If you need to cover up an unsightly mark or repair job on your car or it's time for a refresh, you might wonder how you're supposed to find the right color. After all, you can't walk up to an auto shop, ask for "blue" paint and expect it to match. You know that if you eyeball it, you'll probably end up with something slightly off from the original color. It'll put a noticeable blemish on your car and stick out like a sore thumb. So, how do you get the right shade of paint that matches the rest of your car? And if you take it to a professional, how will they match the color?
It's not as much of a puzzle as you might think — the first step is to find the color code.
Each paint color on a car gets a color code. This code provides auto detailers, enthusiasts, mechanics and manufacturers with a way to find the right shade as they work on vehicles, especially since the color's name usually isn't all that helpful. Using this color code will help you or a detailer match a car to its like-new color. It can also help generate digital prints, such as vinyl wraps, that match the vehicle.
What Is a Paint Code?
Each car has a paint code that designates the correct shade of paint for its exterior. Sometimes, you can even find paint codes for different components, like the underside of the hood or accent colors. The paint code listed on your car, however, refers to the exterior body color. It may include one code to represent multiple colors in two-toned paint jobs.
Paint color codes tend to be several characters long and can consist of a combination of letters, numbers and dashes. Usually, they'll include characters that help identify other features of the vehicle. For instance, a manufacturer might put a "P" in front of a number, with the "P" representing the car's manufacture year instead of a color. Formatting varies among manufacturers, so knowing what to look for makes the task a lot easier — don't worry, we'll go over that step later.
As a whole, your paint code is a valuable set of characters to know, so you can be sure you're getting the right product when you order paint. It also helps auto body technicians when they work on vehicles and printers who create vinyl wraps.
Why Is My Paint Code Important?
Painting a car is already a detail-oriented task, so making sure you get the right color is an essential first step. If you have the wrong shade, you'll end up with a spot that will stamd out. Even if both shades are a similar metallic blue, the human eye is incredibly good at noticing subtle differences. Even an exceptional blending job can't hide mismatched colors.
Whether you're trying to repaint a panel that needed replacement or touching up a small scrape, you'll quickly notice if the color is just slightly off. By using the right color code, you can potentially save yourself substantial amounts of money on paint. After all, if you're painting an entire panel, a mixup in color will require a new coat and more paint you'll need to buy.
Auto detailers, car enthusiasts and more use paint codes. Some situations that will make the paint code especially helpful include the following.
- Multiple color names: One reason paint codes are useful is because many manufacturers will use the same code for different color names. For instance, a luxury sportscar maker might use the term Sparkling Pearl, while a midline SUV gets Lunar White. They could very well be the same color, just with different names that the marketing department decided worked better for those individual vehicles. In the same vein, Lunar White could mean something different in cars made in different years or between manufacturers. Mismatching names like this makes it a little less clear which color refers to which code when trying to determine what you need. Color codes simplify it and allow you to get the right match every time. Checking the code is much more definitive.
- Subtly different shades: Manufacturers might also create several versions of the same make of a car in multiple shades of one color. For example, one car could be Apple Red, Metallic Red and Electric Red. This kind of duplicate value makes it tough to get the right color and shade. You might not be able to go up to a paint seller and say you need touch-up paint for a red car of a specific make and model. Sometimes, there could be three different reds that year.
- Online shopping: Many auto enthusiasts have to shop online for specific colors and formulas, but the digital color swatches can look different depending on the device they use. If you shop online, paint codes are useful because they clearly represent what you're getting. Various computer monitors can make colors appear different. One display may show the color blue with a warmer hue than another. What looks close enough to your car on the screen could appear completely different once it's in your hands. Similarly, looking at your car in harsh, fluorescent shop lighting will show the colors very differently than if the car was sitting outside on an overcast day.
- Classic cars: Those who work with vintage cars may find that the original equipment manufacturer (OEM) doesn't create your paint anymore. When that old car starts to rust, or you find yourself facing paint damage, you need to color match. Using the color code allows you to find that color even when the OEM can't help you anymore.
All in all, paint codes aren't merely a convenient number for detailing your car. They're also a necessity if you want your car's touch-up or repaint to look seamless.
