We review and compare the top automotive Paint Protection Films: XPEL, 3M, LLumar, and SunTek. Learn more about Clear Bra for cars with these helpful reviews.
You want to keep your new car looking as good as or better than it did the day you bought it. And if you’re looking to do that, you probably know that Paint Protection Film (sometimes called Clear Bra) is the most comprehensive form of protection you can apply to your vehicle to protect it from rock chips, small scratches, chemical stains, and a host of other environmental contaminants.
That’s great! But now you have to decide which specific film is right for your car. And that question can be a foggy one. Maybe you’ve read some forum debates about XPEL vs. 3M or you’ve heard about other companies like SunTek and LLumar.
Well, it’s time to clear up the issue. We are going to give you an inside review of the similarities and differences between three different films: XPEL Ultimate, LLumar Platinum (also sold as SunTek Ultra), and 3M Scotchgard Pro Series.
What does a car look like after it receives Paint Protection Film? Take a look at this Tesla Model 3. We covered the full front with XPEL Ultimate. We also added a Ceramic Coating to the whole vehicle.
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Let’s start with the similarities between these films. These three films are similar in three key ways:
They all perform at a high level to protect your car’s paint from rock chips, chemical stains, small scratches, UV damage, and whatever else nature or the road throws at your car. None of them offers bullet-proof protection. No film or product ever will. But all three of them will do a very good job and are comparable in terms of the protection they offer. All of these films are about 6 mils thick not including the adhesive. And to top it off, all of them have “self-healing” properties, which means that small scratches in the film will disappear after the film is exposed to heat.
There’s not much point in getting a product that protects your paint if in the process it makes your paint look terrible. The benefit of all of these films is that they are invisible to the naked eye after a quality installation. And all of these films retain their transparency very well. Previous generations of films had problems with yellowing over time, especially after extended UV exposure. The yellowing effect was actually occurring in the adhesive under the films. Since then the industry has developed superior adhesives that do not yellow over time, which means that if you get one of these films you can be confident you will have a crystal clear finish that is not susceptible to premature discoloration.
3M Scotchgard Pro is warrantied for 7 years after installation. XPEL Ultimate and LLumar Platinum/SunTek Ultra are warrantied for 10 years after installation. And all of these films have a reputation for maintaining a high level of performance over the life of their warranties. Of course, if you abuse the film or don’t maintain it well, it will deteriorate at a quicker pace. But on the other hand, if you do maintain the film well you may see it continue to perform well beyond the life of the warranty. All that to say, all of these films have longevity to them.
Now before we get into the differences of these films, we should stop and say that those three items I mentioned above are really the most important factors in a Paint Protection Film. You want a film that is going to protect at a high level, that is not going to inhibit the appearance of the paint, and that is going to last for a long time. If you get a film that does all three of those things, you have a win-win-win. And as we’ve said, all three of these films do all three of those things very well; which is to say, you can be a happy customer with any of these choices.
Nonetheless, there are some differences between these films that may make one better for you than the others. So let’s get into the specifics of each film.
It is hard to beat XPEL’s reputation in the Paint Protection Film industry. XPEL is a relatively small company compared to some of these other manufacturers; and, unlike 3M, Paint Protection Film is their main focus as a company. As such, they have been leading the way in a lot of the innovations to Paint Protection Film. The XPEL Ultimate was introduced as “The World’s First Self-Healing Film” because XPEL is the company that first developed and perfected that technology as it relates to automotive protective films. That’s part of why they have such a good reputation in the industry. If you’ve done any reading about Paint Protection Film on car forums, you’ve probably come across a lot of people who are crazy excited about their XPEL wraps, and rightfully so.
As we’ve already mentioned, the LLumar Platinum Paint Protection Film and SunTek Ultra are actually the same film in composition, just sold under two different brands. Both companies are owned by Eastman Chemicals, and both LLumar and SunTek are big players in the window tint industry in addition to Paint Protection Film.
It’s argued that the LLumar Platinum and SunTek Ultra films have greater clarity and enable a higher-gloss finish than other films on the market. That may be the case, but there is certainly not a dramatic difference in the finish between LLumar / SunTek and XPEL or 3M, so don’t make that the deciding factor in which film you choose.
