Ceramic, Glass or Nano Coating. What is it? Does it Work?
Buying your first car, still remains among the more popular ones in the wish-list of school kids and sophomores. Cars are prized possesions and they need to be maintained, both their mechanical parts and exterior looks. The aesthetics of a car plays a major factor in its popularity and attraction quotient. Be it gleaming under the morning sunshine or on display under the flattering lights in a showroom, a photo of a car proudly showing off its curves and lustrous body panels is a marketer’s delight.
Although, people have used several methods including regular cleaning, “Car Polish” and even paint correction, to keep their cars looking like new, paint coatings have been the best option till date. Many of you here might be first-timers and are unaware of terms like “Nano coating”, “ceramics” or “Glass coating”. Also, searching up on the internet, you might have come across videos or tutorials of “How to apply coating?” or “How to make your car look like new, again?” and left confused with questions unanswered. This post is all about coatings, their types, how they are made, their features, and how to use them.
Protective coatings are generally made of a mix of materials, mostly synthetic which as the name suggests, protect the exteriors of your car from scratches, marks, external agents, pollutants as well as corrosion of the paint and enhances their looks with loads of gleam and sparkle. Over the years, newer technologies have developed and protective coatings have become more effective, durable, user-friendly, sophisticated and yeah, COSTLY!.
Brief history of protective coatings
In the early years, wax was the most prevalent protective coating material in use and even that has evolved from being made from animal fats to a mix of chemicals and natural waxes. Car wax was first used in the early 1800s, made from animal fats. It was only in 1910, that the modern kind of car wax was developed by Simons Manufacturing Company called, Carnauba wax, which was cleaner and easier to apply. Quite amazingly, auto detailing was called “simonizing” back in the day. This continued, till in 1944 it was Ben Hirsch who made the first hard shell wax and it was named Turtle Wax.
A major breakthrough in wax technology was achieved in 1969, when US chemicals giant, DuPont, made the first synthetic polymer paint sealant of its type. Synthetic paint sealants are similar to natural wax but offer greater durability but comparatively lesser shine. They gradually took over the market and still remain popular despite, newer technologies like PPF, durability clay, microfibre and finally ceramics and glass coatings.
Ceramics and glass coatings are the most widely used forms of protective coatings in the world today. They were introduced in the last decade and have been a revolution in the industry of auto detailing. While looking for these. you definitely have come across words like “nano coating” , “resin” or “nano ceramic” and let me tell you these are among the many commonly used terms prevalent in the market for lacquer-protective coatings.
Ceramic coatings are synthetic chemical polymers, made mostly from silica (SiO2) and other chemicals that are applied to the exterior of your car, in order to protect the paint job. These polymers have hydrophobic properties and directly protect the surface of your car from dust, spills, external pollutants and chemical agents like alkaline substances, corrosion and even UV rays. Nano coatings are not different from ceramics coating, it just says that it employs “nanotechnology” or use of nano-ceramics particles. Nano, comes from Greek word “nanos” meaning dwarf. These are extremely small, microscopic particles that can bond with each other and form nano structures i.e. fundamental structure of the ceramic coating. Due to their extremely small size, these structures can be altered. They are considerably less rigid and brittle, compared to macro-sized particles. Earlier, there was a question mark on the durability of ceramic coatings as silica the main protective component had certain restrictions, but use of silicon carbide in them has made the question of durability, irrelevant.
Glass coatings are made of silica(SiO2) and sometimes use, polymers like siloxane. They work based on a slightly different technique of protection. Despite having similarity in composition, it does not form chemical bonds with the particles of the paint, unlike the nano particles. Instead, they are mixed with a resin which helps in sticking the silica particles with the paint’s clear coat. Their properties like hardness, durability and protection levels vary based on the quality of the chemicals used but in general, they are slightly more prone to corrosive agents like acids and alkaline substances than ceramic coatings, over a period of time. Glass coatings are mostly available in liquid forms and only form glass after they dry. They are very thin; nearly 500 times thinner than hair and leave a very desirable,glossy finish.
How do they work?
Ceramic coatings or nano coatings, when applied on the car’s paint coat, instantly bond together with the surface. The nano structures of these coatings, are made of condensed nano particles, which enable superior cross-linking ability, the main reason for their durability and supreme gloss. The coatings bond with the paint’s clear coat by transfer of particles across both surfaces. These bonds are semi-permanent and the coating endures natural factors like rain and heat. The durability of these bonds vary over a wide range; some of them can be removed by solvents, while, the most durable ones need to be buffed by machines. Alcoholic substances like methanol are emitted as by-products, when ceramic coatings are applied; these are called Volatile organic compounds or VOCs and are mostly foul smelling. Nowadays, although many companies make VOC- free nano coatings.
