How To Touch Up Car Paint? (4-Step Guide)

Last Updated On May 26, 2023

Searching to find out how to touch up car paint? 

You've come to the right place!

In this guide, you'll learn:

  • What you need to know about touching up car paint
  • Some simple steps for touching up paint on your car
  • Supplies to stock up on so you can fix the paint yourself
Touching Up Car Paint

Touching up car paint is easier than you might think. 

After matching the paint with the paint code on your car, all you have to do is apply the touchup paint onto smaller areas.  

In some touch-up cases, you might have to use an airbrush or automotive paint sprayer instead of a traditional small touchup container. 

Read more for a complete list of steps on how to DIY touch-up car paint.

So, before you do touch up your car paint, I recommend you read our detailed guide.

What Do You Need To Know About Touching Up Car Paint?

Be safe when painting. It's never a bad idea to wear safety glasses, a cotton mask, and nitrile gloves when painting to avoid injury and contact with harmful chemicals.

Detailing The Car Before Helps

It's hard to know which spots actually need to touch up paint, and which parts simply need to be buffed out.

An electric buffer and some correction compound/rubbing compound do great at paint repair, but it doesn't repair spots where rocks have completely off the paint, and that's where the touch-up paint is needed.

Touching Up Even Large Spots Is Easier Than You Think

For touching up paint imperfections that are larger than the size of a coin, you'll want to use an airless sprayer or airbrush for the job. 

After lightly sanding and cleaning the area, lightly airbrush the area with as many coats as necessary to get the job done. 

Check out this Scotty Kilmer video that gives you some great advice on how to touch-up larger paint areas. 

Supplies You’ll Need For Touching Up Car Paint

You don't need much when applying touch-up paint. 

Just make sure you choose touch-up paint that matches the color code for your car.

Read below about finding the color code that matches your vehicle.

Car wash

Whether it's in your driveway using the power washer/hose, or at the drive-through car wash, you'll want to clean the car off before painting.

Microfiber towel

A microfiber towel will help dry the car and remove dust particles that will get stuck in the paint job.

Nitrile gloves

Nitrile gloves provide good protection for your hands when painting. If you want to show up to dinner with clean hands, later on, you'll want to use some nitrile gloves when working with car paints.

Airbrush/Automotive paint sprayer

You'll want an airbrush kit or an automotive paint sprayer that connects to an air compress for larger touch-up jobs.

Painter's tape

You'll need some painter's tape to help cover up objects like door handles and trim. 

Masking paper/masking film

Masking film is a great way to completely cover up body panels when painting with a paint sprayer.

Paint masker

Professional auto body shops will typically use a paint masker to combine the painter's tape and masking paper/film. 

Polishing compound

Polishing compound is a key ingredient for restoring a paint job to(or close to) it's original look. 


Wax the car completely after touching up for the most professional finish.

Electric buffer

An electric buffer will help you quickly correct the paint and also apply a wax coating after the job is done.

Buffer pads

You'll want some buffer pads to connect to the electric buffer when applying the polish compound followed by the wax.

Grease remover

Grease remover helps to clean up the wheels and other greasy parts when prepping for touch-up paint scratches/chips on wheels.

Read More >> What Are The Best Spray Paints For Wheels & Rims?

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!

How To Touch Up Car Paint (4-Step Guide)

Below are a few simple steps you can follow to make sure your paint job turns out great.

(You can click on the links below to jump ahead to that step!)

  1. Locate the paint code/buy paint
  2. Lightly sand (if necessary) wash and dry the car
  3. Apply multiple coats of touch-up paint
  4. Inspect results and wet sand if necessary

Step 1 - Locate the paint code/buy paint

You'll need to find the color code for your specific vehicle. Here are a few ways to help you achieve an exact color match when performing touch up:

Check inside the driver's side door/owner's manual

The simplest way to do this is by opening the driver's side door and checking for the specific paint code inside the driver's side door jamb.

The owner's manual is also another good place to check for the paint code.

Contact a dealership 

If you don't see any paint code inside the driver's door, contact the car dealership specific to your model, ask for service/parts, and give them the VIN from your car. They should be able to tell you what the paint code is.

