How to apply water based automotive paint

Written by gord kerr
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How to apply water based automotive paint
Many of today's custom paints are water based. (classic car image by Mariusz Blach from

Yesterday's automotive paints contained many volatile and dangerous chemicals requiring special facilities and equipment for application. Today, new water based automotive paints have reduced those requirements, resulting in a more user-friendly and environmentally safe product. Painting your own car, and attaining professional looking results, is possible using these water based paint products.

Skill level:

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Things you need

  • Protective clothing
  • 1 gallon silicon wax remover
  • Lint free rags
  • Masking tape
  • 600-grit wet and dry sandpaper
  • Automotive paint strainers
  • Spray gun
  • Compressor
  • Particle mask or respirator
  • 3 quarts colour base paint
  • 3 quarts clear coat

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  1. 1

    Wash the area to be painted with a silicon, wax and grease removing solvent. Use clean lint free rags.

  2. 2

    Cover all areas not intended for painting. Use masking tape and paper to protect from overspray.

    How to apply water based automotive paint
    Particle masks should be worn throughout the process. (signage dust masking image by Jauhari Subhi from
  3. 3

    Sand all areas to be painted with 600 grit wet and dry paper. Scuff well, paying particular attention to all edges and grooves. Remove the shine to ensure good adhesion of fresh paint.

  4. 4

    Blow away all dust from sanding and again wash the entire area with a silicon and wax remover. Wipe the car with a tack rag, which you can buy at any paint store.

  1. 1

    Mix paint and thinning products according to manufacturer's recommendations. Stir paint well. Assure all solids are in suspension. Use a paint strainer to filter out impurities and lumps when pouring paint into the spray gun.

  2. 2

    Spray the first coat on lightly but evenly. Use 15.9 to 18.1 Kilogram air pressure and maintain a distance of 15 inches from the surface. Keep the gun square to the surface and use strokes that overlap each other by half their width. Do not try to get total coverage from this coat as this is only your base for successive coats. Let dry tack free before applying a second coat.

  3. 3

    Apply second coat using smooth overlapping motions. Create a uniform fill of colour and paint thickness over the entire area. Let cure for an hour.

  4. 4

    Apply the third and final coat. Maintain light, even coverage and colour, as in step 3. Let it dry flat and smooth.

    Wait one hour for paint to cure before clear coating. Check paint manufacturer's suggestions as curing times vary.

  1. 1

    Wipe the entire colour coated surface with a tack rag. Use light pressure as you glide across the surface to remove dust.

  2. 2

    Mix clear coat. Reduce or thin according to manufacturer's specifications. Strain the mixture as you pour it into the spray gun.

  3. 3

    Apply a light tack coat to create adhesion with the colour coat. Allow time for clear coat to flash before over coating.

  4. 4

    Spray your final layer of clear coat over the tack coat. Maintain gun's air pressure from 15.9 to 22.7 Kilogram, holding it 10 to 15 inches from the surface. Spray the entire area using even overlapping strokes.

Tips and warnings

  • Wear necessary protective clothing, masks and respirators at all times. Be sure and follow paint manufacturer's specifications.

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