Matte Car Paint: Is The Look Worth The Hassle?

A Range Rover Evoque with a dark matte finish..

Matte car paint is enjoying a bit of an upsurge. You’ve probably noticed matte paint finishes on an occasional BMW or Mercedes-Benz in a popular restaurant’s valet lot or outside ritzy boutiques.

What we might also refer to as “flat,” matte finishes don’t shine like traditional car finishes. The term “stealth” comes to mind when we see a car in matte gray or matte black. “Hot” pops into our heads when the matte finish is in another color.

Admittedly, we think the look is very sharp, particularly for sporty or performance models. How much more sinister would Darth Vader have been with a matte finish on his helmet? A lot, we’d wager.

Matte Paint Pros and Cons

So, in the “Pro” column for a matte finish, we’ll put “looks cool.”

Like many with-it things in life, however, putting a matte finish on your ride comes with a few negatives. Our matte finish “Con” column lists “cost, upkeep, and repair.”

Let’s consider the good, the bad, and the ugly of putting a matte finish on your car. It’s up to you to decide if it’s worth the hassle.

What Is Matte Paint?

Available for decades, matte paint is not actually a type of paint. Instead, it’s a finish on a car’s paint. A traditional car paint job has a final glossy clear coat to provide a gleaming shine. A vehicle’s paint requires a matte clear coat to achieve a muted finish.

When it’s first applied, exterior paint dries and cures. If left alone, the finish is dull and imperfect, filled with tiny dimples, divots, and dips. Topping it with a glossy clear coat fills in those imperfections, leaving a smooth, shiny surface.

Adding a matte clear coat has a different effect. The matte finish emphasizes the paint’s imperfections and also adds more dimpling. These imperfections obstruct light’s reflection, creating a dull matte finish that many find appealing.

Are All Matte Finishes the Same?

The short answer is no. If you’ve ever repainted a room, picking paint involves more than just choosing a color. You must also select the finish: flat, eggshell, satin, glossy, etc. There are also a variety of matte finishes with a graduated degree of shine.

You don’t need to concern yourself with the nuances of matte finishes when buying or ordering a new car. However, if you are repainting a car with a matte finish, you’ll want to understand and specify the degree of dullness or shine you prefer.

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What Do You Need to Know About a Matte Finish?

As noted above, we think matte paint finish adds some serious style to your ride. That’s an advantage of matte car paint. However, there are drawbacks to having matte finish on your car.

How to Clean a Matte Paint Finish

If nothing else, a matte finish makes life a little more complicated. If you don’t take great pleasure in handwashing, you probably won’t like the reality of cleaning a car with a matte finish. For instance, you cannot run your vehicle through the automatic carwash after filling the tank at your gas station. If your ride has matte paint, it’s strictly hand washed.

Moreover, you need to avoid standard car wash solutions. Most commercial car wash concentrates contain some amount of wax. Wax (see below) should never touch a matte finish. Dish soap is another enemy of a matte finish. If detergent strips grease from dishes and pans, what could it do to a car’s matte finish? For one, it can break down a matte finish’s protective layer.

Take the time and invest the money for a matte car wash solution formulated specifically to protect that special finish. There are a variety of matte washes on the market from Dr. Beasley’s, the Chemical Guys, and others. Always use clean microfiber cloths for washing and drying. Switch them out frequently to ensure you are using a clean cloth.

2021 Bentley Continental GT with a matte finish.

How to Protect a Matte Paint Finish

The first rule of protecting a matte finish is this: Never apply wax to the surface. The second rule: Always follow the first rule.

True, waxing a traditional glossy-paint finish adds some protection while increasing the paint’s reflective properties. However, that’s the opposite of what you want for a matte finish. What makes a matte finish dull are all those tiny imperfections in the paint. The matte clear coat then emphasizes them, which adds even more dimples.

Waxing this surface fills in the imperfections that diffuse light, creating a shiny surface. You don’t want to fork out thousands of dollars for a matte finish only to make it shiny.

If somehow you missed rules one and two and put wax on your matte finish, don’t despair. Many manufacturers marketing matte finish washing solutions also make matte paint cleaners. Such cleaners will safely rid your matte finish of wax and other impurities.

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Matte Paint Coating

At this juncture, you are probably asking yourself, “If I can’t wax a matte finish, what can I do to protect it?” Your local auto parts store likely sells a full line of matte finish products. Among them should be matte paint coating. These solutions bond with the surface of the clear coat. Rather than filling in the imperfections, these solutions follow the contours of the clear coat. Therefore, the finish remains dull.

Roll the Film

Another method of guarding a matte finish (or a glossy one, for that matter) is paint protection film. This material provides another layer on top of painted surfaces to help prevent blemishes and other damage. There are films engineered for matte finishes. Professionally installed, these protective films aren’t cheap, but they get the job done. Xpell, Ceramic Pro, and other manufacturers have matte finish film products.

Here’s a tip that can potentially save you money. Consider wrapping your vehicle in matte finish film instead of paying for an expensive matte paint job. The appearance is about the same when done well. Moreover, the film is removable if you tire of the matte look.

How to Repair a Matte Finish Paint

We could easily have left this space blank because you cannot repair scratches, chips, and dings to a matte finish. A matte finish clear coat is just as durable as a glossy clear coat. You probably already know that glossy clear coats can chip and scratch. The issue with a matte finish is that there are no inexpensive means to repair those damaged spots. You can’t cover isolated places with touch-up paint or buff them out. Consequently, you must repaint the entire panel.

If you haven’t taken the precaution of extra finish protection, like matte paint coating or matte film, something as simple as bird droppings left too long on the finish can cost hundreds or thousands to fix.

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How Much Is a Matte Paint Finish?

For a few years beginning in 2012, Hyundai offered a matte finish color as an option on its Veloster. Although it was a decade ago, the cost was still a bargain at $1,000.

If you consider adding a matte paint finish to your current car today, expect the expense to be between $1,000 and $6,000, depending on the quality.

Specifying a matte finish on a new model will come with a price tag in the high end of that range. Remember that luxury carmakers typically offer matte paint finish, and their features come at premium costs. For example, the 2021 Mercedes-AMG GT Roadster we drove recently sported a matte finish color called “Graphite Grey Magno.” It contributed $3,950 to the total sticker price of $149,250.

Here are other examples of prices for matte paint on new cars:

  • Audi R8 $6,800
  • Audi RS 5 Coupe $3,900
  • BMW 840i Convertible $5,000
  • BMW M4 Competition xDrive Convertible $3,600
  • Mercedes-Benz E 450 4Matic Sedan $3,250

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