We’ll give you three guesses to how many steps there are to this process, but hopefully, you only need one. The tri-coat paint is named that because it consists of the following coats: the base coat, the middle translucent coat, and the top clear coat. These separate coats layered on top of one another make this type of paint more difficult to repair, but also give it a greater depth and durability. So the hard work is definitely worth it!
Fun fact: the middle coat is sometimes referred to as the pearl coat because actual pearl is sometimes ground into the paint!
Preparation: Prepare the damaged area by cleaning and sanding it like you would any other paint job. Read our article here for more information.
Step 1: Base Coat
Apply this first, and cover the damaged area entirely. It’s important to let the base coat dry before proceeding. The unique visual effect of tri-coat paint relies on the layers being separate. If you go forward while the base layer is still wet, it will mix with the other coats and ruin the finish.
You should apply this to “full hiding” which means you’re unable to see the damaged area below, and each layer of base you apply should extend slightly wider than the previous one.
Step 2: Middle Coat or “Mid Coat”
This is the money coat. The middle coat is the one that gives it the depth and feel of a true tri-coat paint job, so be careful, it’s important. This coat should be applied patiently, in thin coats. This is where it gets tricky, though. You don’t know how many coats the factory used, and you could guess, but your odds are not great. That’s why we suggest you use a letdown panel, also known as a spray out card. .
A letdown panel is basically a test zone for your paints. Apply a base coat to a test surface exactly like you did to your vehicle. Then, split it into about five zones. In each of the zones, apply a different number of middle coats. Then, when it dries, you can hold it up to your vehicle’s existing paint job to see which zone matches best. Here’s a letdown panel in action to give you a better idea:
Step 3: Clear Coat
After the mid coats dry (a minimum of 20 minutes, but best to let it sit for an hour), you can apply the final clear coat layer. This is relatively simple compared to the previous steps. Just smoothly cover the area with several layers (allowing it to dry between coats). This layer adds a visual shine to your job, but it also serves to protect your repair so it looks great longer.