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How to: Cheaply Painting a Car - New Paint & Enamel Under $300

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Painting a car is expensive, but it is not out of reach of the average dude on a budget. Recently, we've noticed that several online retailers and a few store-bought brands are coming out with very affordable lines of paint. Though it has been generally true that these low-cost paints don't offer as durable a finish as a high-end paint, some of the new lines are specifically designed for the home hobbyist and, with them, you can get a quality finish that will last for many years with proper care and maintenance. Let's take a closer look.

Painting a Car: Some Terminology
Most modern paint is some type of enamel. New water-based paints are a technology that we will explore later. Within the realm of enamels, there are various subcategories, such as acrylics, alkyds, synthetics, urethanes, and polyurethanes, but don't get too caught up in the nomenclature. For example, urethane is a very general term referring to the type of plastics that make up the resin of the paint-the stuff that sticks to your car. Instead, pay attention to the components: single-component and two-component. You'll also see these referred to as either 1K or 2K, or as one-part and two-part paint.

A single-component enamel is a product that is ready to spray right out of the can. It dries in the air without the need for an activator. Leave the lid off the can and you'll find a dried up hockey puck where your paint used to be.

Mostly, you'll find this stuff in aerosol cans. It's good for things like frames and barbecue grills, but not good for painting a car. Eastwood's Chassis Black is a good example. It is an excellent coating for a car's frame and undercarriage. Single-component enamels generally do not offer good chemical resistance, so solvents like brake cleaner can strip this stuff off quickly, even months after the paint was applied.

What you want for your painting a car is a two-component enamel. These products will not dry when exposed to the atmosphere. An activator must be added to get them to cure. This is good though, because once cured, they are a stronger product with good chemical resistance. You can spill gasoline on them and it won't wrinkle up before your eyes. Painters often refer to the activator as a hardener, so file that bit of jargon away in case someone hits you with it at the paint store.

However, don't think that just because you are adding something to a paint that automatically makes it a two-component product. Usually (but not always) both single- and two-component paints are designed to be thinned with a reducer. They are manufactured "thick" to allow the painter the flexibility to thin the product to suit the atmospheric conditions he will face while spraying. This can cause confusion, however, because you will be mixing two things together (paint and reducer) to spray a single-component product, or likewise, mixing three things together (paint, reducer, and activator) to spray a two-component product. But remember-reducers do not activate the products, they thin them out. You only have a two-component product if you're adding an activator.

To further confuse things, there are two different categories within the realm of a two-component enamel: single-stage and basecoat/clearcoat (BC/CC). However, this concept is easier to wrap your head around. Single-stage paints dry to a glossy finish, but a basecoat does not, it dries to a flat or satin finish and you have to spray clear over it to make it shine.

What to Choose
Using single-stage paints, a paintjob will be more affordable. You only have to buy a single product, not a separate clear. This can be as much as half the cost of a BC/CC paint because clearcoats are just as expensive as base colors.

Single-stage is also faster. You only need to spray enough coats to fully cover the car; usually two will do the job. BC/CC systems often require two coats of color and at least two to three top coats of clear. Add in time to mix all your paint and clean the gun in between the color and clear, and your paintjob will take the better part of a day, and that's if you hustle.

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