Carbon fiber hoods are becoming increasingly popular in the automotive world due to their lightweight yet strong properties. Many car enthusiasts love the beautiful, exposed carbon weave look that these hoods provide. However, some may wish to customize or change the look of their carbon fiber hood by painting over the exposed carbon surface.
This raises the question – can you paint over carbon fiber? The short answer is yes, you can paint a carbon fiber hood, but there are some important steps and considerations to do it properly. In this complete guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know about painting carbon fiber hoods, including:
- Can You Paint Over Carbon Fiber?
- Benefits vs. Drawbacks of Painting Carbon Hoods
- Key Preparation Steps Before Painting
- Priming Carbon Fiber for Paint
- Painting Techniques and Process
- Types of Paint for Carbon Fiber
- Clear Coating Over Paint
- Cost to Professionally Paint Carbon Hoods
- Step-by-Step DIY Instructions
Can You Paint Over Carbon Fiber?
While the exposed carbon weave pattern provides an aggressive, racing-inspired look, some car enthusiasts may wish to customize the look of their carbon fiber hood with a coat of paint. The good news is that it is entirely possible to paint directly over carbon fiber.
The exposed carbon surface has a glossy resin or epoxy clear coat over the fibers to provide protection and a smooth finish. This clear coat over the carbon fiber provides a paintable surface, allowing standard automotive paints to adhere to the hood.
So while carbon fiber is not inherently paintable on its raw fibers, the protective clear coat layer gives the ability to apply paint through normal preparation and application techniques. With proper prep work, nearly any high quality automotive paint can be used to refinish a carbon fiber part.
Benefits vs. Drawbacks of Painting Carbon Hoods
Benefits of Painting Carbon Fiber Hoods:
- Allows for complete customization of color and finish
- Can color match hood to the rest of the car’s paint job
- Provides options beyond the limited clear coat carbon colors
- Paint can hide any scratches, defects or damage on the existing clear coat
- Gives a uniform, smooth surface vs. the visible carbon weave texture
Drawbacks of Painting Carbon Fiber Hoods:
- Adds extra weight compared to exposed carbon fiber
- Can minimize the high-tech carbon look that some prefer
- Carbon weave pattern may still be slightly visible under light or thin paint
- Paint may chip or scratch over time, revealing carbon underneath
- Proper preparation and painting takes time and care to do correctly
Many car enthusiasts compromise by painting only portions of the hood while leaving some exposed carbon fiber accents. This provides the benefits of customization while still retaining some of the lightweight carbon performance appeal.
Key Preparation Steps Before Painting Carbon Fiber
As with any automotive paint job, proper preparation of the surface is crucial before applying paint. Follow these key steps to prep a carbon fiber hood for paint:
Cleaning and Degreasing
Thoroughly clean and degrease the entire surface first. Use a wax and grease remover or degreasing chemical cleaner to remove any dirt, oil or other contaminants. This allows the paint to properly adhere.
Lightly scuff up the clear coat layer over the carbon fiber using 600-800 grit sandpaper. This roughens up the slick surface to provide some tooth for the paint. Be very careful not to sand through the clear coat into the actual carbon fibers, as this will damage the hood.
Clean the sanded surface once more with a wax and grease remover then wipe down with a tack cloth for a contaminant-free surface.
Proper preparation removes any gloss or smoothness from the clear coat so the new paint can grab on. But take care not to damage the actual carbon fiber underneath.
Priming Carbon Fiber for Paint
After prepping the surface, the next step is to apply a primer coat to the carbon fiber hood before painting.
Primers provide an improved base layer for paint adhesion on slick surfaces like carbon fiber clear coats. The tooth of the primer allows the paint to bond tightly.
For carbon fiber specifically, an epoxy primer formulated for plastic and fiberglass works best for maximum adhesion.
Apply 2-3 coats of epoxy primer, allowing proper dry time between coats. This gives a uniform base for the paint to stick to.
Painting Techniques and Process for Carbon Hoods
When it comes time to actually paint over carbon fiber, there are several techniques and tips to do it properly:
Spray Painting vs. Brushing
Applying paint by spraying generally provides a much smoother, more uniform finish compared to brush painting. The fine mist from an automotive paint spray gun coats all the pores and contours of the uneven carbon weave for full coverage.
Multiple thin coats from spray painting build up to create a flawless look compared to thick, brushed on paint. So spray painting is preferred whenever possible.
Use Thin, Even Coats
Rather than applying one thick, wet coat of paint all at once, use several thinner coats applied evenly to build up the paint layer by layer. Allow proper drying time between coats.
Thin coats minimize dripping or pooling in the carbon fiber pores for smoother results. 4-6 thin coats are ideal.
Flexible Paint Formulas
Because carbon fiber expands and contracts with temperature changes, use a flexible urethane paint rather than enamels or lacquers which may crack. Urethane flexes well with the carbon hood.
Darker Colors Hide Carbon Pattern Better
If wanting to completely hide the visible carbon fiber pattern, darker color paints do the best job fully concealing the lightweight material underneath.
Lighter colors or whites may still slightly show the faint outline of fibers, requiring extra coats for full opacity.
So if the carbon weave absolutely must be hidden, use a darker primer and paint color combination.
Types of Paint for Carbon Fiber
These popular automotive paint types all work well for painting over carbon fiber:
- Urethane paints – Flexible single stage or clear coat paints that resist cracking. Popular for carbon and fiberglass.
- Enamel paints – Offer gorgeous glossy finishes but are less flexible than urethanes. Need extra care for prep and application.
- Acrylic lacquers – Easy to apply and fast drying but not quite as durable as urethanes or enamels.
