4 Tips for Applying Automotive Lacquer

An orange car with a shiny finish.

Effective application of automotive lacquer is essential for producing a professional finish on all automotive body repair jobs. Painted panels must always be correctly prepared and full coverage of the base color must also be applied before the lacquer process can begin. Once you’re ready to add the lacquer, keep these four tips in mind to do the best job possible.

Choice of Material

Although it may be tempting to use a cheaper product, it is highly recommended that you use an established brand name when choosing automotive lacquer for your vehicle. Finishes that represent the budget end of the automotive market have a tendency to produce poor color matches once the clear coat is applied. Additionally, many low-cost lacquer products have a low resistance to excessive sunlight or moisture. This usually results in the material dulling over a period of time or, even worse, actually peeling from the vehicle.

Always try to use a leading brand of base color as well. High-end products allow for good adhesion, excellent color matches, and material longevity.

Hardener and Thinners

Most automotive lacquers still operate using traditional two-pack systems that require a compatible hardener and thinner to establish fast drying times and effective flow from a professional-standard spray gun. Generally, most two-pack clear automotive coverings are mixed at a ratio of two parts lacquer to one part of hardener. Once mixed, up to 10 percent of thinner can be added to establish good flow. Always ask for a technical data sheet when purchasing automotive lacquer so you are fully aware of the correct mixing ratio.


Before applying automotive lacquer, ensure that base colors have fully cured to prevent the risk of chemical reactions. Use a paint strainer while adding lacquer to the spray gun to rid the mixed product of any pieces of fiber, dirt, or grit. This will help produce a clean finish that requires little in way of polishing or dirt removal once a vehicle has been painted.

Always run a tack cloth over the surface of the base color before applying automotive lacquer. This will remove any foreign bodies from the surface of the painted panel as well as ridding the base color of any metallic particles that may cause a paint halo if left unattended.


Always spray vertical panels from the bottom, working your way to the top in a rhythmic fashion, making sure that each application crosses the previous one by approximately two inches. Horizontal panels, such as a hood, should be painted from one side to the other. Never start in the middle as dry edges will form before you have the chance to apply automotive lacquer to all areas of the panel.

Always apply the first coat lightly. This will effectively form a grip coat that the second coat can adhere to without sagging or running. A coat of around 50 percent of the density of the second coat is recommended. The second coat can be applied fully but try not to lay it on to the panels too heavily. Automotive lacquer has a tendency to level out to a flat finish and excess material will, once again, result in runs or sags.

Always allow for recommended drying times and resist the temptation to flat and polish lacquer until the material has completely cured.