Hand vs Spray Painting Brake Calipers: Which Method is Best?


If you’re planning on painting your brake calipers yourself, then you’ll need to decide if you want to either hand paint them with a brush, or spray paint them.

Each method has its advantages and disadvantages so I’ll be comparing them and explaining the full process for both methods.

Hand vs Spray Painting Brake Calipers (Quick Comparison)

Hand painting the brake calipers is easier if you do not intend to remove them from the car as there is no risk of overspray unlike with spray paint. Hand painting typically requires fewer coats so is slightly faster overall compared to spray painting, but more labour intensive.

Hand Painting Caliper MethodSpray Painting Caliper Method
Requires fewer areas to be maskedRequires more areas to be masked
More labour intensiveQuicker to apply each coat
Fewer coats needed so is quicker overallMore coats required so takes longer overall
Kits cost approximately $25 (£25)Kits cos approximately $18 (£18)
Results in a thicker finish which is slightly more durable on averageOften easier to get an even finish as there is no risk of brush marks

Hand Painting Process

Hand painting the brake calipers with a brush is the easiest method that presents the least potential complications.

When I painted the calipers on my MX-5 I didn’t want to remove them from the car so I chose the brush method as I was concerned with potential overspray onto the rotor, brake pads, wheel arch and the bodywork itself.

Of course, you can (and definitely should) mask these areas if you are spray painting with the caliper still on the car, however there is still a risk that some overspray may occur if there are any gaps.

It’s still important to cover up the rotor, brake pads, … when hand painting in case you get any drips, but the risk is far lower.

I personally used a Foliatec kit to hand paint my calipers and I was really pleased with the results. The process was easy and straight-forward and the finish was really nice. The advantage of this kit is that you don’t need to apply primer beforehand or a clear coat layer afterwards.

It came with:

  • Wire brush to help prep the calipers
  • Brake cleaner
  • Color paint and hardener
  • Paint brush
  • Stick to mix the paint and hardener

Here’s how I painted my calipers using the brush-on method:

  • Jacked up the car and removed the wheel
  • Cleaned the calipers with the wire brush
  • Wiped the calipers with the provided brake cleaner and a microfiber towel
  • Waited for 10 minutes
  • Covered the rotor, dust protection sleeves, brake cables, and bleeder screw thread
  • Mixed the hardener and paint, waited for 5 minutes and then mixed again
  • Carefully painted the calipers in a thin, even layer
  • Waited 15 minutes
  • Applied a second coat
  • Waited 2 hours and then re-mounted the wheel

Here’s a video on YouTube demonstrating the process.

Spray Painting Process

Spray painting the calipers with them still on the car presents more risk as you need to very careful cover off all the other areas to avoid overspray. It’s a better option to take the calipers off the car if you plan on spray painting them.

The advantage of this method is that you don’t get any potential brush marks so the coverage tends to be more even. It’s also faster than hand painting each caliper.

Here are the materials needed to spray paint the brake calipers:

  • Wire brush to prep the calipers
  • Brake cleaner
  • Trash bag/ drop cloth to cover the other brake/ body components
  • Primer
  • Heat-resistant brake caliper paint

Here’s a brief explanation of the process (without removing them):

  • Clean the caliper using the brake cleaner/ wire brush
  • Cover everything except the calipers (e.g. rotor, gaskets, drain line, pistons, wheel arch, fender etc.)
  • Apply the primer in a thin coat
  • Wait the recommended time (usually 5-10 minutes) and apply a second coat of primer
  • Wait the recommended time (usually 5-10 minutes) and apply a third coat of primer
  • Wait the recommended time (usually 15-20 minutes)
  • Apply a thin coat of color paint
  • Wait the recommended time (usually 5-10 minutes) and apply a second coat of paint
  • Repeat the step above until you are happy with the finish. This usually takes 3-5 coats.

Here is a YouTube video to demonstrate the process.

Which Method is Best?

