Is It Cheaper To Wrap Or Paint A Car? Wrap Vs Paint Explained

So, do you want to know my professional opinion regarding the wrap vs paint debate? I hope you answered yes because either way I have started and now I can’t stop.

Stay tuned right here to learn the pros and cons of using a wrap or paint to change the feel and vibe of your car. Just know that both options have good and not-so-good qualities and let’s dive right in and go over a few now.

Car Wrap vs Paint: The Differences Explained

Over time things were cutting edge and a headache to do, all tend to evolve and become easier, and changing the color of a car joined those ranks of human evolution. Let’s take a trip through time to see where it all began.

Car paint and car wrap procedures.

When the first car rolled off of the assembly line the basic painting technique was to paint the car by hand. In recent years, the go-to paint process we use involves spray guns to smoothly apply the beautiful colors and then seal that color in with a clear top coat.

Most recently now anyone can change and uniquely personalize their vehicle with car wraps that are produced and mass quantities and are available in endless amounts of color, patterns, and graphic designs.

When we think about painting something that might come to our minds are paint brushes, paint cans, covering to protect the area and parts of the car you don’t want the paint to get on, and the natural drying time that is involved. But car wrapping is a fairly new process and car owners are introduced to new ways to express their individual personalities.

Car wraps come in large sheets of various colors, finishes, and designs. If you are going the paint your car, be ready to lay out your drop cloths to protect your work area, and get enough cans for the job, decide if you are going old school and painting with a brush or if will you opt to use a sprayer.

Along with the paint job, you will need to remove existing paint if any, buff the car, and after the paint is applied allow it to dry in a clear place so that no foreign objects land on your freshly painted baby.

On the other hand when you opt to wrap your car and many preparations are to buy enough wrap for the entire car. A car wrap is applied directly to the car and the car only needs to be clean, smooth, and dry for the best possible application of the wrap.

Types of Car Paint

Car paint has been around for quite a long time and really became modernized when the Model T was made on the assembly line. The Model T’s basic black color was the only color the car could be purchased in because back then there were other colors but the colors faded and were harder to maintain. Nowadays there are about four major types of car paints to choose from.

Car painter at work spraying blue.


Lacquer-based has been around since the time of individual auto ownership. But it was most popular in the mid 20’s to about the 1960’s and yes it is still around today. This paint applies to the car easily and is very inexpensive so an unskilled newbie can master it easily.

It gives a high shine and attaches to the car easily but a big downside is that the paint will chip quickly and compared to other paints it is very soft paint. It commonly comes in an aerosol spray can that will connect to a spray gun.


Enamel is tougher so unlike lacquer paint they are not soft so it tends to have a harder shell to the touch. Enamel pain is not commonly used by the do-it-at-home crowd because it requires more preparation time and tools to do the job right.

Professional paint shops that apply enamel paint will most times bake the paint so it gets a hard shell. These shops have heated dedicated bays or ovens to ensure the paint is heated to the correct temperature.

This paint is not forgiving so it does not apply to a car as easily as lacquer paint an error made during the painting method will cause the entire process to stop and buff the problem and then repaint that entire area.


Urethane paint is a more currently used paint because it is the best of both lacquer and enamel paint. Urethane paint is easier to apply to the car and does not take all the drying time and baking system like enamel but does hold all the toughness of the paint.

Let’s get technical for a minute and explain how the better qualities of the other paints are achieved in urethane. Mainly urethane paint is actually three different products: one is the main color, second is a reducer that will thin the main color to the right level of viscosity for your spray gun, and thirdly a very important ingredient the catalyst used to accelerate and dramatically minimize drying time.


Water-based paint is the latest and most currently used car paint and is non-toxic. Water-based paints are perfect for the do-it-for-yourself car owner. This paint is less toxic to the environment than the others so there are fewer government regulations about how to work with the product and then depose of the leftover after the job is done.

Those wanting to add some graphics to a motorcycle or change the color of the entire car will find that a water-based paint job does the trick. But this paint to achieve a high-quality look with this paint still mandates that a clear urethane topcoat is applied to protect and prolong the paint color.

Types of Car Wraps

Car wraps are new but really are not new. Let me explain, although now the concept of wrapping a car instead of painting it is extremely popular and growing the popular vehicle wrap technology has been around for a long time.

Way back in the 80’s the United States Air Force used huge die-cut pieces of vinyl wrap to add decals and insignia to airplanes. The wrap was very expensive back then so now many companies are making the popularly available vinyl wraps many folks are using today.

Car wrapping specialist putting vinyl foil on car.

Full wraps

A full wrap is the covering of the whole car. Most often the full wrap is a solid color and is also known as a color change wrap. The wrap is applied to the entire car exterior, so you have the option to quickly change the color with minimal downtime.

Partial wraps

Partial wraps are more commonly used by companies that own fleets of vehicles and want to add their branding quickly. Partial wraps as the name say only cover some parts and not all of the car. Many vinyl decals, logos, and side panel graphics designs are actually partial wraps.

Protective wraps

A protective wrap is mostly a full wrap where you apply it to protect the paint. Since wraps are designed to easily peel off when the proper heat treatment is applied, many car owners can add the protective wrap to increase the resale value for when they want to sell the car.

