Everything you NEED to know about Paint Protection Film

Everything you NEED to know about Paint Protection Film

As you probably already know, there are MANY different ways to protect your paintwork these days. There are literally hundreds of different types of waxes, Coatings and Sealants that you can choose to help enhance and preserve your pride and joy. I often get asked about a different kind of protection, which is called PPF ( Paint Protection Film ).

This is a somewhat less common method of protection for cars, for reasons which might be a bit clearer once you have read this post. I thought it would be worth my while to do a little blog post on PPF, to answer some of the most frequent questions I get in my email inbox.

Hopefully, after this post, you will have a better understanding when it comes to paint protection film, and whether this type of protection is a good fit for you and your vehicle.

Let’s take a look!

Jump To

-What Is Paint Protection Film For Cars?
-How Long Does Paint Protection Film Last?
-How to Install Paint Protection Film?
-How Much Does Paint Protection Film Cost
-Is Paint Protection Film Worth It?
-Paint Protection Film VS Ceramic Coating
-How To Clean a Car with Paint Protection Film Installed
-Can you Wax a car with PPF Installed?
-Can you Machine Polish a car with PPF Installed?
-Advantages vs Disadvantages Of Paint protection Film
-Should You Get Paint Protection For Your Car?

What Is Paint Protection Film For Cars?

Automotive Protective Films go by many different names in the industry these days: Clear Bra, Clear Mask, Invisible Shield, Clear Wrap, Rock Chip Protection, Car Scratch Protective Film, etc. The most common term for car protective films are simply Paint Protection Film – usually just abbreviated to PPF

Paint Protection Film is made from a type of plastic ( urethane material ) that has a certain amount of elasticity, allowing it to be curved, stretched, and bend around corners and bends. Perfectly suitable for the body panels of a vehicle

It is generally applied to painted surfaces of a new or used car to protect the paint from stone chips, bug splatters, and minor abrasions

The science behind it is that the top layer of the Paint Protection Film is made of an elastomeric polymer that helps the material maintain its shape once it has been stretched or applied. This allows the PPF to Self-Heal when light scratches occur. Typically a heat gun or direct sunlight will remove the scratches.

Paint Protection film is around 8 mils thick, compared to the clear coat on your cars paintwork which is about 0.5 Mils. While there several PPF brands available, with varying costs and thicknesses, Xpel and 3M are some of the more popular ones available today.

How Long Does Paint Protection Film Last?

One of the best things about Paint Protection Film is its longevity. A professionally installed Paint Protection Film (PPF) should last from 5 to 10 years. , PPF receives a warranty if the installation company is certified to use their products. Like any car care products, there are several variables that impact product longevity.

The most common factors that determine how long the paint protection film will last are –

1.The Surface Prep of the paintwork before installation

While PPF is an invisible protective layer, it’s only as good as the surface underneath it that it’s being applied to. Surface Prep is also the most time-consuming part of the application process as the imperfections and contaminants from the paint need to be removed before the application of the paint protection film. This should include full decontamination + multi-stage machine polish where applicable.

If all contamination is not removed from the paint, the PPF won’t install correctly. Which will increase the risk of it failing prematurely.

2.How It Is Applied

Installing PPF is actually quite difficult to do correctly. If there are bubbles under the film, it will warp the material and not adhere to the surface properly. There is a direct correlation between how long the PPF will last on your vehicle and how it is applied. Typically, an air bubble occurs due to a contaminant being trapped under the film. Over time this will lead to more bubbles under the PPF. If you a considering having a full paint protection film done, I would strongly suggest you get it done by a reputable installer!


3.Environmental Factors

One of the selling points of Paint Protection Film is its ability to hold up against heat and UV damage from the sun. However, too much exposure to direct sunlight will actually lessen the lifespan due to the adhesive below it degrading. It’s also important to understand that PPF is not bomb-proof, but is used for high impact protection such as stone chips.

If the PPF is continually exposed to debris and environmental contaminants such as bird poo, acid rain or other damaging materials, it can wear the PPF thin if not maintained properly


How to Install Paint Protection Film?

As I mentioned previously, I wouldn’t recommend that any novice take on the job of applying paint protection film to their own car themselves ( Unless it’s a small subsection like the headlights or similar ). In the cases of installing PPF on an entire car, this is something you want to hire a professional to do, to ensure that it is done correctly.

