Ceramic based products are becoming more & more popular with the "weekend warrior" detailing community. Ceramics are popular for 2 reasons:
They are very durable & offer great protection from the elements
They provide a high gloss, mirror-like look to your paint
When Si02 (ceramic) coatings first made an appearance in the automotive world they were exclusive to professional detailers who were certified in the installation process. Over the past few years ceramic infused products have exploded into the DIY market and now include spray & liquid waxes, detail sprays & even ceramic car wash soaps. These products are very simple to use and offer protection of anywhere from a few weeks up to a year. If you desire the look of a ceramic but don't require the durability of an actual coating check out the wide range of DIY ceramic offerings HERE
To get durability of over a year you need to move up to an actual nano-ceramic coating. DIY ceramic coatings have a lifespan of 2-3 years. Many enthusiasts like having a coating as a base coat for the protection benefits & then use maintenance products such as a ceramic detailer or wash soap to maintain that "just coated" look.
The instructions in this article explain the application process for about 95% of the DIY coatings on the market however there are exceptions so always check the directions on the packaging for your coating before you begin.
Picking your Coating
Selecting your coating is a fairly simple process. We just recommend selecting a brand that has a good reputation. The brands below all offer great DIY coatings, paint prep & aftercare maintenance products:
Most quality brands offer DIY kits that include just about everything you need to apply your coating...
Preparing Your Paint
The most important step in applying a coating is PREP. Your vehicle should be clay barred & polished if needed. Remember that the condition your paint is in before you apply your coating will be sealed in for the next 2 + years! The more diligent you are getting the paint ready to be coated the better your results will be!
One final step that many installers overlook is the use of a paint prep spray right before you apply your coating. Paint prep sprays remove any remnants of old waxes, polishes, oils etc. Doing this final procedure before the coating is quick, easy & inexpensive & will help your coating bond to the paint surface.
Other than the actual coating itself there are several items you need in order to apply your coating. If you have decided to purchase a kit these items may already be included. Just check what's included in the box.
Do not use a standard wax applicator to apply your coating. These type of applicators will absorb too much of the coating. Coating specific applicators come in 2 versions:
Foam Block with Towel.
This type of applicator includes a foam
block that you hold and a sueded microfiber towel that you wrap around the block & apply the liquid coating to. Make sure you have several towels at the ready before you begin so you can swap them out if they get dirty.
These applicators are very inexpensive & are designed to be used once then discarded. Again, make sure you have several applicators at your disposal before starting your application.
Levelling (Wiping) Towel:
For this task you want a high quality (designed for use on paint) microfiber towel. We find that a low to medium pile edgeless towel works best. You should have several towels at the ready so you can swap out your towel if it starts to get too damp. Below are 2 examples of good coating levelling towels:
Applying the Product
Apply about 5-6 drops of the coating to your applicator. Work in approx. a 2' X 2' section at a time. Move your applicator in a side to side & up and down motion over the section as shown below. This cross hatch pattern ensures you get an even coverage of the coating on the section
Once you have applied your coating to the area you now need to wait for the product to flash (start to harden) before levelling (wiping). This is the only tricky part of the install because flash times vary based on heat and humidity. When you apply a coating almost instantly the Si02 particles start to bond to the paint and the added solvents start to evaporate. The hotter the temperature is the faster this process occurs. As a general rule (always read the directions on the packaging for flash times for your specific coating), you can start to level (wipe) the excess coating after 30 seconds to 1 minute in high heat/humidity conditions and 2-3 minutes in low heat/humidity. Depending on the conditions, coating brand, paint colour etc. you will normally see the coated section start to develop a rainbow hue (similar to oil in water). This a sign that the solvents are rising to the surface & the product is flashing.
Fold your towel to a size just bigger than your hand and keep it as flat as possible on the paint surface. To level your coating first take your towel and slowly wipe over the coated section using light pressure. If you feel no resistance at all on the towel (no tackiness) as you wipe you may have begun the leveling process too soon and are removing the coating. If the towel grabs excessively (very tacky) you probably have waited too long to wipe. If you think you wiped the coating away simply redo the section and wait a bit longer before wiping. Conversely if you think you waited too long to wipe just immediately reapply more coating to the same section (the fresh application will dissolve the coating underneath). After you have done several sections you will be able to determine that "sweet spot" regarding how long to let the coating flash.
Second Wipe (Buff)
After this initial first wipe turn your towel over and rebuff the area in a faster motion using slightly bit more pressure than the first wipe. At this stage always go over any previous sections you have completed. This ensures that if you accidently wiped fresh product over an already coated area that you will pick it up at this buff stage.
Tip: If you need to stop to take a break etc. always complete a panel (finish the whole hood, door panel etc.) first.
As shown below when you first apply your coating it will somewhat "self level" but will not be completely level:
As soon as you apply your coating the solvents start to evaporate and the Si02 starts to bond to your paint:
If you wipe too soon you will remove too much coating:
If you allow the coating to sit too long it becomes too hard to wipe leaving high spots:
Properly levelled coating:
Complete this process until the vehicle is complete. If you are doing a second layer wait approx. 1 hour in high temperatures & 2 hours in low temperatures before applying the second layer. Make sure you apply the second layer within these time windows otherwise the first layer may become too hardened for the second layer to properly bond to the first. To inspect for high spots examine the vehicle outside in daylight, but not direct sunlight. If you do happen to notice a high spot after the coating has cured do not be concerned! Our blog post "How To Easily Remove Ceramic Coating High Spots" will explain how to easily rectify the problem.
Humidity, heat, wind, and other ambient air considerations will all affect how quickly a ceramic coating hardens. As a general rule leave the car garaged for a minimum of 4-6 hours (longer if possible), do not expose the coating to rain for 48 hours & do not wash your vehicle for 7 days.
Enjoy the gloss!
If you need help selecting a coating or have any installation questions give us a call anytime!