Instructions for applying touch-up paint using a spray can

If using touch-up spray paint for your vehicle, make sure you read this guide first. This includes steps, aftercare instructions, safety tips, and everything else you need to know before you get started.

Safety Information

Automotive spray paints are extremely hazardous, so please read this section in full to avoid accidents.

  • Keep the product away from children
  • Call a physician immediately if the product is swallowed, or comes in contact with eyes
  • Keep the spray cans out of direct sunlight and temperatures above 120F
  • Do NOT use the product near an open flame, or any source of sparks
  • Avoid storing the product in a car
  • Keep the product out of freezing temperatures
  • Use the product in a well-ventilated area
  • If you experience dizziness, stop using the product immediately and consult a doctor
  • Use a proper mask, safety goggles, and gloves when using the product
  • This product contains chemicals that may cause birth defects, cancer and other health problems
  • This product contains hazardous waste, and should be disposed of accordingly. Avoid puncturing the can, incinerating it, or disposing it in a trash compactor.

Don’t be intimidated by this information. We have provided these tips so you are aware of the risks and can avoid getting into a potentially dangerous situation. Follow our instructions, and you should be able to use the product safely, without any problems.

General Tips Before You Start

  • Practice somewhere inconspicuous (not on your vehicle) before you tackle the project head-on. Make sure you go through all the steps. Don’t use your vehicle for practice!
  • You won’t find the spray can nozzle attached to the spray can when you receive it. It is intentionally shipped separately. You’ll find the nozzle either in the cap, or in the box. Please attach the nozzle to the can before use.
  • Test the color match before you spray your vehicle. If the color does not match, the clearcoat or primer will not help. You’ll have to either wash it off with automotive lacquer thinner, or sand it off, which is a lot of work, and can cause damage.
  • We recommend wearing an automotive paint respirator, gloves and safety goggles so you don’t get the paint on or inside you.
  • Test for paint compatibility by spraying some paint on an inconspicuous part of the vehicle first. Let it dry fully, and check to see if there’s a reaction.
  • Do not use our spray paint over enamel paint or enamel primer.
  • If painting gas tanks, you’ll need a catalyzed clearcoat, which is available on our website. You can use our base coat on the gas tank, but make sure you follow it up with the catalyzed clearcoat.
  • Avoid spraying the primer, paint or clearcoat in direct sunlight.
  • Don’t spray in a dusty area, or you won’t get a perfect finish.
  • If spraying a plastic, rubber or chrome surface, use an SEM Adhesion Promoter. If you don’t, the paint will likely peel off within a couple months. The SEM Adhesion Promoter will go under the primer, basecoat and clearcoat. If you’re spraying on a surface that’s already been painted, just scuff the area down to give the paint a good surface to bond to.

Steps for Painting

Here’s a quick guide on how to spray paint an area. Please note that you should test off your vehicle first, and do a color and compatibility test to make sure there will be no issues later on.

Step 1

Thoroughly clean the area you will be painting with soap and water, or with wax and grease remover.

Step 2

Scuff the area with wet and dry sandpaper.

Step 3

Check the humidity and temperature. Humidity levels shouldn’t be upwards of 50%, and the temperature shouldn’t exceed 80F. You’ll get this information with a quick Google search.

Step 4

Spray on even wet coats of the basecoat. If there are any imperfections, you can wet sand the final coat. Two wet coats are usually enough. Allow each coat to dry for 20 minutes before the next layer. Some colors may require more paint.

Step 5

Make sure the basecoat is dry to the touch before you apply the clearcoat. Spray the clearcoat beyond the basecoat to a proper stopping point, such as the edge of the panel. This is important so the finished surface looks even. Two wet coats should be enough.

Step 6

Let the clearcoat dry for a couple days (three days minimum). While you wait, test the rubbing compound on an inconspicuous area for surface compatibility and shine. After the clearcoat has dried, use rubbing compound to smooth and shine the area. Apply it with a soft, clean cotton cloth – dirty fabrics or paper products can scratch the paint surface. This step is important if you want a good, shiny surface.