Generally, there are 5 main steps when it comes to installing paint protection film.

Step 1 – Clean and prep the surface.

Most installers use a good degreasing agent to remove debris. Following this, the surface should really be compounded and polished to remove any imperfections before installing the PPF ( Similar to prepping for Ceramic Coating )

Step 2 – Cut the PPF material into sections

Once the car is prepped, the installer will cut PPF material for an installation. It’s similar in design to window tint. Most of the time, they will install in sections, such as a hood, rocker panels, quarter panel, side mirrors, door, or other section less than 5 feet square.

After they’ve cut the film, they’ll line it up and prepare for installation.

Some companies are even able to use ready-made templates for your specific make/model of car.

Step 3 – Use An Activator Solution

Installing paint protection film requires an activator – which is called a fitting solution. This allows the PPF to activate a ‘glue-like substance, which is what causes it to stick to the surface of the paintwork. Depending on the brand of film, the fitting solution can range from simple water to a soapy-like substance.

Step 4 – Fitting the PPF

This is the difficult piece, and where having a trained professional doing the work comes in handy. PPF doesn’t just fit perfectly when it’s applied. In fact, it’s a lot more complicated to install than vinyl. The process of installing PPF involves a series of spraying – squeegee – and moving the PPF. When it’s in the right position, the installer will use the squeegee to remove bubbles or creases in the film.

Step 5 -Drying Stage

Once the Paint Protection Film has been applied, and all bubbles and creases are removed, the final step is drying or heat-activating the film. They use an industrial heat gun which activates the adhesive and causes the PPF to stick to the body. It also shrinks the material and creates a tight fit to the bodywork surface.



How Much Does Paint Protection Film Cost

There is no way to sugarcoat it, Paint Protection Film installation is not cheap. Depending on the extent of the protection you require ( Eg, Do you just want to do the front end of the Vehicle?…Or the Whole Car? )

The Cost Can Range from Hundreds $$$ to Thousands $$$$ Depending on the specific Requirement.

Most People that opt for an entire car PPF protection would have already paid a lot of money for a high-end car, so this cost of protection is quite small to protect their initial investment and keep their paintwork from getting damaged.

Is Paint Protection Film Worth It?

This really depends on the specific scenario and how much protection you want on your cars bodywork. Is it going to be worth installing PPF on an old car that doesn’t have very much value in the first place? Probably not.

Is it going to be worth installing PPF on a supercar that probably cost $100,000+ to buy? Very much so. It could end up saving you from getting a front end respray on the car which could cost multiples of what PPF costs. It is a good way of protecting the initial investment

However, most people don’t go for a full PPF cover and only install it on areas that are more susceptible to damage in the first place ( Eg, the front bumper and surrounding areas)

Paint Protection Film VS Ceramic Coating

There are many differences between Ceramic Coating and Paint Protection Film, each with its own Pros and Con’s.

PPF is designed specifically for physical protection against light road debris and scratches on paintwork. It is different from sealants or coatings which are usually in liquid form and are designed for UV and chemical resistance.

Ceramic Coatings harden up the clear-coat on your paintwork but are not designed to protect your vehicle from physical damage ( Although Some brands claim they do, it really is just a myth)

For this reason, both PPF and sealants can be used on vehicles to protect the panels in completely different ways.  Many people actually choose to protect their cars with BOTH Ceramic Coating & PPF Combined for the ultimate protection.

Here is a little comparison chart from exclusivedetail.com


A lot of performance car owners will install a PPF on their vehicle and then choose to have a high-quality ceramic coating on top of the PPF

This provides multiple benefits including:

  • Helps to improve the Paintwork Appearance: PPF is dull and doesn’t have the same wet-look as some coatings available. To improve the shine of the paint and clear coat, many car owners will apply a ceramic coating on top of a fully PPF wrapped vehicle
  • Improves Hydrophobicity: Another drawback of using PPF is that debris tends to stick to it quite well. This is because it’s not very hydrophobic. Ceramic Coating will help with this
  • Fewer Car Washes: When the PPF is more hydrophobic, less dirt, debris, water spots, bird droppings, and other contaminants will stick to it. This will help to reduce the number of car washes needed

How To Clean a Car with Paint Protection Film Installed

There are some very important points to note when cleaning a car that has had paint protection film installed.

