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What Is A Tri-Stage Paint?

What Is A Tri-Stage Paint?


In its earliest history, cars were all mostly black. Even the famous Henry Ford himself once said that "any customer can have a car painted any colour that he wants so long as it's black". Either for the sake of efficiency, cost-cutting, or just convenience, it was the predominant shade of choice. But over the years and decades later, colours started popping up.

It started with subtle blues, purples, reds, and greens. Later on, it evolved into very vibrant yellows and oranges, and other pastel shades to make cars stand out. As paint technology continually grew in its chemistry to create ever-complex and mesmerising finishes, we now have something called 'tri-stage' paint. So, what exactly is this seemingly magical compound?

So, What Is It Exactly?

Tri-stage paint can also be called 'tricolour', or 'tri-coat'. It's arguably one of the most beautiful types of paint that you can have coated onto any vehicle. As the word 'tri' in the name suggests, there are essentially three coats of paint layered on top of one another. In most cars, there are only two layers, starting with the coloured 'base coat' at the bottom, and then topped with a 'clear coat'.

With a tri-stage paint, however, there is an additional, thinly-applied 'mid coat' layer in between the base coat beneath it, and a clear coat up top. So, what is the point of needing this mid coat, anyway? Well, it has the effect of adding a sparkling finish to your car's overall paintwork. This extra layer gives the surface a sense of depth or richness that two layers alone wouldn't be able to accomplish.

The effect is especially beautiful under sunlight when that extra layer can shine and glow, or at times be able to change colour or appearance depending on the angle that you look at it. There is a warmth to tri-stage paints, albeit at a very high cost compared to regular two-stage paint. This is made all the more painful if you ever get a stone chip, as touching up tri-coats is a complex task.

The Anatomy Of A Car's Paintwork

Right, so let's wind the tape a bit further back, and explain more on what makes up a car's paint in the first place. What are these base and clear coats, and why you need multiple layers to complete the paint job? Well, each layer has its own set of responsibilities other than giving your car its colour, be it making it sparkle and glow, or act as a protective barrier from the weather and debris.

Primer - This is technically the first coat of any paint, as it goes beneath the base coat. Primer is a pre-paint compound that you apply on top of your car's metal or plastic bodywork. It has multiple important roles to play, such as protecting the body below, and ensuring that the upper base coat can thoroughly stick onto your car. It has some anti-corrosion properties, as well.

Base Coat - The base coat is where your car gets its colour from, and is the main reason why your car looks the way it is. There can be multiple layers of the base coat applied on top of itself until your car can get the hue or shade that you're after.

Mid Coat - While the base coat may be the primary contributor of colour to your car, tri-stage paint can enhance it even further with special effects. This is all thanks to the mid coat. Although it's usually a very thin layer, it can have a huge impact on your car's overall appearance. It can make the base coat colour darker, add some depth, make it sparkle and shine, or any combination of all three.

Clear Coat - This is the final, topmost layer of your car's paintwork. The name itself is a clue, as the clear coat is transparent. Its primary function, apart from giving a shiny look to top off the base and mid coats below, is to add a protective layer for your paint. Scratches, stone chips, and other similar types of damages will be first absorbed by the clear coat, ensuring it doesn't go any deeper.

That should make things a lot clearer now, right? Perhaps a bit of FAQ might get our heads wrapped around tri-stage paints a bit better...

What Type Of Mid Coats Are There?

Mid coat paints do come in varying formulations, each of them with its own cosmetic traits, effects, and added visual flair. There are pearlescent, candy, or metallic finishes which are the most common ones. Consequently, each formula of mid coat will behave differently once applied, be it subtly changing the shading of your car based on the lighting, or making it glitter.

Can You Touch-Up A Tri-Stage Paint?

Of course! It's not that much different from touching up a regular two-stage paint, although it does require that you find and match the mid coat to your exact car. Once you have that, you'll need to go through an extra step of layering the mid coat between the base and clear coats during the touch-up process.

Could I Just Use Another Layer Of Base Coat For The Touch-Up?

Technically, you can. However, touching up the mid coat layer with the base coat, or a completely different shade of colour entirely, will affect the final look of the car. It would appear as though the now-repaired part of your car is patchy in appearance, which will be very noticeable. Thus, think twice before layering a pearl white paint with just regular white, and think it's the same thing.

Does The Mid-Coat Add An Extra Layer Of Protection?

No. Just because you have an extra layer of paint, doesn't mean that your car's paintwork as a whole is more robust now. That's where the clear coat comes in, and when that's compromised by a significant enough stone chip, scratch, or any other form of damage, the bottom layers of paint - including the mid coat - will be ruined.

Are Tri-Stage Paints Really That Expensive?

Yes, and this follows through even to minor touch-ups. Having an extra layer of paint to care for can be expensive, not to mention layering it over the whole car. With some cars, companies can offer tri-coat paints as an option, but they're not cheap. Usually, they can cost you extra in the thousands of dollars, sometimes tens of thousands for more exotic paints.

Do You Even Need The Clear Coat?

You might be thinking that since you already have practically two layers of paint (the base and mid coats), you may wonder if you even need the clear coat up top at all. Well, you absolutely do need the clear coat, which doesn't just make your car shinier, but also protects the paints underneath. Without it, your expensive mid coat finish will look worn and dull very quickly.