Adding Metal Flake to Single Stage Paint

Single stage paints provide color and gloss in one product, unlike basecoat/clearcoat systems which separate color from gloss and protection. Though less common today, single stage enamels and urethanes are still used for their simplicity and cost-effectiveness. While these paints can certainly sparkle on their own, adding metal flake takes their shine to the next level.

metal flake to single stage paint

What is Metal Flake?

Metal flake refers to tiny flat pieces of aluminum added to paints and coatings. Ranging from 0.0015” to 0.008” in size, metal flakes reflect and refract light to produce a brilliant sparkling effect. They are available in different shapes like standard square flake, diamond flake, hex flake, and more. The different shapes and sizes combine to provide more depth and brilliance.

Metal flake adds a striking, mirror-like sparkle that makes paints really stand out. Metal flake paints are eye-catching and dynamic, from custom cars and hot rods to concept vehicles. The flakes make the color appear deeper while glistening as you move around the painted object.

Benefits of Adding Metal Flake

Here are some of the benefits you can get from adding metal flake to single stage paint:

  • Creates a brilliant, glistening metallic effect
  • Adds visual depth to solid color paints
  • Allows customization and creativity in paint jobs
  • Wide range of color shifting and sparkling effects
  • Can be mixed into clearcoats or single stage paints
  • Provides a striking, show-quality appearance
  • Enhances basecoat colors when used in a mid-coat
  • Used from hot rods and customs to modern show cars

Metal flake takes ordinary paints from mundane to spectacular. Just a small amount creates ample sparkle and flash. It’s perfect for making your ride stand out!

How to Add Metal Flake to Single Stage Paint

Adding metal flake to single stage paint is straightforward but does take some care. Here is a step-by-step process:

Supplies Needed

  • Single stage paint (urethane or enamel)
  • Metal flake (sizer and shape of your choice)
  • Measuring spoons
  • Mixing sticks
  • Mixing cups
  • Paint mixing drill attachment
  • Paint strainers

Mixing Process

  1. Determine how much paint you will need for your project and mix as usual. Mix complete kits rather than partial mixes to maintain chemistry is best.
  2. For every 8 ounces of paint, add 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of metal flake. For more sparkle, use up to 2 teaspoons per 8 ounces.
  3. Always add the flake to the paint, not the other way around. This prevents clumping.
  4. Using the drill mixer on low speed, thoroughly mix the flake into the paint. Increase speed slowly to avoid kicking up flakes. Mix for 2-3 minutes.
  5. Pass the mixed paint through a paint strainer to catch any undesirables.
  6. Test spray a sample to ensure even sparkle distribution and richness. Adjust mix if needed.
  7. Spray the paint as normal following manufacturer guidelines. Apply in even coats and allow proper flash times between coats.

And that’s it! With just a few simple steps you can easily create a brilliant metal flake single stage paint.

Tips for Spraying Metal Flake Paint

Here are some handy tips to get the most out of metal flake single stage paint:

  • Always strain the paint before spraying to catch clumps. Strain again after sitting.
  • Apply light even coats to build up. Heavier coats can lead to uneven sparkle.
  • Allow proper flash time between coats, up to 10 minutes. Rushing can cause solvent popping.
  • Use lower air pressure, around 40 psi. High pressure blows flakes unevenly.
  • Reduce layers and flash time in cooler temps. Flake sinks faster with warmer paint.
  • Stir paint frequently when spraying. Flake settles fast so keep it suspended.
  • Spray from multiple angles to ensure even flake alignment and color depth.

Following these tips will help you lay down a smooth sparkling paint job with brilliant effects. Take your time and don’t rush the process. The results will be well worth it!

