If your vehicle’s exterior has seen better days or if you simply want to change its look, you can paint or vinyl wrap your car. While painting is still the most popular way to change your car’s exterior, wraps have gained in popularity in recent years due to the incredible array of patterns available (even custom) and the number of shops that now offer wraps.

Painting and car wrapping can be equally costly endeavors, whether you’re paying someone else to do it or you’re doing it yourself. We’ll break down the factors that contribute to your overall bill for painting versus wrapping, including the time cost of being without your car while the work is completed and ways you might be able to save money on each.

Here’s what to know before you spray for lay…

In This Article:

  • When Painting is Best

    • The Cost to Paint a Car
    • How to Save Money on Painting
  • When Wrapping is Best

    • The Cost to Wrap a Car
    • How to Save Money on Wrapping
  • Painting vs. Wrapping: How Long Each Takes

When Painting is Best

It’s always wise to choose paint over wrapping when the original paint job is in bad shape. The vinyl wrap cannot be applied evenly over rough surfaces, and all of those bumps and dings will show through. Moreover, chips in the paint may stick to your vinyl wrapping when you eventually take it off, making your underlying paint job worse than ever.

If you are looking for a “factory” feel for the finished product without any seams, painting is best. Painting is also a better option if you simply want to refresh the look of the car by getting a new coat of the original color, perhaps in preparation for selling it.

The Cost to Paint a Car

There are a few different levels available when it comes to having a car painted, and costs vary widely depending on the amount of prep work needed. There can also be a big difference in the quality and durability of your paint job, so you don’t necessarily want to go with the cheapest option. Warranties are usually a good indication of how long you can expect your paint job to last.

  • If you are looking for a simple racing stripe or embellishment, it may only cost $100 to $200 and be warrantied for a year.
  • A basic complete paint job to refresh the vehicle’s appearance and add a nice gloss often carries a one-year warranty and would cost $400 to $1,000.
  • A standard paint job including sanding, filling, and other prep work may be warrantied for five years and cost $1,000 to $5,000, depending on the amount and thoroughness of prep work needed and the quality of the materials and labor.
  • Finally, a custom or specialty show-quality paint job will cost you $5,000 to $20,000 and may carry a lifetime warranty.

How to Save Money on Painting

There are several things you can do to save money on your car’s next paint job:

  • Look for discounts. Businesses that specialize in auto body painting often run specials. You can also ask your regular auto body shop if they might offer you a discount if you request painting at the same time as other work.
  • Do the required prep work yourself, such as sanding the vehicle and removing or masking parts that won’t be painted. Make sure you know what you’re doing if you choose this route because doing this work incorrectly can end up costing you more money in the long run, or yield disappointing results.
  • If you’re brave, and especially on an older car you don’t care much about, do the painting yourself, but be sure to follow a step-by-step guide (and check out the video below). Even if you do the labor yourself, expect to pay $300 to $1,000 or more in supplies, depending on how much work your car needs and the quality of materials you use. This option will also probably take you at least several days to complete.
  • Be flexible on color. White paint may only cost $100/gallon, but deeper tints like red can run more like $250/gallon.
  • If you are painting purely for aesthetic reasons, and the body is otherwise in good shape, consider having paint applied to select portions of the vehicle in an eye-catching pattern, rather than all over.

To tackle a DIY paint job, follow along with the instructions in this video:

A DIY paint job requires a few things beyond the paint itself. You will need sanding equipment, plastic sheeting, masking tape, hardener, filler a spray gun, and a special respirator to avoid breathing in the paint fumes. You will also need an enclosed area, relatively free of dust and debris, where you can get the job done. Additional items may be helpful to have on hand. These include coveralls, cups and stirrers to mix custom colors, and plenty of rags or towels for cleanup.

When Wrapping is Best

Wraps offer a greater range of available colors and patterns than paints. Wraps can be removed fairly easily, so they can be used to customize your vehicle even if it is a lease or will need to be returned to its original color in the future. Note that some car leases prohibit vinyl wraps and graphics as well as new paint jobs.

If you simply want to change the look of one panel or section of your car, especially a relatively flat one like the roof, wrapping can often be done more affordably than painting.

If you would like to do the work yourself, wrapping is a safer choice than painting. It requires fewer tools and is much easier to fix should you make a mistake, though the integrity of the vinyl may be affected by repeatedly peeling and re-sticking the wrap.

The Cost to Wrap a Car

A partial wrap that is professionally applied on a single portion of the vehicle starts at about $200. A full wrap that covers the entire vehicle can range from $2,000 to $6,000 when professionally applied, depending on the quality of the wrap and the size of the vehicle. For those with a DIY spirit, supplies, including the vinyl, will cost you around $1,000. Specialty vinyl will cost you more.

