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Does single stage paint need a clear coat?

When it comes to painting your car, one of the biggest decisions is whether to use a single stage or two stage paint job. Single stage paints combine color and clear coat in one product, while two stage systems use a separate basecoat and clearcoat. If you opt for a single stage paint, do you still need to apply a separate clear coat? There are pros and cons to both approaches that are worth considering.

What is single stage paint?

Single stage paint, also called one stage paint or 1K paint, contains pigments for color and gloss in one coating. The polymers in single stage paint provide both pigment binding like a traditional basecoat, and protection and gloss like a clearcoat. Single stage paints come ready to spray and don’t require a separate clear coat once applied. They are available in various gloss levels from matte to high gloss.

Single Stage Paint Description
Composition Contains color pigments and clear coat resins in one layer
Process Applied in one stage – no separate clear coat needed
Dry Time Dries to a glossy, durable finish
Maintenance Can be compounded and polished like clear coat

The polymers used in single stage paint provide protection from the elements, gloss, and color all in one coat. Once applied properly over a primer, single stage paints don’t need an additional clearcoat. They can deliver long-lasting results and protection for many restoration projects.

Advantages of single stage paint

Using a single stage paint on your car paint job has some advantages:

  • Simpler process: You don’t have to paint a separate base color coat and clear topcoat, reducing paint time and materials.
  • Cost savings: Since you only need one paint product, it reduces the cost of materials for refinishing.
  • Less room for error: Applying one coating instead of two leaves less room for imperfections and dust between coats.
  • Easier touch-ups: Touching up flaws is simpler with a single stage since you don’t have to color match and blend clearcoat.

For small paint jobs, reapplying old patina, or achieving certain classic looks, single stage paints can provide an efficient, cost-effective option.

Disadvantages of single stage paint

Single stage paint also has some downsides to consider:

  • Less UV protection: Clearcoats are formulated for maximum UV resistance. Single stage paints are more prone to fading and degradation over time.
  • Reduced gloss: Clearcoats tend to have a deeper, wetter gloss that single stage paints can struggle to match.
  • Trickier application: It can be harder to achieve an even finish without a separate clear layer to cover flaws.
  • Difficult color matching: Matching an existing color with a single stage requires more tinting skill.
  • Fewer color options: Single stage paint is available in fewer colors since tinting into a clearcoat base provides endless options.

For show-quality finishes that need to look perfect for years, a basecoat-clearcoat system remains the go-to choice.

Do you still need clearcoat with single stage paint?

Whether or not to add a clearcoat over single stage paint depends on the specific project. Here are some factors to consider:

Factor Clearcoat Needed?
Restoring vintage or classic car with original single stage paint No
Refinishing a car in a shop setting Yes
DIY paint job on an old beater car No
Seeking ultra high gloss Yes
Matching difficult factory color No
Aftermarket or custom paint colors Optional

As a general rule, if you want a factory quality finish that will last for many years, applying clearcoat over single stage paint is recommended. The clearcoat protects the base color and provides an optimal glossy finish. On vintage cars or restorations matching the original paint, a clearcoat may not be necessary or desirable.

Can you clearcoat over single stage paint?

Yes, you can apply a clearcoat over existing single stage paint. This gives you the best of both worlds – the existing color remains intact, while the clearcoat adds protection and gloss. When clearcoating over single stage paint, there are a few important steps:

  1. Properly prepare the surface by sanding with 400-800 grit sandpaper. This scuffs up the existing finish for the clearcoat to adhere.
  2. Clean and degrease the sanded paint thoroughly before applying clearcoat.
  3. Apply 2-3 coats of high quality clearcoat, allowing proper flash times between coats.
  4. Allow the clearcoat to cure completely before polishing, compounding or waxing.

Modern clearcoats are formulated with strong adhesion properties specifically for coating over existing finishes. Proper preparation is key – rushing the sanding and cleaning stages can lead to the clear peeling or not sticking down the road.