- Epoxy primers – Provide maximum adhesion to slick carbon clear coats for paint bonding.
For best results, consult a body shop about paint brands formulated specifically for carbon fiber, fiberglass, or plastic materials.
Clear Coating Over Paint on Carbon Fiber
After the colored base coats of paint have been applied, always finish the hood with 2-3 coats of high quality clear coat. The clear coat protects the fresh paint from scratches, UV rays, road debris, and chemical stains.
A clear coat also provides a shiny, glossy “wet look” to the paint. Use an automotive grade clear like urethane that is flexible and resistant to yellowing over time.
Taking the extra step to clear coat the painted carbon hood ensures the beautiful, custom paint job will last for many years.
Cost to Professionally Paint a Carbon Fiber Hood
If choosing to have a body shop or painter professionally refinish a carbon fiber hood, costs typically range from:
- $200 – $400 for a basic single stage paint job
- $300 – $600 for a full clear coated paint job
This can vary based on:
- Paint colors used (metallics or pearls cost more)
- Location and body shop rates
- Amount of prep work needed
- Whether graphics or designs are painted
DIY painting costs significantly less in materials only, but requires the right equipment, space, and skill.
Step-by-Step DIY Instructions for Painting Carbon Hoods
With some basic tools and supplies, painting a carbon hood yourself can be a fun DIY project. Here is the complete process from start to finish:
- Wax and grease remover
- 600-800 grit sandpaper
- Tack cloths
- Epoxy primer
- Automotive paint in your color choice
- Clear coat
- Spray gun or paint sprayer
- Respirator and protective gear
Step 1 – Thoroughly Clean and Degrease
Use a wax and grease remover to clean the entire carbon fiber surface of any oil, dirt or contaminants so the paint adheres well.
Step 2 – Sand the Clear Coat
Gently scuff up the glossy clear coat over the carbon with 600-800 grit sandpaper. This roughens the surface for paint bonding.
Step 3 – Wipe Down with a Tack Cloth
Give the sanded surface a final cleaning with grease remover then wipe off any remaining dust or debris with a tack cloth.
Step 4 – Apply Epoxy Primer
Use an automotive epoxy primer formulated for carbon fiber and liberally apply 2-3 coats according to the directions, allowing proper drying time between coats. This gives the paint something to grab onto.
Step 5 – Spray on Paint in Thin Coats
Using a paint spray gun or automotive paint sprayer, apply about 4-6 thin, even coats of urethane or acrylic paint allowing proper flash time between coats. Thin coats prevent sagging and result in a smooth finish.
Step 6 – Allow Paint to Fully Cure
Give the paint several days to a week to fully cure before clear coating or handling the hood. Check manufacturer instructions for minimum cure times.
Step 7 – Apply Clear Coat
Finish with 2-3 coats of a high quality clear coat for gloss and protection, again using thin coats. Allow to cure completely.
Step 8 – Reinstall Hood
Once fully cured, the painted carbon fiber hood can be reinstalled on the vehicle. Handle with care as fresh paint is fragile until fully hardened.
Step 9 – Admire Your Work!
Stand back and admire the custom painted carbon fiber hood! Follow proper care and maintenance to keep the finish looking fresh.
Painting carbon fiber can seem intimidating, but taking the proper preparation and application steps results in a beautiful, custom colored carbon weave hood. Use high quality automotive grade supplies and envision the finished product ahead of time.
Protecting and Caring for Painted Carbon Fiber
Once the paint work is complete, taking measures to protect and care for the finish helps keep it looking fresh:
- Use a paint protection film to shield from stone chips and debris
- Wax regularly with carnauba wax to protect from sun, chemicals and scratches
- Be very careful not to scratch or chip the paint when working under the hood
- Avoid using abrasive cleaners or polishes
- Touch up any paint chips or scratches quickly to avoid exposing carbon fibers
- Wash regularly using automotive car wash soap only
Look for car care products developed specifically for carbon fiber and painted carbon parts. Avoid harsh chemicals or scrubbing to preserve the quality paint job.
Can You Remove Paint from Carbon Fiber?
If wanting to take a painted carbon part back to its original exposed carbon look, paint stripper chemicals can be used remove all traces of paint.
However, use extreme caution when using paint stripping products on carbon fiber, as they can damage the epoxy if left on too long. Do several test spots first. Non-chemical methods may be safer alternatives.
It’s best to only paint a carbon hood if intending for it to stay painted. Removing paint can be tedious and risks harming the actual carbon underneath if not done properly.
Maintaining Exposed Carbon Fiber
For those wishing to enjoy the exposed carbon look, it simply needs regular washing, waxing, and polishing to maintain the finish:
- Use automotive car wash soap and microfiber towels, being gentle to avoid scratches
- Wax with a carnauba or polymer wax to protect from UV rays
- Carefully polish out any fine scratches using a plastic polish
- Avoid using any harsh chemicals or abrasive cleaners
- Touch up clear coat chips with specialty carbon fiber clear pens
The exposed carbon fiber’s natural look just needs basic care to keep it looking sharp. Avoid painting it at all to enjoy the beautiful carbon weave pattern.
Painting over carbon fiber is certainly possible with the right steps taken. A proper paint job allows for complete customization of a carbon hood to match any build. Just be aware of the extra preparation required compared to painting traditional materials.
Focus on careful surface prep, high quality paints and primers, proper spray application, and a protective clear coat finish. With some patience and care, a carbon hood can be painted to match any car build’s unique style.
Or, the exposed carbon look can be maintained through regular washing and waxing if preferring to showcase the exotic carbon material itself. Either way, carbon fiber hoods are an awesome upgrade for tuner cars looking to shed weight and add style.