Now that we’ve been through the basics process of each painting method, let’s talk about their pros and cons so you can figure out which is the best option for your calipers.

Which Process is Easier?

If you are planning to paint the calipers with the wheels still on the car, then hand painting them with a brush is easier than spray painting them because you don’t have to worry about any overspray.

If you’re going to be removing the calipers, then spray painting makes it easier to get more even coverage.

In terms of the application, neither process requires much skill and it’s easy to get a good finish using high quality paint with either method.

Time

If you are painting each caliper individually then using a hand painting kit will takes slightly less time overall since fewer coats are required which reduces the amount of “waiting time” required. However, hand painting is more labour intensive so it’ll take longer to apply each coat.

Here’s an average comparison of the time it takes to paint one caliper (minus the cleaning and prep). Keep in mind that the number of coats and waiting time between coats will vary slightly depending on what paint you’re using.

Spray Painting

  • Primer coat 1 (1-2 minutes)
  • Wait 5 minutes
  • Primer coat 2 (1-2 minutes)
  • Wait 5 minutes
  • Primer coat 3 (1-2 minutes)
  • Wait 15 minutes
  • Color coat 1 (1-2 minutes)
  • Wait 5 minutes
  • Primer coat 2 (1-2 minutes)
  • Wait 5 minutes
  • Color coat 3 (1-2 minutes)

Total = 45 minutes

Active Time = 10 minutes

Waiting Time = 35 minutes

Hand Painting

  • Apply first coat of paint (10 minutes)
  • Wait 15 minutes
  • Apply a second coat of paint (10 minutes)

Total = 35 minutes

Active Time = 20 minutes

Waiting Time = 15 minutes

You can of course speed up the process by coating either 2 or 4 calipers at the same time if you have access to axle stands. In this case there won’t be any waiting time required between coats as you can just move onto the next one and repeat the process.

You will also have to factor in some extra time if you spray paint the calipers when their still on the car as it takes longer to mask off all the areas. You’ll still need to do some taping if you’re hand painting them but this only takes a couple of minutes.

The cleaning process is the same regardless of whether you are hand or spray painting the calipers. This typically takes around 10-20 minutes per caliper depending on the current condition.

Price

To hand paint the calipers using a kit, you can expect to pay $20-$30 (or £20-£30 in the UK). To spray paint the calipers you’ll need the primer which costs approximately $5-$10 (£5-£10) and heat-resistant paint which costs roughly $10 (£10).

This makes the spray paint method slightly cheaper, however there’s not much difference at all between these two methods in the grand scheme of things.

Finish and Longevity

Hand painting the calipers with a brush tends to result in a thicker layer which is slightly more durable on average compared to spray painting the calipers.

However, it’s usually easier to get a more even finish with spray paint as you don’t have to worry about brush marks, unless you also purchase a little foam brush. You do need to be careful when spray painting though to apply thin layers otherwise you can get drip marks.

In reality, when done properly both methods should look great and last for several years as long as the calipers aren’t abused so I wouldn’t worry too much about the finish with either method.

Which Method Should You Choose?

It’s possible to get great results with either the hand or spray paint method but I hope discussing the pros and cons in the section above has helped you lean slightly more towards one method depending on your requirements.

Personally, I prefer the hand painting method as it’s easier and less “risky” if you don’t want to take the calipers off the car.

I would recommend the Foliatec caliper painting kit if you’re going down this route. It comes with the essentials (except for a trash bag/ tape) and it’s really easy to do. They also offer the kit in plenty of colors so you’re likely to find an option which will suit your car.

Here is a link to the Foliatec Caliper Painting Kit on Amazon.

The only thing I would recommend buying as well as the kit is a smaller artists painting brush for more intricate areas, some better nitrile gloves and a respirator mask.

Heather

I first became interested in car detailing around 3 years ago and learnt all the main techniques on my very first car. I spend a lot of time detailing my current car, and trying to keep my family's cars looking presentable too!

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