Orange peel, wrinkling, paint curtains—these are all conditions that can ruin an automotive paint job. The good news is they’re all avoidable and fixable. In conjunction with the experts at Kirker Automotive Finishes, we’ve put together a list of some of the most common paint mishaps and how to avoid them. We’ve also included some basic information on how to fix these conditions.

Bad paint doesn’t have to be permanent. And neither does your fear of painting your own hot rod or truck. Find out how to avoid (and fix, if necessary) these seven common paint maladies and tackle your next paint job at home.

What Causes Paint Cracking?


Also known as wrinkling, splitting, or checking, cracking can include cracks of random size and often resembles the wrinkles on a reptile’s skin.

Common Causes of Automotive Paint Cracking

  • Insufficient surface preparation: Step one in avoiding cracks or many other imperfections is properly preparing the substrate for paint. Cracking or other imperfections in the surface itself should be removed before the new material is applied.
  • Lifting of substrate: When the wrong reducer is used in a top coat, or when certain materials are top coated before achieving full cure, the undercoat may lift in a way that appears like cracking.
  • Improper choice in reducer or hardener: Be sure to follow the paint manufacturer’s suggestions on the type of reducers and hardeners to use with each paint. Improper or low quality materials may have an adverse effect on the finished dry paint film.
  • Incorrect mixing ratio: If too much activator/hardener is used, or if the correct ratio is not properly mixed, defects may appear in the finished dried paint film.
  • Environmental conditions: Excessive heat or humidity during application and curing can cause surface imperfections such as cracking.
  • Too much, too quickly: Spraying too much material in full wet coats can lead to cracking.

You’ll need to allow the paint film to cure completely. Once cured, you can sand out any imperfections and reapply the paint. Avoid the same mistakes by keeping the common causes above in mind.

What Causes Orange Peel in Car Paint?


This is one of the most common conditions we hear mentioned when people talk about painting their own vehicle. As the name suggests, orange peel is a condition in which the dried paint has an appearance or finish similar to an orange peel.

Common Causes of Orange Peel

  • Excessive film thickness: Again, applying too much material in full wet coats can cause issues. This includes preventing the paint from flowing to an even film before drying.
  • Improper use of reducer: The wrong reducer for the conditions can cause solvents to evaporate too fast, allowing the paint film to dry before the material has properly flowed out to the desired appearance. Make sure to use the right reducer for the temperature and conditions in which you are working.
  • Gun troubles: Make sure to use the correct spray gun, fluid tip, and air cap for your application. Also, insufficient air pressure at the tip of the gun can prevent paint material from properly atomizing, keeping it from flowing out to a desired appearance.
  • Poor technique: Any number of factors, including the position of the gun tip, the speed of the pass, the degree of overlap between passes, and the distance of the gun from the panel, can lead to orange peel.

If orange peel is minimal, sand out the texture in the dried paint film with a fine grit sandpaper, then compound and polish to restore gloss. If orange peel is significant, sand out imperfections and reapply paint using properly reduced material, air pressure, and technique. Making adjustments to the gun settings may also help.

Automotive Paint Runs and Sags & How to Fix Them


Whether on the side of a vehicle or while repainting a kitchen or bathroom, we’ve all probably dealt with paint sags or runs at some point. When struggling with runs, sags, or curtains on an automobile, there are some likely culprits.

What Causes Paint to Run or Sag?

  • Improper reducer/too much reducer: Again, your choice in reducer and hardener plays a key role in your final finish. Be sure to choose the appropriate reducer for the type of material being sprayed, and the shop conditions in which they will be sprayed. Reducer that evaporates too slow and excessive use of reducer are two primary causes of runs and sags.
  • Excessive film thickness: Too much material in full wet coats leads to excess paint that runs.
  • Insufficient flash time: Not allowing enough time for solvent to flash off of the first coat before applying next coat can also cause runs.
  • Inadequate air pressure: Paint sags can result from insufficient air pressure at the tip of your paint gun. It’s also important to use the correct fluid tip and air cap, and the proper paint gun for specific materials.
  • Poor technique: Runs and sags can be caused by improper gun tip position, the speed of the pass, the degree of overlap between passes, and the distance of the gun from the panel.

If the paint is wet: Remove with solvent, clean the area, and reapply coating.

If the paint is dry: Sand out any runs and reapply coating.

What Causes Fish Eyes in Paint?


Appearing as small, circular craters spread throughout the paint film, fish eyes are a common enough problem that you can find specialized Fish Eye Eliminator.

How to Avoid Fish Eyes in Paint

Fish eyes typically (but not always) appear in a paint surface soon after application. There is one reason for the appearance of fish eyes: contamination.

