Ceramic Coating vs on top of Paint Protection Film (PPF)

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Ceramic Coating vs on top of Paint Protection Film (PPF)

If you’re looking for superior protection for your new car paint surface, ceramic coatings or paint protection film is a clear choice. These two products have been fine-tuned over the years, and utilize the best technology to provide a layer of protection that’s hard to beat. While there are some things that are the same between the two, there are differences as well.

In order to provide you with facts that help you make informed decisions, we’ll take some time to compare ceramic coatings to paint protection film (also known as PPF).

In today’s AvalonKing.com blog, we’ll explain the two products design, compare and contrast them, and also provide some examples when you should consider using both products together.

What is Ceramic Coating?

Ceramic Coating - How It Works

In the automotive world, a ceramic coating is a liquid-polymer used to provide a microscopic layer of paint protection. It is made from silica and other special ingredients that infused directly onto the clear coat. When it is applied, it seeps into the tiny imperfections found in paint clear coat to create a flat surface.

It’s also called a nano-ceramic coating or nano-coating for car paint. The “nano” describes the size of the molecules that make up the coating. The particles measure 80 to 100 nanometers, which can only be seen with powerful microscopes. For reference, one-inch equals 25 million nanometers.

Ceramic coating protects paint of the vehicle from dirt and other pollutants

Due to the tiny size of coating particles, it seals all the imperfections in paint clear coat and makes it resistant to chemicals, UV rays, bird droppings, scratches, extreme heat, and a great anti-graffiti product.

The image above gives a great example of how ceramic coatings bond to the clear coating of paint. The flat layer of ceramic coating makes the surface very slippery. This helps to repel water, making it hydrophobic.

What is Paint Protection Film – PPF?

Scratching And Healing My Own Car - How Protective Films Work

What originally started as a protection layer for helicopter blades in the Vietnam War has turned into a scientific and amazing car paint protection solution. 

PPF or paint protection film is a thermoplastic urethane film that is installed on top of the paint. It is usually clear, so it can display the freshly polished paint underneath. Car owners can purchase it in different colors if they wish.

Ceramic coating is installed on top of the paint and is resistant to corrosion and acid based contaminants

PPF or clear bra is very resistant to corrosion or acid-based contaminants, like bird droppings, bug splatters, and road grime.

It’s also made from an elastomeric polymer material that is pliable, making it maintain a natural shape when applied. It can also ‘self-heal’ when light scratches happen. It is applied by a pro detailer or installer and has really good self-healing properties. 

What is Similar Between Ceramic Coating and PPF?

If you’ve used car wax and polish to protect your daily driver or garage queen, and looking for a significant upgrade, a ceramic coating or PPF will exceed your expectations.

Although these two products are significantly different in their construction, they are quite similar in the protection attributes they deliver. It is a good idea to complete paint correction and some prep work before applying either. Here are four items that nano-coatings and PPF share.

Protects Against Exposure to Harsh Elements

Ceramic coating and PPF offers protection of paint of the vehicle against exposure to harsh elements

A leading source of paint damage is ultra-violet light or UV rays. Excessive heat, acid rain, even smog contains harsh contaminants that slowly eat away at the paint’s clear coating – if it’s not protected. This is the job of a paint protection film and a nano-ceramic coating.

A ceramic coating hardens on the clear coat surface on the entire car and produces a very strong glass shield that blocks UV rays, acid rain, smog, snow, and ice from attaching to the paint surface. A PPF does the same job but is a much softer material.  

Prevents Paint Fading

Ceramic coating and PPF prevents paint of the vehicle from fading

The car’s paint will begin to fade when the clear coating is damaged. The leading source of this is UV light, chemicals, and acids. A PPF is made from a durable material (thermoplastic urethane) that is resistant to these harmful contaminants – and can hold its integrity for up to 10 years.

Likewise, the ceramic automotive paint protection coating is made up of SiO2 or Silica Dioxide. SiO2 is an inorganic metal oxide that has a diameter smaller than 100 nanometers. When it hardens and is buffed off the surface after being applied, it produces a crystal layer onto the surface area.

The higher your SiO2 percentage, the harder and longer-lasting. Most of the top contending DIY ceramic coatings have SiO2 percentages around 70 percent – the cream of the crop is above 80%, but less than 90% (like the really high SiO2 coatings are hard to apply.

Keeps Paint Looking Fresh and Clean

Ceramic coating and PPF keeps the paint of vehicle fresh and clean for years

Before you install a PPF or nano-coating, it is recommended to polish the paint and clear coat factory paint underneath.

This helps to produce amazing shine. Since a coating hardens as glass, it amplifies the undercoat brilliance of freshly polished paint. PPF likewise helps to keep the bad stuff from penetrating, keeping the paint looking clean and fresh for years.