You should also factor in the cost of removing the wrap at the end of its lifespan. In general, vinyl wraps last three to five years. High-quality wraps will last longer than low-quality ones, and taking good care of your vehicle’s exterior will help the wrap last as well. Additionally, higher quality wraps require less adhesive, or primer, to make them adhere to your car’s paint, so they are typically easier to remove. A professional full wrap removal will likely cost you $1,000. You can remove it yourself to save money, but be prepared to put in many hours doing it, and be sure to learn what you are doing first. Removing a wrap is expensive because many body pieces need to be removed since the vinyl wrap wraps around things like bumpers, spoilers, door mirrors, etc. Note that removing these pieces often requires special tools and knowledge.

How to Save Money on Wrapping

There are several things you can do to save money on your vinyl wrap:

  • Get a partial wrap. If you are simply looking to add flair to your vehicle, it may not be necessary to wrap it entirely to achieve a cool look. You may only wrap the roof or the hood, for example, or get a flashy racing stripe down the sides.
  • You can absolutely do the wrapping yourself, but pay close attention to prepping the car before you begin. Make sure to clean and dry the exterior thoroughly, fill in any scratches, and knock off any flecks of rust. Remember that imperfections on the vehicle’s body will show through the finished product, and crooked seams will look sloppy.
  • Choose a stock design option without texture. The more intricate the design, the longer it takes to apply and the trickier it is to match up the design along the seams. Intricate designs also tend to be pricier, and a shop will charge you more for applying them, too, due to the additional time and effort involved with matching up the design.
  • There are different levels of vinyl quality, and a lower one will cost you less initially but won’t last as long. If the wrap is intended for a short-term advertising campaign or other relatively brief use, cheaper materials may suffice. Otherwise, compare the expected lifespan of various materials to the length of time you expect to be driving the vehicle before making a selection.

To wrap your vehicle yourself, follow along with the instructions in this video:

Besides the vinyl wrap itself, the process requires a few extra tools and supplies. You will need an edge sealing product to hold down the portions of wrap that extend under the vehicle and around the edges of any surface, like a door or hood. A sturdy plastic card or application squeegee is crucial for smoothing out bubbles or wrinkles, and a heat gun is required to properly bond the vinyl. Find the application tools you need here and browse available vinyl products here.

Painting vs. Wrapping: How Long Each Takes

So which should you choose: painting or wrapping? If you’re trying to cut costs, painting is a bit cheaper. Also, painting is easier to DIY, and you could save a lot of money that way. Painting DIY supplies are a bit cheaper than vinyl supplies, depending on the quality of the paint or vinyl you buy and what equipment you already have in your garage. But, if you want something customized, you’re better off with a wrap, because there are extensive options for graphics, colors, and the like. And, if you want something temporary, vinyl is also preferable, because it’s easily removed.

But one of the biggest factors — probably the most difficult thing about painting or wrapping your vehicle, besides budgeting for the expense — is being without your car while the work is done. Naturally, the time cost of having the car in the shop needs to be considered when choosing between wrapping and painting.

Unfortunately, there is no easy answer when it comes to how long the work will take. Much depends on the necessary prep work required, how busy the shop is at any given time, and the overall complexity of the project. However, a couple of basic factors for each method can help you estimate how long you’ll need to take the bus.

For wraps, vehicles with a lot of curves take longer to complete, and larger vehicles take longer than small ones, as well. The average time to wrap a mid-size car is one and a half to two days if the work is done by two experienced professionals. The vinyl also has a 24-hour “set-in” period during which the car should not be driven, or else wind and general handling can start to peel back the application.

For painting, the time frame can vary a lot depending on how much prep work needs to be done and how many coats of paint will be applied. There is usually a 24-hour drying period between each coat, and then it may be recommended that you refrain from driving for a week after the final coat is applied to let the finish fully cure. If you choose a business that specializes in vehicle painting, it can take approximately two to four days. Other shops that do all kinds of body and mechanical work could set a time frame of up to three weeks, depending on the complexity of your project. Be sure to ask about the turnaround time when researching your options.

In most cases, a wrap will likely get your car back on the road faster. If your current paint job is in good shape, you want to do the work yourself, or you have only a small section of your car to alter, wrapping may be your best and quickest option. If your car is rusting or chipping in spots, you want a more flawless look, or you would prefer a permanent change, the extra time in the shop for a paint job would be worth it.

In Summary

Getting a standard paint job on your car will probably cost you $1,000 to $5,000, while a full vinyl wrap job will cost around $2,000 to $6,000, plus another $1,000 or so for removal at the end of its lifespan. With similar pricing, you will want to consider other factors in determining whether you paint or wrap your car, such as the condition of your current paint job, the color and pattern of the look you’re going for, and the portions of the car to be changed. While there are ways to save money on each, don’t be tempted to sacrifice quality for temporary savings, because you will probably pay for that mistake later. Once you are clear on your goals for the finished product, you can choose a method and set about finding the right combination of affordability, durability, and turnaround time.