How To Spray Paint A Car? (5-Step Guide)

Last Updated On September 22, 2023

Are you looking to spray paint your car?

We’ve got you covered, from the materials necessary to the steps it takes to get the job done the right way.

In this guide, you'll learn:

  • What supplies you'll need to spray paint a car
  • The steps required to spray paint a car
  • A few pitfalls to watch out for when spray painting a car
How To Spray Paint A Car? (5-Step Guide)

So, before you do spray paint a car, I recommend you read our professional guide for all the key tips to get the best paint job possible!

What Do You Need To Know About Spray Painting A Car?

Spray painting a car is easy, and it is definitely something you can do yourself. 

That said, a professional paint job takes hours and hours to get right, so if you aren’t ready to put in the time for a good paint job, then you might want to hire a professional auto body shop for the job.

Here are a few other things to consider when spray painting a car:

Paint in the proper conditions

The worst way to mess up your expensive paint job is by painting in extreme temperatures or humidity. Paint in the correct conditions, and be aware of the temperatures recommended on the paint can for application.

Cost: DIY vs Hiring a pro

Hiring a professional for the job will cost anywhere from $500-$5,000 depending on the quality of the job, type of car, etc whereas painting your car yourself will cost a maximum of about $1000, and that’s if you purchase an air compressor, paint gun, and all paint supplies needed to get the job.

Types of Paint

The type of paint you use is completely up to you.

Old classic cars are typically painted with lacquers, new cars are painted with an acrylic polyurethane, and budget paint shops like Maaco use a single-stage urethane.

Ask a paint shop or a seasoned auto body pro to get the best suggestions on types of paint to use on a car.

Read More >> How Much Does It Cost To Repaint A Car Hood?

Supplies You’ll Need For Spray Painting A Car

Once you've decided how you'll approach your spray painting job, you'll want to make sure you have all the supplies you'll need to get the best result possible. 

Below is a list of the things you'll probably want to have on hand before you dive into this paint job.

Spray gun

There is a huge selection of automotive paint guns on the market. Use our Best Automotive Paint Guns page to help you find the best quality and best deals.

You’ll also need an air compressor when using an automotive paint gun. 

Masking tape/Masking Film

Buy quality masking tape when painting your car to avoid nasty paint peeling. Combine the painter’s tape with masking film or masking paper to quickly and easily cover up windows, door handles, etc

Paint Masker

Use a paint masker to load up the tape and film for fast masking. We like the 3M paint masker the best.

Microfiber Towel

Microfiber works well when cleaning off wax and drying off the car. 

Body Filler Putty

Filling in imperfections like dents and holes is easy with body filler putty-like Bondo.

You’ll also need a putty knife when applying body filler.

Drop cloths

Use a drop cloth to keep the floor clean when painting

Your Paint Of Choice

Whether you go with a lacquer, acrylic, urethane or another type of paint, make sure you have enough of it on hand to finish the job.

Choose your favorite recommended paint, and get panting!

Power sander

A power sander will help reduce time when prepping, but it’s not completely necessary. We do recommend using at least a palm/orbital sander.

Pro painters use a dual-action sander when painting cars.

Sandpaper/Sanding Sponges 

The sandpaper will help you eliminate corrosion and paint chipping when prepping for the job. Use everything from 80-grit for complete paint removal all the way up to 2000 grit for wet sanding the topcoat.

Read More >> How Much Does It Cost To Paint A Car Another Color?

How To Spray Paint A Car (5-Step Guide)

Now that you've got everything you need to paint your car, let's walk through the steps of a successful paint job.

(You can click on any of the links below to jump directly to that step!)

  1. Sand the Surface/Surface Preparation
  2. Wash the Car (Thoroughly)
  3. Mask and Prep
  4. Apply Paint
  5. Wet Sand/Re-Detail

Step 1 - Sand the Surface/Surface Preparation

Use a paint stripper disc or a dual-action sander with something like 50-grit sandpaper to completely remove the previous paint, if necessary, but keep in mind that it’s not always necessary to remove ALL the paint when repainting.

If the existing paint is in good shape, you can simply sand it smooth, removing the clear coat, and paint right over the top. 

Ask a professional if you are sure about whether or not you should completely remove the old paint. 

Vintage cars that have extremely corroded paint are one example of when you would want to completely remove the paint before proceeding. 

Step 2 - Wash the Car (Thoroughly)

Washing the car will help to clean off all the sand residue and other dirt for clean paint adhesion.

Here’s a quick reminder of a quick  DIY car wash.

Rinse off the car first, getting rid of all large specs of dust and dirt.

Fill a bucket with warm water, add car wash soap to the mix.

Use a sponge to completely cover the car in bubbly soap. You’ll get better results by parking the car in the shade.

After the car has been completely scrubbed down, you can then spray it off with the hose or douse it with a bucket of clean water until it’s completely clean. 