Do Not Wash The Car Within 7 Days of the Installation

You need to give both Paint Protection Film and a Ceramic Coating time to fully cure on your vehicle. If you wash or otherwise agitate the surface, that can inhibit the curing process of these materials

Stay Away From Film Edges when Using a Pressure Washer

If you’re using a pressure washer to wash your car you will want to be careful not to use one that can damage your finish. You Should want to stay a good distance from the film so as not to get high pressure under the film, which can cause the edges to lift. The general rule for distance with pressure washers is 8–12 inches away, but you can be the best judge of that. Just stay far enough away so as not to cause damage to the PPF.

What is The Best Pressure Washer For Car Detailing

Remove Any Unwanted Contaminants as Quickly As Possible

Paint Protection Film and Ceramic Coatings are not indestructible. Unwanted contaminants can damage them and reduce their lifespan. That means you should still remove any birdpoop, bug-splatter, or tree-sap immediately. This can be done using a Quick Detailer Product

Be Careful When Wiping The Cars Surface

To add to the point above, Make sure that the surface is hydrated in the process of wiping. Do not wipe the film or coating when the car is dry as you could damage the surface.

Do Not Use Excessive Force Or Harsh Chemicals

Always be as gentle as possible with PPF and coatings. Furthermore, be sure to keep aggressive chemicals like bug and tar removers off your film or coating. These can cause damage and shorten the lifespan of either product.

Can you Wax a car with PPF Installed?

Just don’t use wax on your Paint Protection Film, as the application of wax can result in build-up along the edges of the film, which can become unsightly. If you are going to add further protection, you should use a ceramic coating or sealant.

Can you Machine Polish a car with PPF Installed?

No, you absolutely can not machine polish a car with PPF installed. This would be a pointless exercise as you cannot polish this film as you would a car’s paintwork. By trying to Machine polish a car with PPF, you will most likely cause damage to the film.

Polishes/Compounds have abrasives that not be used in the film. These products will damage the self-healing layer of the film, and at the very least cause a haze on the surface of the film

Surface scratches and swirl marks in the film will heal over a period of time.


Advantages vs Disadvantages Of Paint protection Film

Some of the main advantages of paint protection film include

+ Protection from exterior paint damage

It will protect the paintwork of the car against rock chips, light scratches. The PPF will take the damage and will self heal over time

+ Parking lot protection

As PPF can be installed at door edges, it can protect your doors when you open them on low space parking lots.

+ Preserving vehicle paint

 This film contains a UV coating that blocks colour-sapping sunlight to maintain the original paint colour and hue. It will also prevent swirl makes & scratches which can be inflicted by improper washing techniques

+ Long Lasting

PPF is extremely long-lasting when compared to other forms of paint protection ( Up to 10 years in some installations )


However, PPF comes with some disadvantages also. These include


Not As Glossy when compared to Ceramic Coating or Other Sealants

PPF has a slightly duller finish, but this can be enhanced if Ceramic Coating is applied on top of the PPF

– Needs Professional Installation

Due to the intricacy of PPF, it really does need professional knowledge to install correctly. It is not really a DIY Solution to protecting the paintwork

-Poor Hydrophobicity/Self Cleaning Properties when compared to Ceramic Coating


As mentioned previously, a proper PPF installation is very costly.

Should You Get Paint Protection Film On Your Car?

Paint Protection Film or PPF is a great way of protecting a vehicle from damage caused by small rocks and other road debris. It isn’t intended to enhance the shine or lustre of your vehicle, nor is it very good at keeping the vehicle cleaner. ( Those who are more concerned with this should turn to Ceramic Coatings)

If you are worried about physical damage to your paintwork, or you own a very expensive car, then it is worth looking at getting PPF professionally installed on your vehicle.

Hopefully, the information in this post will help you decide!

Until Next Time,

Happy Detailing!

Go Home

About the Author – Darren O Hara

Darren is the founder of the DriveDetailed blog and is a keen detailing enthusiast living in the rainy south of Ireland. When he is not cleaning his car he is always researching ways he can improve his techniques and enjoys testing out out new products.

Darren currently drives an Audi TTRS and is a big fan of performance cars.

You can follow Darren on Instagram @darrenoharacork


6 thoughts on “Everything you NEED to know about Paint Protection Film

  1. I didn’t know that professionally installed paint protection film can last from 5 to 10 years. That is like the whole amount of time I’ll keep my car. If the paint job still looks nice when I go to sell it I bet I could get more money for it.

Leave a Reply