What is scratch resistant paint
Written by: Vinnie van Rooij
Scratch resistant paint is a holy grail in the world of surface finishes. It would suggest a type of surface finish that either is hard enough to withstand surface impacts, or is capable or reforming its damages surface.
What is scratch resistant paint
Scratch resistant paint (sometimes referred to as SRP) is a type of surface protection that has the property to now visually show any surface deformation after mechanical impact. In real terms this means that the surface deformation that is caused by the impact of an object is not shown. This can be due to the surface absorbing the impact by deformation, instead of breaking or because the surface is hard enough to withstand the impact. The result is that no new surface imperfections are formed. If you would hit the surface with a something that would normally cause a scratch, it would not leave any mark on the SRP surface. This can be achieved in different ways.
Why use scratch resistant paint
One of the many reasons why detailers have such a wide range of products, is because a surface hardly stays unaffected from the world around it. A stick that hits the paintwork can leave a very light mark in the paintwork. Certain chemicals can damage the paintwork as well. Even washing your car with a brush can create marks in your paintwork. An example of these are swirls, RDS, cobwebs and scratches. These can be removed, but it would be better to prevent them altogether. A scratch resistant paint would be able to resist the formation of scratches and would look pristine, even after years of daily usage. Stone chips, a stick that hits the paint, a very rough brush, none of it would matter much. They won’t cause surface imperfections anymore and the paint will stay flawless.
How does scratch resistant paint work
Scratch resistant paint can work in a few different ways. They all revolve around handling the physical impact in a different way. The main goal is to absorb the impact or friction in a way that deflects the energy that would normally affect the surface in a negative way.
If a surface finish is capable of deforming, it will absorb the impact by changing shape. For example, when something hits a rubber-like object, the rubber when absorb the impact by deforming its surface shape. The deformation will dissipate the energy from the impact and prevent the material from having to absorb the energy by structural damage. This will only work on blunt objects and on a certain level. A stone chip might not leave a mark, but a sharp tool dragged over the surface will still cut in the flexible surface and leave a surface imperfection.
Reforming means that the material is capable of reshaping its surface. An example of this property are fluids. Fluids are capable of reforming there surface after it has been hit. This is partly due to reforming, but also their ability for the molecules to “re-attach” with each other. Properties like these are very difficult to achieve with a surface protection. The product can’t remain liquid, but it needs to have a trigger to reform its surface. A currently popular way to achieve a similar effect is by creating a product that reacts to heat. When enough heat is applied, the upper most surface will be able to act in a similar way as a fluid does and reform its surface.
When a certain material is incredibly hard, it will suffer less from mechanical impact. Damage is generally done during impact because the 2 objects both share the energy from the impact. Even when 1 object is harder then the other object, the energy can still be shared between both surfaces. Any level of surface will have an effect on the material, but the harder a surface is the less it will be affected. For example, when a stone impacts on your paintwork, both suffer from the energy that is created on impact. The hardest surface will suffer the least from this impact, and the softest surface will suffer the greatest. When a coating is applied to the surface with an incredible hardness, it will be much less likely to become swirled and damaged from regular impact.
Problems with a scratch resistant paint
Although science is getting closer every day, the scratch resistant paint is still a holy grail that hasn’t been achieved yet. It appears to difficult to create a surface finish with all the properties it needs to have to remain flawless and workable at the same time. However, several big names in the industry are working hard to get as close as possible. The best type of product to get close are the liquid coatings that are capable of “re-flowing” when heat is added. The heat from the sun will cause a re-flow effect, which smoothens out surface imperfections. There are still downsides with a SRP that prevents it from becoming a real-life solution.
- If the surface is very hard, the coating becomes almost impossible to remove. If removing or reapplying is needed, it can become a problem.
- Although the thought of this type of product is very nice, it won’t last forever. Eventually the surface properties will not longer give it the protective strength it once had. This means it needs to be re-applied.
- Many people will not understand how to maintain these finishes and will feel it is better to apply wax or sealant over it. These product are very temporary and will need to be removed properly at a certain stage. Claying and polishing the surface to remove the wax or sealant can possibly damage the SRP finish, meaning it needs to be removed and reapplied. This would defeat the purpose of a long-term SRP finish.
- A product like this is likely to be very expensive and only available for professional installers. This would make it very expensive and exclusive. Due to the maintenance it needs and the need to re-apply it, the cost over the long run can be much more then an annual polish and possible respray.
- Some coatings need a large amount of heat before the surface will re-flow and hide any imperfections. In some countries it will rarely get this hot, meaning the paintwork will never (naturally) achieve a temperature that triggers the re-flowing process. Going over the entire car with a heatgun can be dangerous as well, because it is far to easy to burn the paint by making it too hot.
- It is not sure yet how these coatings react to dirt. And if they are easy enough to clean. It is also not clear yet what happens if the finish starts to re-flow with dirt covering the surface. These factors can heavily affect the product in a negative way.
Types of products that are similar to scratch resistant paint
A few different products can have certain properties that can be compared with scratch resistance. These are:
- PPF protection. These are less prone to show surface imperfections in the first place and can sometimes (with the application of heat) seem to re-flow and make imperfections disappear.
- Ceramic coating. These products are harder then most other forms of protection, which makes them more resistant to surface deformation but a small selection of products actually shows re-flowing properties.
- Glaze. Although the effect is achieved in a very different way, and it is not resistant to scratches, a glaze is capable of hiding several surface imperfections for a short period of time.
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