However, one genuine and significant distinction between this film and both XPEL Ultimate and 3M Scotchgard is that the top clear coat has hydrophobic properties, which means it repels water like a good wax or coating. The benefit of having a hydrophobic film is that it makes the vehicle easier to clean and mud or grime has a more difficult time bonding with the vehicle’s surface. Now with other films you can (and probably should) apply a Ceramic Coating on top of the film, and that will give the surface hydrophobic properties. But with the LLumar and SunTek films you already have that built into the film itself.
3M is really the grandfather company to the entire automotive Paint Protection Film industry. The whole technology for automotive Paint Protection Film was actually developed by 3M in partnership with the US military during the Vietnam War, because the military needed a lightweight way to protect helicopter blades from getting damaged. 3M developed the urethane film technology that evolved to protect NASCAR vehicles on the track and then any consumer automobile on the road. So 3M has been in this game the longest, and they have a good track record of creating a quality film.
Currently they do not offer a film that has hydrophobic properties, like the LLumar and SunTek film, and they don’t quite have the raving fan base that XPEL has garnered. Moreover, the longest warranty they offer is 7 years as opposed to the 10-year warranty offered by XPEL, LLumar, and SunTek. But you may not plan to keep your vehicle beyond 5 years anyway, in which case the difference between a 7-year and 10-year warranty is irrelevant to you. And as we mentioned earlier, 3M Scotchgard Pro, along with these other films, has what you need in a quality Paint Protection Film: high performance protection, invisible finish, and longevity. So if you go with 3M, you will get a quality film.
You’ll notice on our reviews above that we didn’t necessarily answer the question in the previous header. We didn’t definitively say which Paint Protection Film is “best.” That’s because there isn’t an unequivocally, unilaterally “best” Paint Protection Film. You may choose to go with any of these brands, and you would be happy with any of the choices.
So before you make a decision, let me put your mind at ease: You can’t go wrong if you’re deciding between XPEL, LLumar, SunTek, or 3M. You can go wrong with other films. But you are safe with one of these brands. With any of them you will get stalwart protection you’ll never see for years to come, and that’s what’s important.
Nonetheless, here are a couple questions you can ask yourself to arrive at a decision.
Do you want the biggest company that has been in the industry the longest and has the most resources at their disposal? That would be 3M. Do you want a company that has a more exclusive focus on Paint Protection Film and has gained an impeccable reputation in the industry? That would be XPEL. And then you have LLumar and SunTek which both have solid reputations in the whole automotive films industry and have developed some of the most recent technological advances in terms of their hydrophobic films.
Certainly, if your car is an everyday driver and you are going to need to wash it every couple of weeks, it will be nice to have hydrophobic properties built into your film. However, as we mentioned earlier, you may be planning to put a Ceramic Coating on top of your Clear Bra, which will then give you the benefits of having a hydrophobic surface. So this question relates both to what plans you have for protection beyond Paint Protection Film, and then how you plan to care for your vehicle in the future.
Now our third and final question (probably the biggest question of all) may surprise you, because it doesn’t actually relate to the specifics of the films.
A Paint Protection Film is only as good as its installer. Period, end of story. You could have the best film in the world, but if it is installed poorly, such that it blisters, bubbles, and peels prematurely, it won’t do you any good. Now, no install is 100% flawless, but there is a big difference between a professional, quality install and one that’s done quickly and carelessly. So make sure you find a reputable installer, consider how invested they are in the industry, take a look at the work that they’ve done and the reviews they’ve received, and once you’ve found someone you can trust, ask them what film they enjoy installing the most. All of these films act differently during the install process in terms of their flexibility and tack. So an installer who works almost exclusively with XPEL may not accomplish as good of an install with LLumar. Consequently, if you find a reputable installer who works exclusively with SunTek, go with SunTek. And we would say the same for XPEL, LLumar, and 3M. Again, the important thing is that you get a high-quality film (as all of these films are) and that you get the best install possible. If you get those two things, then you will get what we’re really after here, which is the peace of mind that comes from knowing your car has the best protection you’ll never see.
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Want to know how much a Paint Protection Film job will cost? We break down the factors involved in the price of PPF and give you some ballpark figures in the video above.