Aaron Widmar
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What’s the Difference Between Metallic & Pearl Car Paint?

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The new paint facility at the Cadillac manufacturing plant in Shanghai
A paint facility at the Shanghai Cadillac manufacturing plant
Photo: Cadillac

Picking the right color for your new car is a big decision — you want to choose a hue that matches your personal style. While you’re deciphering the fancy paint colors (bearing strangely exotic names like “sunset coral,” “Moroccan oyster,” and “gunpowder slate”), you also need to consider the finish.

Many automakers now offer paint finishes other than the standard solid coat — notably metallic and pearl.  When you’re customizing your car, make sure you know the difference between metallic and pearl gloss coats.

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The difference between metallic and pearl paint is in the mix

Metallic paint has a reflective sheen to it that looks much like a metallic paint you’d see on a model toy car. This metallic sheen comes from powdered metal grains mixed into the paint with the colored pigment. Typically, aluminum specs are what give metallic paint its glittery shimmer, making the color appear more vibrant.

Pearl paint uses mica to give the car a subtle array of colors. These tiny, man-made ceramic crystals reflect and refract light, which varies what colors you see when you look at the paint. When the sunlight bounces off an ivory pearl car paint, for instance, you may see glimmers of lavender or silver briefly depending on how the mica split the spectrum.

These special paint treatments are becoming increasingly common in average economy-class vehicles. Metallic paints used to be reserved for sports cars, but now you can find them on Subaru SUVs. Pearl glosses used to be just for luxury cars, but now you can find them on cars like the Toyota Prius.

So whichever color and finish you choose for your car, make sure you see it in person first: How it looks to your eyes could look very different from how it looks in a picture.

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