What clearcoat is best for single stage paint?

When choosing a clearcoat for single stage paint, opt for a high quality, polyurethane clear designed for adhesion. Some good options include:

Clearcoat Features
Spies Hecker Permahyd Hi-TEC 480 – Excellent adhesion
– High gloss
– Easy to apply
PPG DCU2021 – Specifically designed for single stage paint
– Maximum UV protection
– High solids formula
Glasurit 923-335 – Adheres well to all paint systems
– Easy to polish
– Long-term clarity

Avoid economy clearcoats not designed for adhesion. Talk to your paint supplier about the best clearcoat for adhering to and protecting the specific single stage paint on your car.

Application process for clearcoating single stage paint

Follow these steps when applying clearcoat over single stage:

  1. Wash and degrease: Remove all wax, grease, and contaminants with soap and water first, then a wax and grease remover.
  2. Sand the finish: Scuff sand with 600-800 grit to create a rough profile for adhesion.
  3. Clean again: Use a tack rag to remove sanding debris after sanding before clearcoat.
  4. Apply clearcoat: Spray 2-3 medium wet coats allowing proper flash time between coats.
  5. Cure: Allow clearcoat to harden completely before wet sanding or polishing.

The preparation steps are critical – the clearcoat will only be as good as the surface it’s sprayed over. Rushing the process can lead to peeling or clouding of the clear down the road. Patience creates perfection.

How long to wait before wet sanding and polishing clearcoat over single stage?

It’s important to give the clearcoat adequate cure time before sanding or polishing to prevent damaging the finish. Here are some general clearcoat cure times:

  • Dust free: 1 hour
  • Dry to handle: 6-8 hours
  • Air dry full cure: 2 weeks
  • Baked cure: 30 minutes at 140°F

For wet sanding and polishing, best practice is to wait at least 72 hours after applying the clearcoat. Some variables like temperature and number of coats impact final cure time. When possible, allow the full air dry cure time of 2 weeks before polishing for maximum hardness.

Tips for clearcoating over single stage

Follow these tips when applying clearcoat over existing single stage paint:

  • Choose a high solids polyurethane clearcoat for best adhesion and UV resistance
  • Scuff sand thoroughly with 600-800 grit before clearing for surface profile
  • Apply light even coats to avoid runs – 2-3 coats is ideal
  • Respect flash times between coats for proper drying
  • Clean with a tack rag immediately before spraying clearcoat
  • Allow proper cure time before compounding, polishing or waxing

Patience is a virtue throughout the process – rushing any steps can lead to adhesion failure down the road. Taking your time to do the prep work right results in a clearcoated single stage paint job that will stay glossy and protected for years to come.

Maintaining and caring for clearcoated single stage paint

Once the clearcoat is cured, you can polish, compound, and wax a clearcoated single stage paint job just like any other finish. Here are some tips for maintaining clearcoated single stage paint:

  • Use quality car wash soap and wash mitts to prevent swirl marks in the clearcoat.
  • Apply carnauba wax or paint sealants to protect the finish from the elements.
  • Use a clay bar treatment twice a year to safely remove surface contaminants.
  • Polish out any swirl marks, oxidation, or etching using a dual-action polisher.
  • Apply touch-up paint to any chips or scratches that go down to the color coat.
  • Avoid abrasive polishes and compounds that could burn through the clearcoat.

The clearcoat over your single stage paint should be cared for like any other shiny paint finish. With proper maintenance and washing techniques, a clearcoated single stage paint job will stay protected and maintain its gloss for many years.


While not entirely necessary, adding a clearcoat over properly prepped single stage paint can provide increased gloss and protection. On vintage restorations the original single stage may be ideal to maintain, while on modern paint jobs a clearcoat is usually recommended for the best finish. If applying a clearcoat, pay close attention to preparation, material selection, and cure times to get great results. Your patience will pay off in a clearcoated single stage paint job that looks amazing.