How to paint a car with acrylic lacquer

Updated February 21, 2017

Acrylic lacquer is the only way to get your vintage hot rod looking as shiny as a showroom car. While you can have your car professionally lacquered, you'll save money by doing the job yourself. Applying lacquer to your car takes some time but isn't difficult to do. Lacquer goes on best on sunny, dry days; in inclement weather, you'll want to work in a well-ventilated garage.

Sand your car down to bare metal using 80-grit aluminum oxide abrasive paper. Lacquer goes on best on a neutral surface.

Tape newspaper over your windows, windshield and any other areas you don't want to lacquer. Wipe your car down with a tack cloth to remove any particles of dust. These can get caught under the lacquer and will show up in the coats of paint.

Spray a can of primer onto the surface of the car, holding the can 2.5 cm (1 inch) from the surface of your car. When the car is covered, wait for the primer to dry -- typically 15 minutes -- and apply a second coat of primer. Leave the primer to dry for 12 hours.

Apply 1200-grit or 1500-grit wet sandpaper to the surface of your car to remove any scratches or bumps in the priming job. Run the wet sandpaper back and forth in long strokes; do not work in circles. Whenever the sandpaper begins to dry out, immerse it in a bucket of water.

Rinse your car with water to remove any flakes of primer or sandpaper grit that remain on the surface. Dry the car with cotton cloth. Now it's ready to be lacquered.

Spray lacquer with a can or by using a spray gun. If you're working on a small area, a can will suffice, but spray guns are better for whole body jobs. All cans of acrylic lacquer will indicate a "flash time," which denotes the time to wait in between applying coats. Fifteen minutes is a typical flash time. After you've applied one coat of lacquer, wait out the flash time and apply a second coat in the same manner.

Apply up to six coats of lacquer in this manner. Wait eight to 12 hours for the lacquer to dry.

Wet-sand the car's finish using your wet sandpaper and a bucket of water, working in the same manner as you wet-sanded the car after priming. When the car has been rinsed and dried, examine the finish. Do you want to apply more lacquer? If so, you can apply an additional six coats working in the same manner as before. When those have been applied, wet-sand the car again.


Clean and wipe your car down after you've finished lacquering and apply carnauba wax to bring out the lacquer's natural sheen.

Things You'll Need

  • Aluminum oxide abrasive paper
  • Newspaper
  • Tape
  • Tack cloth
  • Primer spray
  • Wet sandpaper
  • Lacquer spray
  • Spray gun (optional)
  • Carnauba wax (optional)
  • Water
  • Bucket
  • Cotton cloth
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