How To Paint Over Carbon Fiber?

By Mandy Moss

Carbon fiber painting is not totally different from regular paintwork. You will need proper tools, get some knowledge, and start testing your skills.

How to paint carbon fiber?

The best way to paint carbon fiber is using a spray can or an airbrush because rolling and brushing can be difficult due to the small thickness of the material.

To avoid damage, always use gloves or clean your hands once you finish.

Can You Paint Over Carbon Fiber?

Yes, you can paint over carbon fiber in a variety of ways. However, this is not metal and has different characteristics than its metallic counterpart.

When you will paint over carbon fiber keep this in mind:

  • Look considerably different from other parts
  • Absorbs paint fast
  • If you spill water on it, all the paint will run off
  • Do not apply any paint stripper to carbon fiber unless you are confident about the chemical reaction between the resin and the paint stripper.
  • The fibers are also very sharp so when you come in contact with them accidentally, they will in most cases cut into your skin.
  • The painting process needs attention to detail and patience, along with some practice.

How to paint over carbon fiber

When you paint over carbon fiber by hand, make sure to use a roller and brush. This will allow you to cover the surface properly and with little to no streaks. If you are going to use an airbrush, make sure you dilute your paint properly.

I’ve learned proper techniques that help me achieve stunning results. Here’re the exact process I use when painting carbon fiber.

Choosing the Right Paint and Tools

The key is starting with quality paint designed specifically for carbon fiber. I recommend acrylic enamels in spray cans or for airbrushing.

Using rollers or brushes – It will be hard to get an even coat on the uneven carbon fiber surface. You’ll also need gloves, a mask, and painter’s tape to mask off sections.

NOTE: For spray paint, you will need an airbrush. Make sure it is one that is made for exterior use with automotive paints

Mask when you paint over carbon fiber

Always use tape or stickers to cover the surrounding area. This is important not only for the paint to look nice but also to avoid damage.

Step 1: Prepping the Surface

Before painting, I thoroughly clean the carbon fiber with soap and water to remove any dirt or oils.

Once dry, I buff it with a polishing compound to smooth the surface and help the paint adhere better.

Priming is a must! A good primer fills in any tiny grooves and provides a uniform base.

I apply 2-3 even coats, sanding lightly between each coat.

You can check the video of Martin, he recommend using targeted sanding techniques to safely remove color and create an optimal surface texture

Step 2: Applying the Base Color

I start by spraying on multiple thin coats of a light base color. This helps me see where I may have missed a spot before applying the darker accent colors.

I let each coat fully dry before adding another. The base color plays a big role in determining the final look, so choose it carefully if you want a specific finish.

NOTE: The base color will determine the final look, so choose it carefully. You can use metallic colors or darker shades for a unique look.

Step 3: Adding Dimension with Darker Shades

Once you are happy with the coverage of the base color, switch to darker complementary tones for details.

I prefer using an airbrush for precision. The key is to build up the layers slowly. I often polish again before clear coating to smooth everything out.

Step 4: Finishing with a Protective Clear Coat

After allowing the paint to cure for at least 24 hours, I finish with a clear coat. A matte or satin clear coat helps Even out the surface while protecting the paint. Make sure to match the clear coat to your base color.

KEEP IN MIND: Your base shade will determine the color of the final sheen.

Step 5: Dispose of waste properly

It is very important to make sure that you dispose of the materials properly. Some paints might be toxic. Follow all the safety instructions written by the manufacturer.

Tips and Considerations

Painting carbon fiber properly requires careful preparation and application techniques. Here are my top tips:

  • Sand the surface with 400 grit sandpaper to remove gloss and provide tooth for the paint. Be gentle to avoid damaging fibers.
  • Clean thoroughly with a wax and grease remover like PRE Cleaner. Remove all contaminants for best adhesion.
  • Apply flexible primer to maximize paint bond, especially with brush painting. Primer also allows color sanding to hide weave.
  • Control paint thickness. Light coats prevent runs and drips. Thick coats are prone to cracking. Allow proper flash time between coats.
  • Maintain temperature between 70-90°F for best flow and curing. Low humidity also aids drying.
  • Cure paint thoroughly before use. Most paints require 72+ hours to fully harden. Oven baking can speed the process.
  • Protect with clearcoat for gloss and UV resistance. Use a flexible clear suitable for carbon or plastic.