Spray nozzle

Using a nozzle from another product can puncture the plunger system and cause damage, rendering the can useless. So do not swap nozzles!


Make sure the ambient temperature is between 50-80F. 70 degrees is ideal. If the weather is too hot, the paint can dry before it reaches the vehicle, resulting in a rough, uneven surface. Practicing is essential so you can see how quickly the different layers will dry.

Paint compatibility

If you’ve had your car painted at an inexpensive paint shop (think Earl Schieb or Maaco) within the last two years, our paint may lift yours. If you aren’t sure, always test on a small area first and check for any lifting.

Humidity test

Do not apply the paint if humidity levels are above 50%. Usually a Google search will tell you the current humidity level in your area, but you can test it by spraying some clearcoat and watching how it dries. If it dries with streaks or a whitish haze, it’s too humid to paint.


Before you apply the product, you need to check for rust. We’re talking about rust on a surface scratch – not rust that’s literally bubbling up under the paint. If you have the latter, you’re too far gone for our products to help!

If you see any traces of rust, use a 220 grit sandpaper or wire brush to remove it. Then use our One Step Rust Converter on the bare metal surface. Next, you will need body filler or lacquer putty (unless the scratch is shallow) to even out the surface. Apply primer, while being careful you don’t sand off the rust converter.


Any unpainted surface (bare metal, plastic or rubber) needs primer. This is very important, because primer is what makes the paint stick to an unpainted surface. Avoid using enamel primer, because it isn’t compatible with our products.

Primer can be used on unpainted surfaces, existing paint (as long as it’s been sanded), and over body filler. Use it to build up scratched areas or to cover up small imperfections so you have a smooth surface to paint on. If the scratch is deep, you should use lacquer putty, which you’ll find on our website, and at most auto parts stores. Apply the putty in several thin coats to slowly build up the surface, and then use a coat of primer on top.

Primer can shrink a little, so let it dry according to the instructions on the product, and apply several coats. Make sure you let it dry overnight.

SEM Adhesion Promoter

If spraying on a non-metal surface like rubber or chrome, make sure you use this product. If you don’t, the paint will peel off within a couple months.

Start by sanding the area till it’s smooth, and applying a layer of SEM Adhesion Promoter to the area you’ll be painting (including the area where you’ll be applying clearcoat). Apply a light coat first, and let it dry for 5 minutes. Then apply a wet coat and let it sit for 15 minutes. Wait till it no longer looks wet (no longer than 30 minutes), and then apply a topcoat. Follow this with primer, basecoat and clearcoat.

Remember that the SEM Adhesion Promoter should be applied before primer and any of the other layers.

Watch out for drips!

You’re spraying the final coat, and suddenly a big, fat drop falls off the can and smack onto the middle of your work. Don’t wipe it off! You’ll make everything worse. The best thing to do in this situation is to let the paint dry, and then wet sand the drip and re-coat the area. To prevent drips, try wrapping the can with a rag, and regularly check the nozzle and can for excess paint build up.

More Information

Spray can information

Our spray cans are 12 ounces each, and can cover an area of about four square feet, with two wet coats. This means you can guesstimate how many cans you’ll be needing by figuring out a rough idea of the square footage you’ll be painting. We recommend blending the paint into the next panel for a more natural effect – especially if you’re using metallic paints. Remember to not spray heavy coats, or so little that it dries before it reaches the surface. Practice away from your vehicle first, to get comfortable with the process.

Clean and protect the area

Clean the area you’ll be painting with soap and water, and then use a wax and grease remover (or tar and insect remover). You can use automotive masking tape around the scratch to avoid marring the painted surface.


If you need to sand an area, first clean it properly, and then sand it using a 600 grit sandpaper. If you’ll be spraying an entire panel, decide how far you’ll be painting, and scuff that entire area. The area where you’ll be spraying only clearcoat doesn’t need sanding.

Paint spraying technique

We recommend the use of automotive masking tape to protect against overspray. Use a tack rag to pick up any dirt or foreign matter on the surface. Spray even, overlapping coats – the painted area should be evenly wet, without dry spots. If there are any imperfections, you can sand them out later.

