Sunday, February 2, 2014

3-Stage, Candy or Tri-Coat Paint

Camaro with 3-Stage Pearl paint in process at Almost Everything Auto Body

What is Three Stage Paint?
Three stage paint jobs have the most depth and sometimes appear to change color as a car drives by. The most common three stage paint is pearl white. Intense "Candy Apple Red" and similar paint jobs are also 3-stage. They achieve effects that regular one- and two-stage paints can't. The trick is a middle stage of paint that is translucent (partially transparent.) The middle layers can have a second color and/or pearl dust, mica and metallic flakes in it that allows light to reflect off of the base coat and the various elements differently than if the same elements were simply mixed together in regular paint. The middle stage changes the color of the base stage. It also adds the sparkle or color shifting effect of the pearl, metal or mica flake. In addition, by varying the thickness of the mid-coat layers, you can create increasing variations in the way the paint reacts with light. So at one angle you see one color and level of sparkle and irridescense then at another angle it may look dramatically more light, dark, irridescent or even a different color entirely.

Three stage paints require a vehicle to be painted three times, as opposed to one or two times with a normal paint job. So there is more labor and materials involved. Additionally, the additives for the middle stage, like pearl dust, are often expensive materials (pearl dust can really be ground-up pearls and mother of pearl.) And last, 3-stage paint jobs take a tremendous amount of skill. So the people who do them well get paid well. A three-stage paint job is not one to pick on a tight budget.

In everyday use, three stage paints should be treated just like any other paint. If possible, park in a garage to minimize fading from the sun. Wash off contaminants as soon as possible. Common paint killers are bug splatter, bird droppings and chemicals that fall on the car as dust or mist. And finally, protect the paint with a good, quality wax. Good waxes are typically the type that you put on, let dry, then work like the dickens to polish to a high luster. If you have a sore arm after applying wax to one fender, it is probably a decent wax. We suggest finding a good detailer and paying him/her to wax your car once or twice a year.

Three stage paints can be difficult or impossible to duplicate if you ever have an accident and need to repair a portion of the paint job. A slight variation in one of the three different paint processes can result in a dramatically different appearance from the rest of the car. Repairs on a vehicle with a manufacturer standard 3-stage paint require a larger repaint area than other paint jobs. For example, a dent on one door may require blending paint across the entire side of the vehicle. For custom or non-standard finishes, you will probably need to repaint the entire vehicle to avoid strange variations in colors and intensities.


  1. i've been searching for a while trying to figure out the mixing ratio for pearl paint. i put it in the clear coat, reducer or activator(still a beginner so i know it one of those) and do i just add a little bit of my pearl and then spray? or is there a proper formula??

    1. Pearl toners can go in both base coats and mid-coats. We recommend following paint manufacturer formulas for 2 reasons: 1) anything added to the paint base material, like pearl, can be viewed as a contaminant that over time may cause the paint to break down. So it is best to follow manufacturer recommendations to avoid problems. 2) if you ever have an accident and need to repaint, you will need a specific formula to recreate the finish. Without a formula, you might need to repaint the entire car each time you get a scratch.

    2. When we mix paint, we have a digital scale attached to a computer. Each component that goes into the paint is measured to 1/10th of a gram. The computer can make corrections if we mistakenly add too much of a component. The computer is linked to our paint manufacturer and is constantly updated with the latest color formulations. If you do not have access to something like this, it is probably best to have a local paint shop mix and pre-measure base-coat, mid-coat, clear. I also recommend having them pre-measure hardeners for you. We have found that both too much and too little hardener can cause the paint to stay soft and tacky or to die back.

  2. I have a 2010 Dodge Ram
    “Inferno Red Crystal Pearl Coat”
    Can you please tell me if that would be a
    two stage or three stage paint?

  3. Joe, to be sure we will need to get the color code off the VIN tag in the door. I think it would be PRH or ARH but it might be something different. I show that it is a 2-stage paint. I can't remember coming across a Dodge or Chrysler with a 3-stage factory red but my memory is not foolproof. Regards, Frank

  4. I want to do pearl blue paint please help me on the stages

  5. As usual, I don't know much about painting cars. At this time I drive a '13 Focus that's silver. What would an estimated cost of a 3 stage paint job be? I was considering black cherry?

    1. Unknown, you probably do not require 3-stage paint for black cherry. GM has a very nice black cherry (or "Dark Cherry") that can be pretty closely matched in both single-stage and 2-stage paints. We suggest that you come to the shop to discuss what you want to do. If you have a specific paint code we can look it up to see if it requires 3-stages. Regards, Frank

  6. I have new unopen, unused, completely sealed 1 gallon of Dupont Chromabase GM Tri five black base paint, 1 gallon of matching clear, quarts of matching activator, & hardener & catalyst that's over 25-26 years old all from Chromabase system. Can I still use it ?? Dupont swears & guarantee infinite shelf life if completely sealed & never activated. I'm interested in painting in multiple stages.

    1. Basecoat 2 layers
    2. Base color & metallic 2 layers
    3. Base color & metallic & clear 50/50
    4. Clear

    1. Unknown,
      Most paint manufacturers specify a shelf life for their paints. DuPont was bought out by another company several years ago and the company was renamed "Axalta." So if you have "DuPont" branded product then it is probably at least 5 years old or older. I imagine it could be okay to use if it has stayed sealed but I'm not a chemist and can't swear to it. The paint we use is alway much more fresh than this. I am not sure if this was part of your question but if you are asking to use this paint here we have to say no. Every paint manufacturer and paint line is a little different and requires different thinners and additives so most shops will not accept paints or chemicals from a supplier they do not use regularly and are not familiar with.


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