Flat vs. Satin Matte Paint

One thing that makes matte painted cars so attractive is how unique they are. Not only are 99% of cars on the road glossy, but each matte finish is uniquely matte. There are satin matte finishes with a higher natural gloss, and what we consider flat matte finishes that scatter light so well you’d think the surface was covered in sand. Interestingly enough, there are dozens of degrees in between this “satin” and “flat” comparison. The goal of this article is to further clarify the difference between these two types of matte paint.

Satin matte finishes

Satin finishes, as I mentioned, tend to have a more prominent sheen than flat finishes do. The best example of a satin finish from an automotive manufacturer is BMW’s “Frozen” matte paint (pictured above). Upon examining the paint you’ll notice a lot of your surroundings are being reflected on the paint… not directly, but in faded abstract shapes. The elevated gloss and sheen make the Frozen paint “satin” and also create a matte look unique to BMW. As far as why the paint is more glossy, this has to do with the clear coat that BMW uses on it’s Frozen cars – the matte clear coat has the imperfections you’d expect from matte paint, but more rounded edges and softer valleys that, in effect, make reflected light glow off the surface. For the most part, all satin finishes have a matte clear coat. Another popular satin finish is Designo Magno by Mercedes. While the Magno finishes are a bit flatter than the Frozen paint jobs, they’re still considered satin because the surface’s elegant sheen. Even the new Hyundai Veloster Turbo’s finish has a natural sheen to it, designed to add to the car’s beauty. As a rule of thumb, almost all factory matte finishes are considered satin (for now).

Flat matte finishes

Flat is satin’s more extreme brother. Typically when you see these cars your jaw sort of drops because, unlike satin finishes, the surface looks dead. There’s no real sheen to the surface as objects pass, and all you really notice in terms of reflections are the cast shadows from the side mirrors. It’s a truly stunning sight to see. In today’s world the only time you really see these cars are in Chad Johnson’s garage or on TMZ when they’ve tracked down Justin Bieber. Almost every “flat” car on the road has an aftermarket paint job done by a body shop (such as West Coast Customs – where the Biebs gets all his cars done). The why behind flat paint varies by who’s painting the car: some will just use single-stage paints, and some have clear coats designed to reflect the least amount of light possible… it all depends on where you go. Matte vinyl wraps also fall under the ‘flat’ category.

Flat Paint Care vs. Satin Paint Care

While the type of matte paint is visibly different, the care for satin and flat matte paint is exactly the same. You don’t want to use waxes or products with silicone or filling agents, as these will begin to increase gloss and make the (intentionally) matte surface appear blotchy or greasy. As I’ve expressed countless times, matte care is easy as long as you know why to stay away from certain products such as paste wax and polishes. Use a matte car wash soap for washing and a matte-specific paint sealant to protect the paint. Other than that, avoid chamois and matte care is a breeze. In fact, many people have told us matte paint care is easier than caring for their glossy car was. Read more about matte paint care.

The moral of this story is that all matte paint is different and rarely will two finishes, unless they’re produced by the same manufacturer, ever look exactly the same. What does stay the same, regardless of sheen, is that all matte cars need to be cared for and protected. Dirt, debris, bird droppings – none of it’s good for matte paint (or glossy paint for that matter). The only issue is, if you let messes and contaminants become an issue, you can’t polish matte like you’d polish a glossy car. Always be sure your matte car is protected, and remember: no waxes.

Which do you like better… Satin or Flat?

  • DaveC

    I love the (grey) satin matte paint on my 2013 smart fortwo. The paint is actually metallic so in direct sunlight it has a bit of “sparkle” to it, but otherwise looks decidedly un-glossy. And I have to agree, matte paint is a breeze to care for. No swirl marks…need I say more?!

    • http://www.drbeasleys.com/ Dr. Beasley’s

      In my mind matte isn’t just a gorgeous choice… it’s a “smart” one, too!

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