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How Do You Match My Existing Paint?

When we need to repair our cars or trucks, we want three things: a quick repair, a quality safe repair, and we want it to look like it has never been in an accident. In order for that to happen, the paint job has to be as good as or better than the factory paint job. One question that we get all the time here at Dents Unlimited Columbia in Columbia, MO is how do we ensure that the new paint is going to match your old paint? And by that, I mean: how do we guarantee that the color will match to the point where you cannot tell that the car was ever repaired?

beautiful new car paint

Perhaps I have a trained eye because I work in the industry, because I can spot a mismatched paint job every time I see one in traffic or in a parking lot. Just recently, a new Cadillac pulled up next to me at an intersection in Columbia, and the gold paint on the front door and fender was clearly a full shade or two darker than the rest of the car. It was as if the front half of the car was a totally different color than the back half, and you really noticed this where the front and rear doors met together. It was so painfully obvious to me that I am surprised the owner did not notice when he picked up his Caddy.

really poorly mismatched paint job on a car

Unfortunately, this Cadillac driver is not alone. I see these mistakes almost every day in and around Columbia. Why is that? Because it is actually very difficult to get a perfect paint match if you do not repaint the whole car. Most insurance companies will not pay to have your whole car painted, and most customers lack the funds to finish painting the whole car. In fact, custom car painters will paint a car fully assembled because even painting the fenders off the car could alter the paint match from the rest of the car.

Paint Matching Variables

First of all, let’s discuss your car’s paint code and what that means to local body shops in the area. In your car, there is a label that has the paint code on it. It could be on the door, or somewhere near the VIN number.  Unlike a local hardware store that can punch in a code and make a can of paint for a room in your house, a car’s paint code is merely a starting point.

Paint Code Sample

A sample of a car’s paint code

In automotive refinishing, there are allowable variances from the manufacturer. Quite often the vehicle you drive is made in several locations, and sometimes the manufacturer can switch paint suppliers mid model year. What then happens is that one formulation is slightly darker or lighter than another paint brand. To address this, the carmaker creates a “factory standard” formulation, and then allows between three to seven alternates that are worth formulating. There is actually more but the auto paint manufacturers have narrowed them to down to keep the databases simple to use.

Why Do the Car Manufacturers Have So Many Variances?

Most manufacturers have three major paint suppliers. The manufacturer decides on a standard color for production and submits a painted sample to their suppliers. The paint manufacturer then produces a formula for the “standard sample” and is allowed a tolerance of plus or minus 5% when they deliver the paint.

Geographical Variance

Next, you have to contend with variances in geography. Although it is less common now than it was years ago, there are some cars that are built in different geographical areas in order to keep up with demand. The plant in the east coast may be getting a 5% shade more red on a blue metallic standard while the plant in the west coast may be getting a 5% shade more violet on the same blue metallic standard. When compared side by side, they look like a completely different color. This is why the paint manufacturers usually have a standard formula, followed by two alternates. If the alternates are not available, the painter in the body shop usually mixes the standard formula, and then tints it accordingly.

Metallic Color Variances

Metallic colors are hardest to match. As a matter of fact, modern metallic colors are now classified in 7 categories: extra fine, fine, medium, medium-coarse, coarse, and extra-coarse. The metallic colors control the value (lightness and darkness) of the color, similar to what white does in a pastel color.

Show the differences

EVERYTHING affects a metallic color when it is re-sprayed. Everything from the paint gun’s fluid tip sizing, the humidity, ambient temperature, paint thickness, distance to the panel, gun pressure, fan size, etc. All of these will affect a metallic paint job because of the way the metallic particles lay down. Depending on how they lay down, they can seriously alter the color to appear several shades lighter or darker.

Furthermore, the longer it takes to dry, the darker the metallic color will change as it dries. This is caused by pigment floatation. The metallic flakes will settle down to the bottom of the paint film and push the pigment up, causing the color to shift darker.

How We Match Paint at Our Shop

How to match paint

Yet, despite these challenges, we will perfectly match your car’s paint to factory paint. One way we do this is by using spray test panels. We do this in order to make sure your colors will perfectly match before we pull your car into the paint booth. Unfortunately, many other high volume and high production shops might not take the extra time to perform this necessary function. They simply may not have the time, and they may be conscious to the fact that painter is getting paid a weekly bonus based on how many cars come through his booth.

At our shop, we rely on manufactures’ paint codes as a starting point, then we do spray panel testing, and finally we rely on our own experience to produce a perfect match. If you choose  Dents Unlimited Columbia, or any other reputable shop, your paint will match. This is why it is so vital you choose widely when selecting your paint shop.

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