When you want to change the look of or apply a protective outer coating to your car, bike, or other metal items, powder coating and painting are two of the most popular options. Both can be used to prevent rust and corrosion on metal parts of your car, bike, or appliances.
Powder coating is much stronger and more effective than paint, but it comes at a cost — and, if it chips, there is no easy way to touch it up.
If these options don’t work for you, there are several other coating methods to consider that come with a variety of price points and durability options. Below, we have what you need to know about powder coating, painting, and other protective alternatives.
Pros and Cons of Powder Coating
Powder coating is used to cover metal parts — such as auto parts, bike parts, and appliance parts — with a protective material by spraying it with a dry powder that is made of plastic or another type of polymer.
The metal is electrically charged, which helps the powder adhere to the metal surface. Once applied, the metal is baked in an oven, which turns the powder into one solid, protective coat.
Powder coating is strong and durable. The charged metal helps the powder adhere to the metal more consistently than paint. Additionally, the baking process creates a strong bond and makes the part more uniformly coated.
The powder coat doesn’t contain any solvents and releases fewer volatile organic compounds (VOCs) into the atmosphere than most paint. And, since it’s baked at high temperatures, the powder coat cures faster than paint dries.
The biggest downside of powder coating is the cost. Powder coating is expensive and requires special equipment that not everyone can access. For that reason, you will usually need to take your metal parts to a powder coating shop or mail them to a specialist.
Keep in mind that even specialty shops have size limits to what can fit in their ovens. In general, for professional powder coating, you can expect to pay between $25 and $300 each to coat small car parts, and between $250 and $700 each for larger parts like car wheels (as previously reported).
You can choose to do the powder coating yourself if you are willing to do the research required to learn how to do it, but you will need to buy all of the necessary supplies, including an oven, which can cost around $2,000.
Another downside is that not all materials can be powder coated. You’ll need to check with a local powder coating shop to see if there are any restrictions — either for size or material type.
In general, powder coating works best on metals, but it can also work on plastic as long as the plastic that can withstand heat without melting.
Also, note that if your powder coating chips, it is not really feasible to get a touch-up on the coating.
Powder Coating Alternatives
If powder coating is outside of your budget or the parts you wish to coat or protect are not able to be powder coated, there are quite a few protective coating alternatives to consider.
We list them below, along with the pros and cons of each, and we’ve ordered the list starting with the best overall option in terms of cost, quality, and accessibility.
Paint is a cost-effective alternative that is also easy to apply. Painting is cheaper per part than powder coating, and if you’re willing to sacrifice some of the durability of powder coating, painting is likely your best option.
Most body panels of cars are painted, and you can paint virtually all other exterior parts like wheels, bumpers, and even some interior trim pieces. Also, unlike powder coating, you can touch-up a paint job fairly easily if it chips.
You can paint your car, bike, or other items yourself much more easily than powder coating. You will simply need to purchase the paint, brushes, and some cleaning supplies. The best way to get a coat of paint to look good is to spend a lot of time prepping the material to make sure the paint will stick.
Also, you may want to apply more than one coat, and maybe even a few clear coats too. However, keep in mind the time required for each coat of paint to dry — your car may be out of commission for up to a few weeks.
Thermal spray is essentially a combination of paint and powder coating. A heat source and high-pressure applicator are combined to spray a type of paint, which helps it adhere better to the part.
Thermal spray can be used on both metals and plastics. Specialized tools are needed, so you’ll need to find a local shop that specializes in thermal spray.
Cost may also be an important factor for this method — Falmer Thermal Spray estimates that prices can range anywhere from $1 to $50 per square inch of thermal spraying. Parts with challenging sizes or shapes will cost more, as will any post-spray procedures like grinding or cleaning.
However, while the upfront costs may be higher, thermal spraying may end up costing less in the long run. While painting and powder coating can both chip within a few years (or even sooner for painting), thermal spray can last up to 30 years.
Anodizing is a process typically used for aluminum, and instead of coating it in another material, the metal surface is made to oxidize quickly; this increases the thickness of the metal’s natural oxide layer and protects its core. Special equipment is needed, and you will need to find a specialty shop that offers the service.
As an alternative, you can also purchase pre-anodized parts. Anodizing is known to be durable and resistant to chipping and peeling.
According to Quality Anodizing Inc., the cost of anodizing depends on several factors, including the shape and dimensions of the part to be coated, as well as the desired finish.
Hot Dip Galvanizing
Some iron and steel parts — such as steel nuts and bolts that are exposed to the elements — can be coated with a protective layer of zinc, which is more resistant to rust and corrosion than paint or powder coating. Hot dip galvanizing requires a vat of molten zinc and a way to submerge the iron or steel in it.
If you have parts that you want to galvanize, you will need to find a specialty shop or simply order parts that have already been galvanized.
This method is one of the most durable ways to protect iron and steel parts, but it can only be used on these materials (not plastics). Also, due to the steady price of zinc, relative costs for hot dip galvanizing have become more competitive with other coating systems, the costs of which have increased in recent years.
Rhino Linings, Other Brands
Rhino Linings is a brand of protective coatings — typically applied to truck beds — which uses a special polymer that forms a shield much stronger than paint and that doesn’t require baking or charging. Some people will even coat their entire vehicle in this product, making it virtually rust-proof. You can get a free quote on the Rhino Linings website.
Other brands make similar products you can apply on your own. You can find alternative polymer lining products on Amazon. Like paint, these protective coatings require proper preparation, or they won’t stick to the surface. Polymer linings are not as durable as other chemically or metal-bonded coating methods, but as mentioned above, they last longer than paint.
Phosphating is a similar alternative to galvanizing. Metal parts are dipped in an acid bath that contains dissolved metals.
The acid encourages the metals dissolved in the acid to adhere to the part, forming a protective layer. The part will then need to be coated in oil or some other type of sealant to complete the process.
This is an uncommon coating method, and it is only available at some local, specialty paint shops. Also, due to its complexity and the amount of specialized materials, knowledge, and labor involved, this is typically a more expensive option than the other coating alternatives.