Let the basecoat dry for 20 minutes, and then apply a second coat. Let this layer dry overnight, and then wet sand the area using 1000 grit sandpaper (wet and dry) to get rid of any dust that may have settled on the surface after painting. Then spray on a final coat, but don’t sand it. Let the paint dry completely, and then apply clearcoat.

Usually, paint will dry overnight. However, if the temperature’s not within the recommended range, drying can take significantly longer.

Paint to an edge

Once you’ve painted the scratched area, slowly feather the paint out on either side to blend it in with the surface. Professional repairers often paint to a solid boundary like the end of the panel so they don’t have a visible paint line. You can either do that, or feather the paint out like we suggested.

Spraying metallic paints

For best results, blend the paint into the surrounding area (or the adjacent panel). Note that metallic paints are slightly different, so if you apply too much paint or don’t wait long enough between coats, the metallic flakes in the paint can become uneven. Spray the final coat a little farther away from the surface, so the metallic flakes are distributed as evenly as possible. The distance will depend on the temperature, humidity and on the color you’re using, so always practice first!

Spraying the clearcoat

Make sure the basecoat is dry to the touch before you apply clearcoat. Shake the can well, and then spray over the paint. Don’t use clearcoat in direct sunlight, or on a surface that’s warm from the sun. Let the surface cool down first, or you’ll end up with a dull finish.

Let the clearcoat dry overnight. It may take a little longer if the temperature is below 70 degrees. If you see any imperfections, wet sand them out with 1000 grit sandpaper, before applying a final clearcoat. Let this layer dry for three days before using rubbing compound to smooth and shine the area.

Note: You can lighten or darken the paint by adjusting the distance while spraying clearcoat. To lighten the paint, hold the can further away, and vice-versa. This doesn’t always work with certain colors, and will take a bit of practice.

Spraying clearcoat to an edge

We recommend spraying the clearcoat farther out than the paint – usually to the end of the panel. This is important because if you stop in the middle of a panel, you’ll probably leave behind a noticeable line.

Waxing and washing your vehicle

You can wash your vehicle after the paint is dry. Wait 30 days after painting before you wax your vehicle.

Using your own spray gun

Only use your own equipment if you have professional knowledge. Our products are all ready to spray and don’t need thinner. However, we really don’t recommend this for DIY folks.

Equipment for water-based paints

There are special spray guns designed for water-based paints, but you can just use a solvent spray gun, if you have one handy.

2 oz. size

If you purchased the 2 oz. product or are using a Preval Spray Gun, you’ll need a little automotive lacquer thinner. Make sure you use automotive lacquer thinner, and not regular lacquer thinner sold at Home Depot! Also avoid using old thinner – if it’s more than a couple months old, you can use it for cleanup or prep, but avoid using it to thin the paint.

Only the 2 oz. primer, basecoat, midcoat and clearcoat need to be thinned. Use them in a 1:1 ratio. If the paint seems too thin, add more paint (and add more lacquer thinner if it’s too thick).

Electro Deposit Primer (EDP)

In the 1960s, paint jobs didn’t do a good enough job of coating the metal surface and protecting it against corrosion. EDP is applied electrically, much like a plating process. It provides excellent rust resistance and completely covers the surface. To prepare this product for paint, lightly scuff the surface.

Using the Catalyzed Basecoat Spray Cans

This product requires activation. Please use the red button to activate the product before spraying.

We recommend that non-professionals avoid using this product. Only use the Catalyzed Basecoat Spray Can if you’re a professional auto body repairer, because this product is very tricky to use, and you’re likely to make mistakes. Make sure you read the safety instructions carefully before use, and use a full respirator, skin protection, and a paint booth as the paint is quite toxic.

Let the product dry thoroughly before recoating. Ideally you should wait at least two days before applying the next coat, which will give the solvents enough time to evaporate. Once the paint is dry, wetsand with 1000 grit sandpaper, and then recoat. Do not apply clearcoat on top, as it may react with the paint.

Using the Catalyzed Clearcoat Spray Cans

This product requires activation. Please use the red button to activate the product before spraying.

