You will need the following tools:
Dual action polisher or a buffer
3 microfiber towels (these will get dirty)
2 cans of VHT Niteshades
2 cans of clear coat (Duplicolor Acrylic Lacquer or professional clear coat. Make sure it is safe for use on plastics, as well as UV protectant)
Wet/dry sandpaper (800, 1000 and 2000 grit)
Wet sanding rubber block
X-acto knife or razor blade
Painter’s tap (1 inch or 2 inch)
Half bucket of water
3M Rubbing Compound
Your choice of wax
Before you start tinting your taillights, I highly recommend you start this project early in the morning. Some people have been able to complete their tails in one day while for others it could take as long as 2 days to finish. If you have an extra set of taillights to install on your car I highly recommend it.If you do not, then try to do this DIY when you will not need your car right away. The last thing you want to do is begin tinting your taillights and then have to go somewhere and be driving around with taped off/semi tinted tails. I cannot emphasize this enough, TAKE YOUR TIME! Do not try to rush this DIY, or the result will look like crap.
1. Remove your taillights from your car, in whichever way you need to. Check owners manual, or do your homework on the internet, call your dealer, etc.
Prepping the lights
1. Using the painter’s tape, mask off the main connector in the back, as well as the brackets that hold the bumper onto the taillight and the plastic trim that runs along the hatch of the car.
Tape off desired spots on your lights1. If you desire to tape off certain spots of your lights for legal reasons or just desire, tape off spots like we show here. In this example we are doing a scion tail light.
Sanding the taillight
This next step consists of wet sanding
the taillights. By doing this the sanded surface will help to ensure that the paint will stick to the taillight.1. Take 800 grit sandpaper and wrap it around the sanding block. Dip the sanding block with the sandpaper into the water and lightly begin to sand the unmasked area. Constantly dip the sanding block back into the water and continue sanding the taillight until you begin to get a dull surface.2. When wet sanding, be sure to allow the sandpaper to do the work, allow it glide smoothly over the surface. Do not push hard on the sandpaper when wet sanding, this will only take longer and it will not speed up the process.
Painting the taillights Before painting your taillights ensure that it is not to windy or cold outside. If it is windy or cold try to paint in a somewhat closed off area, such as a garage (failure to do so will only result in lost time and difficulty getting the paint to go where you are trying to spray it). Also, be sure to have the taillights propped on a box at least 1 foot from the ground (try to avoid spraying directly on top of the taillight).
3. Allow at least 30 minutes to dry. If you want, you can allow the taillights to dry faster in the sun. Just be sure not to get any heavy dirt or dust particles on the painted surface.
4. After each coat of paint has dried, wet sand with the sanding block and the 1000 grit sandpaper. Once again do smooth, light motions over the taillight. If you experience any drips or runs in the paint continue wet sanding until the run is no longer visible or until the area that was affected is smooth.
5. Continue adding light coats until you achieve the desired lightness/darkness you are looking for. If you go too dark you can simply wet sand with 1000 grit until you reach the desired coat you are looking for.
Wet sanding and orange peel
As you continue to wet sand you might notice that part of the sanded surface is streaked while the other part of the surface might appear to be pitted. The pitted area is called orange peel and can be removed with lots of wet sanding. If you experience any orange peel do the following.
1. Keep wet sanding with the sanding block and 1000 grit. Make sure that the sandpaper is always wet. If you do not constantly get the sandpaper wet, you risk sanding dry and in doing so you risk removing the painted surface that you just applied.
Clear coating the taillight After you have wet sanded the taillight and removed all of the orange peel (or as much as you could) you can move onto the final step of the painting process, clear coating the taillights.1. Shake up the can of clear coat for at least 90 seconds.2. Unlike the VHT Niteshades, which you applied in several light coats, you want to apply the clear coat in thick coats from a minimum of 5 inches away.3. From 5 inches away spray the clear 6 inches before the taillight and continue 6 inches beyond the taillight. For example, if you are spraying the right taillight start from left to right and then overlap what you just did, but this time from right to left.4. When overlapping, be sure to continue to spray 6 inches before the taillight and 6 inches beyond it. Continue with this step until you have covered the entire taillight. The result that you want is a thick layer of clear coat that easily reflects your image and has no runs.
4. Allow the clear coat to dry for a minimum of 13 hours (some clear coats dry to the touch in as little as 3 hours, while others can take at least 24 hours to fully dry. Read the back of the can for drying instructions, i.e. Duplicolor).5. If you experience any drips or runs in the clear coat continue wet sanding until the run is no longer visible or until the area that is affected is now smooth.6. Apply at least 1 more thick layer of clear coat.7. Allow a minimum of 13 hours to dry.
8. After the clear coat has dried, slowly and carefully remove the masked off areas of the taillight. Do not remove the tape fast, or you could risk pulling off some of the painted surface of the taillight.9. Once dry take your sanding block and the 2000 grit sandpaper and lightly wet sand the clear coat. Once again, constantly make sure that you dip the sandpaper completely in the buck of water so it is soaked, continue sanding the clear-coated surface in a back, and forth motion.10. Keep wet sanding until you have a smooth dull surface with no drips or runs and little to no orange peel. Your surface should look like this.
Buffing and waxing the taillight
Now that you have finished painting, clear coating and wet sanding the taillights you can finally move onto buffing and waxing the taillight. If you have either a buffer or a dual action polisher these steps will be easy. If you do not have either of these machines the buffing part will take the longest, as you will have to apply it by hand.
1. Take your polisher/buffer and apply a small amount of 3M Rubbing Compound to the surface of your taillights. Turn on the machine and slowly work it into the lights. Allow time to dry (5 minutes) and remove with a clean microfiber towel.
2. Complete this step at least three more times, for a total of 4 coats. If you are doing this by hand it may take a few more coats to remove the swirls and dullness caused by wet sanding. Your surface should look like this prior to buffing.
2. Take your polisher/buffer and apply a small amount of Meguiar’s Plast-X to the surface of your taillights. Turn on the machine and slowly work it into the lights. Allow time to dry (5 minutes) and remove with a clean microfiber towel.3. Complete this step at least three more times, for a total of 4 coats. This will help to remove some light swirls and scratches caused from wet sanding.
3. Take your polisher/buffer and apply a small amount of wax to the surface of your taillights. Turn on the machine and slowly work it into the lights. Allow time to dry (5 minutes) and remove with a clean microfiber towel. Complete this step at least three more times, for a total of 4 coats.
Finished Product1. After you have completed tinting your taillights remove all the tape and reinstall them back onto your car.2. Make sure to perform function tests on your lights before returning to the roads to drive.