The protective wrap can be a solid car, graphic design, or any of the options available on the market but the car value is not reduced like it would be if the original car color was removed and repainted.

Is It Better To Paint Or Wrap?

Car wraps are extremely popular right now because so many choices like color variation, gloss, brush effort, pearl, metallic, or a chrome finish are only a few of the insane choices that you have to choose from. There are thousands of ready-to-use car wrap panels available to purchase.

Many car owners decide to complete the car wrap job themselves. So you can have a professional apply the wrap but the process is easy enough for a car enthusiast can prep their own car and do the job at their own home.

The awesome thing about a car wrap is that you can apply it directly to the painted car. When you want to remove or change to another wrap design you just use a heat gun to remove the vinyl covering and the paint underneath is not damaged. Now you can get that high-quality expensive paint job look at a way lower price than going the paint job route.

Although car painting takes time and has many more preparation steps than applying a wrap, when you see a really stellar paint job you have to stop and acknowledge the craftsmanship and beauty.

Blue classic car with impeccable car paint.

For example, the low rider/classic car paint jobs from the late 80’s and 90’s were works of art. The attention to detail, one-of-a-kind designs, candy paints, and gold flakes on those rides made you turn your head and pause to recognize the car’s unique beauty. Looking at those paint jobs you just know it was out of love that a talented craftsman was able to apply a special work of art to a moving object.

There is no debate, that a car wrap is the easiest way to change your car’s color quickly and often. It takes no time at all to peel the wrap off of your car and have your original car paint job back in business.

Some car owners change the wrap on their cars every year to give the automobile new life and spice up the look. Car wraps just last longer than the highest quality paint job because the paint job is going to fade and cost the do the correct maintenance.

An amazingly beneficial thing about a car wrap is that if the car is in an accident the entire car does not have the be rewrapped so you only have to wrap the affected area. Let’s face it, car accidents sometimes happen so when they do repaint the entire car can be a costly way to make sure the car matches all over the car.

If you are not a professional that has spent years perfecting the craft of your car painting skills, you can end up with an ultimately embarrassingly noticeable crappy job. Some paint jobs require multiple coats of paint to be applied to get the desired color effect and then the clear top protective coat to seal the job.

Wraps can come undone depending on the weather it is in. In colder climates, the wraps may bubble and warp or peel. If you patch the wrap with the leftover wrap covering that was saved from the initial application now you can repair it quickly with no wait time.

The cool thing is if you have a pattern like the vast array of wrap options now come in, at your own convenience, you can patch the damaged area and the patch is not noticeable at all.

Is It Cheaper To Wrap Or Paint?

Professional paint jobs are costly and clearly more than vinyl wrapping. A vinyl car wrap is an affordable and versatile way to keep your car looking fresh. When you apply the vinyl car wrap to your car, you can actually protect the factory paint job it originally comes with.

Car wrap producers like 3M, Avery and Oracal, and others to name a few are making high-quality car wraps in different colors, designs, patterns, and the flexibility to create your own unique style. A high-quality paint job cost anywhere is $5,000 to $10,000 dollar with a professional or doing it yourself which includes getting the tools, paints, and protective gear needed.

For the car lovers that take pride and their treasures so it continues to get looks and keep heads turning their way, a car wrap is a dream come true because now you can create your own designs or try out designs and then change them when the mood hits you.

Does Wrap Last As Long As Paint?

The wrap lasts for a long time and it is a good value. In some cases car owners that have wrapped their car, tell me that after about 7-8 years they can start to see peeling and bubbling and the corners. However, a well-applied car wrap will last the lifetime of the car.

Unlike even the best professionally applied paint job, the paint color will start the fade and chip just because of the nature of the paint. A big difference between car wrap vs. paint is that a crappy quality paint job does look good initially however as time passes by the paint starts to fade, crack and show scratches.

Many car owners that I talk to about their car wrap say that they are happy about their decision to wrap the car because the color stays fresh as the day it was applied with little maintenance. Another terrific benefit is that all the common damage seen on painted cars is not found or not noticeable like scratches, rock chips, bird or weather damage.

Even though the time-tested, tried and still true method of car paint does allow you to express yourself through the skillful hand of a professional adding your desired look and artist design to your car, the newer and less expensive route of applying a car wrap is gaining in popularity.


Car wrap vs car paint is a growing, preferred and versatile car customization method since many well-known companies are producing graphics and quick change decals that you can apply to your car right at home and change or refresh your car’s look in no time.

Of course, having a professional complete a high-quality paint job on your car will turn heads and let you achieve the looks and praise for your treasured automobile, but a correctly applied car wrap will achieve that same level of adoration and with way less cost and time away from your car.

Car wraps offer the freedom from waiting for a spot at the paint shop, the professional to apply your color, and the inevitable wait time that you must endure waiting for the color to dry.

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About Brock Rangel

Hi, I am Brock, and I am the lead editor/photographer for TheCarColony. I have been a mechanic for over 14 years now, and I am here to spread my car knowledge across the web!

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