Explanation of the 3 Main Paint Aspects of Aftermarket Parts:
Paint Colors (& their Ingredients)
Paint Sheen or Finish
and Powder and Protective Coatings
Quick and Dirty Version
What Matters Most
While all aspects and components of paint are pretty damn complicated, in this brief FAQ, we are really just focusing on what matters for you as the customer: what it is going to look like on your vehicle. To that end, there are 3 main aspects of any paint that you as the consumer need to have some knowledge of in order to make sure you get the product you want with the look to match your vehicle or the rest of your aftermarket additions. In some instances, this is easier said than done, and we'll explain why and how to understand what all these keywords mean in this brief breakdown of paint and paint finishes as well as top-coats and powder coatings in this pictorial guide to everything with any pigment in the aftermarket parts industry.
The Colors! The Colors!
You'd think this would be both the simplest and most important part to the aesthetic aspects of paint choice. And it certainly is important, but far from simple. Just as a quick example, every paint color is made up of three key ingredients: the carrier agent (which contains all the rest and is what makes the paint flow and act as a liquid), the binder (or resin which holds it all together), and the pigment (the part that shows the color). Since there are over 10 million different colors or pigments, let alone the combinations of binder and carrier, you can see that this can get pretty complicated. I'm not here to lecture you on color science, but I think it is important to note that each company uses a different formula and resin/agent combo to make up its specific paint colors. So while most aftermarket parts come in black, one company's black may be a slightly different shade than another's because they use a different resin or the material being paint might vary, such as aluminum vs. fiberglass. In other words, color matching is nuanced. To the naked eye though one black is probably close enough to another. Some products also have the option to be color matched to your exterior. You'll need your OEM Paint Code to make sure these parts have the exact same paint color as the rest of your exterior. While color is the base, where it all begins, there are at least two other significant factors that may affect how your part looks on your vehicle, including the sheen or finish and any top coats or powder coating.
Sheen and Shine
While the color determines the hue, the sheen or finish is what accounts for the shine or lack thereof. This finishing layer is actually made up of a clear coat or paint that doesn't have any pigment. Most of your base paint is typically semi-gloss or matte in appearance. A finishing coat is added for both protection and to give the product the appropriate sheen. So what's sheen? For us, it is basically the shine--how the paint reflects light. If you've ever painted a wall in your house, you're familiar with some of the terminology. Words like matte, eggshell, satin, and gloss come to mind. However, be careful about comparing the two. Most interior home paint is oil, water, or latex based, whereas automotive paint tends to be urethane, lacquer, or enamel (not that other paints can't have enamel in them, but you get what I mean). Auto paint is more hardcore than interior because it has to hold up to the elements. Nevertheless, the basic sheens apply. In aftermarket parts there are typically four sheen levels, going from the most shiny to least: gloss (or high-gloss), semi-gloss, satin, and matte (or flat). So returning to our discussion of the color black, have a look at all the different products in the following pic. All of them are black, but they each have a different sheen, making them each seem to have their own shade of black, even though each company likely starts with a similar base black paint for each of them. The finish or sheen changes a lot visually--changing the appearance of each even though the color is the same. And this doesn't even account for the other finish that is common in aftermarket and automotive parts: the powder coat which comes in a variety of styles and effects.
This Changes Everything!
