How to paint cars with lacquer paint

Updated February 21, 2017

As the public becomes more environmentally aware, products that harm the environment fall into disuse. Most manufacturers do not produce lacquer paints anymore because of the harm that they cause to the environment. Today, primarily individuals who restore antique or classic cars use lacquer car paint. These restorations require the highest possible level of gloss and shine, which lacquer paints produce. Acrylic lacquer paints do not have the durability that enamel car paints produce, so manufacturers suggest that car owners use lacquer paints for cars that will see limited use.

Sand the surface of the car with 500-grit sandpaper. Paint sticks best to a car with a rough surface.

Wipe down the car and blow it all over with an air compressor. If any dust or dirt particles stick to the car they will mar the surface while painting the car. Remove all such particles by wiping the car with a tack rag. Tack rags contain a sticky substance which adheres to any lint or dirt on the car.

Cover any non-paint areas of the car with large plastic rubbish bags. Tape these bags onto the car with sturdy 3M tape. Make sure that these bags cover windows, wheels, bumpers, and any chrome on the car to protect it from the lacquer paint.

Paint in a covered area, such as a garage or well-ventilated paint booth. Not only does this help protect the car from flying dust and dirt while the painting progresses but a closed area allows temperature control as well. Experts regard 21.1 degrees Celsius (70 degrees Fahrenheit) as the ideal temperature to spray paint a car with lacquer paint. Add slow paint thinners to the lacquer paint in hot temperatures or fast paint thinners to the lacquer paint in colder temperatures to help compensate for the variations in temperatures.

Spray a lacquer primer over the car, sand it lightly, and then spray a lacquer sealer over the primer. Locate these products in an auto centre or an automotive supply shop. Buy the primer and sealer from the lacquer paint's manufacturer for chemical compatibility. If using a dark lacquer paint, use a dark primer.

Add a paint thinner to the lacquer paint before pouring it into the spray gun. Choose a paint thinner that matches the colour and manufacture of the final lacquer paint. Check the manufacturer's product listing to find the correct thinner for the lacquer paint.

Spray six to eight coats of lacquer paint over the car. These initial coats consist of one and one-half parts of thinner to one part of paint. After spraying on each coat, wait about fifteen minutes before spraying on the next coat. Stand 15 to 20 cm (6 to 8 inches) away from the car when spraying on the lacquer paint. The paint applies too heavily and runs if the sprayer stands too close. The paint becomes dry and sandy if the sprayer stands too far away.

Allow the initial coats to dry overnight.

Sand the car with the 500-grit sandpaper, wipe it with the tack rag and repeat the spraying process for another six to eight layers, this time thinning the paint a bit more. The ratio of lacquer paint to thinner by the time of the application of the final coats should average three parts of thinner to one part of paint.


Always wear a protective breathing mask with filters when working with lacquer paints.

Things You'll Need

  • 500-grit sandpaper
  • Air compressor
  • Tack rag
  • Large plastic rubbish bags
  • 3M tape
  • Paint thinner
  • Lacquer primer
  • Lacquer sealer
  • Spray gun
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About the Author

Laurie Rappeport is a writer and blogger with more than 10 years of experience. Her areas of expertise are in education, child development, travel, pets, nutrition and health for Demand Studios and a major travel website. Rappeport holds a Master of Arts degree from Wayne State University.