DIY Pro Tip - Single Stage Paint vs 2-Part Paint Explained

Pros and Cons of Single State Versus Traditional 2-Stage Coatings

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For the “do-it-yourself” garage painter, you’ve got options on the type of coatings you choose to paint your car or truck. Depending on what your end goal is, there are several things you can consider which will help you to make the decision on which way you go. I’ll describe what I’ve learned from my experience on using both types, and this can help you narrow down your decision.

To begin with, the difference between single stage paint and 2-part paint is exactly how it sounds. Single stage coatings are meant to be sprayed on after putting your vehicle in primer, and when you finish, you’re done. There’s no need to apply a clear coat layer, because the base coat was made with ingredients that give it a glossy finish.

2-part paints separate the color from the clear coat, giving the vehicle a glassy finish that is much more visible than single stage paint. The base coat is applied after the primer stage, and it has a dull, matte look. It gives uniform color coverage. A separate clear coat is applied at the last step, which gives a translucent layer that can be finished to a higher shine.

For starters and DIY’ers, let’s talk about the advantages of single stage paint. The first is the most obvious, and that’s saving a chunk of time for your overall paint job. You can apply 2 good coats of single stage paint, and you’re done. That means a lot less time waiting in between coats for the paint to flash, which is normally 15 to 25 minutes.

Cost wise, you’ll save a bundle of money by finishing with the color coat. Adding a clear coat might cost you between $100 and $200 more, and you must have the skill to be able to lay on the clear coat in a way that it is uniform, and free of dust to give a nice finish. If you don’t have a professional paint booth, you’ll end up doing quite a bit of finish work on the clear coat, which involves wet sanding, buffing, and polishing. That’s an entire skill in and of itself.

For the more experienced folks like me, the single stage route loses my interest for a handful of reasons…

First, it’s hard to shoot. The last time I did a single stage metallic black paint job, I noticed right off the bat that the paint does not flow out of the gun and atomize like standard 2-stage base colors. It was frustrating. Second thing I noticed, it runs super easy. The consistency is not the same. That’s because it has the clear coat components built into the paint, which is much more prone to run.

When I completed the single stage metallic black on my friend’s 1993 Ford Ranger, I wasn’t satisfied. There were small areas that a dull look, because I didn’t have the gun at the proper distance away from the surface, and it laid on dry. I think that happened after I experienced a few runs, which prompted me to back off the surface a bit.

Single stage paint is very finicky. Shoot it too close, and you’ll run it. Shoot it too far back, and it lays on dry. You’ve got to have perfect control of the gun, and lay on the right amount of material to achieve a final gloss, avoid dry spots, and not run the paint. For me, it’s a waste of time, after considering how long it took me to wet sand out the runs in the first 2 coats and re-shoot those areas.

In comparison to 2-stage base colors, spraying single stage is really challenging. Spraying standard base colors to me is almost mindlessly simple and easy to control. You get better coverage, which means less variation in color plus a deep rich opaque covering. Spraying 2-stage paint means you’ve got to learn the skill of putting down the clear coat, but the trouble you go through with getting that single stage paint to end up looking glossy almost cancels out the advantage of it.

My recommendation is that beginners and DIY enthusiasts who want to maximize cost effectiveness and minimize the time needed to spray a car use single stage paints. But those of you who have a bit more skill, or have use of a paint booth, stick with the 2-stage paint and put on that protective layer of clear.

The last thing I would mention is durability and aesthetic longevity. The single stage paint is a great way to go if you’re not too concerned with look and you’re happy with a moderate shine. But you should consider the fact that the single stage finish coat is going to be directly exposed to sunlight and weathering, and it’s going to go dull in a short period of time. Spraying clear coat will extend the period of time that the car will keep that initial shine.

A bonus tip for the serious experimenters - if you’re totally dissatisfied with your dull single stage paint after you complete your home shop job, you can in fact shoot a clear coat over single stage paint and improve the shine. Just remember to properly prep the surface to ensure adhesion before you shoot the clear on.

What are your experiences with single stage and 2-stage paint? If you’ve got more pros and cons that you’d like to add or discuss along with mine, chime on in! Post your comments below and let’s talk about it!

Carlton Flowers
The Color Boss

UPDATE - Due to the high number of questions I have received about single stage paint, I have written a new article that focuses on that topic alone. Check it out here! —> What Is Single Stage Paint? Answers From The Body Shop Pro!

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