Single Stage vs Clearcoat with Metal Flake

While metal flake single stage paints shine, they don’t quite have the brilliant sparkle achieved by adding flake over a basecoat then clearcoating. Here is a comparison:

Single Stage

  • Flakes reflect from within paint film
  • Some muting of effect by paint pigments
  • Gloss but not ultra high reflectivity
  • Simple one product system
  • Less coats to apply


  • Flakes reflect through clear top layer
  • Ultra reflective and refractive brilliance
  • Basecoat color amplifies flake effect
  • Multiple products must be applied
  • Longer process with more coats

The choice depends on the specific project. For budget builds or simpler paint jobs, single stage with flake offers ease of use and cost savings while providing great shine. For over the top sparkle and depth, a basecoat/clearcoat process truly makes the metal flake explode with eye-popping effects.

Alternatives to Metal Flake

While metal flake reigns supreme, some other additives can also impart sparkle:

  • Pearls – Finely ground mica coated with titanium dioxide. Provide a color shifting shimmer.
  • Diamond Dust – Microscopic synthetic diamonds. Add a bright sparkling effect.
  • Glass Beads – Crushed glass ground into fine beads. Provide a lustrous sparkling effect.

These can work in single stage paints but really shine when coated over a base color with clearcoat. They are subtler than metal flake but still add excellent visual richness.

Maintaining Metal Flake Paint

Metal flake paint requires some specific care to keep its dazzling looks:

  • Use a mild car wash soap. Avoid harsh detergents.
  • Rinse well and dry with a soft microfiber cloth to avoid scratches.
  • Wax regularly with a carnauba-based wax. This enhances shine.
  • Avoid automated car washes. Brushes can scratch the delicate flakes.
  • Touch up stone chips immediately to prevent rust underneath.
  • Polish very gently if needed to remove oxidation. Start with least aggressive polish.

With proper care, metal flake paint can maintain its incredible visual impact for years on end. It’s an investment worth protecting.

Spectacular Effects for Any Project

The brilliance and visual depth metal flake adds to paint is simply stunning. While it looks incredible in clearcoats, metal flake can also impart excellent shine, sparkle, and pop to single stage paints. With just a bit of care in mixing and application, you can create a head-turning, one of a kind paint job that makes your project gleam.

Choosing the Right Metal Flake

Metal flake comes in various sizes, shapes, and colors to create different effects. Here are some of the most common types:

Flake Sizes

  • 0.0015” – Extremely fine flake provides subtle sparkle
  • 0.004” – Small flake provides good sparkle and spreadability
  • 0.008” – Large flake for brilliant sparkle but harder to spray

Larger flakes up to 0.015″ are used but harder to mix and spray out. Various combinations of sizes can be blended.

Flake Shapes

  • Standard square flake- The classic shape provides even sparkle
  • Diamond flake – Catches more light for brighter flash
  • Hex flake – Provides a unique six-sided sparkle
  • Specialty shapes – Stars, circles, and more for custom effects

Flake Colors

  • Silver – Bright white sparkle, works with any color
  • Holographic – Spectrum shift effect, stunning over dark colors
  • Colored – Gold, red, blue, green, copper and more
  • Iridescent – Color shifts depending on viewing angle

Consider the overall look you want to achieve when choosing flake. Brighter isn’t always better. Subtle flake can provide an elegant shimmer.

Applying Metal Flake for Maximum Impact

While mixing the flakes into paint is important, application is equally critical for eye-catching results:

  • On solid colors, spray flakes in between coats to help bury them. This prevents the rough feel of exposed flakes.
  • When applying over artwork or graphics, spray flakes only after all coats are applied. Burying them distorts details.
  • Apply flakes throughout several mid-coat layers for depth. Too many in one coat looks unnatural.
  • Use an airbrush to place flakes in specific areas instead of overall accurately. Creates more visual interest.
  • Maximize alignment by spraying all passes in the same direction. This creates intense refracted sparkle.
  • Try different spray patterns – horizontal, vertical, cross hatching. Each provides a different effect.
  • Embed larger flakes by applying pressure when spraying. This helps avoid catching and plucking.

With testing and experience, you’ll learn how to get the flakes just right for incredible dripped, striped, faded and other effects.