Best Paint for Carbon Fiber

When selecting paint for use on carbon fiber, the two most important criteria are flexibility and adhesion. The paint needs to bond securely to the carbon weave without cracking or peeling. I recommend high quality, flexible urethane paints specifically made for use on plastics.

For spray painting, acrylic urethanes or polyurethane enamels work very well. Brands like U-POL and SprayMax make paints ideal for carbon fiber. An epoxy primer provides extra bite.

For brush painting, two-part urethane paints are preferred. Awlgrip and other marine paints offer great carbon fiber adhesion. I’ve also had good results with specialty paints like KBS Coatings DiamondFinish.

While regular primer, enamel, or lacquer spray paints can work, they are prone to chipping over time. Investing in paints formulated for plastics provides maximum durability. Match flex additives can also be used with some paints to increase elasticity.

Maintaining and Restoring Painted Carbon Fiber

Once your carbon fiber part is properly painted, you’ll want to keep it looking fresh. Here are some tips:

  • Use quality car wash soap and and microfiber cloths when washing. Avoid harsh cleaners.
  • Reapply protective wax or ceramic coatings annually to protect the paint.
  • Touch up stone chips as soon as possible to prevent flaking.
  • If paint fades or chalks, light sanding and re-clearcoating can restore appearance.
  • For worn areas, sand and repaint following original process. Blend new paint into old.

With proper maintenance and care, high-quality paint on carbon fiber parts can last for many years before needing restoration.

Removing Paint from Carbon Fiber

Should you need to strip paint from your carbon fiber part, take great care to avoid damaging the exposed fibers:

  • Aircraft paint remover chemicals soften and lift paint quickly but must be neutralized and washed off fully.
  • Plastic media blasting with fine glass beads or soda can remove paint with less harm to carbon than sanding.
  • Fine sanding with 400+ grit works for small areas but risks abrasion damage if not done carefully.
  • Repainting over existing paint layers is easier and lower risk than attempting to remove paint from carbon fiber.

Test removal products and techniques in small inconspicuous areas first. Take precautions against breathing dust or fumes generated. Refinishing the exposed carbon afterward is recommended to restore protection.

The best primer for carbon fiber is one that has the high adhesive quality and is oil-free. This will ensure that the paint binds well to the carbon fiber and that the end results are amazing. Make sure you sand primer between coats.

Protection against fading is essential because sunlight damages most paints which then start to fade. Always try to use a UV-resistant lacquer when protecting your paint on carbon fiber.

Experts recommend painting carbon fiber for making it look fresh and new. In the end, it’s up to you and your needs. Always remember to use good-quality paints that are unlikely to fade easily or quickly under sunlight.

Painted carbon fiber can crack if you used low-quality paint or the surface was not smooth and prepared properly when painted. Make sure you always use a primer to smooth down all bumps and uneven surfaces before applying your paint.

Generally, painting over carbon fiber is not hard. You will require patience, some learning curve, and quality materials.

Related questions

Will acrylic paint stick to carbon fiber?

Acrylic paints are not flexible enough for use on carbon fiber and will eventually crack and peel. Enamel or urethane paints specifically made for plastics are preferred.

Can you paint carbon fibre parts?

Yes, carbon fiber parts like bike frames or car hoods can be painted but require appropriate paint and preparation for long-lasting adhesion. The woven carbon texture will still faintly show through paint unless heavily filled.

Does carbon fiber need primer?

A primer designed for plastics helps paint bond securely to carbon fiber’s slick surface. Epoxy primer offers very good adhesion. Properly sanded carbon fiber may not need primer if using specialty paints.

What paint do you use on carbon?

I recommend using flexible urethane paints made specifically for use on plastics when painting carbon fiber. Quality spray paint brands include U-POL, SprayMax, Eastwood. For brushing, Awlgrip or KBS DiamondFinish work great.

Can I paint carbon fibre?

Painting carbon fiber is definitely possible but requires careful preparation and proper paint selection to avoid chipping, cracking or peeling. Take steps to scuff the surface, apply flexible paints in light coats, and allow full curing time before use.

How do you prep carbon fiber for paint?

Proper carbon fiber prep involves gently sanding to remove gloss, cleaning with a wax/grease remover, and optional application of a plastic-specific primer. This provides optimal adhesion for the top paint layers.