Pearlescent vs Metallic vs Non Metallic Car Paint

With so many different types of car paint on the market, it can be quite confusing knowing which to pick to give your vehicle a makeover. It's equally as overwhelming as picking household paint - will you want matte paint? Metallic? Pearlescent? Standard? 

In the end, when choosing different types of paint or finishes for your car's makeover, it all comes down to the desired effect. Auto paint options like metallic or pearlescent will reflect sunlight and create layers of color and shimmer. A matte finish is bold with a subdued sheen. A standard auto paint finish can be lacquered to achieve a high-gloss finish. 

Let's break down the different types of auto paint finishes, from metallic to pearlescent to matte to standard, and the differences between each one. 

Metallic Auto Paint:

Metallic auto paint is essentially the same as standard car paint and can be applied as such, with a main difference of little bits of powdered metal and aluminum added, giving the vehicle lots of glint and shine. The metallic effect depends on the size and type of the metal added to the paint, which will vary between manufacturers, but for the most part, metallic paint is roughly 1 part powdered metal to 50 parts paint. 

Pros of Metallic Car Paint:

  • Being that it contains bits of powdered metal, metallic car paint reflects more light than a standard glossy auto finish, and adds a bit sparkle and color depth unachievable with a standard finish. Because of this reason, it tends to hide small vehicle blemishes and dents better.
  • Metallic car paint holds up better than a standard finish. It resists bleaching or fading better, and maintains a nice gloss longer than a standard finish.
  • A vehicle with a metallic paint finish tends to have a higher resale value than one with a standard finish. This is because metallic auto paint is still viewed as a premium finish option.

Cons of Metallic Car Paint:

  • Larger scratches and dents are more of a hassle to repair. While good at concealing smaller blemishes, metallic auto paint can have a tendency to be more difficult to touch-up due to the fact the shades are harder to match exactly. Not all manufacturers offer metallic paint, and this can make it difficult to find more of the same shade.
  • While not super pricey, metallic car paint tends to be a little bit more expensive than standard paint finishes, so not a great paint option if you have a moderate budget to keep to.
  • Metallic auto paints come in a much smaller color range than standard finishes, so if you had plans for an amazing unique tone with a metallic finish, it may not be possible.

Pearlescent Auto Paint

Much like a metallic auto paint finish, pearlescent paint is generally standard auto paint, but instead of adding metal powder, microscopic ceramic particles are added instead. The ceramic crystals, or "mica", not only reflect light, like the metallic finish, but also refract it - meaning light is slowed down as it passes through the mica. This splits light into many different colors, and instead of just a glinty sparkle, vehicles with a pearlescent finish shine with deep and varying color shades that alter with your viewing angle. In direct sunlight, a pearlescent paint finish is a beautiful sight to behold, as the curves of the vehicle body also yield subtle transitions in color. 

Pros of Pearlescent Auto Paint:

  • The main benefit of auto paint with a pearlescent finish is that it makes your vehicle look super cool. The mica that refracts particles adds an extra oomph and brings rich color variance to what otherwise might have been a standard monotone finish.
  • Much like metallic paint, pearlescent auto paint also conceals small blemishes better than standard finishes. If your vehicle has sustained any small dents or dings, chances are you won't even notice.
  • And again, like a vehicle with a metallic finish, one with a pearlescent finish will probably be viewed as more valuable to a prospective buyer.

Cons of Pearlescent Auto Paint:

  • Once again, similarities between metallic and pearlescent paint abound. While good at concealing minor scratches and dents, because it's expensive and could be difficult to match, vehicles with a pearlescent finish can be a pain to re-touch or repaint.
  • It's expensive. Pearlescent auto paint tends to cost even more than metallic paint, so it's hard to achieve such a magnificent finish on a budget when painting your car.
  • It's hard to find. Even authorised body shops or paint dealers don't necessarily keep the same shades in stock consistently, so it can be a real hassle to repair or repaint a pearlescent finish.

Matte Auto Paint

While not often a popular choice for painting vehicles, the matte auto finish is slowly making a comeback, and with wider availability comes more affordability. Auto paint with a matte finish has a "flat" look - not shiny at all, with a very subdued, almost "dull" sheen. This is achieved by using a high epoxy content primer coat, adding a high PVC content directly to the auto paint, or adding a flattening agent to the final lacquer topcoat. 

Pros of Matte Auto Paint

  • Matte auto paint tends to look expensive. And that's because, unshockingly, like all the other specialty vehicle paints, it can be. It looks fantastic and tends to be a popular choice for vehicles in grey or black colors.

Cons of Matte Auto Paint

  • A matte auto finish is difficult to apply, as the imperfections or mistakes can't be buffed out.
  • In addition to being tricky to touch-up, a matte auto finish can't be polished with a normal abrasive polisher, as you'll end up with glossy patches all over your car.

Non-metallic (Solid) Auto Paint

This is the type of paint used to finish all cars sold anywhere ever, solid or standard auto paint is available in a huge variety of colors. Its glossy, unvaried appearance is achieved by layering two coats of paint finished with a high-gloss lacquer coat that also serves to protect it from weather and chips or dents. 

Many manufacturers have now moved to using something called "two-pack" paint - acrylic paint mixed with a hardening agent that contains isocyanates, negating the need for a top-coat. Two-pack paint also cures a lot quicker, making it perfect for home paint jobs with just a few heat lamps for added speed. 

Pros of Solid Auto Paint:

  • Solid auto paint finishes are the best bet for home auto painting projects and brand new vehicles alike. It holds up well and it looks good.
  • Solid auto paint is also super easy to touch-up or refinish. Small blemishes and chips can be gone over with a same-color pen, making it cheap and convenient to conduct small home repairs.
  • Solid auto paint is affordable and relatively easy to match same-color tones should you need larger quantities for your repair job. Even if you took your vehicle to a body shop for major body damage, it won't cost an arm and a leg to have it refinished in the matching shade.
  • If you're going with a shade of two-pack auto paint, it's curing time is much quicker, making it convenient for home mechanics or painting your own vehicle.

Cons of Solid Auto Paint:

  • The only major con of solid paint is that if not done properly a lot of solid paint finishes tend to "orange peel" - a term used to describe a slightly bubbly, raised flaw in the paint. This can be avoided by home mechanics as long as care is taken and you don't rush when painting. A steady, even flow is best.


The type of auto paint finish you choose is going to depend on what you're looking for, what you need, and what your budget is. If cost is no object and you're after a unique and stunning paint finish, metallic or pearlescent paint finishes are truly beautiful to behold and can turn any vehicle from drab to fab with nothing more than a paint job. The matte auto finish tends to be the most impractical, at least for home mechanics or those whose vehicle also serves a heavy-duty or work purpose. Standard/solid/non-metallic auto finishes are the best all-around when considering cost, weather protection, and repairability. 

If you have any further questions, contact Auto Body Toolmart. We're happy to point you in the right direction, and when you're ready, browse our entire selection of auto paint finishes and paints.

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