How To Touch Up Car Paint Chips (5-Step Guide)

Last Updated On April 16, 2021

Need to know how to touch up car paint chips?

DIY paint chip repair is easy!

In this ProPaintCorner.com guide you'll learn:

  • What you need to know about car paint chips
  • Supplies you'll need to touch up car paint chips
  • The step-by-step process for touching up paint chips
How To Touch Up Car Paint Chips

In this article we'll walk you through everything you need to know about touching up those small blemishes. 

So, before you do touch-up car paint chips, I recommend you read this step-by-step guide for correctly removing touch-up car paint.

What Do You Need To Know About How To Touch Up Car Paint Chips?

There are several key things you should know when working with car paint before you get started. Paint chips can be tricky to fix if you're a novice so let's go through some of the things you should be aware of before you start messing with your car's paint.

What Are The Different Car Paint Types?

Before you go touching up the paint on your car or wheels, it’s a good idea to understand the types of paint used on automotive paint jobs.

Lacquer

Lacquer is used on vintage paint jobs and is technically an older technology.

Acrylic Enamel

Acrylic enamel is used on newer factory finishes, and it is designed to resist the elements better than other paints. 

Polyurethane

Cheaper paint shops like Maaco use a single-stage polyurethane paint that goes on in just one or two coats. Two-stage polyurethane paint also exists that requires the painter to use 1 part pigment and 1 part epoxy.

Plastidip

Plasti dip is a rubber paint coating that comes in an aerosol spray can. It’s not uncommon for used cars to be painted with plasti dip. Car owners commonly use plastidip to blackout the wheels.

Easily remove plastidip from wheels by using acetone or simply peeling it from the surface of the metal.

Truck bed coating

More and more, people are using colored truck bed coatings to paint the body on their off-roading and other vehicles because it provides a rugged and durable protective coat.

*Make sure you ask a professional painter to help you identify paint colors and types

Professional Cost For Touchup Paint

Are you thinking about hiring a professional for your touchup paint job? It might be a good idea if you don't have the time, but we're going to convince you in this article that it's not necessary to hire a professional for small paint chips.

On the contrary, if your valuable car has larger paint chips(larger than a large coin), then hiring a professional for a quick respray is the way to go because it will help retain the vehicle's value.

If you are going to hire a professional body shop for touching up car paint chips, we advise you to be careful about who you hire. Look at online reviews on Google, Yelp, Craig’s List, etc, and get pricing from multiple companies before making the decision.

It will cost anywhere from $30-$200 for a professional touch-up. 

Did you know: It can cost anywhere from $150 to $500 to fix a car's paint job depending on where you go.  Just another great reason to learn to DIY it!

What Supplies Will You Need For Touching Up Paint Chips?

You really don't need much for applying touch-up paint. In the most basic form, a bottle of the correct touchup paint is enough to get the job done.
Here's a complete list of things you might need for a professional touch-up kit.

Microfiber cloth

Microfiber is the best material for meticulously detailing cars. The thicker microfiber dries off the paint and windows without 

Sandpaper

Wet sanding is optional when performing paint correction. You'll mostly need anywhere from 1500-3000 grit sandpaper for wet-sanding the paint.

Touchup paint

Touchup automotive paint is very inexpensive and comes in a small bottle similar to a pen or nail polish.

Rubbing compound/Polishing compound/Correction compound

Whatever name you want to call it, rubbing compound is essential for automotive detailers. Paint correction can be a time-consuming task, but

Carnauba wax

Carnauba wax is a great way to protect the paint from dirt and UV rays after the paint is repaired.

Buffer/Dual action sander

The electric buffer is the professional detailer's best friend because it applies paint polishing compound consistently for a restored look.

Applicator pads

You'll need both some hand applicator pads and some pads for wax and rubbing compound that match the specific buffer/sander tool you are using.

Clay bar

A detailing clay bar with spray wax or soap works wonders when smoothing out paint jobs and removing hard water spots. 

Lacquer Thinner/Paint thinner 

Use either paint thinner or lacquer thinner(depending on the type of paint) to remove excess paint, and it also helps to dab paint thinner onto the paint chip with cotton balls to fully prep the surface before painting.

Sanding blocks/Sponges

Sanding blocks and sponges are good tools to have in your detailing inventory

Razor blades/Plastic razor blades

Razorblades are essential for car detailers. Plastic razors are ideal because they don’t damage ceramic coatings. You can utilize plastic blades to scrape off excess and chipped paint when prepping and finishing.

How To Touch Up Car Paint Chips (5-Step Guide)

Now that you know what supplies you'll need to touch up your car's paint job, let's walk through the step-by-step process.

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

  1. Locate paint code specific to vehicle
  2. Wash the car/light sanding
  3. Apply paint from touch up container & repeat
  4. Buff and wax
  5. Evaluate results

Step 1 - Locate paint code specific to vehicle

You'll need your car's color code to successfully match the touchup color to the paint. The paint code is typically located inside the driver's side door panel.

Contact your local auto parts store, dealership, or search the internet yourself for a different means of finding out the paint code for a specific vehicle model and year.

Replacing original paint?

Are you unsatisfied with the current paint color on your car? Repainting is always an option, especially when dealing with excessive paint damage. Consult a professional and your insurance company about changing the color completely. Painting the entire car is always an option.

We recommend you do it yourself when painting cheaper cars if you have the time. 

