How to Paint a Car With Spray Paint

Updated February 21, 2017

Painting your car with spray paint can give it the appearance of a professional paint job for the fraction of the price. Simply sanding the surface of your car in between layers of paint allows the sleek appearance of a new car. Painting your car with spray paint can take away years of use and leave any car looking brand new.

Prepare your work station and car. A garage is ideal but outside locations are fine as well. Park your car on top of a large tarp to protect the ground underneath. Make sure to find an area that won't have the sun directly hitting the car. Also, make sure your car is parked at an area where no weather conditions such as rain and wind will disturb it. Your car has to be freshly washed. Make sure all dirt and debris are removed.

Tape and plastic cover your car. Use plastic bags and masking tape to protect the areas of your car that you would like to remain paint free. Doing this will give the paint job a sleeker appearance. Attempting to paint around will not give you free movement and will cause paint build-up to be seen. Make sure to tape trash bags over your side mirrors, windshield, all windows, tires and, depending on the car, the bumpers.

Spray water on approximately a 12-by-12-inch section of your car at a time. Using your 360 grit sand paper, sand the wet section of your car in a circular motion. Make sure to press down with a steady and even pressure. This will remove any imperfections in the surface. If there was previous paint on the car, it will most likely remove some of it, which is OK. Don't try to remove all of the previous paint. Once you have finished wet sanding the entire car with 360-grit paper, rinse off the car with water. Let the car fully dry before moving on.

Prime the area that will be painted. Use a rust-resistant primer for metal. Altogether, you will need three coats of primer, which will take approximately eight cans of spray paint. Spray left to right without stopping and in very long strokes. When spraying paint, try to never stop paint movement on the surface of your car, to ensure the paint looks consistent and doesn't show build-up marks.

Don't worry about getting paint on the plastic; instead you should use it to your advantage. You can end each streak of paint in the air off the car or even onto the plastic. Once you have finished priming the first layer onto your car wait about an hour before applying the second. When applying the second layer of primer spray the paint in up and down streaks instead of left to right. Using different direction each time will prevent the look of streaks. Repeat until you have at least three coats of primer. Let the primer fully dry for approximately 24 to 48 hours.

Wet sand over the primer to further promote a sleeker appearance. Once again, just as you did early you will need to wet sand over the primer. This time use 400-grit sand paper. Once you have finished sanding the entire car, remove all debris.

Apply your colour coats. You will need to apply approximately seven coats of colour, which will take about twenty cans of spray paint. Apply the colour directly over the primer in the same fashion as you applied the primer. Let each coat dry for at least an hour before moving on to the next coat. Also, remember that each coat should be applied in different directions to minimise paint build up and in turn create a never ending appearance. After applying all seven coats of colour it is important to let the paint fully dry for a full 72 hours.

Smooth out your base colour coat. To do this you will need to perform three more wet sanding processes over your colour coats. Wet sand over the entire car with 600 grit sand paper. Once you have finished sanding the entire car repeat the wet sanding process again with 1500 grit sand paper and then once more with 2000 grit sand paper. After you have finished sanding with all of the various grits of sand paper your paint will look perfectly smooth and shiny.

Finish off your paint job with a clear coat to protect your paint. You will need to apply three clear coats, using about eight spray cans. You may use a clear coat that simply protects the paint and doesn't show. Also, you may use a high gloss clear coat, which will accomplish the extreme shine you familiarly see on brand new cars. Once you have applied all three coats, let the paint dry for 72 hours.

Things You'll Need

  • Tarp
  • Trash bags
  • Masking tape
  • Spray bottle
  • 360-grit sand paper
  • 400-grit sand paper
  • 600-grit sand paper
  • 1500-grit sand paper
  • 2000 grit sand paper
  • 8 cans of rust resistant primer
  • 8 cans of clear coat
  • 20 cans of colour spray paint
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About the Author

H.C. Hisel has worked for the past nine years as a professional writer, dancer, musician, painter and photographer. Hisel had her own weekly newspaper column in the Banana 411, a newspaper for kids. Her articles have been published in various print markets and online, including and