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Car Wrap vs Paint: Time, Costs, and Durability Explained

Most people who ask the question of whether a car wrap or a repaint is better are looking for a paint upgrade, have some kind of paint damage somewhere on their car, or have just one or two panels that need painting from a recent replacement. Unless a certain paint color is not available from the factory, it is most often much better to leave the paint as-is from the factory. 

There are plenty of people who do want an upgrade though, and they have the funds to make such a task possible. Whether you go the repainting route or the wrap route, there are plenty of locations and options available, much more so than there used to be. 

Car Wrap vs Paint: The Differences Explained

Types of Car Paint

There are two main types of car paint. Both can be either single-stage paint – one without a separate clearcoat – or multi-stage paint – one that includes a basecoat and a separate clearcoat.

Urethane

Urethane paint is the newer of the two main paint types and is the preferred type for most vehicles today. It is usually the longest lasting and more expensive of the two paint types, but it is recommended to be applied by a professional since it is also the harder of the two types to apply. It can easily be found in both single and multi-stage varieties. 

Acrylic

Acrylic paint is considered to be the old school type of paint, mainly only used for antique vehicles. It is usually easier to apply and less expensive than urethane paint, and it does not last as long since it is prone to fading. There are several types of acrylic paint.

Learn More: What Causes Car Paint to Fade?

Acrylic enamel is the most durable type of acrylic paint as it forms a hard shell over the surface to which it is applied. Acrylic lacquer is the second type of acrylic paint, and it was the standard original paint used by auto manufacturers. Unfortunately, even though it is easy to apply, it usually has the shortest lifespan of any other paint type and its chemical makeup causes legal issues in some localities. 

Acrylic urethane paint is the last type of acrylic paint, and it is a mixture of both acrylic and urethane. It provides almost all the benefits of both acrylic and urethane paints: ease of application, long lifespan, relatively low cost, and no legal ramifications for use. 

Car Paint Finishes

Unlike specific types of paint, paint finishes describe the appearance of paint. This is often achieved by mixing particles in with the paint to provide the desired outcome. 

Solid/Gloss

Solid or glossy paint finishes are the most basic and often the cheapest kind of paint finish on the market. Most vehicles come with a solid or gloss finish from the factory and they look like any normal paint would on a vehicle. Even though it can be hard to describe “normal,” it is easier to differentiate solid paints from other types when seeing and describing other types. 

Metallic

Metallic paint is mixed with tiny metallic fragments to produce an extra shine or even some reflectivity. The paint is not actually reflective, but it does sparkle much more than regular gloss paint. The problem is that it can be hard to repair when it gets scratched, and it is generally one of the more expensive paint options.

Learn More: Types of Paint Scratches and Depth Level Explained

Pearlescent

Pearlescent paint can be even more visually stunning than metallic paint because of the ceramic fragments mixed within it. It comes with most of the drawbacks that metallic paint usually carries, but if the look of your vehicle is paramount, pearlescent paint may be worth the extra cost. 

Matte

Matte finishes are both interesting and becoming more popular. Even factory matte paint is offered on various vehicle models from several manufacturers. It is fairly simple, like gloss paint, but it does not come with the shine that gloss does. A matte finish can be hard to describe. It is like looking at a dirty car, but the dirt is the same color as the paint, and it is not dirty; Basically, it shines much less than gloss. 

Types of Car Wraps

car wrap

Vinyl automotive wraps are designed to do everything that regular paint can do but at a much lower cost and with less application involvement. They are designed to be placed over a clean paint or bare metal surface, but they can also come in patterns and textures for a more visually striking appearance. There are two main types of wraps: cast and calendared.

Cast

Most automotive wraps are cast vinyl wraps. They are thin colored films that conform to a vehicle’s shape. They can be cut to fit an exact area. Essentially, it is like putting an enlarged sticker over your vehicle, and professional installers use a combination of heat and a blade run over the surface of the wrap to adhere it to the application surface.

Calendared

Calendared wraps are much less common than cast wraps. They are much thicker, which is good for protection value, but their thickness also does not allow them to conform to edges and corners as well. Many installers do not use them except for specific usage under special circumstances. 

Wrap Coverage

wrapping side mirrors

One advantage wraps have over conventional paint is that they can easily be applied to as much or as little of the vehicle as one needs. 

Full

A full vehicle wrap is self-explanatory. It is basically designed to replace the paint in its entirety. Those who want to change the color of their vehicle will choose a full wrap. 

Partial

Partial wraps are also popular to accentuate or add some sporty appearance to a vehicle. Common partial wrap locations include the hood, roof, spoiler, or mirrors. Because they only cover small sections of a vehicle, they are less expensive than wrapping an entire vehicle. 

Blackout

Blackout wraps are like full wraps, but they go one step farther. They include wrapping all the factory paint and any trim pieces that exist. Many vehicle grilles, wheels, and window sills are considered to be trim pieces and often come with real or fake chrome plating. 

Interior

Interior wraps are similar to blackout wraps. Interiors have far less actual paint than the exterior of a vehicle, but there are often several trim pieces that are made of plastic or other materials that people want to be changed. 

