How to Apply Touch Up Paint to a Car with a Pen or Brush

How to Apply Touch Up Paint to a Car with a Pen or Brush

Last Updated February 15, 2024 | Kevin Brent

It's easy to accidentally damage your car's paint. Rocks from the road can fly up and chip your rocker panels. Careless shoppers can damage your bumper with a stray shopping cart. Even your own keys can leave behind nasty scratches. While touch up paint can't fix dents, it's the perfect solution for many minor issues.

If you're not ready for a trip to the body shop, then touch up paint may be the perfect solution for your car's small chips and scratches. With the right color and technique, you can easily cover minor defects and blemishes and keep your car's exterior presentable. While touch up paint is never going to look perfect, if you're careful with your application you can get pretty close. From a foot or more away, it's likely that other than you, no one will ever notice that it's been touched up.

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How to Get the Right Touch Up Paint for Your Car

The first step to applying great touch up paint is picking out paint to match your car's factory color. Somewhere on your vehicle, most likely on the driver's door jamb, you'll be able to find a sticker with a color code. This color code will be instrumental in finding the right paint.

Most car manufacturers sell touch up paint, so matching the paint code up is pretty simple from there. You can purchase a touch up paint pen here at CJ's or at most automotive parts stores. If you have a unique or older color, you may need to visit a specialty paint shop.

Related: If you need help finding the right touch up paint color, check out our full list of Mustang paint codes for every model year.

Getting Touch Up Paint to Match

It's no secret that the sun damages paint. Depending on how much sun exposure your car's gotten, its factory paint may no longer be a perfect color match for your new touch up paint. Before applying touch up paint to your door or bumper, first apply it to a spot on your car that's easy to hide. This will let you see if the paint is still a good match. If it's not, you may need to visit a body shop.

How to Prepare Your Car for Touch Up Paint

Before you can apply touch up paint, you need to prepare your vehicle's surface. A clean surface is a crucial starting point to ensure even coverage and lasting results. Take the time to clean around the scratch. If you notice any rusted or rotten spots, you may need to use sandpaper to remove the rust from your car's surface.

Do You Need Primer for Touch Up Paint?

You probably don't need to apply primer before applying touch up paint. Many touch up paint kits and pens are designed to work without primer. But if there's bare metal showing beneath the paint chip, or your touch up kit doesn't specify “no primer required,” adding primer before the touch up paint could be a good idea.

How To Use Touch Up Paint with a Pen or Brush

Depending on the touch up paint you select, the steps will be slightly different. Some touch up paints require primer, others have a clear coat included. Most touch up paint kits will come with a brush, a pen, a sanding tip, and clear coat.

The brush is great for larger scratches, while a paint pen is perfect for filling in small chips. Before you use a touch up paint pen, shake the paint to make sure it's well mixed and remove the front cap. Hold the pen almost vertically and lightly press down on a piece of paper to get the paint flow started.

For the touch up paint application steps below, we used Ford Motorcraft's touch up kit to fix a few scratches on a Shelby Mustang.

Tools and Supplies Needed


  • General Cleaner
  • Rag
  • Spray Bottle
  • Rubbing Compound
  • Touch Up Paint
  • 3000 Grit Sandpaper
  • Primer (Depending on Touch Up Paint)
  • Clear Coat (Depending on Touch Up Paint)

Step 1: Clean Surface

Before you begin any kind of painting, use some general cleaner and a rag to clean off the surface you want to paint.

Mechanic washing Mustang surface

Step 2: Prep Surface

Using the white tip on the pen, gently rub the area inside the scratch to smooth the surface. The tip of the paint pen is similar to a small piece of sandpaper. At first it might look like the scratch looks worse, but don't worry. It will look much better once you start applying the touch up paint.

Mechanic cleaning paint chip on a Ford Mustang

Step 3: Sand Down Edges

Wet the paint surface and grab some 2,500 grit sandpaper. Lightly rub around the edges of the chip until there are no rough ridges. Next, clean the chipped area with alcohol rub. Don't worry if the paint looks dull after this step.

Mechanic sanding paint chip on a Ford Mustang

Step 4: Apply Painter's Tape

Rip off a small piece of painter's tape and place it below the chipped area. This will help catch any paint drips.

Mechanic applying painter's tape to a Ford Mustang

Step 5: Shake Up Paint Pen

Thoroughly shake up the paint pen to make sure the paint is well mixed before you apply it.

Mechanic shaking a Ford Mustang paint pen

Step 6: Apply Touch Up Paint with Pen

Now that you've primed the area, it's time to decide whether to use the pen or the brush to apply the paint. Regardless of which you use, you'll want to dab the surface with the paint rather than using strokes or lines.

Lightly press the pen onto the chipped area to release the paint. Paint chips are a kind of crevice, and your goal is to completely fill that space with paint. After the initial coat dries, look at the chip and see if the paint fills the entire crevice. If not, apply a second coat and repeat until the chip is filled. It's ok to overfill the crevice slightly, but do not underfill it.

Mechanic using a Ford Mustang paint pen

Step 7: Apply Touch Up Paint with Brush

Similar to the pen, make sure the paint chip you're trying to fill is small enough to dab the area with the provided brush. Dab the first layer onto the chip, wait for it to dry, and reapply additional coats if needed.

Mechanic using a touch up paint brush on a Ford Mustang

Step 8: Sand Down New Paint

Once the last paint layer has dried, wet down the area, and lightly rub some 1,500 to 2,000 grit sandpaper across the paint. Sand it down until it feels like it's blended in smooth. The goal is to be able to run your finger over it and not feel any ridges or bumps where the new paint was applied.

Mechanic sanding touch up paint on a Ford Mustang

Step 9: Apply Clear Coat

Unscrew the back of the pen to access the clear coat paint and brush. Lightly dab the clear coat onto the newly painted section of your car's exterior. Use small brush strokes to create an even coat over the area.

Mechanic applying clear coat paint on a Ford Mustang

Step 10: Smooth Out Clear Coat Layer

Wait for the clear coat to dry, then wet it down with a spray bottle and gently sand it with some 3,000 grit sandpaper. Once the area feels smooth to the touch, remove the painter's tape and dry it with a rag.

Mechanic sanding clear coat paint on a Ford Mustang

Step 11: Buff Painted Area

Using a rag, apply some rubbing compound to the material and vigorously rub the painted area in a circular motion to buff the surface. If you have a buffing machine this process will be faster, but it's not required.

Mechanic buffing touch up paint on a Ford Mustang

Tips for Great Touch Up Paint Results

While touch up paint will never be perfect, here are some helpful tips for how to make a touch up paint job nearly unnoticeable.

  • Spray is better for metallic paints. With metallic paints, the brush can disrupt the flake, creating an uneven look. Use spray paint in these areas if you can.
  • Pick a warm, dry day. While a rainy day may seem like a great time to fix small paint chips, you should try to pick a dry day. Ideally the temperature should be between 65 and 75 degrees fahrenheit. This will help it dry, but not too quickly.
  • Leave plenty of drying time. Even if the touch up paint seems completely dry, give each coat extra drying time before applying more paint.

What If Touch Up Paint Won't Do the Trick?

Touch up paint is a great and inexpensive way to keep your car looking as good as new. However, sometimes you'll get a scratch that's too big or deep for touch up paint, or a rust spot that needs repainting. If you need to repaint a larger area on your car, you'll also need primers and lubricants for the painting process. You can pick up everything you need to fix or restore your paint here at CJ's.

This article was researched, written, edited, and reviewed following the steps outlined in our editorial process. Learn more about CJ's editorial standards and guidelines.