An Overview of Ceramic Coatings and the P&S Double Black Inspiration Coating Line
Ceramic coatings have been used in industrial applications for decades. The term “ceramic” has been more or less borrowed because it describes materials that are characterized by their hardness, heat-resistance, and corrosion-resistance. Ceramic coatings were adopted for use on automotive paint in the mid-2000s. Since then, numerous companies have come out with “ceramic coatings” using various chemistries, and sometimes with lofty claims of durability.
All of the traditional protective “coatings” we are used to, like wax and paint sealants, have, as their core, organic resins, which are generally not heat and chemical resistant. We all know, for example, that a wax or sealant will start evaporating off the surface as soon as they are applied, and later are simply washed off after a number of car washes. (There is nothing wrong with wax and sealant, by the way, just so they are being used and sold with the proper expectations regarding durability and protective strength.)
A ceramic coating, on the other hand, is composed of inorganic materials that, when properly cured, become much harder than anything made up of organic resins. This gives ceramic coating its characteristic extreme heat, abrasion, and chemical resistance.
(It is important to understand that newer products described as having “ceramic properties” or being “ceramic-infused” are not true curable ceramic coatings. A true curable ceramic coating must be allowed to set up or cure for several hours or days before it can provide full protection.)
How do Ceramic Coatings Work?
In general, ceramic coatings are made up of several inorganic chemical components that, when combined, start out in a liquid form. Once the liquid is applied to the paint surface, the molecules rearrange themselves as a result of being exposed to air, and the liquid converts or transforms into a solid. As the ceramic hardens, what is created is a highly organized repeating three-dimensional pattern of molecules that are held together with super-strong chemical bonds. The result is a transparent crystalline or glass-like super-thin film or “shell” that is super-strong and super-hard. Super!
The fully-cured ceramic coating has two main properties: (1) it is impermeable to chemicals and other environmental contaminants, thus sealing the paint from the environment, and (2) it is super-hard, actually requiring sandpaper to remove. It takes a very long time for a properly applied ceramic coating to wear off.
Contrast this to traditional automotive wax or polymer paint sealant, which can act as a sacrificial layer against the elements but evaporate quickly and are mostly washed off the car after a few washes, especially in the case of automatic car washes that use harsh chemicals.
What Makes the Inspiration Line Different?
P&S did not rush to get into the ceramic coating market. Co-owners Bob and Dave Phillips watched the ceramic market carefully during the late 2000s, studying emerging technologies, marketing trends, and evaluating true durability of popular ceramic coatings. Dave, the chemist of the operation, spent countless hours working with the ingredients typically found in a ceramic coating formulation. His goal was to create a coating that is relatively easy-to-use, yet durable formula that would be approachable to a wide variety of detailing technicians and operations. It was also important for the company to be able to offer a product with reasonable durability claims that the company and product users can stand behind with confidence.
For the P&S Inspiration line of ceramic coatings, Dave chose polysilazane (silicone dioxide or SiO2) technology as the chemical foundation because of its proven track record, excellent protective properties, and relative ease of chemical manipulation.
Most technicians find the Inspiration line to be easier to apply and work with than other brands, yet without any compromise in durability. P&S refuses to make outlandish durability claims, yet many are finding that the coatings last longer than their intended duration, especially when maintained properly with at least a yearly routine including Bead Maker.
Moreover, P&S will never require “buy-in”, an accreditation process, a large initial investment in product, or paying for a “territory”. The way we figure it, the more people that are using Inspiration, the better. There are just too many vehicles in the world to limit application potential.
Now, that being said, P&S does offer an official certification for installation of Inspiration Classic coating. After completing a one-day Inspiration Certification course, qualified technicians become “Certified Installers” that have access to the independent third-party warranty program for their customers. Certified Installers will also have their business name listed on the Inspiration Ceramic Coating website (inspirationcoating.com) so that potential customers can find installers in their area.
The Inspiration Coating Line
The P&S Inspiration Ceramic Coating Line currently consists of three coatings, Inspiration Classic, Inspiration Sole, and Inspiration Legend.
What’s the Difference? It is important to understand that all three coatings share the same primary active ingredients. By adjusting the ancillary ingredients, however, Dave Phillips was able to change some of the properties of the coatings, like workability, flash time, and longevity. As Dave explains, “it’s a challenge to work the delicate balance in the ingredients to make sure the coatings provide the proper thickness to match the minimum longevity claims, while at the same time ensuring the easiest application.”
