How to Paint a Tri-Coat Color

by Rebekah Richards

Tri-coat paints, also known as three stage paints or pearl coats, are automotive paint colors achieved by applying three different coats. These three coats are called the basecoat, midcoat (or pearlcoat), and clearcoat. Tri-coat paints create additional color depth and display different color highlights when viewed from different angles. However, they are more difficult to match or touch up than other car colors, so it's a good idea to practice on a scrap piece of metal or plastic before using tri-coat paints on a car.

Step 1

Put on safety goggles and gloves to protect yourself from dangerous chemicals in automotive paint, and make sure you are in an area with adequate ventilation.

Step 2

Apply primer if your surface is unpainted. Primer helps fill surface imperfections and makes paint stick better. If your surface is already painted, skip this step.

Step 3

Spray on the basecoat layer, which represents the primary color coat. Allow the basecoat to dry completely before continuing. Although drying time can vary in different temperatures, allowing each layer to dry overnight is usually adequate.

Step 4

Sand the primer and basecoat with sandpaper to ensure a smooth finish. Begin with #220 grit sandpaper and then use #600 grit sandpaper.

Step 5

Spray a thin midcoat layer once the basecoat has dried. The midcoat or pearlcoat contains flakes of pearls which creates the tri-coat color effect. Allow the midcoat to dry completely before continuing; midcoats usually dry completely overnight.

Apply the clearcoat layer and allow it to dry completely. Clearcoats usually dry overnight.


  • Avoid spraying primer, paint, or clearcoat in direct sunlight.
  • If necessary, use automotive lacquer thinner to remove new paint without damaging the original paint finish.
  • Don't wax your car for at least 30 days after you have applied a tri-coat paint color.


  • Keep primer and automotive paint away from children and stored in a safe place that does not experience extreme temperatures.
  • Always wear gloves and safety goggles when working with automotive paint, and ensure adequate ventilation. Stop immediately if you feel dizzy.

Items you will need

  • Safety goggles and gloves
  • Primer, if necessary
  • Basecoat
  • Sand paper
  • Midcoat
  • Clearcoat

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