Contamination found on the substrate (oil, water, grease, wax, etc.) is the main cause of fish eyes. Contamination that occurs during the application and/or prep process is the other common cause. This can occur when water and oil enter the air stream due to the absence of a water and oil separator, or the reuse of shop rags, which may have previously been used with silicone or other materials. Paints are extremely susceptible to certain waxes and silicone products, so care should be taken whenever car care products are used in the general vicinity of a paint shop.

If the paint is wet: Remove with solvent, properly prepare the surface, and reapply paint material.

If the paint is dry: Sand out fish eyes, and then reapply paint material. Add a fish eye eliminator to the paint before reapplying. The surface should always be completely clean and dry before applying paint materials.

How to Avoid or Fix Paint Flaking and Peeling


It’s generally a bad sign when pieces of dried paint peel or flake off of your vehicle. If you’re experiencing this condition, delamination has occurred. The dried paint film is no longer adhering to the substrate, causing it to pull away in strips or flakes. Here’s how to avoid or fix that problem.

What are Common Causes of Paint Flaking or Peeling?

  • Improper surface preparation: If the substrate is not properly abraded, or features surface irregularities and/or rust spots that are not addressed prior to the application of paint, delamination may occur (sometimes immediately, other times after a lengthy period). Remember, your vehicle’s finish is only as good as what lies beneath it.
  • Insufficient film thickness: Consistent and adequate film thickness is important. Paint that has been applied too thinly has an eventual tendency to pull away from the substrate.
  • Failure to follow application instructions: Adhesion may become an issue if specific application instructions are not followed. For example, certain undercoats that have fully cured must be sanded before taking a topcoat to avoid delamination.

If the area in question is relatively small, remove flaking and peeling paint, and then reapply paint material as you would during a spot repair. For larger problem areas, sand the entire paint surface and reapply paint material. Take care to follow application instructions and build the material to a sufficient film thickness.

Why Does My Car Paint Lack Gloss?

A matte finish is nice if it’s what you really want. But if you’re expecting a nice gloss finish and you get a more satin or matte look—well, that’s bad. If your automotive paint isn’t giving you the gloss finish you want, there are a few possible causes. Keep in mind, though, that all paints will lose some degree of gloss over time due to everyday weathering.

How to Avoid a Gloss-Less Finish

  • Insufficient film thickness: If the final coat of single-stage paint or a clearcoat is applied too thinly, finished paint film will not exhibit full gloss potential. This also may occur when material is applied too dry, causing orange peel.
  • Insufficient flash time between coats: If solvent does not have adequate time to flash between coats, the result may be a loss of gloss in finished paint film.
  • Excessive film thickness: A repeat suspect in multiple paint problems, excessive film thickness can prevent the finished paint film from achieving full gloss. Make sure to not apply too many full wet coats of paint.
  • Wrong reducer: The wrong grade or temperature reducer for the conditions can cause solvents to evaporate too fast. This will allow the paint film to dry too quickly, leaving a satin or matte finish. This can also occur if too much solvent is used.
  • Insufficient time between different materials: Gloss may be compromised if a topcoat or clearcoat is applied too soon, or in some cases, before the previously applied material has achieved a full cure.
  • Poor cross ventilation: It is important to maintain air movement even after application. Failure to do so can impede the overall gloss development.

Once paint film is cured, compound and polish to restore gloss or scuff sand and reapply paint.

Why Does My Paint Allow Imperfections to Show Through?

Uneven filler or substrate color can cause poor hiding. (Image/OnAllCylinders)

Is your dried paint allowing the substrate to show through?

While paints are designed for opacity, poor hiding can allow variances in the vehicle surface or previously applied coating material to be visible through the finished paint. Here are some typical causes:

Common Causes of Poor Hiding Paint

  • Too much reducer: Reducers are totally transparent, so using too much reducer takes away from the normal hiding level of the paint.
  • Wrong primer color: Certain color primers are more difficult to cover, depending on the color of the paint. For instance, a white paint will cover a light-colored primer faster than a black or dark gray.
  • Uneven color on substrate: Body fillers and other variations in substrate color can cause an uneven appearance.
  • Insufficient coats: Depending on the paint color used, a manufacturer’s suggestion may not be enough to achieve proper hiding and additional coats should be applied.
  • Improper paint prep: Paint must be sufficiently agitated prior to use so that pigments can be mixed throughout the material. This is especially true with older materials, because pigments may easily settle to the bottom of a container if left untouched for long periods.

Simply continue to apply properly agitated and reduced material until desired hiding level is achieved.

For more valuable paint help, including troubleshooting advice for other paint conditions, check out the Kirker Automotive Finishes website.

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Author: David Fuller

David Fuller is OnAllCylinders' managing editor. During his 20-year career in the auto industry, he has covered a variety of races, shows, and industry events and has authored articles for multiple magazines. He has also partnered with mainstream and trade publications on a wide range of editorial projects. In 2012, he helped establish OnAllCylinders, where he enjoys covering all facets of hot rodding and racing.