Car Wrap Vs Paint – Which Should You Choose, and Why?

When you see a car, what’s the first thing you think about? Some of you may only notice the make and model, but most of us will also notice the color and any other distinguishing features.

Do you know the difference car wrap and paint can make to the look of a vehicle?

There are only so many small aesthetic modifications you can make, but paint or a wrap can make a HUGE difference.

Man applying a bronze colored wrap to the exterior of a car

In this article, we take a detailed look at and weigh out the pros and cons of car wrap vs. paint.

For those of you who are unsure of the definition, we also include a section on what car wrap is.

Most importantly, we advise as to when one option is more suitable than the other.

What is a Car Wrap?

A car wrap is an aftermarket covering that’s applied over your car’s paint. You can have it installed over selected panels or small sections, or more commonly the entire vehicle.

The core material of choice for this type of coating is vinyl. This group of compounds is commonly used to make similar industrial products — for example, sheeting, plastic film, floor coverings, etc.

It’s typically in the form of polyvinyl chloride, known as PVC. Visually, you shouldn’t be able to differentiate between the PVC and automotive paint.

The film is made to be flexible yet durable. It can be manufactured in the texture and color of your choice.

A rigid coat wouldn’t fit your car’s contours, and if it’s too lightweight, it won’t last for long out on the roads in all kinds of weather. It’s often treated with additives to protect it from natural wear and shrinking.

The vinyl wrap is attached to the body of your vehicle by way of an adhesive. If it’s done correctly, neither the adhesive nor the covering should cause any damage.

Your vehicle’s bumpers and headlights might have to be taken off during installation. If you want to avoid this, ask if there’s a less invasive option. The vinyl can be cut or sanded around protruding parts for a perfect fit.

Your car’s paint job will remain intact underneath. This is essential as these coatings aren’t designed to be permanent.

When you spot a car plastered in advertisements, it’s probably wrapped. This allows the owner to customize as needed without committing to the design for life.

What are the Advantages of Car Wrap?

Now that you know what it is, let’s look at the positive sides of vinyl wraps:

  • Low maintenance.
  • Temporary—it can be removed.
  • Takes less time to install.
  • Shouldn’t impact resale value.
  • Less costly if you want special effects.
  • Nearly limitless choices.

And for each point in turn, a little more info…

Low Maintenance

After wrapping a car, there’s no concern over sealants, waxes and restorative products.

And accidentally using the wrong sponge to wash your automobile won’t result in you needing to remove swirls or scratches from your vehicle.

Easily Removable

The commitment is far from irreversible, and the vinyl wrapping can last anywhere from 4–10 years. The quality of the film, installation, and maintenance can shorten or extend this estimate, but if you do decide you don’t like it, you simply remove it.

Car paint, however, you need to respray, no ifs or buts.

Takes Less Time to Install

Applying a vinyl wrap is, generally, much less time-intensive than a paint job, no matter the size of the area you wish to cover.

The actual length of time depends heavily on the condition and size of the area needing to be seen to.

Shouldn’t Impact Resale Value

When it’s time for removal, your car should look the same as it did before being covered. Assuming that the paint was in good shape, it will have been preserved.

If you’re hoping to sell your car, you won’t have to worry about that aspect of resale value.

Near Limitless Choices

Pipes, electronics, insulation, upholstery—PVC can be found nearly everywhere. The reason behind this is because, like most plastics, it’s versatile.

The material can be shaped, colored, or textured into almost anything. This means that your imagination is the only limit when it comes to customization.

You can have your favorite movie franchise characters emblazoned on the hood. Even put a photo of your beloved pet on the roof or advertise your business.

But there’s no obligation to go for something extreme. You can simply change the color of your vehicle or the texture (e.g. glossy to matte) if that’s all you desire.

Less Costly Alternative for Special Effects

Achieving certain effects with automotive paint isn’t as simple as doing so with a wrap. The more complex something is to do, the greater the expense tends to be with paint.

