Carbon fiber is a strong, sturdy, lightweight material that has the ability to replace steel and is used in specialized, high-performance products such as aircraft, race cars, and sports equipment.
It is also used in more mundane products such as bicycles, computer cases, phone cases, and even eyeglass frames.
One of the appealing qualities of carbon fiber is its smooth, sleek appearance. This can be enhanced by painting carbon fiber.
But remember, painting carbon fiber is different from painting your regular car parts because of the woven material, which tends to absorb the paint extremely quickly.
In short, painting carbon fiber is possible, but there are a few things you need to know first. These are:
- You can’t just use any paint. You need a particular type of good-quality paint that’s designed to be used on carbon fiber parts.
- The painted carbon fiber can crack and damage fast if you use lower-quality paint.
- You also can’t just paint over the top of the carbon fiber. You must first prep the surface by lightly sanding it and then using a primer made for carbon fiber surface.
- Once you are ready to paint, the paint will get absorbed fast, so you will need to work in small sections and be quick.
- Be aware that the paint will add weight to the carbon fiber part, especially if you are using the parts on a racecar or other performance vehicle.
Painting Over Carbon Fiber Parts – Step by Step
Painting carbon fiber isn’t difficult for people who are interested in DIY projects.
But if you are a beginner, you need to know a few key steps to get the best results.
Here’s a quick overview of the process and steps involved when you decide to paint over carbon fiber:
Step 1. Clean and Sand the Surface
The very first step is to clean the surface using mild soap and water.
Next, sand the surface of the carbon fiber to help the paint adhere better. Use fine-grit sandpaper (like grade 120) and sand in a circular motion.
Remember that carbon fiber is very smooth, so you need to sand it properly before painting to give the primer paint something to grip onto.
You don’t need to sand down to the bare carbon fiber; just create an evenly sanded rough surface.
However, if there is any old layer of paint already on the carbon surface, make sure to remove that carefully, as it will interfere with the adhesion.
Step 2. Apply Masking Tapes
After sanding, apply masking tape to any areas you don’t want to be painted.
The tape you can use can be 3M Scotch-Blue, that’s a multi-surface medium adhesion tape ideal for painted walls, trims, glass, metal, and plastic.
Step 3. Apply a Primer Made for Carbon Fiber
After sanding, apply a primer made specifically for carbon fiber.
This will help the paint adhere to the surface and create a smooth finish.
Rust-Oleum Brush on Automotive Filler Primer is a great product to use on surfaces including metal, wood, fiberglass, etc.
And it can be found easily online or at your local automotive store.
Step 4. Apply the Paint to Carbon Fiber in Small Sections
Once the primer is dry, it’s time to start painting.
Because rolling and brushing the carbon fiber might be tricky owing to its thickness, the best way to paint the carbon fiber quickly is with a spray can or an airbrush.
But if you are using a bristle paintbrush or a small nap roller, start with small sections and work quickly, as the paint will absorb fast.
Also, consider applying the lighter base shade first and then the darker shade on top.
This will help you achieve a more consistent finish and a chance to do touchups if necessary.
Step 5. Let the Paint Dry, and Apply a Clear Coat
After applying the paint to the carbon fiber parts, let it dry for about 24 hours.
Next, apply a clear coat to protect the paint and achieve a shiny finish.
Applying a clear coat is optional, but I would recommend it as it will protect the paint and give the carbon fiber part a beautiful shine.
If you choose to clear coat, I recommend using a Flitz Multi-purpose sealant product that can give your paint a matte finish.
This will not only look good on your parts, such as the car hood, but it also will give it UV protection.
You can use SprayMax 2K Glamor High Gloss Aerosol Clear for a high gloss mirror finish if you want.
Again, when applying the coat, start with small sections and work quickly, as the clear coat will absorb quickly.
Finally, let the clear coat dry for about 24 hours before you remove all the masking tapes.
Tips and Warnings
When repainting carbon fiber, some special considerations need to be taken into account.
Some of these are:
- Detailed preparation, patience, and some practice are all necessary for this project.
- Because of their fine structure, certain fiber parts can be quite sharp, and when you contact them unintentionally, they can cut into your skin.
- So, in order to avoid any damage to your hands and skin, always use gloves while painting and clean your hands after you’re done.
Why Does Carbon Fiber Look Old – Can it Be Repaired?
Like paint and metal, carbon oxidizes if it isn’t taken care of. The process slowly wears away at the outside surface of the carbon piece.
If this damage is left unchecked, eventually, it will cause the glossy finish on carbon fiber to fade and look dull and old.
Also, when exposed to UV light, the resin binding the carbon fibers together will discolor. If not taken care of, this damage cannot be entirely fixed with polishing or waxing.
Fortunately, if you know how to repair carbon fiber so that it looks brand new again, and depending on the level of damage, the repaired part can last for quite a while.
There are two types of repair: cosmetic and structural.
Cosmetic repair only intervenes with the surface of the damaged area but doesn’t affect the structural integrity of the carbon fiber part, so this repair is easy relative to others.
Although an automatic polishing machine makes the process easier, no special tools are necessary.
On the other hand, intensive labor and skill are necessary when repairing carbon fiber structures.
This is because the strands of carbon are woven together in a certain direction, meaning that the technician must pay attention to both the number of fibers and their orientation.
Furthermore, every layer of repaired carbon needs to replicate the original design exactly to maintain identical properties.
The bottom line
Painting over carbon fiber might be possible, but it’s difficult, especially for novices who are unsure how to use a good brush or roller to apply paint.
So, if you are new to painting, it’s good to use a spray paint can or airbrush as they will be easier to use and help you achieve a more consistent finish.
Just remember to take your time, have patience, and practice on some smaller pieces before you tackle any bigger, more expensive, and more important project.
Jack Luis is a semi-retired painter who loved painting his clients’ ideas on their walls.
He had worked as a painter for more than a decade to serve the customers in areas such as Charleston, Mount Pleasant, Beaufort, Georgetown, SC (South Carolina). Today in his free time, he likes to read and write about the newer techniques that are being implemented in his profession. You may read more about him here or get in touch with him here.
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