Blocks Swirl Marks or Chemical Stains

Ceramic coating and PPF prevents swirl marks and chemical stains on your vehicle

One of the drawbacks of using wax, polish or even paint sealants, is that the potential for tiny scratches or swirl marks still exists. Swirl marks occur when the car is washed, waxed, or polished with materials in a circular motion (like we’re all taught).

What happens is that dirt, debris, or microscopic imperfections in the materials will grind into the clear coat. As you literally grind the debris into the clear coat (in a circular motion) it causes scratching to occur. Both paint protection film and a durable ceramic coating will prevent this from occurring. The result is cleaner, fresher, longer-lasting paint.

What Are Differences Between Ceramic Coating & PPF?

Are you Wasting Your Money? Paint Protection vs Ceramic Coating??

Although there are multiple similarities between these two paint protection products, there are a few areas where they are quite different.

Difference In Material

For starters, the materials are night and day. A ceramic coating is a liquid product, while PPF is a polymer or vinyl material. Ceramic coatings are installed by applying liquid formula onto an application sponge, spread it on the paint surface, wait for it to dry, and then buff it off. 

Ceramic coating is a liquid product while PPF is a polymer or vinyl material

PPF is installed by laying the vinyl material on the surface, smoothing out all bubbles and imperfections, then using a hot air machine to adhere to the paint. Beyond the materials and the installation techniques, there are other differences between the two products.

Provides Different Levels of Protection

A ceramic coating helps to make cleaning your car easier, by literally making the paint slippery. These coatings also make the paint look really glossy, creates a hydrophobic surface, and is completely transparent.

Ceramic coating provides paint protection for a vehicle whereas PPF  helps to protect vehicle from damage by small debris

A high-quality nano-coating is maintained by washing your vehicle every two weeks, by using the two-bucket method of washing. You don’t need to apply anything on top of the ceramic coating to improve its paint protection or ability to improve it’s shine and resistance to water.

A PPF helps to protect your vehicle from damage by small debris including pebbles, dust, and other debris that gets kicked up due to traffic and blowing wind. Keep in mind – PPF does not make your car bulletproof, but if small rocks or sticks hit your car, it’s less likely to penetrate the PPF material.

Ceramic coating is hydrophobic and gives paint a glossy look whereas PPF produces a blurry appearance and is not hydrophobic

Moreover, when a small rock or other debris hit the PPF, it will likely cause minor scarring. The cool thing about this material is that it can literally heal itself. Just apply some heated air to the area impacted, and it will fuse together.

Difference In Appearance After Application

Unlike a ceramic coating, the PPF tends to produce a blurry or fuzzy appearance on the paint surface and is not very hydrophobic. In fact, PPF will become dirtier than non-paint protection, since the material tends to absorb dirt and other materials.

Which One is Best for Your Car?

Making the decision as to whether to install ceramic coatings or a PPF really breaks down to two items – your budget and your needs. If you’re looking to improve the shine of your paint and reduce the need to wash the vehicle every week, then the ceramic coating segment is best for you.

If you drive on country roads or highways frequently and want to protect the paint from rock chips, and other road debris that can penetrate a ceramic coating, then PPF is your best bet.

With regard to cost – PPF is far and away from the most expensive paint protection product to use. It’s always installed by a professional, and in most cases, can cost up to $5,000 to apply to the entire vehicle.

A ceramic coating can be completed by yourself (with some prep work required). You can complete a DIY ceramic coating installation for about $600 (including materials needed for prep and continual car care).

The Benefits of Applying Ceramic Coating Over a PPF

PPF provides long term preservation whereas ceramic coating enhances day to day appearance

So, you want the best of both worlds? Consider using both – but in a strategic way. The majority of PPF owners will only have this material applied to the front bumper or grill area, fenders, the hood, and side-view mirrors.

This is done to protect the high-exposed areas from rock chips and other small debris damage. They will then use a ceramic coating or other paint protection product on the other exposed areas of their vehicle.

However, if you’re looking for the ultimate layer of protection, consider applying a DIY-Ceramic Coating as a top coat of a PPF. Ceramic coatings will stick to a PPF. When you go with this extra effort, you’ll be able to improve a few of the drawbacks of PPF-only protection.

From start to finish: Paint protection film & ceramic

Improves the hydrophobic properties

We mentioned that one of the drawbacks of the paint protection film is the lack of hydrophobic properties. This results in enhanced water spots, but also tends to cause dirt and debris to stick to the PPF. By applying a ceramic coating, you’ll reverse this attribute and turn it into a positive feature.

Enhances self-cleaning

When dirt and debris have a hard time sticking to the PPF and ceramic coating, you’ll spend less time cleaning or washing the car. This helps to improve the car care of PPF materials and will improve the cleanliness of your vehicle.