Adding glitter to your coating or a color-changing effect with a wrap may not come cheap. Still, the cost will be less than if you attempted the same thing with paint.

What are the Disadvantages of Car Wrap?

If all of the pros we listed have you eager to commit, slow down. There are some downsides to be aware of:

  • Hand washing is preferable.
  • The underlying exterior must be in good condition.
  • The vehicle should be parked indoors or covered.
  • Expenses can be more frequent.
  • Repairing damage isn’t easy.
  • Finding a professional can be difficult.

Let’s again look at each point in detail…

Hand Washing is Preferable

Unfortunately, the automated brushes in a car wash can be harsh on the temporary PVC coating over time.

You may even end up with disastrous damage. If part of the covering grows loose over the years, it could be pulled off in the wash.

Condition of Underlying Exterior

Don’t approach coatings as a solution for an oxidizing exterior. You can hide deterioration with a PVC film, but you won’t be able to fix it.

Thinning or flaking paint will come off with the wrap when you eventually remove it. And corrosion won’t fix itself! That rusty spot will still be there, but possibly worse. You’ll still need to use a good rust converter or an effective rust remover.

Vehicle Should Be Parked Indoors or Covered

These coatings are not everlasting. Constant exposure to the elements, especially sunshine, can degrade even UV-resistant plastics.

If you can’t manage indoor parking, a quality cover is an essential investment. If the thought of covering your vehicle every time you park it doesn’t appeal

to you, maybe reconsider.

More Frequent Expenses

The coating you choose will have to be removed. You can’t leave it on forever.

This can be expensive (over a thousand dollars) if you’ve had the whole vehicle covered. Reinstalling a new coating won’t be free, either, if you want to replace or update it.

Repairing Damage Isn’t Easy

If a PVC film ends up cracked or damaged, fixing it can be a challenge. The whole section may have to be replaced.

Finding a Professional Can Be Difficult

Depending on where you live, it may prove challenging to find a qualified professional near you. The hassle of losing your vehicle for a day or more will be multiplied if you’re traveling far from home.

When is Car Wrap More Suitable Than Paint?

If these reasons resonate with you, a car wrap might be the right choice:

  • Achieving a unique but temporary look.
  • Interested in frequent changes.
  • Preserving the underlying exterior.

Unique and Temporary Look

As long as you have the budget for it, you can customize the film however you like. You can also be confident that the change isn’t irreversible. If ever you change your mind, removal is always a possibility.

Frequent Changes

Perhaps you own a business you want to advertise? Or, you’re just the type of person who likes to keep things fresh.

These vinyl films enable you to switch up your vehicle’s appearance often without massive expense and effort. Can you imagine repainting a section of your vehicle every

year or two?

Preserving the Exterior

No matter what happens, the factory exterior will always be there to revert to. Whether you want to resell your vehicle or get tired of the wrap, all you need to do is remove it.

The film should come off without any trouble, revealing the exterior just as you left it. The exceptions to this are if you choose a shoddy wrap or your exterior is already damaged.

This isn’t so easy with paint. The original coat needs to be removed, and a new coat needs to be applied. The process isn’t simple, it’s costly, and will always be exposed to the elements.

What are the Advantages of Paint?

These are the perks of sticking with the traditional alternative:

  • Long-lasting.
  • More resilient against the elements.
  • No fixed regular costs.
  • The car can look like new.
  • Easy to touch up.
  • Simpler to find an available professional.
  • May increase vehicle value.

Taking each point in turn:

Long-Lasting

Most of us treat our vehicles as long-term investments. We expect to keep them for at least 10 years.

With proper maintenance, your paint job will endure. Unlike a wrap, you aren’t obliged to overhaul it within a set period.

No Fixed Regular Costs

The durability we talked about above is a benefit for your wallet too. There are no removals and installations to deal with.

More Resilient Against the Elements

Manufacturers are constantly finding ways to improve the quality of their paints. Additives of all kinds are added during production to enhance it.