The parts department from the dealership is also where you'll likely find the most reliable touch-up paint that exactly matches the paint color.

 Remember, light scratches in the clear coat can be buffed out, so there is no need to use touch-up paint on them. You might want to have a paint correction done on your 

Step 2 - Lightly sand the area (if necessary) & wash and dry the car

Small paint chips don't need to be sanded. However, surfaces larger than a small coin will need to be lightly sanded with something like 2000-grit sandpaper.

Washing the car(and drying it) is essential in the touch-up painting process because the paint won't adhere to dirty and dusty surfaces.

At Home Car Wash

Washing your car at home is easy. Fill up a bucket full of warm water, and mix some car wash soap until the water is nice and foamy.

Park the car in the shade (avoid direct sunlight always when doing touch up), and use a sponge to scrub the entire car with soapy water.

After the car is completely covered in soapy water, spray the car off with the hose or pressure washer. 

Exterior detail will eliminate small scratches/paint imperfections: 

Use a rubbing compound/correction compound and buffing pad/electric buffer to eliminate small painting perfections.

Step 3 - Apply multiple coats of touch-up paint

Instructions For Touching Up Smaller Spots

First, you may want to apply a small amount of paint, and let it dry to see if the color really does match the paint job on your car.

Also, feel free to apply 1-2 coats of touch-up primer before applying the color coat, but it's completely not necessary, and professional touch-up guys typically don't use a primer when performing small touchups.

The idea is to apply the paint in thin layers to avoid drips and excessive paint build-up. You want to blend the touch-up paint smoothly into the existing paint job.

There are two typical types of touch-up paint applicators for touching up small areas. 

Areas that are larger than a small coin will need to be sprayed with an airless or automotive paint sprayer.

Paint pens 

The pen-style touch-up paint is easy to use. Simply shake up the container, and

Nail polish style

Some touch-up paint comes in a nail polish-type container with a small paintbrush built into the handle.

To use the nail polish-style touch-up paint, shake up the container, and unscrew the lid.

Use the small brush to apply a generous amount of touch-up painting in areas where the paint has chipped off so that bare metal/white primer shows through.

Step 4 - Inspect Results and Wet Sand If Necessary

After letting each coat dry for 20-30 minutes, inspect the final results of your work.

If you are unsatisfied with the way the car looks, you might want to take it to a body shop to have the whole panel painted.

If you are a perfectionist, you could try wet sanding the paint after it's dry with 2000-grit sandpaper until the touchup paint blends into the existing paint.

Wet sanding isn't always necessary when doing touch up, in fact, most professionals call it good after applying 2-3 coats of paint. 

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

Other Valuable Resources On Touching Up Car Paint

Use a polishing compound to shine up the paint job after. Waxing the car after touching up the paint job will help protect the paint after the fact. 

You can find polishing or correction compounds on Amazon or at your local auto parts store. 

Here are a few steps for correctly applying a polishing compound:

Step 1: Apply a few dots of polishing compound onto the buffer pad, and place the electric buffer flush onto the surface of the body panel.

Step 2: Once the buffer is flush on the surface of the body panel, turn it on, and move it in a circular motion. Typically, higher RPM settings on the electric buffer will help for a more successful paint correction - just don't press too hard into the paint, as it can leave burn marks. 

Instead, let the spinning motion do the work, and focus on keeping the buffer as flush to the body panel's surface as possible.

Step 3: Use a clean microfiber towel to wipe off the area, and inspect the results.

Preventing Future Paint Chips With A Ceramic Coating

If you really want to protect your car's paint job, you will invest in a clear ceramic coating that completely covers and protects the paint.

Installing a clear bra on the hood and bumper also prevent rock chips from destroying your paint job.

Don't overcomplicate things. Touching up car paint is really easy. 

Chances are, someone else on the internet has done the same touch-up job as you, so search the web for more specific applications when it comes to your paint job.

Keep Temperature And Humidity In Mind When Painting

Painting in high and low temperature and humidity ranges can cause your paint job to turn out botched.

You can avoid temperature and humidity problems by reading the label on the paint container and following the given temp/humidity guidelines.

Looking to buy a paint sprayer for your car paint job? Check out our article on the best paint sprayers to use for cars.

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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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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