Glass coatings are of two major types; silica and quartz silane with the differences being in their price and effectiveness. Every type of glass coating for various surfaces, falls under these two broad types. Glass coatings use silane additives and resins to attach and react to form bonds with the surfaces. These resins are mostly silicon polymers like poly-dimethylsiloxanes (PDMS). These resins, are generally inert to other external agents, corrosion, heat and UV radiation and have water-repellent properties. The adhesion or formation of bonds with the paint surface is provided by the silane additives. Glass coatings, dry up really quick. During this time, hydrolysis occurs and the PDMS chains increase in length by adding monomers and form long chain PDMS.
Benefits of coatings
To understand and classify advantages and disadvantages, we need to understand the need of a product. Being the most advanced technologies in the automotive market, both kinds of coatings have their advantages and disadvantages. First of all, they are a huge upgrade over past technologies like wax and synthetic sealants.
Coatings are semi-permanent and remain intact like a shiny, protective layer. This is unlike wax, which needs to removed and re-applied frequently. The top quality glass and ceramic coatings with silica content over 80%, easily endure 3 years; sometimes more than that. In terms of longevity, while wax used to last for hardly a month or two, even an inexpensive yet decent quality coating can last over a year. Coatings have and exponentially amplify all protective properties of sealants.
Unlike wax, coatings not only protect and shine but also prevent water from settling and making a mess of your car. The hydrophobic properties of the synthetic polymers lead to water sheeting off and all moist dirt and grime along with that. This aids in easier cleaning of the surface. Glass coatings have an upper hand in this area over ceramics coating, as they are generally self-cleaning and do not allow dirt to settle on them. This is a reason, glass coatings are also used in car interiors.
Protection from chemical stains and environmental pollutants
With an ever-rising graph of annual pollution rates and increasing concentration of chemical agents released by the factories, the health of your car’s paint is at risk. The acidic affluents bond with the paint particles and can leave permanent stains on your car. A layer of nano or glass coating can go a long way in preventing that.
Waxes and sealants did a pretty good job of shining your cars and adding a warm gloss to them. But coatings are on an absolutely different level in terms of the gloss they create on your car. The finishing is much smoother and has no undulations; something not possible for any wax to match. The only other substance to match the level of gloss provided by coating is Clear Bra or Paint Protection Film(PPF). Even then, it is advised to use a layer of ceramics coating on PPF to protect it.
Dust and dirt repellent
Your cars do not stay under the cover for their lifetime.Dirt, dust, mud and grime, along with water are all spilled on our cars from exposure everyday and the coatings do a great job of repelling them. The surface of the coating do not allow the particles of dirt, dust and mud to settle on them, due to reduced surface tension. So, while they still fall, they don’t stick on your paint and a good cleaning session will just make the car as good as new.
Protection from oxidation and UV rays
A very important feature and advantage of these coatings over any other technology of past or present is their ability to protect the clear coat from UV radiation. Long term exposure to the UV radiation from sun leads to oxidation of the paint job and the paint gets dull.
Ease of use
This is somewhat relative, as well as debatable. The ease of application of coatings depends on the kind of coating you are buying. It is always advised to get the nano coating done by a professional. But then, there are also consumer-friendly, inexpensive DIY coating kits available, which comes with the basic items for applying the coats and can be easily done by casual drivers. In general, glass coatings are easier to apply for non-professionals, because they do not require heat while applying and also can be done at a slower pace.
This is another landmark feature of this technology of coatings. Waxes and sealants were mostly for the glossy effect on cars and provided a minimal degree of protection. If you look for a coating kit in the market, you are sure to come across terms like “industry–grade hardness” or “supreme 9H hardness”. Some claim to have even more like, 10H or 13H. Hardness is a property of the coating and is basically the rigidity of its cross-linking molecules. 9H is the highest standard of hardness used in ceramics. More of a marketing term, manufacturers claim the scratch-resistant properties of the coatings to be top notch for pushing sales. But it should be known, that however hard the coating may be, it cannot provide more than a little cushioning against minor scratches. Quite contrarily, extremely hard coatings are more prone to scratches and there is a very scientific reason for that. Ceramic coatings with very dense structures do not let the pressure from a hit or abrasion spread over a large area. This, results in the coatings to actually return the exact amount of pressure applied within that small surface area, creating a scratch. A slightly, more flexible coating will allow uniform spread of the impact, thus increasing the surface area and reducing the chances of a scratch showing up.
Disadvantages and Myths
Now, every coin has two sides, ain’t it? Despite so many benefits, there are a few downsides to coatings as well as a few myths surrounding their abilities.
The major issue with any casual car owner will be to pay high prices for a 30 ml bottle of liquid and kit. First time buyers might, feel the price is unjustified, but the kind of benefits and upgrades over previous technologies it offers, the price is relevant and in the long term, would actually turn out cheap. Along with that, now there are several DIY consumer-friendly kits available which are cheap and you won’t need professional help to use them.
Difficulty to use (Surprising, right?)
Yes, they are easy to apply but not really simple. In this case, we are talking of ceramic coatings and the preparation they need. The surface needs to well prepared for applying coatings, free of any marks, undulations and blemishes . Generally, a complete paint correction process of washing, claying and buffing is done before any coat is applied. Also the paint needs to be clean before applying, so it is important to do this in a well-lit, clean indoor space.
