Automotive Paint: Urethane vs Acrylic

Automotive Paint: Urethane vs Acrylic

Author: Linda/Wednesday, April 1, 2015/Categories: News

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There are several things to consider when choosing the most favorable vehicle paint for your daily use car or classic auto restoration projects. Many car collectors are mostly interested in the color and look of the car paint, but there are other important factors to keep in mind, including application difficulty level, durability, base-coat and finishing options, length of drying time, cost, and possible health hazards.  

Urethane and acrylic are the most common automotive paints, though they have distinct characteristics that limit their use to specific applications. 

Urethane Paints

These paints are the standard for automotive paint in the industry. Urethane paints have mostly replaced acrylic as auto manufacturers’ and car restorers’ preferred choice for the last two decades. While it is hard to replicate the exact factory paint, and neither acrylic nor urethane paints offer that option, most auto restorers claim that urethane gives a more appealing finish. 

These paints are extremely long-lasting. They can easily outlast most acrylic paints, and are resistant to chipping with proper maintenance. Urethane paints are also easier to apply and provide better coverage than acrylic when using a pressurized spray can.  

While it is common practice to apply a clear coat after a base-coat urethane, some clear coats (mostly black and white) have been known to tint the color. So, it may be preferable to use a single-stage urethane coat and do without the clear coat to avoid altering the intended color. That said, tinted primers are usually applied so the top coat does not appear light or thin.  

Another unique property of urethane paints is that they are activated by hardeners, which offer the benefit of quick drying once applied, cutting down on the time spent between different coat applications. However, this also means that the paint cannot be stored once it is mixed, or it will be wasted.  

Acrylic Paints  

While urethane relies on solvent to ensure that the resin adheres to the product, acrylic paints are water-based, which makes water their primary agent. This makes acrylic less toxic than urethane. No hardeners are required, so acrylic paints are always ready for spraying. However, this also means that the drying process will be much slower, taking 24-48 hours before another coat can be applied.  

Acrylic paints are lighter than urethane paints, and emerge in smaller droplets, so care should be taken when selecting a primer. Acrylic enamel costs about half as much as acrylic lacquer, which makes it the preferred choice for quick-fix jobs, though it is also prone to more cracking, chipping, and general wear (because it lacks hardeners).  

While acrylic enamel paint is preferred for replicating factory peel paint jobs, most professionals have now switched to urethane paint for all auto body work for its obvious merits. Urethane paints should be used cautiously, because they are toxic. They contain isocyanates, which are airborne compounds that penetrate the skin or enter the lungs through inhaling, so let the auto body professionals at  City Collision handle your restoration projects.

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