How To Buff A Car: Your Ultimate Guide To Paint Correction
This is the ultimate guide to Car Paint Correction. In this lesson we are going to discuss every aspect of the paint correction process. From building your car buffing kit and understanding the tools within it to proper scratch removal techniques and auto paint refinement in order to get maximum results.
This guide is divided into a couple different sections and I will have links to each section if you would like to skip to a section.
I would like to start off this lesson by going over the one rule that never really seem to be firmly laid out properly when talking about removing defects from a cars paint. This truly is the number 1 rule when it comes to the car detailing industry.
“Always use the least aggressive method possible”
A cars paint is built up in layers. You have your primer which gives you a surface to level out over a potentially imperfect metal panel. The base coat that is your color layer, and your clear coat that is your protective coating and allows for depth and clarity of the paint.
Your clear coat is the most important layer because you can cut it down and still have incredible shine and depth to the paint surface, however…if you cut through that clear you risk burning the paint thus requiring a paint job to correct. This is a costly endeavor and defeats the purpose of your ability as a detailer to correct defects in the paint without creating damage.
When we talk about the least aggressive method in relationship to detailing, specifically paint correction. You are finding the means to provide maximum correction without burning the paint.
This is what separates those of us who truly understand paint correction from the guys and gals who slap a wool pad on a rotary and run over a vehicle and then again with a foam pad and some polish and call it a day.
I bring this rule up because I want you to keep it in mind as we move forward. I will be mentioning it again and again and you will see how and why it is so important to paint correction.
Car Buffing Kit
Let’s discuss the tools that are going to be needed to perform paint correction. You may want me to just jump to how to cut and polish the paint, but if you do not understand the tools you are using then everything else you will learn is pointless.
Much of my frustration of not seeing the results I saw other detailers getting was from a lack of understanding of the tools and products I was using for the job.
Again, I predominately use Shine Supply products as they perform exceptionally well.
However, it does not matter what polisher machine you use or what products you use to “buff a cars paint”. What does matter is the time you spend understanding how the product you chose to use work.
Car Buffer & Polishers
If you do not have a clear understanding of what a buffer and polisher is I highly recommend you pause here and go read the article Ultimate Beginners Guide To Car Polishers. I could write on this topic myself, but the Art of Cleanliness did a fantastic job of explaining these tools and providing some great photos. Take a few minutes. It only took me about 7 minutes to read.
Couple quick items to point out about polishers.
- You should have a rotary polisher in your arsenal if you plan on doing serious paint correction. This tool requires a fair amount of practice and you can become very comfortable with it.
- I would start with a DA Polisher such as the Rupes 15mm or Griots Garage 15mm. These two DA polishers will allow you to use a variety of pads and are vital to obtaining incredible results.
- Grab a smaller DA Polisher such as the Rupes Bigfoot mini or the Torqx. The smaller head capability of these tools allows you to get into tight areas such as the license plate and around logos and underneath mirrors.
- Some detailers carry both the Rupes line and the Griots Garage lineup. The reason is because the Griots offers a higher output then the Rupes and can give you that extra boost that you may need to get the results you want. The Rupes is an amazing polisher primarily due to its ability to reduce vibrations while working which really helps your hands, wrists, arms, and shoulders when working for long periods of time behind a machine.
“Don’t Forget Buff/Polish are used synonymously in detailing”
How to Remove Auto Body Defects by Paint Correction
Let’s get into the meat of what everyone in the detailing industry wants to learn about and that is paint correction.
The goal of paint correction is to remove defects from a cars paint without requiring a new paint job.
When we talk about defects, we are referring to scratches, swirls, haze, and buffer trails. Defects may also include bug, bird, and water stains that etch into the clear coat or rock chips. These are usually much more difficult if not impossible to correct. However, often you can reduce the visibility by cutting down the harsher edge lines of the defect.
Keep in mind that removing these various defects is not always possible. When you cut the clear coat down you are leveling out the edge lines of the defect so that the reflection of the sun does not catch the valley (scratch into paint) and show the defect. This Image developed by OCD Car Care shows the groove of a scratch. When you begin cutting the scratch down you are leveling and widening out that valley in order to create a wider groove that does not catch the sun.
