How to Apply Gelcoat – The End-all Guide

Gelcoat PhotoProperly applying gelcoat is the key to a good finish. Many of our customers are hesitant to use it, thinking it’s too complicated or they think they can’t end up with a good finish. So, we are here to provide a step-by-step guide on how to properly apply gelcoat. As with all our products, if you have any questions, we are here to help!

First thing you want to do is look at the surface you want to apply gelcoat to. If the surface is already covered with gelcoat, or if the surface is a fiberglass, or polyester resin, then applying gelcoat will be a snap. If the surface is paint, then the paint would have to be removed before applying the gelcoat.

gelcoat-sandingSo, you’ve decided the surface is gelcoat, so it’s time to begin. You want to sand the surface to create a mechanical bond with the gelcoat. Start by sanding the surface with 150 grit or lower sandpaper. Our technicians recommend using Dyekum Steel Blue to be very thorough. Steel Blue is a dye you wipe on. Once you don’t see the blue dye anymore, you know you have properly sanded everything. You can also use a pencil, but it’s harder to see and won’t guarantee complete coverage.

Next, you want to clean the surface. We recommend using Acetone, as it doesn’t leave a residue and evaporates quickly. Once the surface is clean, you want to get going pretty quickly; if the surface sits for any extended amount of time, you will want to re-clean the surface. Dust and dirt particles are your enemy here, so be thorough on the cleaning.

We are ready to gelcoat! First, decide if you need one or two coats of gelcoat. It will take a minimum of two coats of gelcoat if you are changing colors. If this is going over a patch, we recommend 2 coats at least, to get a nice, uniform surface. Otherwise, one coat will do.

Gelcoat needs to be applied relatively thin. We recommend 18 mils mil-gauge-2thick, to properly cure. 18 mils is approximately the thickness of a matchbook cover. If you aren’t sure how thick, pick up a mil gauge. It’s a quick, easy way to see the thickness of your gelcoat.

Gelcoat requires Methyl Ethyl Ketone Peroxide or MEK-P to activate the hardening process. The amount is very small. We recommend 1-1/4% to 1-1/2% by volume, which means 13-15cc’s per quart. Darker colors require a bit more catalyst for the same reaction, so you can catalyze up to 2%. Refer to the catalyst chart on the side of the can, or you can find one HERE.

Be sure to have a plan of attack for applying your gelcoat. Once you mix it, you have about 15 minutes to apply the gelcoat before it starts to get hard or “gel.” The actual working time depends on your amount of catalyst and how hot your working conditions are. Anything below 60 degrees, and your gelcoat will not cure, but as you get warmer and warmer, your working time decreases rapidly. At 70 degrees, you get your 15 minutes, but at 90 degrees, you only have about 5 minutes. If you need more working time, be sure to sit the can in some cool water, or even some ice to cool it down to 60 degrees give you a bit more time.

Brushable gelFor applying your gelcoat, you can either roll the gelcoat on, like paint, or you can spray it on. We also sell a Brushable Gelcoat that can be applied with a brush. If you decide to roll on the gelcoat, be sure to use a solvent-resistant 1/8” or ¼” nap. Be sure not to use foam rollers, as they tend to leave bubbles. If you brush it on, be sure to use a solvent resistant brush. Your first coat will simply consist of the gelcoat and the MEK-P catalyst. Once applied, you want to wait about an hour and a half, for the gelcoat to set. It won’t be completely cured by then, but it should be hard and tacky.

Your second coat will consist of the same amount of Catalyst, but if you are doing one more coat, your next coat will include Sanding Aid, or ‘wax.’ You will mix in 1 oz per quart to the gelcoat, which will seal the surface from oxygen, causing the gelcoat to dry tack-free. If you roll or brush your seconding coating, be sure to go the opposite direction from the previous coat, allowing a uniform coating.

If you are using our standard Exterior gelcoat, you will be ready to sand and buff your freshly gelcoated surface. If you are using our brushable gelcoat, you will want to let it sit overnight to ensure it’s completely cured. To start sanding, begin with 320 grit sandpaper and sand the surface completely. From then on, start going up to 400, then 600, and finally 800 grit sandpaper.

At this point, you can use an 800 grit compound to compound the gelcoat. You want to use a buffer that turns at 1600-3000 RPM’s. The car polishers will not work, as they spin too slowly, so you want to check the spin speed. It’s best to do a 4’ by 4’ area and go from there. Every 10’ or so, you will want to clean your pad with a spur or with some air to ensure pieces don’t scratch your surface.

If you want a beautiful, glossy shine, use a machine glaze and then two coats of wax, and you will have a beautiful finish that any professional would be envious of.

Are you getting everything you need for your purchase?

One of the top problems we talk to customers about is making sure they get everything they need the first time for their project. It doesn’t sound as crucial for people who live mere minutes from one of our two locations, but it can be, and for people who are hours away, or even across the country, it becomes a necessity. With that in mind, let’s go over some items that are as neglected as batteries on Christmas morning.

Catalyst – Generally, MEK-P is the most neglected product. MEK-P catalyst is 124809essential for all resin and gelcoat; it’s what makes the product hard and it is a requirement that, unless you are ordering a kit, is not included. Make sure you go by the catalyst chart to find out how much you need. MEK-P comes in 1 oz, 2 oz, 8 oz, pint, quart and gallon jugs.

Brushable gel


Brushes or rollers – I can’t tell you how often people get home and get ready to mix their gelcoat or resin or epoxy and stop and wonder how they are going to apply it. For rollers, you want to make sure they are Phenolic roller covers or they will break up while rolling on the gelcoat and resin. With brushes, you can use our Chip brushes, or even our higher-end Glasskoter brushes.

Mixing buckets – Most problems from gelcoat or even epoxy come from either in-proper measuring or in-proper mixing. Many people (including me) go with the tried and true ‘eyeball method’ of measuring. The problem is epoxy and gelcoat are both very specific and very unforgiving on their measurements. If you aren’t exact, you can have a problem. Also remember; a $2 mixing bucket is way cheaper than throwing the product away and re-buying it because it didn’t harden properly. We sell mix and measure buckets perfect for mixing (and measuring) with measurement lines on the side in pint, quart, 2-1/2 quart and 5-quart sizes. For catalyst, we sell measuring cups, and my favorite, a squeeze bottle for quick, easy measuring.

Safety equipment – We’ve already talked a bit about safety equipment here, but it’s surprising how few people use gloves. Gloves are a vital part to a persons protection and it’s a cheap, easy purchase. A box of gloves is as inexpensive as $6.07 for a box of 100, so pick them up and they will last you a few projects.

solventSolvents for cleanup – Cleanup is one that almost always overlooked until the project is finished and the mess has been made. Gelcoat is not like paint, where you can use a damp rag; for gelcoat and resin, you will want to use Acetone for your cleanup needs. For epoxies, you will want to use T-12 and for paints, you will want to use mineral spirits to get the residue up. Just remember, with all solvents to be careful how and where you use them as they are harsh and can damage certain surfaces (like wood floors…don’t ask).

So, next time you need a project and you are at the showroom, or on our website, remember to get everything you need so your project can turn out amazing.