“The issue with application,” Dave continues, “is that you can make a coating super easy to apply, but then it may not cure up properly, leaving an unacceptably tacky surface. On the other hand, you can develop a coating that has unbelievable durability but is extremely difficult to apply.”
Inspiration Classic was introduced in December of 2016 as P&S’s foray into the ceramic world. Dave specifically designed this product to be durable, yet relatively easy to work with. Most technicians with ceramic coating installation experience find that Inspiration goes on easier than competitor’s formulations. Moreover the “one-two punch” of Inspiration topped with Bead Maker results in a satisfying experience for the installer as well as the customer.
Pricing was also an important consideration. The P&S team wanted to be able to offer a product that had great performance at a comfortable price-point.
Inspiration Sole was introduced in June of 2020 as a “one-year” coating that is relatively easy to apply and approachable to detailing technicians in a wide variety of situations. Sole has been tested and confirmed to still be effectively protecting the paint surface for at least a year. It was purposely designed with less solids and other characteristics that all for super-easy application along with a longer flash time, so that a large area can be coated before worrying about wiping off excess. In fact, in some ambient conditions, Sole can be applied to an entire hood at one time before wiping off the excess.
Also, with Sole, we see far fewer “high spots” or blotchiness. Sole’s formulation virtually prevents this from happening because it will not load up quickly. It also has a distinct peppermint scent and far less of the traditional strong solvent odor of other ceramic coatings.
Sole provides a ceramic coating option that opens up opportunities for a wide variety of detailing situations. It can be successfully applied in a broad range of ambient conditions, which allows even the mobile detailer to offer ceramic coating–it is not necessary to have a climate-controlled shop for application. Even the detail technician who is new to ceramic coatings will find that Sole application is a relatively easy process to learn.
Sole allows us to offer a more reasonably priced ceramic coating option to our customers. With the ease of application and the tempered durability promise of one year, Sole application can be priced at one-half to one-third of the cost of a longer term ceramic like Inspiration Classic, yet still providing all of the benefits of ceramic coating protection. This opens up the ceramic option to customers who are not prepared to pay for longer-term protection. It also allows the detailer to create an annual return customer by selling Sole application as a once-a-year proposition.
Additionally, some detailers who offer wax or sealant as the final protection product used in their “standard exterior detail” are replacing the wax or sealant with Sole. These technicians are finding that Sole goes on about as fast as wax or sealant. Moreover, because Sole offers far superior protection and appearance, these detailers are upping the price of their standard exterior detail by 10-50%! Thus, with Sole, you can make more money per car and offer the customer superior results!
Inspiration Legend was introduced in March of 2021 as a five-year coating that remains a pleasure to use. During the development of Legend, which involved an extensive cycle of adjustments and testing, Dave focused on two things: the “experience” of installation, and the durability of the product. Dave was able to combine his experience in developing Classic and Sole to effectively increase solids in the Legend formulation while adjusting the ingredients that ease leveling. The result is that, compared to Classic, Legend has about 25% more of the active ingredient that promotes durability, yet without increasing the difficulty of application.
In using Legend, technicians will notice that it has a more traditional ceramic smell of strong solvent—as Renny Doyle says, “you can tell by the smell that it is a serious coating.” Yet, Legend has a more forgivable flash time than coatings with similar durability, making it easier to apply in varying ambient temperature and humidity. In fact, we are finding that even mobile detailers, given they take proper precautions, can apply Legend outside of a shop environment with little difficulty and great results.
With two coats of Legend and proper maintenance that includes use of Bead Maker, we are expecting the durability of the product to last well beyond the published claims. Legend allows the detailing technician the opportunity to enter into the long-term durability market with relative ease.
The bottom line with Inspiration Legend is: It offers reasonably-priced long-term durability and performance in a formulation that is a pleasure to use. Even more simply put: Affordable quality.
Honest Truth: What a Ceramic Coating Will and Won’t Do
This is important: Installers, customers of installers, and those who distribute to the installers must all completely understand what a ceramic coating will and will not do.
What a ceramic coating WILL DO. It will be virtually impervious to insect acid, road salt, acid rain, and car wash chemicals. It will help prevent micro-scratches and paint oxidation. It will enhance gloss and depth appearance in the paint surface. It will have hydrophobic properties, in that it repels water and will not mix with water.
