Color Sanding Factory Finish (OEM) Paint
Robert Whyte © 2003 use by written permission only

Before you sand and polish any factory finish, you should know, this will void the warranty on the paint. I’m not suggesting or recommending you do it. I’ve given this warning to a fair number of people who still decided to go ahead. I did this to my own car and it looks much better than the typical Subaru Outback Sport. I assume if you’re willing to go through this much work, you’re going to take care of your car afterward. So, the choice is yours. Results will vary depending on your ability and the thickness of the factory finish.
 


Picture #1 These are the tools and materials I use when cutting the orange peel from factor finish paint. You’ll notice my ever present Makita 9227 C polisher, a double sided wool 100% wool pad, a reticulated foam pad, and a white foam pad. I have a spray bottle with about a table spoon full of liquid dish soap, several microfiber towels, some polish, a clay bar, sandpaper, 1500, 2000 and 2500 grit, a balsa wood sanding block, a bucket for soaking my sand paper and an extension cord.
 


Picture #2 Here’s the orange peel in the paint before I start. I want you to understand that I don’t want to cut this paint hard enough to remove all the orange peel, I just want to make the truck look better than factory while retaining as much paint as possible
 
Picture #3 After washing the dirt off the panel I use a clay bar to remove any contamination that may have been left behind. I don’t want anything to get in my sandpaper and gouge the paint.
Picture #4 I use a balsa wood sanding block for this kind of sanding. You may not be able to see it from this picture, but I’ve rounded all the edges. Balsa wood provides a nice firm backing for the sand paper without being to hard. When you want a really flat cut, and you’re not cutting factory paint, you can use a very hard block, even plexiglass and start with something like 1000 grit paper maybe even 800.
Picture #5 Notice that I’m keeping my block tilted relative to the direction of motion. That keeps me from gouging the paint with the edge of the block. Even though I’ve rounded all those edges, there’s still a chance I could have a fold or something that could cause a problem if I ran parallel to the edge. Pressure will be higher on the edge than in the middle if the block gets tilted at all.
Picture #6 I’m going to cut in a couple of directions so I end up with the flattest possible surface. I’m not putting a lot of pressure on the sandpaper because I’m just trying to cut the top off the orange peel, I’m not trying to perfectly flatten the paint.
Picture #7 If you look closely you can see there’s still just a bit of orange peel left un cut. Again, this is factory paint, so I’m being very careful. Notice also that I stayed a little away from the edge, then cut right up to the edge. When using a hard block like balsa wood you can cut up close and even over the edge if you want because a hard block doesn’t roll over the edge and take off too much paint the way a soft block can. Just remember to lighten up your pressure when sanding the edges in the next steps.
Picture #8 After I’ve finished cutting with the 1500 and block, I go over the paint with 2000 and no block or sometimes using a very soft block. I don’t fold the paper with a hard crease, I just roll it over so it doesn’t have a hard edge that could cut into the paint.

While I’m doing this step, I can feel when I’ve cut through my 1500 grit scratch because the 2000 grit paper will start to skip over the paint, sort of like it’s worn out. I can feel that change every time I go from a coarse paper cut to a finer one, and that’s how I know when I’ve gotten to the bottom of the deeper scratch. I feel the skip then hit each area a couple more passes just to be sure.
 

Picture #9 I made a final pass with 2500 grit paper just to make polishing easier. As much as I do it, I’m not a big fan of buffing, even my Makita weighs much more than sheet of sandpaper, so I like to cut fine and buff fast. Taking just a little more time with sandpaper can save you a lot of time buffing. It also makes buffing much safer because you’re removing less material to get rid of the sandpaper scratch, so, you get less heat, spend less time in one place, and so, have better control.
Picture #10 When you buff, wear the safety gear, a decent dust mask and safety glasses are essential. With some polishers, ear plugs really help.
Picture #11 Run a pad cleaning spur over the pad to break up and clean out any clumps of polish that may be left over from the last use. Using a fine polish, one with a very small abrasive, makes it safer to use a pad more times.
Picture #12 I put a little water on my hand and run the pad against my wet hand to drive some water into the pad. I’ll repeat this a few times till I’ve got the pad just slightly damp, not really wet. A little water helps the polish stay in the pad and gives the pad a bit more weight to drive the abrasive into the paint. This makes for cleaner and faster cut.
Picture # 13 & #14 Put a ribbon of polish horizontally on the panel then pick the polish up into the pad by moving from the right to the left while the machine picks up speed. Tilt the pad up so the polish contacts the inside of the pad, not the outside edge. Keep the speed low enough that polish doesn’t fling off and don’t use to much polish. To recap: You’ll throw polish by, using to much, running to high a speed or by hitting the polish with the outside of the edge of the spinning pad. If you don’t do any of those things you should be able to buff without throwing any product at all.

NOTE:
The wool pad will remove all the colorsanding scratch but will leave a slight swirl mark.
 
Picture #15 It’s a bit hard to see in this photo but I’m running the pad so that it’s rolling off the top edge of the panel. Whenever you’re polishing, make sure the pad runs off or at least parallel to any edges or ridges.
Picture #16 After cutting the top edge, I came down the right edge and into the middle of the panel. By moving right to left with my polish I can leave the area almost perfectly clean
 
Picture #17 Cutting the bottom of the panel, again, notice I’m running the pad off the edge.
Picture #18 Use the side of the spur to clean the residue polish out of the reticulated foam pad. I don’t use water on foam pads, but I am careful to make sure that every working surface of the foam is wetted with polish right from the start.
 
Picture #19 When starting with a dry pad, I put a fairly substantial amount of polish on the panel. After the pad is covered, I use about one third that amount each time. Notice, the panel was almost perfectly clean after the wool pad cut. The polish I use doesn’t require a cleanup between steps since I use the same polish from start to finish.
Picture #20 Quarter inch tape on the edge of the adjacent panel and running the pad lightly and near parallel on the panel that’s being polished makes for a very safe cut. No burned edges.
This medium hard cutting/polishing pad cuts the swirl from the wool pad and leaves an almost flawless finish. The same principles apply to foam pads as to wool when it comes to running off the edges, but I keep foam pads flatter to the paint. This makes for more surface area being worked, a more consistent pressure on the paint and a more consistent finish with fewer swirl marks.
 
Picture #21 Clean the polish residue from the white soft foam finishing pad.
Picture #22 I run this pad very flat on the paint and sometimes turn the speed up just a little. As with any foam pad, make sure there’s polish on every working surface of the pad but don’t use enough polish or speed to make the product fling. Product does no work on the paint while flying through the air and getting places you’ll have to clean it off of later.
Picture #23 Even though the panel is almost perfectly clean after using the white foam polishing pad, I’ll use just a little polish on a hydrophilic sponge to remove all the residue polish
 
Picture #24 I use the same polish from start to finish, and here, I use it just as you’d use a liquid wax or glaze, but I take it off before it has a chance to dry. On hot days, that means, one hand on, with the sponge, one hand off with a microfiber cloth
This is not a show car cut but it’s a whole lot nicer than the factory finish while preserving enough paint to be reasonably sure that with normal maintenance there should be no difference in the durability of the finish. You can decide for yourself if the change is worth the warranty.

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