The History and Technology Behind Paint Protection Film

Whenever you’re getting to know someone or something, it’s helpful to get some background information.

So if you’re thinking about putting something over your fine automobile, something that is going to be there for up to 10 years, I’m guessing you’ll want to know where it came from and what it’s made of.

Let’s talk about the history and technology behind Paint Protection Film.

Where did Paint Protection Film Come From? The History Behind Clear Bra

Automotive Paint Protection Film is a transparent, urethane material. Urethane technology was developed during the Vietnam War, when U.S. helicopters were crashing due to damage on the leading edge of rotor blades. The military worked with 3M to develop a technology that would be lightweight, but resilient and could be replaced at the fraction of the cost of replacing an entire rotor blade.

The urethane technology behind Paint Protection Film was originally developed by 3M at the request of the U.S. Military during the Vietnam War.

In the 1970s, the military expanded its use of urethane films to the noses of fighter jets, and because the technology has been so successful and efficient, 3M still manufactures a variety of urethane films for military and aerospace purposes to this day.

In the 1980s, NASCAR saw how urethane technology could be beneficial in protecting the front half of race cars. Advertisers pay a lot of money to get their decals plastered on the front of fast cars, and I’m sure they weren’t too keen on those decals getting peppered by rock chips.

During the 1990s, urethane films became available to the general consumer for automotive protection. Since then the technology has been continually refined and improved, and has been enthusiastically welcomed across the automotive industry. Today, Paint Protection Films are OEM approved by virtually all automotive manufacturers.

What is Paint Protection Film Made Of? The Technology Behind Clear Bra

The key ingredient of Paint Protection Film is urethane, a powerful and versatile polymer made from carbamate links. As a compound, it has unique attributes: It is lightweight and transparent, like plastic. But unlike plastic, it is not brittle or susceptible to tears and cracks. It has a high resistance to impact, abrasion, and corrosion. It is also incredibly flexible and can return to its natural shape after being stretched or disfigured.

Urethane, the central ingredient in Paint Protection Film, is lightweight, transparent, flexible, and highly resistant to impact, abrasion, and corrosion.

Given the polymer’s diverse and advantageous attributes, it has a wide variety of industrial and recreational applications. Urethane is used in the household caulk with which you line your bathroom tiles, because it seals spaces from moisture and prevents the growth of mildew or fungus. It can also be found coating boats and underwater cables to prevent damage. It is used in various sporting equipment parts, from football pads to surfboard fins. Its strength and resistance to wear and tear make it an ideal component for manufacturing and mining equipment. As we mentioned earlier, urethane is still used to protect various parts of military and aerospace equipment.

The applications of urethane as a polymer are broad, but today we are talking about your car, and for the benefit of your car, urethane serves as a central ingredient in a clear film around 8 mils (0.008 inches) thick.

In addition to the central urethane (or polyurethane) layer, a quality Paint Protection Film has at least two other layers.

Image from XPEL

Image from XPEL


First, the top is lined with clear coat made up of elastomeric polymers. This is the part that enables a good film to heal itself from small scratches. But it does much more. The clear coat on a good film will have a low surface energy, which prevents organic compounds, like bugs or bird droppings, from bonding with the film.

Second, the bottom is lined with an acrylic adhesive that is designed to be flexible, so that it can be stretched and wrapped around every contour of your vehicle; durable, so that the film will not detach over time; and invisible, so that it will not affect the look of the paint.


Protecting Your Vehicle

If you’re serious about keeping your new car looking like-new, Paint Protection Film is a solid foundation for any long-term paint protection plan. You’ll also want to learn more about Ceramic Coatings and how they work together with Paint Protection Film.

When used together, both products will keep your vehicle looking beautiful for years to come.

Brian Brown