Beauty and performance are all in the details, which is why any owner of a dream machine has to take a closer look at their wheels. When it comes to machine-finished versus painted wheels, there is no “best” option. However, there is a best for you, your tastes and your ride.
There’s a lot of well-meaning advice dished out by friends, but what you need is an unbiased comparison to make the best choice. Just like anything else in life, there are different upsides for everything you consider. Here’s a closer look at these two major types of finishes so you can decide which path to take—but no matter which you choose, you can rest assured you’re getting quality.
Machine Finish Wheels
The finish is applied by spinning the wheel with a Computer Numerical Control (CNC) lathe. During this process, the bit of the lathe precisely cuts a very thin layer of metal away from the wheel face. This results in a flattened and polished surface—and what you see is a bright shine. During this process, there are very small lines left on the finish, and if you look closely you may liken it to a CD.
Most of the time, prior to the lathing, the wheel is given a custom paint job. This is an even more intense way to personalize your wheel. Then, during the lathing, high spots are polished and low spots leave remnants of the paint to give that combo painted and machined surface look.
In the industry, this processed is called “paint in the pockets.” Some clients prefer that the lathe solely cuts the outer area so that the center has more remnants of the paint which is dubbed a “flange cut.” If your machine finish needs some repairs, a trip back to the CNC lathe can work wonders. However, be wary of too much of a good thing. There’s only so much material that can be removed. Another machine option is the “diamond cut,” but that comes with tricky repair issues since the equipment to do so is so specialized (but some people think that flawless finish is worth it).
The majority of alloy wheels are in fact painted, and this finish often starts with a sprayed primer to prep the metal and then an automotive paint and clear coat for protection. The clear coat safeguards the wheel from wear, tear and corrosion. To paint wheels, a High Velocity Low Pressure (HVLP) spray gun is used, similar to painting the body of the car. Car manufacturers usually spray a liquid clear coat, but wheel refinishers often prefer a clear powder coat that’s baked—it’s sturdier, but just as effective.
That’s the basics, but there are personal touches and preferences that you can select with painted wheels. A “full-face paint” or “flange cut” are possible, and a personalized color in every shade of the rainbow is also offered. Not too long ago, the only options were silver, black, white and the occasional red. However, the motto, “Go loud or go home” need not apply—a subtle hue difference can be a big statement maker.
Regardless of which way you go, machine finished or painted, keep in mind that the purpose isn’t just to look good but to protect your wheels. We can help you choose the best method for your unique taste.