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Auto single vs. two stage painting

by William Zane

Single stage paint and dual stage paint are the two primary ways cars are painted. Dual stage paint jobs became popular in the 1980s, whereas single stage paint jobs have been used for years for classic cars.

Single Stage

A single stage paint job is applied in one stage with all of the necessary chemicals in the paint. The paint is then buffed out. This is how cars were painted prior to the emergence of clear coats in the 1980s. Many classic cars have this type of paint and are often repainted in this manner to achieve the correct look.


Single stage painting is a simpler process than dual stage and therefore costs less. It is also quicker to apply.


Single stage paint jobs do not hold up as well as dual stage under direct sunlight and are better suited to show cars that are garaged. They are also usually not as shiny and reflective as a dual stage paint job.

Two Stage

A two stage paint job uses a base coat (over a primer) for the color, which is then covered with a clear coat. When the base coat is shot, it is flat and becomes shiny when the clear coat is applied.


Dual stage paint jobs are very durable and hard and stand up better than single stage to the elements. They can last longer before needing a repaint in some cases.


Two stage paint jobs are more expensive than single stage paint jobs. Over time, if not properly cared for, the clear coat may crack. Two stage paint jobs may not look correct on a vintage car.

About the Author

William Zane has been a freelance writer and photographer for over six years and specializes primarily in automotive-related subject matter among many other topics. He has attended the Academy of Art College in San Francisco, where he studied automotive design, and the University of New Mexico, where he studied journalism.

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Photo Credits

  • Image by, courtesy of Pedro Simões