If you take a block of wood and cut a groove with a knife you would have to sand that groove by creating a much larger groove to level it out and make it unnoticeable.
This is exactly what we are doing with our polisher, pad, and compound/polish. The caveat is that there is a limited depth of clear coat that we can cut through in order to achieve this. Once we hit the paint surface which is extremely soft, you will burn down to the primer and ruin the paint.
This requires finesse and practice to be able to achieve incredible results, along with and exceptional understanding of the tools you are using in order to obtain a near if not perfect finish.
This image gives you a quality representation of what various defects are on the paint surface. As you can see lighter defects such as Swirls and Water Etching may only require a polish to “displace” them, however isolated and deep scratches require heavier cutting methods to level out the surface.
Going back to our example of the wood block and sand paper. You can view paint correction in the same manner. The difference is that with a wood block you have one layer with a various thickness that can be sanded down to dust and it will remain the same color. With car paint, again, you have three layers and you are limited to how much you can sand down before you cut into the layer below it.
Buffing pads and compounds/polishes are our sanding paper. The buffing pad combined with a compound or polish allows us to “sand” on a very refined level only taking off a small amount of clear coat at a time. It gives us much more control over the depth we cut.
You can cut down the deepest clear coat defects using the right pad and polish combination. However, as you get a better “feel” for correcting paint you can start to utilize wet sanding to help speed up the process. We will go into depth on wet sanding for now please spend time understanding the basics.
With that being said lets discuss the remaining tools in the paint correction process.
Car Polishing Pads
Only a couple years back we really only had two types of pads, Wool and Foam. Foam had different density levels that offered greater cutting ability and wool was reserved only for heavy cutting. With the technology enhancement of microfiber, we have seen not only vast improvement in the towels we use to wipe away contaminants and polishes from paints while reducing marring and scratching for our towels. We also have some amazing microfiber cutting and refining pads that do fantastic work.
Buffing Pad Components
Buffing pads are made up of a couple components. The face of the pad itself made of a wool, microfiber, foam, or combination of materials. The back of the pad is your hook and loop which is essentially such Velcro used to mount the pad onto the polisher. Some pads for the rotary still screw on, but these are rare and we don’t recommend you use them. Pads often also have extra foam between the front of the pad and the hook and loop. This foam allows for more or less aggressiveness in the cut as it provides a cushion and heat dissipation for the pad.
Wool Buffing Pads
Wool pads should truly only ever be used for one reason. Deep cutting. There are a lot of different wool pads on the market but this one Wool pad from Shine Supply will work just fine. It has a hook and loop system so you can use it on both the rotary and your DA Polisher systems.
Use: Remove heavy oxidation, scratches, sanding marks, and gel coat defects.
Microfiber Buffing Pads
Microfiber pads come in 3 varieties.
This Meguiars Microfiber Cutting disc is used to quickly and effectively remove heavier defects. Usually leaves a small amount of micro marring, especially in darker paints. The foam backing plate is denser and thinner than a finishing disc allowing more heat build up while still giving the user comfort during use.
Use: Remove medium scratches and swirl marks, certain product combinations and lighter paint will refine very quickly and require a faster final polish.
The Meguiars Microfiber Finishing Disc has a less dense backing foam that provides comfort and gives produces less heat build up on the pad surface allowing for greater refinement.
Use: Great for lighter color paints to be a final step. Refines the paint quickly and leaves minimum to no haze. Darker paints may still have a slightly noticeable haze.
This Lake Country One Step is a fantastic pad for completing a one-step polish/enhancement detail on a vehicle.
I typically will use this pad to cut swirls and lighter scratches quickly. While it will not remove heavier defects, it is perfect for maintain a vehicles brilliance as an annual detail. I use this pad a lot of my maintenance details on ceramic coatings, especially darker paints that typically get swirls over the year. This pad works great to remove those lighter defects and for removing hard water spots.
For full paint corrections I usually will start with a finishing/polishing microfiber disc and Shine Supply Classic cut to test a panel. From here I move up to the cutting microfiber and the same compound. If this doesn’t work, I go with Meguiars 105 or Shine Supply Flat Top or Chop Top. The more test panels you do the faster you are going to learn what a cars paint requires for maximum correction. More on this below.
