needs. Paint needs the right environment to cure correctly and to be easy to apply.

There are many great options for portable type paint booths if you need to be able to move the booth around. If you really are serious about doing this project for clients, building a proper paint booth is always going to be the way to go. Portable booths are never going to be as easy to light properly or to keep at a static temperature and humidity.

14. Reusing Buffing Pads Can Cause Scratches on Your Paint Touch Up Job

It might be tempting to save some money by reusing buffing pads or other supplies. This is a big no-no and will result in scratches and other imperfections in your finished product. As soon as you use a buffing pad, it will pick up grit, dust, and other grime. You cannot then take that same pad and use it on a fresh car.

Likewise, if you are working on a project that covers a large area, you will need to check the condition of the buffing pad frequently to make sure that it is not so grimy that it is going to damage the surface that you are currently working on. You can never have enough new buffing pads on hand.

15. Clean Your Towels Properly

This is an often-overlooked item that can really affect the quality of your paint job. Microfiber towels can collect dirt and grime just like any other item that you are using on the car that needs a paint touch-up. Always wash these towels with a detergent that has no additives like perfumes or dyes. Dry them on low heat or hang them to dry.

If your towels become rough or get stained and grimy, you will need to make them into shop towels and stop using them on your paint projects. Imagine how frustrating it would be to complete a delicate paint job and then scratch it with a microfiber towel!

Lastly, buy quality towels. It can be tempting to go cheap with your microfiber towels and treat them like an average shop towel. Remember that they are being used for a delicate process and that they need to be in peak condition to protect the paint of the car that you are working on. There is no sense in saving a dollar per shop towel if you are going to create hundreds of dollars of work for yourself after you scratch the paint.

16. Mask Your Paint Touch Up Vehicles Properly For Best Results

How to make your paint touch up jobs better for customers

Unless you are working on a very small area of the car, masking is a huge part of a proper paint job. There is nothing more cringe-worthy than a crappy masking job. You will need to know how to mask to save yourself added work after you are done painting.

Always mask a clean, dry car. Do not mask over dirt and grime or they will become part of the paint. Apply masking tape carefully and evenly. Apply it just on the edges of surfaces and not over a large portion of the area that will need to be painted. You will need to remove the masking tape before the clear coat dries, so it needs to be easy to take off.

Use plastic or paper to protect the windshield and other areas from overspray. This is not a reflection of skill. If you are skipping this step because you believe that your aim with a paint gun is so good that you will not get paint on the windshield, you are in for trouble. Droplets of paint are going to get on everything in the paint booth, so you will need to protect surfaces that are not intended to be painted.

Lastly, if you think you can’t mask something readily and it can be removed from the car, do so. It is much easier to repaint a segment of the car when it is not being blocked or covered up by something else. This will not work with large parts of the car, but doors, the hood, and the bumpers are just easier to paint when they are off the car.

17. Keep Your Work Area Clean So Your Vehicle Touch Up Jobs Go Smoothly

This may seem like a no-brainer, but a dirty workspace will ruin a paint job in seconds. Keep dirty buckets of water, paint cans, and tools away from the car that you are painting. Don’t store anything nearby that could fall on the car and make sure that you won’t be able to accidentally blow dust or grit onto freshly painted surfaces.

18. Use the Two-Bucket Washing Method When Cleaning Your Car For Paint Touch Up

When washing cars, make sure that you have two large buckets with grit guards. These plastic rounds will sit in the bottom of the buckets and prevent you from moving grit onto the car with your mitt. One bucket is for soapy water, the other is for rinsing your mitt. Never use a grimy mitt on the surface that you are cleaning and remember to dump out the grit bucket periodically during the washing process.

Wowing Your Customers With Your Skillful Car Paint Touch Up Jobs

As with any process, car paint touch up jobs are as much about having the right tools on hand and managing the process as they are about skill. If you take the time to collect the right products and tools, you will be able to impress your customers with flawless paint corrections and paint touch-ups.

Always make sure to keep your workspace tidy and clean and make sure that you never skip a single step of the paint touch-up process. Taking your time and making sure to do every step properly will result in a beautiful outcome every single time.

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