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Types of Car Window Tint: Your Options Explained

When most people think of window tint, they think of the sports cars zooming around the streets with dark windows to give them a cool look, or they think about the SUVs that come with darker rear windows to keep their children or passengers out of the sun. Window tint is much more than an aesthetic modification since it can also prevent road glare and keep harmful UV rays out of your vehicle, protecting both your passengers and interior.

There are five common types of window tint from which you can choose including a few more that do not truly fall under the tint category. Each has its own benefits and drawbacks. Regardless of whether or not a certain type of tint provides the look that you want, you will also reap the lesser-known benefits that tint can provide.

What is Window Tint?

vehicle window tint

Window tint is a thin film that can be made of different materials that are placed onto the glass of your vehicle, almost like a transparent sticker. Because of this, they are usually easy to apply, they can be fitted to most windows in your vehicle depending on your location's laws, and they can be cut to custom fit each window. 

Most simple window tinting jobs will fall between $300 and $500 depending on the size of the car and the type of tint you want. High-end window tints can be as expensive as $800 when professionally installed, and the most basic window tint can be as little as $50 to $100 if you are adventurous enough to install it yourself. 

Window Tint Laws and Regulations

car window tint percentage

Before you find and install the seemingly perfect type of tint for your needs, it is important to check the laws governing window tint in your area. Window tint is measured in visible light percentage or VLT. The higher the percentage, the lighter the window tint is, and the lower the percentage, the darker it is. The four most common tint percentages are 5%, 20%, 35%, and 50%.

Some states are much stricter on their window tinting regulations than others, but 35% is a good assumed middle ground when it comes to average VLT laws across the United States. Of course, this does not mean that if you install a 35% tint, you can go wherever you want and not get a ticket, but it is a common parameter.

There are also laws concerning which windows you can tint. Many states do not allow windshield tinting while side and rear windows are fair game. Even more than that, many states allow different percentages on different windows within the same vehicle. To avoid potential fines, it is important to do some simple research before spending several hundred dollars on a quality tint job.   

Types of Car Window Tint

There are five commonly found types of window tint available on the market. Each come with their own set of benefits and drawbacks, as well as their own budgetary implications. Additionally, there are two common types of tints that are not considered to be true window tints. 

Dyed

Dyed window tint is the simplest and most inexpensive type of tint available. It is not the best type for UV protection, providing little to none compared to some other types, but it is an easy choice when appearance and privacy are paramount. 

Dyed tints are made by sandwiching a thin dyed film between an adhesive layer that sticks to your window and an outer protective layer that can prevent exterior window damage. Because it is dyed, this type of window tint can be colored the darkest of any other type of tint. 

An additional advantage dyed tint provides is its superior heat-dissipating ability. The dye actually works to absorb heat, but it also fades over time because of the sun's powerful rays. They can be replaced if necessary, and they can last for years, but long-term performance lacks compared to other types. 

Metallic

Metallic tint is named because of the material from which it is made. Instead of a dye layer between the adhesive and protective film layers, there is a layer of microscopic metal material that gives the window a reflective and “shiny” appearance. As a result of its reflectivity, metallic tints are banned altogether in some states. 

Where its reflectivity lets it down, it also provides this type tint of with superior heat blocking ability, and UV blocking ability naturally follows. One other thing metallic tint brings with it is window strength. Because it is a film, window tint can help strengthen glass that breaks by holding it together. Metallic tint does this better than most other tints because of the metal shards from which it is composed. 

Even though this type of tint is generally more expensive than dyed tints, it has the potential to last longer since it does not fade nearly as quickly.

Hybrid

Hybrid window tint provides the best of what dyed and metallic tints can provide since it is a combination of both. It contains metallic particles and dye between its adhesive and protective layer, providing less reflectivity and fading potential while upping the UV protection, heat deterrence, window strength, and privacy levels.

Naturally, hybrid tint tends to be middle-of-the-road when it comes to price, but it can be well worth the higher cost because of its practicality and well-roundedness.

Carbon

Carbon window tints begin the ascension into the high-end tint materials. They are made from microlayers of carbon between the outer film layers, and they come with little to no disadvantages over other types of tint. The biggest, and arguably the only disadvantage they have is cost. Because of their makeup, they can cost two to three times more than cheaper tints. 

Many prize their appearance over other tints, and they will not fade over time. Because they do not contain metal, they are not reflective, and they do not disrupt radio signals like metallic tints can. They are also superior for blocking heat, infrared, and ultraviolet sun rays. As a result of these advantages, many consider carbon tints to be the best type, despite their price tag. 

Ceramic

Ceramic tint is the most expensive and complex tint available, and it comes with most of the advantages that carbon tints come with. The one exception to this is that ceramic tints cannot be colored as dark as some other tints, decreasing privacy, and for some, that all-important cool appearance. 

It provides superior heat protection, UV ray protection, infrared protection, glare resistance, superior visibility, no electronic interference potential, and no exterior reflectivity. Similar to metallic tint, ceramic tint contains ceramic particles between the film layers which help it provide all the advantages it can. 

Miscellaneous Types of Tint

There are few miscellaneous types of window tint that are not considered to be true types of tint. But these too come with their own set of advantages and disadvantages. 

Factory Tint

Factory tint is not considered to be window tint because it does not include any film. Rather, dye is added to the actual glass during the manufacturing process, making it non-removable. It is not designed for enhanced UV protection or heat dissipation. Its main purpose is privacy and usually only comes on SUVs and vans. Normal factory tint can range between 15% and 30% VLT. 

Clear Film/Crystal Tint

Clear or crystal film tells you right off the bat why it is not considered to be a true window tint. Although it is a film that is applied to a window, it does not offer any privacy or aesthetic value since it is not tinted. It does however block heat and UV rays from entering the vehicle. Many people use these films in places where tint is illegal to gain some of the benefits true tint can provide.

Note: There are also several window tint alternatives where legality issues prevent the use of window tint for UV and privacy related issues.

Final Thoughts

Window tint is not just used for aesthetic value. Good window tint can provide heat resistance, UV ray protection, window strengthening characteristics, and privacy while adding a nice appearance to your vehicle. There are plenty of window tint types to choose from with a wide variety of advantages, disadvantages, and associated costs.

Shawn Furman
I have been a vehicle hobbyist for as long as I can remember as well as a freelance writer for the past three and a half years. My clients have included Vehicle Scene, Autolist, CarGurus, and now The Vehicle Lab. In addition to my current clients, I also maintain my own blog where I am able to share my knowledge and experience through vehicle reviews, car-buying guides, how-to guides, and list articles.
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