How to Shoot Three-Stage Automotive Paint

by Jenny Carver

Three-stage automotive paint is the most difficult of the three different paint types to shoot. Three-stage paint is used for specialty paints that appear to change colors as they move toward or away from you. There is the base coat, mid-coat and clear coat. The base coat is the actual color of the car, the mid-coat contains the pearlescent powders that make the color seem to change and the clear coat is the clear protective coating that protects the paint from harmful UV rays and dirt.

Spray the base coat of paint onto the car, holding the paint gun 6 to 8 inches from the surface. Move the paint gun left to right, not up and down, and overlap each stroke slightly. Spray a total of three to four thin coats. Several thin coats are better than fewer thick coats so the paint doesn't run. Wait 15 minutes between each coat. Clean the spray gun with paint thinner to remove all of the base color paint and let the gun dry.

Hold the spray gun 8 to 12 inches from the surface of the car, and use left-to-right movements, not up and down, to apply the paint. Since this is the pearlescent effect stage, use as many coats as you desire, without using more than 10. Apply the paint until you get the pearl effect you are looking for. Wait only 5 minutes between each coat. Wash the paint gun with paint thinner after this stage is completed.

Apply the clear coat to the car by applying a total of three to six thin coats of clear coat paint. Keep the spray gun 6 to 8 inches from the surface, and use left to right strokes, not up and down. Wait 15 minutes between each coat. Wait one full day after applying the last coat before handling the car.


  • close Never spray any paint products inside a building or garage unless it is well ventilated.

Items you will need

About the Author

Since 1997 Jenny Carver has served as editor and freelance writer for many offline and online publications including,, "Hoof Beat News," "Import Tuner" and others. Carver owns a custom automotive shop where she has been doing paint and body work, custom interior work and engine building for over 11 years.