Some products have a powder coat, meaning that instead of applying good ol' fashioned normal paint, a powder with pigment and numerous other agents is applied to your part or vehicle creating a textured protective layer that may also already be the color of your choosing or even be paintable. Powder coatings are all about protection and style. The coating seals the core or former surface of the part from the outside world, protecting it from the elements. On top of this is the "special effect" that can be applied to the top layer or even pressed into it to form specific shapes or textures. So just if a product just says it is powder coated then this is likely a textured or plain style. If you can't see the texturing from a close-up image, most of these products just have a rough or bumpy texture to them. However, some additional effects that are fairly common in the aftermarket industry include hammer, wrinkle, and metallic. Each sounds pretty much like what it is. Wrinkle has little wrinkles in it. Hammer looks like its been hammered. And a metallic powder coat is meant to still look like the metal underneath it which is being coated and protected. True powder coating involves the use of a spray on powder similar to baking flour that is attached to the part using "electrostatic spray deposition," which is a fancy way of saying using electromagnet type attraction. Next the whole part is put into a big oven which makes the coating cure, forming super solid bonds. This makes powder coating particularly durable. If you are concerned with color matching, many powder coats can be made to match your OE paint using a paint code. You can also see why a powder coated part is going to look significantly different than a non-coated one. Of course, this difference isn't necessarily bad, especially if you consider the vast protection it offers. Plus, we think it looks pretty sweet. Some customers compare textured powder coats to feel and look similar to some spray in liners for instance, but again this really depends on the manufacturer chosen effect.
Matte Black Texture Powder Coat
One of the most common powder coats we carry is the "standard" lightly textured or roughed up texture coat, such as the matte powder coat on this Iron Cross Nerf Bar.
While not technically a powder coat, LINE-X is a super durable weather tight seal that is shows up on some products, like this MBRP Jeep Front Bumper Kit.
Powder Coat Wrinkle Finish
This tonneau cover from BAK is powder coated black with a wrinkle finish that you can see here. Also note that it has some shine as well. Powder coats can vary in sheen also.
Now that you know the Basics: Test Time!
Can you see the difference?
In some cases, the examples we've prepared below aren't going to be particularly distinguishable when looking at a still image online. However, knowing what you know now about color, sheen, and coatings, you should easily be able to tell the differences in person. But still some of the separation is nuanced, and even some "experts" might struggle to see the differences.
A. Iron Cross Steel Push Bar HD Bumper
B. MBRP Front Stubby Winch Bumper
C. Iron Cross Low Profile Front Bumper
Which of the Bumpers has a Matte finish?
- Iron Cross HD
- MBRP Stubby
- Iron Cross Low Profile
Both A. & C.
Which Bumper is Powder Coated?
- Iron Cross HD
- MBRP Stubby
- Iron Cross Low Profile
Both A. & C.
What is the Color/Finish/Coating for B. MBRP Stubby?
- Black / Matte / Wrinkle Powder Coat
- Coal / Gloss / Textured Powder Coat
- Trick Question: it's Black / Line-X
- Trick Question: it's Carbon Fiber / No Color / No Coating
Answers Coming Up, But First This:
From just this short little quiz it should be obvious already that determining the exact color and sheen and coating from just looking at some pictures is pretty hard. This makes it all the more important that you as the customer make sure you are getting what you paid for. Double check the coloring and sheen and if there is any powder coating on the product before you place your order, and make sure that you really do want that high gloss finish or the textured powder coating. At the end of the day, you're the one using the product, so make sure you get what you actually wanted. When in doubt, you can always give us a call as well. Keep in mind that just as a static picture doesn't often do the product's color justice, if you have the physical product in front of you, you might not see the gloss shine from a direct angle. You might have to walk around or tilt your head to see it. Some of the sheen comes from motion and light reflection--duh, right? Also, you might not be able to see a standard powder coat texture from 10 yards away, but up close and personal you'll see it and you'll feel it when you touch the product. So keep that in mind too. Alright, enough knowledge droppin'. Time for the answers. Scroll to the bottom of the page beneath the banner for all the answers to the quiz questions, or better yet, just click on the products above to learn more about each and see if you were right and truly are now a color and finish master. See how you stack up to the "color experts."
Ready to Add Some Color?
- Iron Cross Low Profile Bumper is the only one that has a true Black Matte Finish
Both A. Iron Cross Steel Push Bar HD and C. Iron Cross Low Profile Black Matte Bumper both are Powder Coated.
If you thought this was a trick question, you were right. The MBRP Front Stubby Bumper is coated with Black LINE-X.