Protective

Protective wraps are essentially ceramic coatings that are not true ceramic coatings. They are often clear and protect the actual paint from damage; They are often referred to as paint protection films. 

Learn more: The Difference Between Paint Sealant and Wax

Wrap Finishes

matte car wrap

Wraps aim to accomplish the same thing as regular paint, aiming to mirror its appearance. With a wrap though, being essentially a wearable automotive paint, there are a few extra options available that regular paint cannot match.

Gloss

A gloss vinyl wrap finish gives the same look as a regular gloss paint finish. It remains the most popular finish and is the most simple in terms of color.

Matte

Again, a matte wrap produces the same look as a matte paint finish. The most common way to describe a matte finish is “flat.” Like paint, matte wraps are popular with those who want to upgrade their existing paint or change their vehicle’s color. 

Satin

A satin finish is like a cross between a gloss and matte finish, but it also has some similarities to metallic or pearlescent paint. The color is somewhat flat with a subtle metallic shine. As far as finishes that incorporate normal coloration, satin finishes are one of the more interesting wrap finishes, and they are sure an aesthetic upgrade to normal gloss or even matte finishes. 

Carbon Fiber

Carbon fiber wraps are designed to mimic true carbon fiber body panels, and they even have carbon fiber woven into the wrap. These are popular when fitting partial wraps to hoods, roofs, and mirrors. 

Textured

Textured wraps are the most interesting appearance enhancers of any option. Camouflage, forest-themed, diamond plating, and many others are available. 

Car Wrap and Paint: Time Considerations

Wraps are the clear winner in the time category. The larger the area to be wrapped, the longer it will generally take to install. But, it should be noted that the car needs to be in good, clean condition to shorten the time even further. If the installer has to do this themselves, the process will take longer. The entire process, once the vehicle is completely prepared, can take anywhere between one and three days.

Unlike wraps that do not need to dry, car paint, regardless of the type, usually takes several days to dry after the application process. Urethane paints dry quicker than acrylics because they use a hardener that helps speed up the process, but to say that it happens quickly is simply comparative to other types of paint.  

Car Wrap Cost

Wraps also have a slight advantage over paint in the cost department because of less intensive preparation and application methods.

Wrapping costs will vary depending on the size of the vehicle – more wrap equals more material and labor. Simple, small full wraps can be as little as $2,000 with partial wraps costing less depending on what is being wrapped. Larger vehicles with full wrap installation can cost up to $5,000.  

Car Paint Cost

Full repaints can be just as expensive. That being said, DIY and cheap paint jobs can cost only a few hundred dollars. This may sound great, even compared to wraps, but a good quality paint job at a reputable shop will more often cost between $2,000 and $5,000. Additionally, paint booths and other specialized equipment are used for professional repaints. 

Learn More: How Much Paint to Paint a Car?

Car Wrap and Paint: Durability

The prize again goes to wrap in the durability competition. The main reason for this is that it is already functioning as a protective layer over your vehicle’s paint and its lamination serves as a protective barrier. But, where paint chips, and why a wrap is considered to be more durable than paint, a wrap can also tear under the right circumstances. 

Both are affected by elements. Wraps usually need to be replaced every two to ten years, depending on the initial installation quality, wrap quality, and environmental conditions. Paint can fade just as quickly and chips easier than wraps tear. A big factor in general durability is the care given to a vehicle’s appearance. Paint and vinyl wraps can last for a long time if taken care of.

Other Considerations and Miscellaneous Factors

There are three other significant factors to consider between wrapping and painting: removal, upkeep, and appearance (subjective).

Potential Removal

For what each costs, it is not common for those who repaint or wrap their vehicles to change their mind and revert their decision. Wraps are supposed to peel off a surface without damaging existing paint, and even though this can happen, it does not always work out that way. Fortunately, rewrapping or installing a different wrap is much less complicated than repainting your newly-repainted car. 

Upkeep

Generally speaking, vehicle wraps do not require more or less maintenance or different washing practices than paint. The same rules apply to both: Handwashing is best practice - like the two bucket wash - automatic car washes that utilize brushes should be avoided, and a pH neutral car wash shampoo is preferred to one that uses harsh chemicals.

Appearance

For as much as vehicle wraps have evolved over the years, there is nothing that comes close to the authentic appearance of a high-quality paint job, regardless of what type of paint you use.

Final Thoughts

Having to choose between repainting your vehicle and having it wrapped is becoming harder and harder since wraps have come so far and are still gaining popularity. Generally speaking, wraps cost less, are more durable, and take less time to install than a repaint. Wraps also provide more appearance options and allow for simple color changes, but paint still provides the best overall appearance for those who want the most visually appealing, pure color.

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  • Editorial Credit: Wirestock / Depositphotos.com
Richard Reed
I've been a General Manager of a moving company and I've also been a Professional Mover for over 30 years. I've driven flat beds, reefers, dropdecks, moving vans, heavy machinery, etc. In my time as a Mover I've driven over 1,000,000 safe miles. My days of moving and driving truck are past me but The Vehicle Lab allows me to share the knowledge I've gained over the past 40 years.
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