Foam Buffing Pads
I will keep this section a little more cut and dry. Do not get overwhelmed by the massive amount of foam pads on the market. You should not carry 12 different brands of foam pads in your tool kit. In fact, you should not carry more then two brands of any product in your detailing tool kit.
This creates to much confusion and gives you to many options to try and mix and match when you are struggling to get the desired results. I only use Meguiars or Lake Country Pads. I have tried Hex Logix and every other pad on the market that claim big results and while they work, Lake Country and Meguiars provide consistent results and do not breakdown as easily for roughly the same price.
Trust me on this one, save time and money.
You should carry three foam pads; I recommend double or triple of the same pad so you have plenty of clean pads to swap throughout a job.
Cutting/Finishing Foam Buffing Pad
This is the HDO Lake Country Cutting/Finishing Pad. It is designed to absorb heat away from the surface of the pad allowing the product to cycle out properly giving you maximum cut and refinement from your compounds and polishes. It has a heavier cutting ability and the step down from it is a blue HDO Foam pad.
Finally, you have a black HDO Foam pad that is perfect for removing light haze after a cutting step or to apply wax/sealants to a paint quickly.
You can swap out the HDO Line of Lake Country for their newer Hybrid Line. The Hybrid Lake Country Pads are a thinner overall pad with a higher density. This design allows more power output where a thicker pad will reduce that output. I use the Hybrid line currently this was after using the HDO line. Follow the link to learn more about the Hybrid line and what machines they work best with.
Car Compounds and Polishes
With what we have gone over so far you should start to piece together that we are essentially using a modern method of “sanding” via pads and polishes in order to refine and smooth out defects on a painted surface.
The way I like to have everyone start to understand the different compounds and polishes is by purchasing a lineup of compounds and polishes and then putting a small dot of each product in between your fingers one at a time and rubbing them together. This allows you to feel the greater level of “grit” in each product. Much like a high grit vs low grit sand paper. A polish will feel like a very small amount of sand grains between your fingers while a compound will feel much more grainy.
Compounds and Polishes are a combination of oils and abrasives that give the product a certain amount of cutting power that ranges from light to heavy, usually measured on a scale from 1-12 depending on the product.
This image above demonstrates the cutting ability with each variable accounted for using Meguiars compounds and polishes
“G100” in the middle model is the Meguiars DA Polisher and can be swapped for any polisher you choose. My favorite is the Mark 3 by Rupes with a 15mm Throw.
This image is a simple representation of the cutting ability of Shine Supply Products without considering variables
- Range from Medium to Heavy Cut.
- Can be combined with a microfiber pad to increase cutting ability and reduce time.
- Also used with a foam cutting disc (Orange for Lake Country)
- Usually leaves behind a light haze after being cycled out but on some paints finishes near perfect.
- Should almost always be followed with a polish and finishing pad to remove haze.
- Shine Supply Examples: Classic Cut-Flat Top-Chop Top
- Meguiars Examples: M100-M105-M110
- Range from Medium to Light Cut.
- Typically used with a foam pad but can also be used with a Microfiber Pad.
- Leaves a mirror finish by removing haze from compounding step.
- Can be used by itself in a one-step cut to remove light scratches and swirls.
- Shine Supply Examples: Classic Polish, Classic Finish, and Slick Back Primer (Sio2 Polisher used prior to Ceramic Application).
- Meguiars Examples: M205 and M210
Combining Buffing Pads and Compounds/Polishes
We have Light to Heavy Polishes and Compounds and Light to Heavy Buffing Pads.
How do we put these items together to get the desired results?
The standard is that Heavy Buffing Pads like the Lake Country HDO Orange pad and Shine Supply Chop Top would go together to produce a heavy cut. Likewise, a Blue HDO Pad and Shine Supply Classic Polish or Meguiars 205 go together to finish the paint.
You can combine pads and polishes in whatever manner you require in order to achieve the desired results. The key here is to learn your products and how they perform and you will gain a better understanding of their abilities on various paints.
