Paint Protection Film or Ceramic Coating, and Why That’s the Wrong Question

You care about the physical appearance of your car, so you’ve probably done some research about the products available for protecting and preserving your car’s paint.

In the process, you’ve come across information about two different products: Paint Protection Film (or Clear Bra, such as XPEL Ultimate), and Ceramic Coatings (such as GTECHNIQ Crystal Serum Ultra or Ceramic Pro).

What’s the difference between them? Are they interchangeable? And what’s the best solution for your car?

Glad you asked! Let’s dive in.

What is Paint Protection Film?

Paint Protection Film is a transparent, urethane material that can be applied to any exterior painted surface on your vehicle. In short, automotive Paint  Protection Film preserves the quality of your car’s paint by reducing the risk of multiple kinds of damage, such as…

  • Chips and scratches caused by rocks and road debris

  • Swirl marks created during washing

  • Chemical stains caused by acidic contaminants

  • Chemical etch marks caused by acidic contaminants

  • Hard water spots from mineral deposits

  • Oxidation (fading) from UV exposure

You can read more about the product in our formal introduction.

 

Paint Protection Film application to the front bumper of a Ferrari 458 Italia

 

What is a Ceramic Coating?

A Ceramic Coating is a liquid polymer that is applied to the exterior surfaces of a vehicle. After application, it chemically bonds with the vehicle’s factory paint, establishing a layer of protection and creating a hydrophobic surface. The hydrophobic properties of a Ceramic Coating make it harder for contaminants to bond with your car’s paint.  This has two main benefits for.

  • It helps keep the car cleaner for longer

  • It makes the car easier to clean when the time does come for a wash

A Ceramic Coating will also help reduce the risk of certain kinds of damage, such as…

  • Chemical stains caused by acidic contaminants

  • Chemical etch marks caused by acidic contaminants

  • Oxidation (fading) from UV exposure

You can read more about the product in our formal introduction.

 
Ceramic Coating application to the rear fender of a Lamborghini Huracan Performante

Ceramic Coating application to the rear fender of a Lamborghini Huracan Performante

 

How Are Paint Protection Film and Ceramic Coatings Similar?

As you can see, both products serve the purpose of keeping your car looking newer for longer by protecting and preserving your car’s paint.

In addition to this common central aim, the two products have some overlapping performance features. Specifically, both products help reduce damage from UV exposure and acidic contaminants.

Nonetheless, Paint Protection Film and Ceramic Coatings are not interchangeable. They have key differences and accomplish distinct aims.

lamborghini-huracan-with-paint-protection-film-and-ceramic-coating

“Both Paint Protection Film and Ceramic Coating serve the purpose of keeping your car looking newer for longer by protecting and enhancing your car’s paint.”

“But they are not interchangeable products. They have key differences and accomplish distinct aims.”

How Are Paint Protection Film and Ceramic Coatings Different?

Despite the similarities between Paint Protection Film and Ceramic Coatings, they are different in a few key ways.

  • Paint Protection Film stops rock chips and scratches. It is thicker than a Ceramic Coating and has the ability to self-heal. These qualities make it able to absorb more serious types of damage. Despite the wild claims of some manufacturers and installers, Ceramic Coatings cannot stop rock chips and scratches like Paint Protection Film.

  • Ceramic Coatings create a higher-performing hydrophobic surface. Some Paint Protection Films have a hydrophobic clear coat, but they do not perform at the same level as a full Ceramic Coating.

  • Ceramic Coatings are more gloss-enhancing. A quality Paint Protection Film will be invisible to the naked eye, but a quality Ceramic Coating takes the next step and actually enhances the depth and clarity of paint.

Here’s one way to think about the general differences between Paint Protection Film and Ceramic Coatings:

Broadly speaking, Paint Protection Film provides long-term preservation, while Ceramic Coatings enhance day-to-day appearance.

 
paint-protection-film-ceramic-coating.001.png
 

What’s the Best Solution for Your Vehicle?

So which product is right for your car?

Here’s the good news. You don’t have to choose one or the other. They can both be applied to the same vehicle.

The dynamic duo of Paint Protection Film and a Ceramic Coating is the ultimate form of invisible protection you can add to your car.

When used together, Paint Protection Film and a Ceramic Coating will protect your vehicle over the long-term and keep it looking great from day-to-day.

2018-02_ferrari-458-italia-8.jpg

“When used together, Paint Protection Film and a Ceramic Coating will protect your vehicle over the long-term and keep it looking great from day-to-day.”

Here’s how it works.

Paint Protection Film is applied first to the portions of your vehicle that will be most susceptible to rock chips or scratches from road debris.

Since a Ceramic Coating does not protect against this kind of damage, it’s important to apply Paint Protection Film to these areas. This often includes the front bumper, hood, fenders, side mirrors, rocker panels, and rear wheel arch.

On the images below, yellow indicates options for film coverage.

 
 

Once the most vulnerable areas are protected with Paint Protection Film, your whole car receives a Ceramic Coating. The coating will bond to both the vehicle’s factory paint and the film that has already been applied.

When applied on top of film, coating will provide an additional layer of protection from chemical etching and stains. It will also help keep the film clean and free from contaminants, which will lengthen the life of the film.

On the rest of the vehicle, the Ceramic Coating will thwart oxidation and chemical etch marks. Moreover, the hydrophobic surface will make it harder for contaminants to bond to the vehicle, keeping the paint cleaner and making it easier to wash. The smooth surface of the Ceramic Coating will also enhance the gloss of your vehicle’s factory paint.

The images below show a Ceramic Coating coverage on top of a Full Front of Paint Protection Film. Yellow indicates film coverage. Blue indicates coating coverage.

 
 

Together the two products will preserve your car’s paint over the long-term and enhance its appearance on a day-to-day basis.

Brian Brown