What Is a Paint Base Coat?

Lori Kilchermann

A paint base coat is the first layer of paint commonly applied over the primer coat, and its color is often critical in obtaining the proper color from the finished top coat. In some candy-type paints, the base will determine the depth, shine, and refractory ability of the finished paint job. In some modern, two-step automotive painting techniques, the base coat is the color coat for the vehicle, but the finish is typically dull or flat. The clear coat is applied over it and is what gives the finished paint job a glossy effect.

Supplies for painting.
Supplies for painting.

When deciding to paint an item a light color, the use of a light-toned paint base coat will aid in getting the brightest finish possible from the paint. This is due to the paint's inability to completely mask or hide the underlying paint colors. When painting a vehicle bright yellow, for example, it will turn out much brighter and shinier if the yellow is sprayed over a white base coat instead of a gray or dark brown primer. This is also true of dark colors, where a dark-colored base will yield a better finish shade than applying the dark color over a brighter base color. The results are not as drastically affected when painting a dark top coat as compared to using a lighter shade of top coat, however.

A person painting.
A person painting.

When painting a candy color, such as candy apple red, the paint base coat is critical in determining the finished appearance of the paint job. Silver and gold are the two most commonly used colors to give the clear candy paint the famous wet look. Gold is commonly used when painting a candy apple or candy red look, while silver is the usual choice for creating candy greens and blues. Some of the master painters use a secret mix of golds and silvers, and some of these combinations even contain real gold in the mixture to create the award-winning candy paint jobs seen on show-stopping hot rods and custom cars.

Paint and a paint brush.
Paint and a paint brush.

When painting a house or any type of project, it is imperative that the base coat be of the same type of paint as the finish coat. This means that an oil-based paint cannot be used to prime a latex finishing paint and vice versa, because this will cause the finish coat to peel off of the base coat after a short time. It is always necessary to use the same paint base as the finish coat to have the best long-lasting results.

Primer may be used as a base coat.
Primer may be used as a base coat.

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Discussion Comments


I never realized what a status symbol those candy colors were on cars until my father got to the point where he felt like he could indulge in his childhood dream of owning a candy apple red sports car.

One red looks much the same as another to me, but he could apparently talk for ages about how superior the candy apple red was to, say, a fire engine red and he was just delighted with his car.

It's interesting that the colors are considered a big deal by the companies and the painters as well, that they even go to the trouble of protecting their secret recipes. I have to admit that I probably wouldn't be able to tell the difference, but I'm sure a lot of people would care about how much gold and silver was used in the base paint and how much more expensive that makes the car.


@clintflint - I agree that you don't have to rely having a base coat as a rule, but do remember that it isn't only there to change the color of the paint. In some cases it is also acting as a primer or as a buffer between the surface and the paint.

Generally if you are doing a critical project like painting a house, you're going to be using a primer anyway, but people often don't bother if they are painting furniture. Putting down a base coat ensures that your paint will last that much longer and will help to smooth out any imperfections that might be on your surface, so that your final coat looks better.

Besides, it's easy to get paints for a base, since almost everyone has some left over from a project, sitting in their garage. I would just ask relatives and neighbors if they have any to spare and trade for them with cookies or something like that.


Remember that you don't have to use a base coat if you are doing a project that doesn't require it. For example, if you are painting some chairs and you want the natural wood to show through the paint a little bit, you might decide to forgo using a base coat.

I would always do a bit of experimenting first, in order to see what different combinations will look like. That's why paint companies give you test pots, so that you can make sure you're doing the right thing.

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