In today’s industry, paint protection films (or PPFs) are a high-quality thermoplastic urethane film applied to the topcoat of automotive paint. While available in multiple colours, it is most commonly used in its protective clear form, simply to protect the paint rather than cover it. It was originally developed by the US Department of Defense in the 1960s to protect helicopter rotor blades from debris and shrapnel. As a lightweight option, it performed exceptionally well and made the natural transition to cars decades later.
The best paint protection films on the market today can help keep your car’s paint looking shiny for many years to come. They can be either installed professionally or done yourself, but getting the right film can make the difference between good protection and great protection.
1) 3M Scotchgard
When you get right down to it, 3M is the company with the most experience in the industry, as the developers of the original helicopter films in the 1960s. They have had ample time to develop their product, and they have certainly gained a loyal fan base for their line of products. While there are a few different Scotchgard films to choose from, you can’t go wrong with any of them.
If properly applied, the film is virtually invisible to the eye and provides excellent protection against most flying debris. This results in the Scotchgard products being the best protective option for DIY applications. Some Scotchgard films feature a self-healing topcoat, which eliminates surface scratches or swirls when hot water is applied: a feature usually only found in much more expensive products. First-time users may find the film difficult to apply and it is recommended having extra on hand for any necessary reapplication, but with a little bit of experience, most catch on quickly and find it much easier after their first application.
3M’s long-standing reputation for quality usually makes it the best film producer on any car enthusiast’s list. Backed by a ten year warranty, it tops ours for good reason, and is our best recommendation for having a good combination of being DIY-friendly, high-quality, and affordable in today’s suite of PPFs.
2) SunTek Ultra
In terms of quality, SunTek has topped the charts by developing an extremely high-grade professional film. Featuring the same 8 mm thickness, it provides comparable levels of protection to its 3M competitor while additionally applying clearer. It is also the only film on this list that is naturally hydrophobic, as any others require additional products applied on top to mimic this effect. This means it will repel water similar to good wax or coating and makes it a breeze to clean. It is also the only other film to have natural “self-healing” properties.
While SunTek impresses with these many features, it comes at a much greater cost compared to others on the list. This is by far the most expensive film here and is only sold in large quantities for professional use. It is also much more difficult to apply, and it is usually recommended to have a professional apply this film to your car. Still, if you’re willing to spend the money, SunTek Ultra is likely your best option available for overall quality.
3) XPEL Clear Surface Protection
Most consider XPEL and 3M to be top of the class in the DIY PPF market. XPEL has developed a film that goes on even clearer than its rival’s products and is just as easy to install by an amateur enthusiast. Unfortunately, while it is the same 8 mm thickness as the 3M product, it does not provide the same level of protection and the self-healing feature of its counterpart and may require replacement sooner.
XPEL’s product makes third on our list primarily due to its higher cost, slightly lower level of protection, and because 3M’s product is still very clear when applied. SunTek’s film also outperforms this film in everything except application and cost, making XPEL the film of choice for those wanting a clearer alternative to 3M with an easy application.
4) Karlor Vinyl Wrap
While this film does not have nearly the same levels of quality as the other films on this list, it is still a good quality film for those on a budget. Many cheaper PPFs will start to yellow over time, but Karlor’s product will stay clear when properly applied. It also provides a decent level of protection against scratches and nicks. The product’s acrylic-based adhesive is not as sticky as the 3M or XPEL films, meaning a lower lifespan but makes it incredibly easy to install.
We recommend this film for those who are looking for a short-term, inexpensive solution that will produce good, professional-looking results with a basic level of protection. Karlor’s film is the most DIY-friendly, and it tops our list for entry-level film suitable for first-timers.
5) VViViD Clear
Another great option for those on a budget, VViViD has developed a durable product, which is resistant to yellowing and aims to be the easiest to apply on the market. VViViD has worked alongside 3M to produce one of their top-selling Scotchgard films and has begun to assert themselves as a serious player in the industry. Unfortunately, this film does not perform quite as well as other brands but is still a solid option if money is tight.
There is no right or wrong choice here, as all of these products will produce results, depending on your individual situation. Below is a summary of what we believe to be the best options for a few generic cases, taking into consideration durability, ease of application, price, and clarity.
- Recommended film for a balance across all categories: 3M Scotchgard
- Recommended film for overall quality: SunTek Ultra
- Recommended film on a DIY budget: Karlor Vinyl
Keep in mind that if you choose to have your film professionally installed, you might achieve better results with whatever film they are most comfortable applying. Be sure to check their reviews and find a few examples of their work to see if they are reputable and the right choice for you.
Ellie King is a Content Writer for BreezeMaxWeb: Online Media Solutions, writing blogs and content for the company’s clients’ websites. Graduating from Brock University with a Bachelor’s Degree in Journalism, Ellie ventured as a freelance journalist for a year covering politics, social issues, music, and culture and has published articles based on said subjects.