Step 2 - Wash the car/Light wet sanding

The first step is to wash the car because the paint won't adhere well to dusty services.

We recommend washing your car in your personal space rather than going to a car wash service because drive-in car wash systems waste a lot of water.

A simply performed car wash is as filing:

First, rinse off the entire vehicle from head to toe with clean water. Then, put the buck of warm soapy water on the ground, and use a sponge to apply the soapy water onto the already wet car. 

After the car is completely bubbly, rinse it off again completely with clean water, and dry it off with a thick microfiber cloth. Remember when drying the car that a damp microfiber drying towel works just fine for drying windows.

Lightly sanding

It's always good to lightly sand a surface before painting. Use something like 1500 or 2000-grit sandpaper and a sanding block to rough up the surface of the paint chip and flatted it out for better receival of the touchup paint. You'll get better results if the sandpaper is soaked in water before sanding(hence the term 'wet sand')

Try not to sand surrounding paint that isn’t damaged. Focus on the areas with small chips, and use the smaller end of the sanding block to reduce the sanded area. 

Paint thinner

Some auto body guys even rub the surface with paint thinner beforehand to get the surface ultra-clean.

Step 3 - Apply paint from touch up container & repeat

Applying the paint is super easy. There are two different types of touchup paint containers:

Touch up paint pen

Touchup pens are easy and convenient to use. Simply shake the small container, uncap the top, and press the tip into the paint chip spot to release the paint.

Nail polish remover-style

You can think of touchup paint the same as painting on nail polish. These small containers contain car paint with a brush built into the cap that would also look good if you painted it onto a set of fingernails.

Apply the first coat, then additional coats

Apply the first coat of touch-up paint on the paint chip area, and Let it dry for ~30 minutes. Apply additional coats as needed to lift the damaged area to the level of the multi-coated paint job.

Optional: Clear coating is optional when doing touchup. Many professional touch-up painters simply use the touchup bottle to add a couple of layers of paint before sending it back to the detail department.

Another detail to consider is that larger paint chips aren't going to cover up as smoothly as small paint chips. Larger areas of paint damage require a complete sand-down and repaint because automotive paint is applied with something like 6 or more coats when brand new.

Step 4 - Buff and Wax

Buff and wax are the keywords to restoring a paint job to its original look. After the paint has been touched up, you can start by applying a polishing compound to the complete body panel in an attempt to blend the touchup paint into the existing paint. Don't expect it to look absolutely perfect on quick touch-up jobs.

The only way to get a perfectly level finish on auto paint repair is by either sanding the clear coat down or by using body filler to level off the surface with the rest of the paint. 

Step 5 - Evaluate results

Evaluating the results is the final and most important step, especially when performing touch-up work for customers.

Inspect with a flashlight

A bright flashlight is your best friend for inspecting any part of the car when performing a repair, even the paint.

Use a flashlight to inspect the paint for small imperfections. Park the car in the sun, and stand back a few car lengths. Next, park the car in the shade and do the same. 

Does it look different when the lighting changes? Does the clear coat appear to be faded? 

If so, you'll have to make minor adjustments like adding more clear coats followed by more wet sanding with 2000-grit sandpaper.

Other Valuable Resources On How To Touch Up Car Paint Chips

After the paint looks perfect, there are two more options you can implement before applying wax.

Sealant 

Applying a gel-coated epoxy sealant is a great way to preserve the paint and avoid excessive detailing. 

Ceramic coating

Ceramic coating is a clear and hard protective covering that goes over the top of the body panels.  

High-end customers typically opt for the installation of ceramic coating on their paint jobs because it eliminates the need for applying wax, and it also provides additional protection against dirt and paint scratches.

Don't overthink this. Touching up paint chips is as easy as putting on nail polish. It does get a bit more complicated with larger areas when materials like body filler and paint sprayers get involved, so read our other articles about touching up large areas with an airbrush.

Need a stepladder? We’ve researched the best step ladders on the market. Check it out.

Read More >> What Are The Best Step Ladders Out There?

Looking for a new paint sprayer? We’ve got you covered.

 The great thing about buying a new paint sprayer is that it costs less than ever. 

An automotive paint sprayer will cost anywhere from $50-$1000 depending on the quality you prefer. Even cheap paint sprayers with good reviews do a great job.

Read More >> What Are The Best Automotive Paint Sprayers For Beginners?

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.

Got A Paint Question? Ask Your Pro Painter!

Learn More Expert Paint Tips

Painting shouldn’t be this hard. Check out some of these other helpful guides to help you nail the perfect paint job!

How To Repair Sun Damage Car Paint? (3-Step Guide)

Wondering how to repair sun-damaged car paint?  You’ve come to the right place! In this ProPaintCorner.com guide,

Read More »
How Much Does It Cost To Paint A Car Matte Black? (5-Step Guide)

Are you painting your car matte black? Awesome!  Matte finish is a great way to paint

Read More »
How To Smooth Out Touch Up Car Paint (5-Step Guide)

Are you smoothing out your touch-up paint, and need some professional touch-up tips? Our auto body

Read More »
How To Remove Paint Transfer From Car? (5-Step Guide)

Looking to remove paint transfer from a car?  You’ve come to the right place! We know all

Read More »

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.

About Pro Paint Corner

You’ve got painting questions. We’ve got the best painting answers from a network of seasoned painting pros.

Recently Published Guides