Presence of fake/misleading products
Due to a very high concentration of brands in this industry, there are a prevalence of lot of fake products too. Be careful while you choose a product for your vehicle. Search online, look for products with good and a high number of reviews and look for past recommendations. If possible, take references from people who have used and check for the contents and silica percentage. Do not be fooled by fancy marketing words and go for a recognized brand. A good-quality coating will be somewhat thick and sticky, do not go for watery ones.
Also be careful of similarly named products. For example, there is ceramic coating and ceramic sealant. Although they both have silica as the major component, one of them is a sealant and has no resin. This reduces the durability only to a few months.
Myths about coatings
Coatings are dent-proof and scratch proof: No, coatings are not necessarily scratch proof. You might find brands with fancy words like “Armor” or “Shield” but a nano coating is not that. It protects your car from dirt, dust, spills and chemical agents but is not any armor to resist the impact of accidents or deep scratches.
They are permanent: No, they are really durable and the best ones last for 4-5 years. But they are not permanent.
Stop the need of regular car washing: Ceramic coatings reduce a lot of effort and frequency to wash your cars. But, even they get dirty from dust and water spots formed when the water evaporates leaving the dry dirt behind and need to be cleaned. Glass coatings are only slightly better, as they are self cleaning and do not let dust settle easily but they still need cleaning.
How long do these coatings last?
It is not a one-liner really. There are several factors that influence the longevity of coatings. Firstly, the composition matters a lot; the contents of the coating, the amount of silica present and the adhesive properties of the resins. Silica concentration over 80% is a signature of a top quality coating.
Apart from this, a very important factor of a coating’s durability is the preparation that goes into play before the coating is applied. The cleaner the surface is from dirt, dust, pollutants and stains, the better will be the bonding between the coat and the surface. This will lead to greater protective covering.
How to apply glass and ceramics coatings?
Just as we said, applying ceramics on your car might be easy at first sight but not really simple. The basic need is to keep the car absolutely clean and unblemished. A paint correction process including washing, claying and buffing is a must. For a top notch protection and shine, use of a super hydrophobic, top-quality coating is mandatory. It is better to give it to a professional to work with these. The total cost of the prep, equipment and labor charges can go over $1500.
In case of DIY coatings, they are easy to apply and provide you with a pair of gloves, applicator and microfiber cloth, the cost is really low . They are high on the value-for-money proposition and provide a really hard protective coating with good durability at one-tenth price. They lag behind the professional ones in shine and finish, which is quite obvious.
For a glass coating, application is simpler, as there is no need to care about temperature and humidity and it dries down as soon as in contact with air. Also, that they don’t release foul-smelling VOCs like ceramics is another advantage.
Steps to apply a glass or ceramic coating is not very different, although.
First of all, ensure, the body panels are absolutely cleaned and washed with a soap and water and left to dry. Any residue of previously applied waxes and blemishes and pollutants will reduce the adhesion of the coat. Use of a clay bar is recommended after this. Clay bar is a paint cleaner that helps in removing stubborn particles of dust and grime from paint without affecting it. Alternately, standard silicon-free cleaners or specialized pre-cleaners can also be used, especially for ceramics coatings.
Post claying, it is important to clean the surface from any contaminants. Ethanol or Isopropyl alcohol is used to do that. Use a microfiber towel to do this.
Clay bar, although can clean the hardest of marks and stains, it cannot remove scratches or paint marks. A car polish and a standard grade polishing pads can do that for you.
After the car is thoroughly cleaned, clayed and decontaminated, the coating needs to be applied. A microfiber cloth is dipped into the coating liquid and then, wiped all over the surface. Here is the major difference between ceramics and glass; glass coatings can be applied in a criss-cross manner, while, for ceramics, the wiping needs to be uni-directional. You can also use an applicator sponge instead of a microfiber cloth, for more even wiping.
In case of glass, let the coating dry for a few minutes and wipe of any remaining dirt with a cloth. For ceramics, the surface needs to be immediately polished after coating to ensure that there is no blemish left. Use a microfiber cloth and do that on every body panel, applying slight pressure.
Always ensure that temperature is around room temperature (25 degree Celsius) while applying ceramics coat, as high temperatures are not ideal for it. There is no such issue with glass coatings, although.
Ensure you are working in a clean, dust-free space preferably, indoors. Always have protective equipment like gloves and mask as the coatings contain solvents and additives, which can harm your skin.
Before applying coating, remember to mask off areas which you don’t want to coat.
In the current market, the only alternative of nano coatings are Clear Bra or PPF. These are protection films, with a different set of advantages. The advantage of having clear bra is that it will protect your car from rock chips, debris and scratches, along with every other thing coatings do. They also prevent water spots and are equipped with self-healing technique. But on the other hand. clear bra is not hydrophobic and gets affected by UV rays too. So using a clear bra with a coat of ceramics or glass is recommenced. Apart from these, sealants and waxes do exist and are a cheaper source but they definitely won’t give the shine or durability of any of these.