Car Buying Tips

Matte Finishes: What You Need to Know

Available today on anything from a $150,000 Mercedes-Benz to a $28,000 Hyundai Veloster, matte paint finishes are increasing in popularity on the market’s latest rides. Standing out amidst a sea of glossy and lustrous automotive paint-jobs, a matte finish is a great way to give your ride a unique sense of individuality, and to enjoy a little added exclusivity.

Here are a few things to consider, if you’re considering a matte finish on your next ride.

How Does a Matte Finish Work?

It’s all in the clear-coat: that final layer of finish that makes many a ride gleam in any light. Only, with a matte-finished car, the clear-coat has countless microscopic dimples and dents, which prevent light from reflecting directly. Instead of a lustrous shine and reflection, light scatters about the clear-coat for a sheen finish that’s less reflective, more hazy, and very unique. The gist? Matte-finished cars are painted in the same way as normal cars, but the clear-coat dries to a rougher, hazier finish, instead of one that’s smooth and glossy. Run your hand over the paint, and you can feel the difference, as matte-finished cars have a slightly sandy texture, instead of a smooth one. The result is a beautiful and unique look.

You Can’t Wax a Matte-Finish Car, Right?

Correct. Applying a standard paint wax to a matte-finished car is a great way to ruin its look. The clear-coat on a matte-finish car is full of little dips and bumps, on purpose. And mostly, car waxes are designed to fill those dimples and bumps in. Translation? Apply a standard car wax to your matte-finish car, and you’ll eventually ruin the matte effect, as the filling ingredients in the wax will build up in the vital microscopic ‘pits’ of the matte clearcoat. Your paint will look splotchy and greasy and patchy, and that’s not sexy at all.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t protect matte paint. Various matte paint sealant products (not waxes) are available to effect a similar degree of protection and added durability. For instance, if you buy a new Hyundai Veloster with matte paint, you get a startup kit, including a special matte paint sealant, from Dr. Beasley’s, a company specializing in automotive finish products.

Celine Witherell is the communications Manager at Dr. Beasley’s. She comments, “the worst mistake you could make in caring for a matte car would be claying, polishing, or waxing it. None of these methods are compatible with matte paint, and will permanently damage the finish, causing it to go from the flat, sheen look to a shiny appearance. The only way to fix the shine is to have the area repainted.”

Careful With the Soap, Too

You’ll need to wash your matte-finish car with soap, but selecting the proper kind of soap is key. Many car wash soaps have a small amount of waxing agent, or gloss, built in – with additives like silicone designed to make paint shine. Soaps with these additives can have the same effect on a matte-finish paint-job as waxing it, so you’ll need a soap that’s specially formulated not to leave a shine behind. Numerous matte-finish car-wash soaps are available. Oh, and forget using that automated car-wash at your local Gas-n-Gulp. These usually use soaps and rinses with additives that won’t play nice with your matte finish.

Quick Detailing

Car buffs and car-show enthusiasts across the country love spray-detailer, which allows them to quickly spritz their car with a coat of wax droplets suspended in a liquid, and wipe it off for a ‘just detailed’ shine in a matter of minutes. As it goes with soap and wax, spray-detailer can wreak havoc on your matte finish too, though special matte finish spray-detailers are available for a quick clean that’ll keep your matte finish in tip-top shape.

Ultimately, regular care of your matte paint is all about the additives, or lack thereof, and being sure to do your homework, and use the proper products, in the proper way.

Witherell adds, “we've found that the people who are buying matte cars are more likely to do research about the matte finish. They want to make sure they can handle the care regimen, and there are products available to help them do so. That's how most of our customers find us: because we provide a plethora of information and products for matte paint. Most matte car owners are keen to keep their paint in great shape, and therefore are likely to buy the right types of products.”

Scratches and Chips

Matte paint is just as durable as normal paint, but can be trickier to repair when minor damage is suffered. Case in point? As your car ages, it’ll collect scratches and swirls on its paint job. If you’ve got a standard paint job, many of those scratches and swirls can be buffed or polished out. If you own a matte-finish car, that’s not the case.

Andrew Fine owned a matte-finished BMW M3 Frozen Black edition for several years.

“I think the finish I had on my M3 was beautiful at first sight. It was the main reason I chose this car. After owning the car for a while it became more stressful trying to maintain and take care of the paint, though. I was told by BMW that if a bird pooped on it, and I didn’t clean it within 15 minutes, it would eat the little clear coat the car had, and leave a stain. This ended up happening right on my hood!  And there isn’t much you can do for bird crap stains or scratches, since you can’t polish the paint, and colour matching is very difficult. So, I didn’t drive the car very much, and when I did, I was very cautious. At meets, a lot of people liked to come up and touch the paint to see if it was a wrap, too. In the end, I think the look the satin paint gave the car was worth it though, and if I had to do it all over again I would.”

Many owners stress the importance of protecting the matte finish with regular applications of a quality matte paint protectant, which can take a little abuse for the clear coat, and make it harder to damage.

Fine also comments on an increasing trend that exists as a viable alternative to matte paint, for some drivers. “I feel like wrapped matte cars are easier to maintain,” he says.

With a wrap, a thin colored and textured film is placed over the vehicle’s existing bodywork, and can be removed easily, leaving the original paint beneath. Matte-finish wraps are increasingly popular, too.

“There’s no clear-coat to scratch, and you can always just re-wrap a part of the car, if you need to. Still, more respect comes with actual matte paint, even if it’s more of a pain.”


Is matte paint durable? Will it chip off? Can it get wet? How does it stand up to the elements? Many shoppers tend to shy away from matte paint, as it represents a bit of an unknown. Further, according to Witherell, the matte finish scene is swirling with misconceptions that come from numerous sources – including car dealers.

“There are a lot of misconceptions about matte paint, many of them coming from dealerships who are inexperienced with the paint and try to deter customers from buying matte cars. We’ve head of dealerships telling people matte paint cannot get wet, be washed, or protected like glossy paint. This is because most dealerships are unfamiliar with the notion that there are products available to care for matte paint. If you use matte-specific products, your matte paint will remain in great condition.”
Ultimately, a matte-finish car may be for you, or it may not. Do your research and decide accordingly.

Long-Term Suitability in Harsh Climates

Sudbury Ontario Collision Repair Technician Jeff Major provides some comments on the long-term considerations of matte-finish rides.

“Matte-finish paint can collect swirls, scratches and other imperfections over time, like any other paint—but you can’t remove these like you can on a gloss finish. Repainting, if required, is more costly, as an expensive additive is required for the clear-coat to create the matte texture. It’s also harder to replicate the exact texture and colour of one panel to the next, if you’re repainting, say, only the hood or bumper. Be careful with tire-shine, too. Any airborne tire shine that lands on the paint can smear easily and look blotchy, and it should be cleaned off right away, with the proper cleaner.”

I asked Major if he’d ever drive a matte-finish car, based on his experience repairing over a dozen of them.

“Sure I would. I love the look, but only on a certain type of car. It’s stunning. But personally, I’d only drive a matte-finish car if it was the sort of car I’d drive for low miles, to and from the car show on Sunday, or for the occasional weekend drive on a nice day. For something I'd commute with in the middle of winter, or pull my boat with, or put my bike on the roof racks on? Not a chance. It’s just too much extra work to keep the paint in perfect shape, or to repair. This might be why we see so few of these cars up here in Northern Ontario.”