This product dries shiny, and doesn’t need polishing. Make sure you follow the warnings stated in the section above, because it is dangerous. Only use this product if you are a professional.

Using Tri-Coats

If a product has “Tri-coat” in the description, you’ll need to go through three different steps to achieve the correct color. Don’t get worried if you don’t see the right color immediately!

First, you need to apply the basecoat, which is the main color coat. Let it dry for at least a couple hours. Next, apply the midcoat. The midcoat bottle will have a check by the word ‘midcoat’ or a #2. This layer should be applied very thinly – practice first! Finally, apply clearcoat to achieve the final color.

Always apply the basecoat first, and apply the midcoat a little farther out. It’s a good idea to coat the entire panel with clearcoat, so you don’t leave behind a paint line.

Using the Rubbing Compound

This step is highly important, because rubbing compound is what creates that deep gloss in the clearcoat. Let the clearcoat dry for at least a couple days, and then use the rubbing compound. Make sure you use rubbing compound only, and not polishing compound. Also make sure you avoid using a heavy-duty rubbing compound, because it can dull the surface instead of making it shine. A medium-duty product is ideal.

To apply the rubbing compound, use a soft, clean cloth like an old T-shirt. Avoid using paper towels or napkins, as the wood fibers will likely scratch the paint surface! Put a small amount of rubbing compound on the painted surface, and spread it using circular strokes, applying even pressure. It feels rather like waxing, except the rubbing compound is sort of like a fine liquid sandpaper.

Use a clean cloth to buff the surface to a high gloss. We recommend trying it out off your vehicle first. Sometimes you may need to apply quite a bit of pressure to get a good shine. The product can also be applied by a machine in such a case, but you’ll need to be super careful, because it’s easy to burn the finish – and you certainly don’t want that! Just do it by hand – it’ll take longer, but you’ll get there.

The rubbing compound is great at removing oxidation from your finish. Let the paint dry for 30 days, and then apply a high-quality automotive wax.

Troubleshooting Problems with Shine

If you’re using a dark colored paint, the repaired area may look hazy or scratched. If this happens, you can either buy some automotive polishing compound and use this to shine the surface, or you can go to a car detailer’s place and have them power polish the area.

Usually, this problem occurs when you use too much pressure while applying the rubbing compound. The rubbing compound is equal to using 1500 grit sandpaper, and if you use enough force, it will scratch the paint surface. We’ve said it a couple times before, and we’ll say it again – practice off your vehicle! Your car isn’t meant to experiment on!

If you have poor or no shine, here are some possible causes (and remedies):

  • You may not have applied enough clearcoat. If you polish off the clearcoat, you’ll end up buffing the basecoat, which will not shine. To fix this problem, apply more clearcoat, and polish the area again.
  • You’re using heavy-duty rubbing compound, or polishing compound. The former will dull the finish, and the latter will just do nothing. To fix the problem, you may have to apply more clearcoat, and then use medium-duty rubbing compound.
  • You’re dealing with too big an area, and polishing it by hand isn’t feasible. In this case, go to a car detailer’s place and have them compound the area. You can also use a power buffer, but we don’t recommend this for non-professionals, because you can burn the finish.
  • You’ve used a paper product, a dirty cloth, a cloth with grit in it, or a terry cloth towel to apply the rubbing compound. Use something like an old T-shirt instead.
  • You may have forgotten to apply clearcoat! This has happened enough times to be a common problem. Your car’s surface will not shine no matter how much rubbing compound you apply, if there’s no clearcoat. To fix the problem, apply clearcoat, and then use the rubbing compound.
  • If you see a whitish haze or white streaks through the clearcoat, you applied the product during high humidity. To fix this issue, wait for the humidity to come down, then scuff the surface, apply more basecoat, and then reapply the clearcoat.
  • If you see spidery veins through the paint, it means you either sprayed from too far away, or the temperature is too hot (causing the paint to dry before it hits the surface). Fix this problem by getting a little closer to the surface, and applying the paint when the temperature is below 80 degrees.