Creative Techniques for Custom Paint Jobs

Metal flake opens up many possibilities for wild, custom paint jobs:

  • Ghost flames – Airbrush flakes over a flame pattern after clearcoating for a spectral effect
  • Metalcast – Gradually build flakes from sparse to dense to mimic a molten metal appearance
  • Rainbow fade – Gradually transition colored flakes from one hue to the next for a rainbow effect
  • Rusted metal – Airbrush transparent flakes over rust painted graphics for striking contrast
  • Space scene – Airbrush colored flakes and micro-fine glitter to depict planets, stars and space
  • Flaked flames – Airbrush yellow and red flakes in flame shapes over a black base for a hot rod look

Let creativity be your guide. From simple fades to complex airbrushed artwork, metal flake offers unlimited ways to customize.

Achieving Chrome and Mirror Finishes

For an ultra-reflective chrome or mirror finish, extremely fine 0.0015” metal flake is required. The process requires meticulous prep and application:

  • Start with a jet-black basecoat color free of any flecks or debris.
  • Wet sand basecoat with 2000 grit paper to remove any imperfections before clearcoating.
  • Apply multiple coats of clear allowing 15 minutes between coats to prevent solvent pop.
  • Mix 0.0015” flake into clearcoat according to manufacturer specs. Strain through 400 mesh strainer.
  • Spray thin, even passes to slowly build up flakes, allowing proper flash time between coats. At least 20 coats are required.
  • Finish with 3-5 coats of clear with no flake to smooth and bury. Finer spray droplets help.
  • Wet sand starting at 1500 grit and work up to 12,000 grit for final polish.
  • Use a power polisher and ultra-fine polishing compounds to bring out mirror reflectivity.

The process requires extensive effort but the liquid chrome results are simply stunning.

Protecting Delicate Metal Flake Finishes

While beautiful, metal flake paint finishes are delicate and require extra care:

  • Avoid using automated car washes or brush washing. Use touchless wash only.
  • Rinse cautiously. High pressure water can scrape flakes off.
  • Dry immediately with microfiber towels. Air drying allows water spots.
  • Wax often with carnauba wax to protect from oxidation and dulling.
  • Use gentle paint cleaners designed specifically for delicate finishes. Avoid harsh chemicals.
  • Touch up stone chips ASAP to prevent moisture underneath from corroding flakes.
  • Consider applying a clear bra wrap to protect from stone damage on lead edges.
  • Garage park when possible protect from chips and door dings from other vehicles.

With proper maintenance and care, a metal flake finish can retain its luster for years. It’s worth taking extra precautions.

Common Problems With Metal Flake Paint Jobs

Adding metal flake does take precision in mixing, spraying, and care. Some potential problems include:

  • Poor suspension – Flakes settle quickly and clog filters if not mixed well. Strain thoroughly.
  • Blotching – Thick coats prevent even sparkle. Build up with multiple light passes.
  • Clumping – Wet flakes attract forming clumps. Use a mixer and strainer.
  • Solvent pop – Too much solvent evaporates trapping gas. Allow proper flash times.
  • Dulling – Poor care and maintenance causes flake oxidation. Use carnauba wax.
  • Distortion – Burying large flakes in basecoat or graphics layers smears details.
  • Sparkle muting – Pigments overwhelm flake. Use a lighter hue for base color.
  • Poor adhesion – Proper prep and primer provides good bonding for metal flake coats.

With care and experience, these potential issues can be avoided allowing the flake to really shine.

Achieving Dazzling Effects with Metal Flake

The dazzling, glittery effect of metal flake is captivating and intriguing. On its own or as the crowning touch over elaborate graphics, it makes paint jobs into gleaming works of art. With so many options, there’s an infinite range of looks possible. Even mixed into single stage paints, metal flake retains its brilliance. Follow these tips to take advantage of these special finishes for one of a kind rides that sparkle and shine. Your imagination is the only limit when Working with metal flake!

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