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Automotive Paint - Beginner's Guide

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Two-part products need an activator, sometimes referred to as a hardener, to stimulate the chemical reaction that causes the components of the paint to cross-link and bond to the surface of the car. We refer to this chemical reaction as "drying," though it really is not drying in the sense of evaporating. Unactivated two-part paint will not dry on its own and therefore has a longer shelf life than one-part paint. For the suede and kustom guys, it's worth noting that two-part products are weatherproof and nonporous. You can leave your car in a 2K primer and not worry about the sheetmetal rusting from the inside out.

Single-stage paint dries to a glossy finish and does not need a clearcoat, whereas the basecoat, or color coat, of a basecoat/clearcoat (BC/CC) system dries to a matte or semigloss finish. The subsequent coats of clear paint are what make it shine. Which one is better? In terms of quality, both are good; it just depends on what color you want. If you want a basic red, black, yellow, or whatever, you can save yourself some time and money by using a single-stage paint-you will not need to clearcoat it. If you want a metallic finish, there are some available in single-stage, but you may be better off with a BC/CC system. The extra layer of clear is added protection against scratches and chips, and it allows for more wet-sanding for an ultrasmooth gloss. If you're thinking about something wilder like a metalflake or pearl, you must use a BC/CC system because the metalflake and pearl treatments are sprayed in between the color and clearcoat.

So those are the basics to arm yourself with before going to the paint store. If you are still up for painting your car, Brian Ferre, a painter for over 30 years and an instructor at Los Angeles Trade Technical College (LATTC), says today's paints are the best they have ever been. He recommends that you pick a brand and use its products throughout the entire paint job. That way each layer, from etching primer to topcoat, will be compatible. Chemistry can vary from brand to brand, and mixing products can sometimes cause strange things to happen to the finish. You don't want to have to sand off your newly clearcoated car because the basecoat started lifting off the primer. For a step-by-step of a recent paint job we did, check out the April '07 issue, in which we gave the CC/Rambler a BC/CC paint job. For our experiments we decided to check out some of the less expensive single-stage paints, as well as a water-based paint from Auto-Air Colors.

Waterborne And Water-Based Paint
California is in the process of further lowering the amount of air pollution emitted by automotive paints, and its guidelines are usually adopted by many other areas of the country within a few years. Even though modern paints don't dry by evaporation, some chemicals called volatile organic compounds (V0Cs) are released when the paint is atomized at the tip of the spray gun and as the paint cures. These VOCs are what allegedly put holes in the ozone layer, rot your brain, and cause confusion, poor math scores, plagues, famines, and other natural disasters. Actually, most of the ingredients in paint are poisonous, and some of the solvents are things like isocyanates-chemicals closely related to cyanide that were used to execute people in the gas chamber-so it is worth looking into eliminating some of these byproducts.

Waterborne paints are the generally accepted solution to that problem. While they're still solvent-based, meaning the carrier agents are petroleum products, the carrier and binder will mix with water, and water is in fact one of the ingredients of the carrier agents in these paints that evaporates as part of the paint-curing process. Waterborne paints have been the industry standard in Europe for several years because regulations are more stringent than in the U.S. There's no need to fear waterborne paints-when was the last time you saw bad paint on a new BMW? All of the major brands available in the U.S., such as PPG, DuPont, and Sherwin-Williams, will be bringing their versions of waterborne paints to market soon.

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