PRO TIP: It can take dozens of vehicles in order to fully understand your products. However, you can speed up this process by following various professional detailers social media channels to see what combinations they use to achieve results on various paint types with different levels of defects. A HUGE reason I chose to become a loyal Shine supply customer is how Steven shows his products in action. Many detailers will just provide the before and after but Steven on the @ShineSupply channel on Instagram will demonstrate what combination he used in order to get the final results. And trust me, every single one of his results are incredible. Below are the channels I recommend you follow on Instagram and watch their daily stories.
How to Combine Pads and Polishes
Compounds and Pad Combo
- Determine the level of defect
- For deeper scratches jump to a microfiber cutting disc or heavy cutting foam disc
- Grab a medium cut compound
- Prime your pad (spritz of water or pad conditioner)
- Add two dots of product to either side of the pad
- Work a small section of the panel 1’x1’.
- After a full cycle wipe off the panel with a plush microfiber towel
- If defects are noticeably the same step up to the next level of cutting compound
- Example: Classic Cut progresses to Flat Top to Chop Top
- Ensure you clean pad to remove product dust and build up. If you are going to a heavier cut you do not need to fully clean or use a new pad. Only if you are going down in cutting ability to a polish do you need to use a fresh pad to avoid combining a cut with a polish.
- Cycle the product over the test area. Once you see the defects starting to be removed or removed after your complete machine pass (may require more then 1 pass) you can move to a finishing pad and polish to refine.
Polish and Pad Combo
With a polish you greatly reduce the cutting ability. The main goal of a polish is to refine out the paint. If you combine a medium polish such as Classic Polish/M205 and a heavy cutting pad like an orange HDO or Microfiber disc you can achieve some nice cutting ability for lighter scratches will also finishing out the paint in one step. On different paints this same combination may be required to remove haze from a compounding step as a finishing polish/Jewel polish will be to light to even remove haze on some paints.
- Choose Finishing Disc
- Standard is HDO Blue or Orange
- Choose Polish: Standard is Classic Polish for hard paints such as Chevy and Toyota and Classic Finish for softer paints such as Tesla and Mercedes.
- Test your panel or use on area already compounded.
- Check Results
- Use IPA Spray to wipe panel and remove all oils in order to see results without an oily haze over the top. Gives you an exact idea of what the paint looks like. Oils from the polish can fill in light scratches and become unnoticeable.
Proper Way to Polish Paint
Whether you are cutting or polishing paint you should understand how to use your machine with whatever combo you choose.
Step 1-Prep your pad.
This can achieve by using a simple water spray to lubricate the pad, quick detailer, or pad conditioner. You can also add 4-5 dots of product onto the pad and work it into all surfaces of the pad. Understand this is putting more product into your pad and you may only need a little bit to get the results needed.
Step 2-Attach pad
The hook and loop system on modern polishers provide a quick way to attach and detach pads to a polisher or rotary. Ensure the pad is centered on the polisher to provide proper rotation and prevent increase vibrations.
Step 3-Apply Product
Start with 2 dots of your product. If you have a lot of defects on the panel you may need to add 3-6 dots, but it is better to start with less and make extra passes if necessary. Reason for this is that to much product can increase the amount of haze left over and require additional polishing steps. Also remember “Least Aggressive Method” more product on the pad creates another level of aggressiveness in your cut.
Step 4-Spread product evenly over the work area.
Work in no more than a 2x2 section a time. This is the industry standard and is the right amount of surface area for the amount of product on your pad. If you do a larger area than this you may have to make several passes to fully remove defects. When polishing as opposed to compounding you can get away with working in a larger area but this should be test on each vehicle first to ensure results. I like to dap the pad up and down to leave dots over the area I am working.
Step 5-Start the Polisher
Begin with the machine on the lowest setting 1 or 2. Move the machine in a hex pattern up and down then left and right to spread the product over your surface area. Slowly increase the speed to desired RPM rate. Lower speed produces less cutting power and higher speeds produce greater cutting power.
Step 6-Completely Cycle the Product
Cycling a product means we do not count how many passes we make. A pass is determined when you complete one full hex pattern. Cycling a product means that we are fully allowing the abrasives in the pad to diminish. This ensures they are broken down completely. If you made 2 or 3 passes and then wiped off the panel you will notice a large amount of haze. This is because the cut of the product has not cycled out. DO NOT ADD MORE PRODUCT. Instead clean your pad with a dry brush or air and go back over the area again until the product is clear or almost clear.
