Painting and car wrapping can be equally costly endeavors, whether you’re paying someone else to do it or you’re doing it yourself. However, there are advantages and disadvantages to both methods.
Below, we break down the factors that contribute to your overall bill for painting versus wrapping, some reasons why you might choose one option over the other, as well as some ways you might be able to save money on each method.
The costs for wrapping and painting a car are comparable, but each method comes with different color and design selections, DIY options, durability, etc. You can use the table below for a quick comparison of the main features, advantages, and disadvantages of each method. Then, select either method or scroll below for an in-depth comparison.
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 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 longer as well. Additionally, higher-quality wraps require less adhesive 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 do your research first. Removing a wrap is expensive because many body pieces like the bumpers, spoilers, and door mirrors need to be removed as well. Removing these pieces often requires special tools and knowledge.
See our related article for details on car wrap cost information.
Advantages of Vinyl Wrapping
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. If you simply want to change the look of one panel or section of your car, especially a relatively flat surface 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.
Wrapping is also typically a faster process than painting, so your car will not be out of commission for as long. 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 — it will likely take longer if you do it yourself. 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.
Disadvantages of Vinyl Wrapping
Vinyl wraps typically do not last as long as new paint jobs, so if you want a permanent color change, it will likely cost more in the long-term to continue removing and reapplying vinyl wraps.
Furthermore, wraps cannot be applied smoothly over chips, scratches, and uneven surfaces, so there may be more prep work (and higher costs) needed before the wrap can be applied.
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. You can wrap just the roof or the hood, for example, or get a flashy racing stripe down the sides.
- You can do the wrapping yourself, but you should 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.
- 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-quality vinyl will cost less initially but won’t last as long. If the wrap is intended for a short-term advertising campaign or other temporary use, cheaper materials may suffice. Otherwise, you should compare the expected lifespan of various materials to the length of time you expect to be driving the vehicle before making a selection.
DIY Vinyl Wrap
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 torch is required to properly bond the vinyl. You can find the application tools you need online and browse available vinyl products.
To wrap your vehicle yourself, follow along with an online instruction guide, or use the helpful video below:
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 may not always 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 the warranty will likely last for about one year.
- A basic complete paint job to refresh the vehicle’s appearance and add a nice gloss often carries a one-year warranty and costs around $400 to $1,000.
- A standard paint job that includes sanding, filling, and other prep work may be warranted for five years and will cost $1,000 to $5,000, depending on the amount and thoroughness of prep work needed, as well as the quality of the materials and labor.
- Finally, a custom or specialty show-quality paint job will cost you $5,000 to $20,000 or more, and it may carry a lifetime warranty.
Advantages of Painting
It’s generally 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 the bumps and dings will show through. Moreover, chips in the paint may stick to your vinyl wrapping when you eventually take it off, further damaging the underlying paint. 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. A fresh coat of paint can increase the car’s resale value.
Most paint jobs come with longer warranty options than vinyl wraps — some are under warranty for seven years or more — which can mean lower maintenance costs in the long-term.
Disadvantages of Painting
Painting a car is more permanent than a vinyl wrap, so it is more of a serious commitment. Also, paint color and design options can be limited, whereas any computer-generated graphic design can be made into a vinyl wrap.
Furthermore, painting can take far longer than vinyl wrapping. There is usually a 24-hour drying period between each coat, and 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. If you choose to do the work yourself, it could take even longer.
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 it might offer a discount when you request painting at the same time as other work.
- Do the prep work yourself, such as sanding the vehicle and removing or masking off the parts that won’t be painted.
- If you’re comfortable with it, consider doing the painting yourself. Even if you do the labor yourself, you can expect to pay around $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 cost up to $250/gallon.
- If you are painting purely for aesthetic reasons, and the car’s 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.
DIY Paint Job
A DIY paint job requires a few things beyond the paint, itself. You will need sanding equipment, plastic sheeting, masking tape, hardener, filler, a sprayer, 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, such as coveralls, cups and stirrers to mix custom colors, and plenty of rags or towels for cleanup.
To tackle a DIY paint job, you can find a step-by-step guide online or follow along with the instructions in this video:
For more information, our article has details about DIY car paint job options.
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 how long you are able to go without driving your car. While there are ways to save money on each, the decision to paint or wrap will ultimately depend on your priorities.