Touching Up Car Paint

Touching Up Car Paint

Last Updated May 27, 2022 | Meghan Drummond

Unfortunately, it’s easy to accidentally scratch your car’s paint. Rocks from the road can fly up and damage your rocker panels. Careless shoppers can damage your bumper with a stray shopping cart. Even your own keys can leave behind nasty little scratches.

If you’re not ready for a trip to the body shop, then touch-up paint may be the perfect solution for you. With touch-up paint you can easily cover a scratch or other minor cosmetic defect. While touch-up paint is never going to look perfect, if you’re careful with your application you can get pretty close.

You’ll most likely always notice a spot that you’ve applied touch-up paint to. But it’s great for sprucing up your exterior. It’s likely that other than you no one will ever notice that it’s been touched up.

Ordering Touch-Up Paint

The first step to applying great touch-up paint is picking the right paint. 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 touch-up paint 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.

Matching Paints

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. 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.

Preparing Your Car for Painting

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.

Do You Need a Primer?

Many wonder if they’ll need primer for good results with touch-up paint. The answer is a rather unsatisfying “It depends.” Many touch-up paint kits and pens are designed specifically to work without primer. But if there’s bare metal showing or your touch-up kit doesn’t specify “no primer required,” it couldn’t hurt.

A small amount of primer should help the paint adhere more. If you’re dealing with a deep scratch, it can also be cheaper to use primer to build up the surface underneath. This saves your touch-up paint.

In short, you probably don’t need primer. But depending on the size of the scratch, you might want it.

How To Apply Touch Up Paint

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. Each is a little different.

For these steps and video, we used Ford’s touch-up kit.


  • Touch-Up Paint
  • 3000 Grit Sandpaper
  • Primer (Depending on Touch-Up Paint)
  • Clear Coat (Depending on Touch-Up Paint)

Step 1: Use Abrasive to Clean Out Chip

With Ford’s touch-up paint pens, you’ll get an abrasive tip. This abrasive tip is to clean out the scratch to make sure you get good coverage. Not all touch-up paint pens come with this abrasive tip, so you might need to use sand paper.

Using an abrasive pen tip to clean out paint chips

Step 2: Shake Up Paint

Paint pens need to be shaken gently before application. This will help to mix the paint thoroughly and give you the color you want.

Shaking up a touch-up paint tube prior to application

Step 3: Wipe Excess Paint Off Brush

When you first pull the brush out of the container, wipe away the excess paint on the bottle’s lip. You want to apply thin layers.

Wiping excess paint off on the lip of the bottle

Step 4: Apply Paint Starting at Top of Scratch

By starting at the top of the scratch, you ensure that paint running can only help you fill the scratch in, rather than causing clumping.

Gently brushing on paint starting at the top of the scratch

Step 5: Wait for Paint to Dry

It’s probably best not to watch this step. It can take a while depending on the day. Applying thin layers will help it dry quicker, which will limit potential disruptions.

If the paint coverage looks good after one coat, you can move on to the next step. If not, you’ll want to apply one or two more coats as needed.

Freshly applied touch-up paint begins to dry

Step 6: Apply Clear Coat

Once you’re happy with the paint coverage, apply a clear coat. With Ford’s paint pens, the clear coat will be located in the bottom of the pen. If your paint didn’t come with a clear coat, you’ll need to purchase and apply it separately.

Clear coat is applied to dry touch-up paint

Tips for Nearly Perfect Touch-Up Paint

While touch-up paint will most likely never be perfect, there are some tips that can help it look nearly perfect.

  • If it’s in a spot that’s especially obvious, you may want to do some wet sanding with 3000 grit sandpaper. This will help to blend it. Wait a few days to make sure the clear coat is completely dry before sanding.
  • With metallic paints, the brush can disrupt the flake, creating an uneven look. You can use spray paint in these areas.
  • 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. This will help it dry but not dry too quickly.
  • Even if it seems all the way dry, give coats of paint extra drying time before applying more paint.

Touch-up paint is a great and inexpensive way to keep your car looking as good as new. Just make sure to always use a high-quality touch-up kit for the best results.

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About the Author

Meghan is a Classic Mustang geek with a soft spot for four-eyed Foxes. She has over 300 in-depth articles to her credit that have been cited by some of the top news sites in the US. Read full bio →

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.

Touching Up Car Paint

At some point, everyone damages their car’s paint. Whether it’s an errant rock or a rogue shopping cart, it’s likely you’ll end up with a scratch that needs touch-up paint eventually. Here’s everything to know about selecting and applying touch-up paint. While touch-up paint may never look perfect, with a little extra effort it can look great.