Single Stage Paint vs Clear Coat: Discover the Best

When you’re looking forward to painting your car, you’ll come across a lot of different variations. Some are designed for particular job types, and others are designed to give you the best result possible. When it comes to finishes, there are two options; single stage and clear coat (sometimes called 2K). There are advantages and disadvantages to both, but they don’t work in the same way.

So today, I want to talk about single-stage vs. clear coat paints and what you need to look for when choosing between them. We will start with a little discussion of some general single-stage and clear coat paints, and then we will get into the mechanics of how these systems work.

What Is Single Stage Paint?

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As the name implies, single-stage paint is a one-step painting process utilizing a single component (pigment and binder). Single stage paints do not have a clear coat on top. It was the most prevalent painting system used by car manufactures till the early half of the 20th century.

The 2005 Mini Cooper would be the last mass-produced car painted with single-stage paint. Volvo 240 was the second to last model painted with single-stage black paint.

These days, you’ll usually find them on older vehicles and still see luxury and vintage cars painted in single-stage paints. However, the modern paint manufacturing processes have led to creating more sustainable paint systems like double-stage or basecoat systems.

What Is Clear Coat?

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Clear Coat is a layer of transparent lacquer or enamel applied on the paint’s surface to protect it from chipping, scratching, and fading. A clear coat can be either solvent or water-borne. It is usually sprayed on top of a colored basecoat for imparting a glossy finish.

Clear coat makes the paint more durable and chemically stable enough to withstand UV light. Exterior grade clear coats are utilized for applications where the surface is exposed to sunlight for prolonged periods. Hence, a clear-coated car undergoes a two-stage painting process.

The Transition of Single-Stage Paint to Clear Coat Paint

The automotive industry moved from single-stage paint to the two-component painting system requiring basecoat and clear coat paint since 1994. The automakers introduced the clear coat paint system, which is often termed as double-stage paint and basecoat system interchangeably.

It is a catalyzed type of painting process comprising a mixture of basecoat and clear coats packed into two components. Modern two-stage painting for automobile finishes is done with an acrylic polyurethane enamel as a basecoat and a clear coat.

The Oxidation Process

Both single-stage paint and clear coat paint are prone to oxidation, but the main difference relies on fixing the problem. Because single-stage paint oxidizes on the upper surface without hampering the basecoat paint, it is relatively easy to fix the oxidation of single-stage paint. It only requires sanding the surface and using a fresh layer of paint to fix the single-stage paint’s oxidation.

On the other hand, repairing the oxidation of clear coat paint is difficult and challenging. Because clear coat paint’s oxidation isn’t confined to the surface, removing it from the surface will not repair the damage. You’ll require to re-clear the entire paint and repaint the entire layer.


Single stage paint requires only one coat to get the same durability as a car with a clear coat. Synthetic enamel single-stage paints are known to be very durable and resilient to the sun. Unlike single-stage paints, basecoat is not a catalyst for the formation of clear coat paint. The resin is the catalyst of the clear coat paint, which is why the coating gets thinner and chalkier breaking down the outside element.


The difference between the single-stage paint and clear coat paint in terms of hardness depends on the base catalysts. Single-stage paints can be both soft or hard, and it depends on the pigment and the resin of the product and vice versa for clear coat paints. Let’s dive in with examples.

For example, single-stage white paint contains titanium dioxide, a mineral pigmented basecoat that is very hard. On the other hand, single-stage black paint contains carbon-based black pigment, which is softer compared to white single-stage paint.

Although clear coat paints do not contain any pigment, the general types are harder because of the resin. However, these days, modern clear coat paints are softer than the previous varieties.

The Shine Factor

Single-stage paint does not impart the shine factor that you would get from clear coat paints. However, it is a misconception that single-stage paints are dull because it is preferred, especially for the depth of the pigment. It is easy to lift the dullness by restoring it with an extra layer of new paint.

A clear coat is like a second color on top of pigment for imparting gloss and shine. While it’s often referred to as “clear,” some clear coats can be slightly yellow in color, and they tend to have a hazy appearance, unlike the clarity of the older single-stage paints.

Single Stage Paint Vs. Clear Coat Paint for Polishing

In the case of polishing the single stage paint, applying a clear coat can surely help impart a shine, but it is not a suitable approach for polishing single stage paint. Over time, clear coat paint tends to leave a yellowish pigment that kills off the single-stage paint’s original base color.

Also, applying incompatible clear coat over single-stage paint will be disastrous. A safer option is to go for a 1 stage polish that brings out the richness and the depth of the pigment and also is the best approach to restore the single-stage paint’s shine.

Final Thoughts

It is true that the modern clear coat spray paint is easier for application, fun to paint over, and even will save your money on trading with average customers. However, if you want a durable paint job that won’t fog up or fade, single-stage urethane may be the best choice. That’s because single-stage paints can last for decades with little sign of wear. So, single-stage paint with topcoat/1-stage paint is the best option for creating durable and long-lasting finishes.

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