A coated vehicle will be easier to clean because the coated surface is so smooth that contaminants simply have nothing to stick to. Thus, there is less grime build-up between washes, and what’s left is just barely holding onto a super-slippery surface, thus it washes off with minimal chemicals and minimal agitation. Less agitation means less washing scratches!
Remember that all of these claims assume that the coating has been properly installed and is properly maintained!
What a ceramic coating WILL NOT DO. It is NOT scratch-proof. It will NOT make an oxidized, heavily contaminated, or heavily scratched paint surface look good. It will NOT eliminate vehicle paint care forever. It will NOT last forever. It will NOT completely prevent accumulation of environmental contamination, but there will be far less and what does stick is much easier to remove.
Also, P&S coatings do NOT claim to be self-healing. Honestly, for a coating to be “self-healing”, it must be pliable, which means it’s not hard . . . which means it can’t offer the level of protection we’ve been talking about.
How Many Coats and Why?
To the naked eye, a clearcoat paint surface looks “solid” and impermeable. On a microscopic level, the surface is actually full of peaks, valleys, pock marks, and tiny holes. Automotive paint is permeable (porous) to microscopic contaminants. An example of this would be the unfortunate situation in which a detailing technician uses a strong solvent like lacquer thinner to wipe something off the side of a car, and even though the chemical is wiped off immediately, the area may eventually discolor because the molecules of lacquer thinner penetrate the pores of the paint.
The fact that the paint surface is uneven is why we typically recommend applying two coats of whichever coating you are using from the Inspiration line. The first coat will fill in all the microscopic imperfections in the paint surface. The second coat goes over the top of that now sealed surface, adding physical strength, visual depth, and enhanced gloss.
With all three coatings, the technician will find that the second coat goes on much easier than the first.
After two coats, the benefits of added coats diminish rapidly. Because the coating surface is so smooth, third and fourth applications really have nothing to hold onto, and most of the coating applied during these additional coats is wiped off during the towel-leveling step in the process. We certainly do not want to discourage technicians from adding more than two coats, especially if the customer expects this and is willing to pay for it. But you really have to look at your added time and expense versus very little added benefit to the customer for more than two coats.
Since the P&S ceramic coating line shares chemistry, the products are somewhat interchangeable. For example, Sole offers an easy-to-apply topping coat over Legend or Classic. Additionally, Sole can be used as an annual “maintenance topper”, which will give the customer the satisfaction of the revitalization of that “pop” in the appearance of the paint surface, while also offering the reliability of continued excellent durability. Sole becomes the easy-to-reapply sacrificial layer over Legend or Classic.
The Bead Maker Connection
The chemistry of Bead Maker pairs extremely well with the P&S Coating line. Most technicians include an application of Bead Maker as a finishing touch to their ceramic coating process, simply because it adds depth, gloss, and “pop”. Plus, the feel of a surface treated with Bead Maker (ceramic coating or not) is incomparably smooth and slippery. It almost feels like the surface is “repelling” your hand.
Bead Maker will increase the hydrophobic nature of the coated paint surface and also enhance the coating’s ability to repel dirt and grime. We recommend waiting at least an hour, preferably two, between coating application and Bead Maker application.
Bead Maker should definitely be a part of the maintenance routine for the coated vehicle. We try to ask the customer to take a few moments after each wash to quickly mist and wipe Bead Maker across the paint surface. And definitely use Bead Maker on your official maintenance visit, regardless of the interval. Some technicians find that, with a maintenance schedule ranging from monthly to semi-annually, the routine can be as simple as a thorough wash followed by claying with Bead Maker as the lubricant.
The Importance of Proper Salesmanship
The main thing with selling any ceramic coating is to keep your durability and protection promises within the bounds of the manufacturer’s published claims. You are not helping yourself, nor are you helping the reputation of our industry, by making wild claims of “forever protection” or “scratch-proof” or “never needs anything ever again”. Stay close to the items listed above as to what a ceramic coating WILL and WILL NOT do.
Do yourself a favor and include in your sales conversation the need for at least annual maintenance. By doing so, you cover yourself in the unlikely event that something happens to the coated surface down the line. Secondly, you are creating a regular revenue opportunity by charging for the maintenance service.
Written By: Prentice St Clair, P&S Detail Products Director of Training