Silicones promote overall weather-resistance (e.g. heat, sunlight, etc). Anti-corrosive compounds protect from natural oxidation. There are additives to fight every possible

menace, to keep the vehicle looking new for as long as possible.

Car Can Look Like New

There’s nothing like restoring the original color and finish to give your vehicle that factory look. You can get your automobile looking as if it just rolled off the lot with paint.

Easy to Touch up

Touching up moderately damaged paint can be done in a variety of ways, as discussed in our guide to restoring faded car paint. Peeling clear coat can also be repaired, minor imperfections buffed out, and scratch removers used.

Simpler to Find an Available Professional

It won’t be hard to find a local business capable of handling a paint job. You’ll find many options to choose from. At the least, you’ll be able to shop for competitive quotes. Apply a wrap is a bit more specialized and offered by fewer companies.

May Increase Value

A roughed-up exterior can devalue even the best-maintained vehicles. Covering up such flaws can boost the appeal of your car and, therefore, the price too.

Note that this only applies to cars that are in decent condition. Great aesthetics won’t compensate for a failing engine or other serious problems.

What are the Disadvantages of Paint?

Drawbacks to factor in are as follows:

  • The process can take time.
  • Maintenance is required.
  • Certain effects are expensive.

Time-Consuming

Your car could be out of commission for a week or longer if the work needed isn’t minor. Seeking an alternative mode of transport can be a hassle and expensive.

Based on your habits and where you live, this could be a huge inconvenience. You need to plan for transport in advance, which can be frustrating.

Maintenance Required

Proper maintenance does wonders for keeping your paint pristine. Contrastingly, neglecting it has the opposite effect.

Regular washes and treatments (e.g. with wax or sealant) are highly recommended. A build-up of pollutants and contaminants is harmful.

For instance, take an everyday occurrence for some of you: driving through polluted city centers. Certain pollutants in the air oxidize metals, a process known as atmospheric corrosion.

Certain Effects are Expensive

Going for special effects, such as chrome, with automotive paint is highly expensive. Similarly, custom-painted designs are labor-intensive and are therefore costlier to apply.

When is Paint More Suitable Than Car Wrap?

Still unsure of how to proceed with modifying your vehicle’s exterior? If these circumstances sound familiar, then paint is the winner:

  • The original paint is in poor condition.
  • You’re aiming for the factory look.
  • Repairing small areas or minor defects.

Original Paint is in Poor Condition

PVC film can’t be applied or stuck to ailing paint. All the vulnerable areas will suffer when the adhesive is pulled off in the future.

You’d be hard pressed to find a professional who would agree to wrap a failing paint job. You’ll have to have the coat restored first.

Aiming for the Factory Look

Nothing will substitute paint if you’re aiming for the factory-fresh look. Those of you who own classic or antique automobiles will understand this.

Repairing Small Areas and Minor Defects

Minor defects or small areas that need attention aren’t worth wrapping. Using paint for

these problems is easier, faster and cheaper.

Car Wrap Vs Paint – Wrapping it Up

Priorities and goals for different vehicle owners are unique. We all have our own personal aesthetic preferences for our cars.

A vibrant, futuristic look may appeal to some of you and repulse others. Appearance may not even be much of a concern to you, only repairing defects.

Take your time to establish what you want out of your vehicle’s exterior coating while debating a car wrap vs paint, to make sure you end up with the right coating.

Do you have any questions or comments for us? Please do share your thoughts in the comments below, we’d love to hear them.

Kyle Palmer

From childhood go karting and motocross, to collecting and obsessing over scalextric, matchbox and radio controlled cars, I've always had an obsession with cars. Learning through manuals, books, trial and error, and more knowledgeable family members, I've also enjoyed tinkering with the mechanics and electronics of any vehicles I've owned. Now, over 3 decades later, I've started this site as a place for me to share my knowledge, to teach others how to care for and maintain their vehicles themselves, at home, so they can get the most of their vehicles and save a pretty penny compared to always seeking out professional help.

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