Reduces Fade

PPF is also notorious for yellowing, fading or becoming discolored due to excessive exposure to UV light. The application of a ceramic coating provides a microscopic layer of sunblock to extend the life of many paint protection films.

As you can see, choosing a ceramic coating or a PPF to keep your vehicle paint protected is a smart idea. If cost is your main concern, then you should probably opt for a ceramic coating. However, if you’re looking for the ultimate protection possible, consider using both.

If you enjoyed this article, then you'll love AvalonKing's automotive care products for Do-It-Yourselfers. We create "No B.S products" for an affordable price. And the best part, we treat our customers like family, so if you have any questions or just looking to chat about cars, we're only an email or call away. Check out our homepage here.

Tim C

Tim is part of the AvalonKing team as a content editor. He is a 30-year automotive industry insider and accomplished publicist & columnist.

This Post Has 16 Comments

  1. Rob T

    This is such an incredibly useful and informative piece. Thank you guys for posting. The answers to the comments are also super useful.

  2. Gajera Devendra prvinbhai

    PPf product more details and size

  3. Tony

    Hi Tim,
    If a vehicle has already been coated with ceramic can I have clearbra installed ?

    1. Tim Charlet

      Hey Tony:

      Sure, in most cases, a ceramic coating application is done on top of a PPF – but, it should be able to apply a PPF on top of a ceramic coated vehicle. You’ll have to ask the PPF manufacturer for clarity on this though.

  4. Janet

    If you already have a PPF and have been using waxes would you need to Polish it out with orbital and correcting creams or is just clay enough? And what is IPA?

    1. Eric Williams

      Hi Janet. PPF on its own is fine to coat after washing and an isopropyl alcohol wipe down. If you do have wax or sealant on the vehicle thou, it would need to be taken off with a stronger wax remover or polished off with a non-wax and silicone-free compound.

  5. Guppy

    I live in India. I have opted for PPF for my brand new car and right now its with the 3M folks. I have couple of questions:

    1. Can I go for Ceramic coating after a month or two on top of my PPF. Whether time delay is a concern?
    2. My roof is naked without any protection. Do I need to add PPF to it? As most of the time my car will be on shed and when I take out it would be for long drives.

    1. Tim Charlet

      Hi Guppy:
      Thanks for contacting us today and reading the article. You can apply a ceramic coating on top of a PPF at any time. The key is to make sure it’s free of debris and clean as possible prior to application. This can be done with washing and using an IPA spray. I’d ask the 3M folks what they recommend though, as I’m not sure about their warranty. Second, if you don’t have anything on the roof, you can forego the PPF and just add a DIY ceramic coating if you’d like. The PPF is helpful for reducing rock chips, and the front end and hood are the key areas to protect.

  6. Ben Bihun

    The auto body shop I went too told me that only certain ceramic coatings can be applied to ppfs because of the fact it creates a hard layer over the ppf it’s takes away the self healing properties of the soft ppf layer. Is this a problem you’ve came across at all?

    1. Tim Charlet

      Hi Ben:
      Thanks for the question. I think that the statement from the body shop is a bit misleading. Yes, applying a ceramic coating does provide a hard layer of protection on top of the PPF, but that doesn’t necessarily take away the self-healing effects. If a rock is big enough to penetrate the coating ‘shell’ – it may hit the PPF, where if it’s damaged, it should repair itself with direct heat and a wipe down. Just remember, some rocks and other heavy objects will damage a PPF regardless – they are not 100% bulletproof or able to self heal.

  7. TheMBOD

    Thanks for a great article but I am still unsure. Are you saying you can apply a ceramic coating ON TOP of the PPF?

    1. Eric Williams

      Yeah, you can apply on top of almost any PPF (you can’t only if they have some sort of a special hybrid or wax coat on top, very rare out of the box). And that is pretty much the best thing you can do in protecting your vehicle as you get the supreme surface properties of the ceramic coat with the additional physical protection beneath from the PPF.

  8. Sergey

    Just to confirm. It is safe to apply Armor Shield IX coating on top of PPF like Xpel and such, correct?


    1. Tim Charlet

      Hi Sergey:

      Thanks for the question. Yes – according to US, it’s completely safe and OK to apply Armor Shield IX to the top of a PPF. However, you might want to confirm this with the manufacturer or your PPF – as it might void your warranty (if you have one). But, we’ve found ZERO negative side-effects to doing so.

  9. gerald B gilbert

    I want to know how many coates of ceramic(nano) a tuscon shop says the most is 2.
    so never just 1 ?

    how many

    1. Tim Charlet

      Hi Gerald:

      Thanks for contacting us. Good to see more readers from Arizona (my home state). The shop is accurate, as anything more than (2) coats are pretty much just a waste of money and time. You can apply a single coat, but you’ll get longer-lasting protection, (especially in extreme heat) with a 2nd coat.