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How to Smooth Out Touch Up Paint on a Car

You’ve just fixed a little nick in your car’s door with some touch up paint. It looks great…until you see that the touch up paint isn’t quite a smooth as you’d like.  We’ve all been there. Thick, clumpy touch up paint can plague you if you don’t fix the issue. But you don’t want to do more harm than good when trying to smooth out touch up paint on your car. So what do you do? Below we give you four methods that will help you smooth out touch up paint and have your car looking as good as new!

Remove Excess or Loose Touch Up Paint

Our first method for smoothing out touch up paint on your car requires few or even no tools. If you’ve got clumpy or flaking touch up paint on your car, you might be able to simply scrape it off. This is your best-case-scenario and costs nothing!

Scrape Off Excess Touch Up Paint

The first step in smoothing out touch up paint is trying to scrape it off with your fingernail. If it peels away, the application probably wasn’t very well done, but the good news is that it’ll be easy to remove!

Use a Toothpick

In some cases, you might loosen your car’s touch up paint with your fingernail. But it could takes more than just picking at it to remove it all. In this instance, a toothpick is an effective tool for removing paint, especially if you recently applied it. Try spraying the problem area with a prep solvent to loosen the paint, then gently pick at the paint globs, prying them slowly from your car.

Using a toothpick or your fingernail to scrape and smooth touch up paint can be effective, but only if you do it gently. Trying to hastily pull off touch up paint can actually make the problem worse. You could pull off more paint than you’d hoped, exposing lower layers of paint or primer. If you feel like you’re having to really tug at the touch up paint in order to smooth it out, try one of the other methods below.

Use a Paint Thinner

Paint thinner is a potent chemical than can thin and remove paint from most surfaces, your car included. Because paint thinner gets the job done quickly and effectively, be very careful when using this method to smooth out touch up paint on your car.

Your first step in smoothing out your paint is washing the problem area with soap and water. Rinse thoroughly and then dry the spot with a microfiber towel. Using a cotton swab, apply a very small amount of paint thinner to the rough or clumpy paint. Be careful to apply the thinner only to the clump of paint, avoiding all other surrounding areas of smooth paint. As you rub the area with the swab, you should see paint smoothing out and sticking to the cotton. After you’ve removed the paint glob, let the area dry before taking further steps to adding more touch up paint.

Using paint thinner to rub off rough patches of touch up paint is a fast, fairly inexpensive way to fix your paint job. However, it’s crucial that you wear proper safety gear when working with paint thinner. Inhaling these fumes is harmful, and the chemicals can burn your skin.

Use a Lacquer Thinner

If paint thinner doesn’t work, the next step is applying a lacquer thinner using the same method. Lacquer thinner is similar to paint thinner, but instead of being a single solvent thinner, it’s composed of multiple solvents to give it more potency. The process for using lacquer thinner to smooth out touch up paint is simple: clean and dry the area, apply a small amount of the solvent with a cotton swab, and slowly rub the glob of paint away.

After you’ve used lacquer thinner, be sure to thoroughly clean the area. Lacquer thinner will eat away your car’s plastic trim, so be careful when using this method of touch up paint repair.

Sand It Off

The last do-it-yourself method of smoothing out touch up paint is a little more invasive. If you’ve got a stubborn patch of touch up paint, you can always sand it down. We recommend taking this step with extreme caution. If you sand too enthusiastically, you could turn a small issue with touchup paint into a real eyesore that needs more involved repairs.

To begin, clean and dry the problem area, then box it in with automotive masking tape. Do an initial sanding with wet and dry 300-grit sandpaper. Finish by smoothing with a wet and dry 1200-grit sandpaper. Wipe off the sanded area to ensure you’ve smoothed out the paint glob and then remove the masking tape. If you find you’ve sanded down into the car’s primer, simply add a small amount of touch up paint using a toothpick.

As with the above methods for smoothing touchup paint, it’s crucial that you take your time when sanding your car.

The Most Effective Way to Smooth Out Touch Up Paint

All of the methods we outlined above are great DIY ways to smooth out touch up paint on your car. But the most effective way to ensure your paint job looks like new is letting the professionals take care of it. After all, your local paint and body shop has tools, experience, and the know-how to repair even the roughest paint patches.

A professional touch up job won’t break the bank. For a reasonable price, you can know that your car will leave the shop looking as good as new with no work—or stress—on your end. If you’ve got a seriously stubborn patch of touch up paint, hire an experienced professional to smooth it out for you!

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