Is Matte Where It’s At? (Matte Car Paint Trends)

While I only attended two major auto shows this year (the NY Auto Show and SEMA), I’ve noticed a growing trend towards “flat” or matte paint finishes…or vinyl wraps that are meant to look like a matte paint finish.

While some might argue this car color “trend” isn’t really a trend – matte finishes have been popular in the sport compact scene for years – the fact that this type of finish is so easy to impersonate with a vinyl wrap has made it a favorite of vehicle accessorizers.

Glossy Paint Is the World Favorite

According to Jane E. Harrington, PPG manager, color styling, automotive coatings, the color silver has long been a popular color for concept vehicles. Harrington states that this is because silver is the best color for showing off a vehicle’s natural contours, a statement that is also true of most matte finish colors.

With a matte or low-gloss finish, the amount of light reflected from a paint job usually isn’t enough to distort the appearance of body panels.

With today’s highly contoured body panels, a less reflective paint job is the best way to show off a vehicle’s shapes and curves…which explains why silver is a popular choice for concepts. Still, even the most “tame” silver paint job found on a new vehicle is still glossy.

On most vehicles – except, perhaps, for the Lexus LFA seen below – it would seem that consumers prefer a glossy paint finish. I’m not sure why that’s the preference of the average consumer, but from the finest Benz or Porsche to a work-truck version of the Toyota Tundra, glossy paint is the popular choice.

According to DuPont’s website, nearly 100% of all vehicles manufactured worldwide have a glossy, clearcoat finish. Of course, the argument could be made that glossy paint finishes have only been popular because they’ve been the only option. Very few vehicles made in the last 40 years had a matte paint finish when they left the factory.

Ford has offered some matte finish hood stripes on quite a few Mustangs over the last 20 years, but a fairly small strip of vinyl isn’t nearly the same as an entire vehicle. What’s more, Ford offered glossy painted stripes right alongside the matte finish vinyl.

Today it seems that the glossy trend might be reversing. With the advent and popularity of vehicle “wraps,” or printed adhesive-backed vinyl sheet designed to cover an entire vehicle, matte finishes seem to be taking auto shows by storm.

Vinyl vehicle wraps have quite a few advantages over custom paint jobs including:

  • They’re cheaper. A vinyl vehicle wrap can cost as little as $2,000, whereas a full custom paint job can cost many times more.
  • Details and complexity are no problems. Even the most gifted vehicle painter may have trouble painting a vehicle with a complicated pattern, whereas the vinyl used to wrap a vehicle is printed by a larger computerized ink-jet printer.
  • They’re temporary. Whether you want to wrap your vehicle in matte-finish blue or you want to turn your vehicle into a rolling billboard, vinyl wraps can be removed when it’s time to sell your vehicle.

Vinyl has a few downsides as well. Unlike custom paint, most vinyl wraps will show bubbles and/or seams on close inspection. Also, depending on your vehicle, your environment, and your typical use, you may find that a vinyl wrap will start to deteriorate after as little as one year.

Custom paint jobs, while more expensive, don’t have any of these problems.

Matte Finish Production Car in Our Future?

Based on all of the matte finish vehicles I’ve seen in the last year at car shows and the Lexus LFA (which is arguably not a production vehicle), it seems likely that at least one auto manufacturer will experiment with offering a matte finish on a brand new vehicle in the near future.

Maybe Scion, famous for making one-off special editions of the xB, will venture to produce a new car with a matte finish. If consumers respond positively, matte finish paint jobs could become symbolic of sophisticated and sporty modern styling.

Or, perhaps like the tuner craze with carbon fiber body panels, matte paint finish will remain buried in the automotive sub-culture. What do you think – would consumers embrace a vehicle with a matte paint finish?

Matthew Keegan

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