What Does a Paint Code Look Like?
Remember that most manufacturers format their codes differently, so knowing what to look for can be a big help. For most cars from the last couple of decades, they should match the following formatting conventions.
- Acura: Two letters followed by three digits and another letter, like NH-583M
- Audi: Four characters, like LY9H
- BMW: Three characters, such as 300, A61or 475 alongside the color name in German
- Chrysler: Three characters, starting with a P, like PXR, PS2 or PW7. Trim colors could begin with "Q."
- Ford: Either two letters or a number and a letter combination, like AQ, G9 or CX
- GM: Four characters, like 8554 or 929L, often with a WA or BC/CC prefix
- Honda: Four to six characters, like B92P, NH578 or YR571P, with the first letter representing the color family
- Hyundai and Kia: Two or three characters, e.g. 2Z, AA, MBK
- Mazda: Three characters, like 14L, 27A and 39T. Could also share a two-character color code with Ford.
- Nissan: Three characters, such as A20, K50 or Z5K with the first letter indicating the color family
- Subaru: Three characters, like 01X, 0A6 or 286. Two-tone colors can have a code that represents the color combination.
- Toyota: Three characters, such as 068, 8R3 and 4Q2. Like Subaru, two-tone colors have a code that represents the combination.
- Volvo: Three digits, like 702, 019 and 455, with a dash and another two digits
- VW: Four characters starting with "L," such as LC9A, LB7W and L041
Where Do I Find the Color of My Car?
Just as each manufacturer has a unique code format, they also tend to put their codes in different places on the car. Some color code locations are simple, and you'll find the information in the door jamb, while others could be in more complicated spots, like underneath the carpet in a spare tire compartment. Trying to find a paint code can become a puzzle, especially if you don't have the slightest clue where to start. In most cars, you'll find the paint code on the door jamb or under the hood, but there are a few exceptions. Here are the paint code locations for many popular manufacturers.
- Acura: Driver's door jamb
- Audi: In the spare tire compartment on a paper tag
- BMW: Under the hood
- Chrysler: On top of radiator support for older models or on driver's door jamb for newer cars
- Ford: Driver's door jamb, might be above the label for exterior paint code
- Hyundai: Driver's door jamb
- Kia: Driver's door jamb
- Lexus: Driver's door jamb
- Mitsubishi: Driver's door jamb or under the hood
- Subaru: Under the hood
- Toyota: Driver's door jamb
- Volvo: Under the hood
If your paint code location is on a part of your car that may be a replacement, like a door or hood, make sure you're looking at the OEM part and verify the code with a paint chip book or your manufacturer. To get the code from your manufacturer, contact them and provide them with your vehicle identification number (VIN). They may be able to pull up your paint color by VIN. But don't use this as your only method for getting the code. Always try to verify it on your physical vehicle.
For a vehicle not listed above, you can find databases online with information about finding your paint code for a wide variety of less common vehicles.
Paint Codes for Color Matching
Using your vehicle's paint code is the best way to get accurate color matching, but it's not the only component. Remember that most manufacturers will have slight variations in color from time to time. Plus, conditions during paint manufacturing can cause subtle differences between batches. If humidity or heat affected the batch, that condition could slightly alter the color of the finished product. Environmental conditions can also change the current color of your car. For example, if you've kept your car parked in the sun all day, every day, it may be starting to fade. Other harsh weather conditions can cause the pigment to erode, as well.
For these reasons, the color-matching process can be more involved than grabbing a color code. The color code typically represents the color of your car when it comes off the lot, not after years of use. To combat this, a combination of "eyeballing" it and using advanced computer technology allows auto body technicians to almost perfectly match your paint color. Typically, they'll use a color-matching camera with paint formula detection. This piece of technology can locate the paint code and give the technician an accurate starting point. It helps if they use OEM-endorsed paints.
Generally, the technician starts with the color-matching camera and sprays the resulting formula onto a test card. After letting that dry, they will compare it to the current paint on the car and adjust as needed, repeating the process to get the best match possible.