Note: Water that is hooked up to a water softener yields the best results when washing the car because it prevents hard water spots from forming on the car.  

Step 3 - Mask and Prep

You’ll want to mask off all surfaces that won’t be painted. 

Basic and smaller areas may require simply covering up objects like door handles and a chrome trim with painter’s tape. 

Larger areas will require that you use something like a paint masker and masking film to completely coverup things like windows and panels that have already have paint on them.

Prepping also involves using body filler (Bondo is a good brand) to fill in small and large dents on the car.

Pick up a 3M paint masker off of Amazon or at your local paint store if you don’t already have one. 

You'll want a masker if you plan on getting into automotive spray paint.

Step 4 - Apply Paint As Evenly As Possible

The steps for applying the paint vary depending on the job.

For example, if you are using an aerosol spray that can paint wheels, you can remove each wheel, use something like index cards inside the rims to avoid getting paint on the wheels.

If you are painting the car from scratch, you’ll want to start with the priming process. 

Make sure to apply thin coats for a smooth surface. 

You’ll want to use an automotive paint sprayer hooked up to an air compressor for the most ideal results when painting your car.

After the prime coat is on, you’ll want to sand it smooth starting with 150 or 220-grit sandpaper, and then switching out for higher and higher grit until you get the smoothness that is satisfactory for you.

Use an automotive paint sander (dual-action sander) that hooks up to the air compressor when sanding paint finish for the fasted and smoothest results. 

Sanding sponges are also a great tool for sanding inside tight areas like underneath the door handle, where the paint meets the trim, etc. 

Two or more coats are typically necessary for covering up all the bare metal when priming. 

Drying time will vary depending on the temperature and humidity. 

After the primer is on, dry, and sanded to perfection, use something like an air attachment on the air compressor to blow all the sanded paint off of the car. 

Don’t forget to use safety glasses and a respirator/cotton mask to avoid injury and bodily damage.

Now it’s time to apply the base coat. Use the same painting techniques as you did with the primer to apply 2+ coats of base coat. 

Lighter colors might require more coats than darker colors. Use your best judgment to personally decide when the color coat looks good enough to leave it as is.

Use high-grit sandpaper (anywhere from 500-grit to 1200+ grit) to sand between paint coats when applying the base coat.

After the color coat is applied, dry, and looking attractive, it’s time to apply the topcoat or clear coat.

The clear coat is applied the same way as the primer and color coats.

The typical paint job has anywhere from 2-4 clear coats. You can always respray the entire car with clearcoat if you aren’t satisfied with the coverage.

Did you know: A typical car paint job costs anywhere from $1000 to $3500. But, in some cases the value of the car will increase more than that with a new paint job which is a great reason to DIY!

Step 5 - Wet Sand/Re-Detail

After the paint job is finished, you can wet sand the clear coat with super high-grit sandpaper for achieving a super glossy and glowing finish. 

After the paint job has dried and fully cured, you can detail it to get rid of any small blemishes that may have formed during the process.

You’ll need an electric buffer for this process.

The first step to detailing a paint job to perfection is applying a polishing compound/correction compound. 

Yes, even new paint jobs must sometimes be hit with a correction compound. Think of it as a way to blend the clearcoat for a super clean look.

Applying correction compounds is easy. Put a few dots of the liquid onto your buffing pad(whether it be the electric buffer or a handheld sponge pad).

For electric buffers, place the pad flush onto the body panel, and turn it on. Higher RPM settings work great when applying correction compound, but be careful not to apply too much pressure as you can burn the paint.

Use a microfiber cloth after each pass to wipe the body panel clean.

Use the same steps mentioned above for applying wax, but set the electric buffer to slower RPMs for the best results.

Read More >> What Are The Best Automotive Spray Guns For Beginners?

Other Valuable Resources On How To Spray Paint A Car

So your paint job is all done. Do you want to lock it in, and eliminate the need of ever needing to detail the exterior again? 

Try a full ceramic coating on your exterior for great results. 

Are you looking for the perfect paint gun for the job? Check out our Pro Paint Corner reviews for all the best deals. 

We’ve already researched for you the best paints and supplies.

Don’t forget to ask our Pro Paint Corner forum for any additional paint tips you might need for a perfect painting experience. 

Meet Your Pro Paint Corner Author

Ryan Nichols

Ryan Nichols

I first painted professionally in my late teens. I have painted everything from long military base walls to spraying cedar wood siding on cabins in the mountains of Utah. I am also an automotive technician with plenty of auto body and paint experience. In my spare time, I even enjoy artistic oil painting.

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Got Paint Questions? Search For In-Depth Answers Below!

Ryan Nichols

Ryan Nichols

I first painted professionally in my late teens. I have painted everything from long military base walls to spraying cedar wood siding on cabins in the mountains of Utah. I am also an automotive technician with plenty of auto body and paint experience. In my spare time, I even enjoy artistic oil painting.

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