Step 7-Check Results
After you have cycled the product and wiped the area check your results. Are there still noticeable scratches. This means you need to increase your cut with a different pad or compound combination or simple just add more product to your pad and cycle it out again. You should notice the scratches diminishing after each complete cycle with the polisher and product.
Again, you can speed up the cutting ability and how many passes you need to make by using a more aggressive pad and compound or one or both. IE; Use a heavier cut with the same pad, or swap pad and use same compound, or use a heavier pad and heavier compound. Same goes for polishes.
Step 8-Rinse and Repeat
While you do not have to rinse your pad before adding more product for another pass you should always use compressed air or a dry brush (mobile detailers choice) to remove product build up from your pad. If your pad appears saturated you may want to clean the pad or simply use a fresh pad if you have one handy.
These steps are the same for both compounding and polishing and you can find a video below showing this method. I will be making my own shortly!
- Use masking tape to cover plastic and vinyl trim to prevent white marks from buffing. This is very difficult to remove.
- Completely wipe down the vehicle with an IPA solution before moving to a polishing step. If you are detailing outside, I recommend you wipe each panel with IPA & Water (50/50) to remove compound dust and any other debris that blew onto the paint. If you wipe the entire car chances are you will have to re-wipe the panel again anyways when outdoors. This ensures no small dirt or dust particles get under your pad and create swirls or scratches while trying to obtain a beautiful finish.
- If you are working a compound and it seems like it is not cycling out, stop, wipe off your pad with a dry brush, spritz it with some water, and go back over the leftover product on the panel. Sometimes to much product is imbedded in the pad and prevents it from fully cycling out on the paint. This why cleaning your pad often is so important.
- Work in slow passes. You need to give your pad time to work the product into the paint if you move to quickly the product will not have time to effectively cut as it moves along the paint. I have found that 2-seconds per 1-ft is usually adequate. For heavier defects you can slow this even more to a 1:1 ratio. Polish may be able to go faster. Always look at the trail behind the polisher you want nice tight lines if they are spread out you are moving to fast.
VIDEO URL >>>> https://www.google.com/search?q=how+to+use+a+polisher+on+paint&rlz=1C1JZAP_enUS855US855&oq=how+to+use+a+polisher+on+paint&aqs=chrome..69i57j33l3.5475j0j4&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8#kpvalbx=_OuVAXeisLojasQWUj4MQ25
Let’s say you have a deep scratch. You run your fingernail across the top of it and your nail catches the edge helping you understanding the depth. You know that you are going to need to do some heavy cutting to refine this scratch down and level it out with the rest of the painted surface to displace the scratch.
You grab a wool pad and your heavy cut compound and go to work. After you have cycled out the product and wipe away the residue the scratch looks lighter but is still noticeable. You add a couple more dots of product to your pad and go for pass #2. After two or three passes you are still seeing the scratch diminish but it is not leveled out quite yet.
This is a lot of work and more importantly time. You can significantly reduce this time by utilizing wet sanding. Through this technique you are cutting the clear coat away faster but in a careful manner.
The wet sanding process allows you to refine a deeper scratch to a lighter one. You take a scratch resembles an 800-grit sanding mark. Refine it with 2000 grit sand paper, then 3000 grit sandpaper to make the scratches even finer. Now you can use the wool pad combo to remove the sanding marks and continue to your refinement steps.
To save some space on the page I recommend watching this fantastic video put together by Luke Wilson Detailing Channel on Youtube.
Goodness we just went through a ton of information to explain this process. I could have just gone over the steps of using a polisher but understanding not only the products you use but, how to combine your pads and products, is so vital to properly correcting paint.
And guess what there is a lot of smaller details that make this process faster and better that will be included in this course.
This piece is the basis to get you going and we will have more to come.
Get out there and start testing
Thanks for staying tuned and I look forward to seeing you in the next lesson.
Have a Questions?
Is there something I missed? Something not clear? Drop a question below and I will gladly answer and update this page as needed.
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