Another critical part of the color-matching process is blending. Due to differences in the age of the paint, the clear coat applied over the top and any wear on the original paint, it's almost impossible to make a cover-up look brand-new. So technicians must blend the paint. They'll apply paint over a larger area, reducing how much they use as they get further away from the damaged area. When you step back, it looks smooth to the human eye and is much harder to detect, except by experts. Of course, this assumes you have a highly qualified technician doing the work. Less-skilled workers may have poor blending abilities.
Color codes provide a starting point for these technicians, making it easier for them to get the right shade.
Vinyl Wrap Color Matching
One material that plays well with color matching is vinyl. Vinyl wraps are a popular paint replacement for paint that provide a few different advantages. They stretch over the vehicle and adhere to it tightly, giving a durable layer and protection to your existing coat of paint. For people who have experience with auto detailing, DIYing a car wrap is also an option, whereas a paint job is much more complicated to do if you aren't a professional.
This material has become a popular alternative to paints, as new technology makes color matching vinyl wrap a more viable option. Wraps come in thousands of colors, and it's possible to print them to match any color code. You can use paint-matched vinyl wraps on parts of your car like mirrors, door handles and bumpers to accent them or cover issues from damage. With accurate paint code-matching vinyl, these components will blend in seamlessly with the rest of the car. You can also "repaint" after a fender bender with the help of color-matched vinyl. Multiple finish options are available, too, including matte, gloss and metallics.
Using a color-matched vinyl wrap can create a convenient alternative to repainting a car. It offers a new way to fix your car or create accents that can be cheaper and faster, while protecting your vehicle from the environment. Some of the reasons you might wish to turn to vinyl wraps as an alternative to paint include the following.
- Protection: Vinyl wraps, whether on your entire car or just a small part, protect your paint job from the elements and the dangers of the road. Rocks can ding up your car, while salt can leach color from your paint. If you live in a sunny area, the damages of constant ultraviolet light can take a toll on your paint job. A vinyl wrap keeps your paint safe from these things, adding a layer of thick protection between the car and the rest of the world.
- Unique customization: With a vinyl wrap, you can cover your car in some unique designs. From bold galaxy wraps to carbon fiber, holographic chrome, marble finishes and much more, you can make your car stand out from all those plain solid-colored vehicles on the road. These impressive designs are vibrant and offer bold colors that will last for years. You can also mix and match the design on your car if you don't want to wrap the entire thing. Add a pop of color on your hood or pillars for something new if you want. And if you ever get tired of the vinyl design, you can always remove it and go back to your original paint.
- Affordability: Experienced, professional paint jobs can run on the pricey side. As an alternative, you can purchase a wrap and do it yourself. You can also wrap portions of your car, like accents on your hood or roof, for a cool wrapped look that won't break the bank. And if you get into an accident and your door panel gets dented, vinyl offers more flexibility. Instead of repainting the entire car or risking a mismatched touch-up, you can replace the vinyl on that panel.
- Helps resale value: Vinyl wraps can improve your resale value in a few different ways. First, it protects your vehicle and underlying paint from rocks, salt and weather, so you won't have to fix the damage when it's time to sell. Secondly, if you want to wrap your car in a rather uncommon color, it could be harder to sell, since fewer people desire colors outside of silver, white and black. With a wrap, you can remove your more unique color and offer up your subdued paint job to the market. If you were to repaint your car, this option isn't available to you.
Rvinyl and Color Matching
Rvinyl cannot paint-match vinyl wraps just yet but it is something that we're working toward.
In the meantime, for non-color-matched vinyl, we maintain a wide catalog of vinyl materials and wraps to give your vehicle a new look. From bold, unique appearances like carbon fiber, holographic and chameleon films to more subtle colors, complete with matte, gloss and pearlescent finishes, we carry vinyl wraps for whatever look you're going for. You can also use our vinyl films to add realistic woodgrain to your dash or a tint to your windows.
Whatever vinyl product you need, Rvinyl has a wide variety of options and maintains high standards of quality. We offer a customer satisfaction guarantee and exceptional product warranties. Take a look through our online store to shop vinyl vehicle wraps today.