How to paint a tonneau cover: A Professional Guide

Tonneau covers are an essential addition to your pickup truck, as they provide complete protection to the cargo area from dust, rain, and direct sunlight. However, the tonneau cover also plays a vital role in enhancing the overall appearance of your truck. A painted tonneau cover can add a personalized touch to your truck, making it stand out from the rest. In this guide, we will discuss the benefits of painting your tonneau cover and provide all the essential information required to do so.

How to paint a tonneau cover

Choosing the Right Paint for Your Tonneau Cover

Choosing the right paint for your tonneau cover is crucial for a long-lasting and durable finish. The paint should be able to withstand the harsh weather conditions, as well as the daily wear and tear it may encounter. The most popular paint types for tonneau covers are acrylic, enamel, and urethane. Each type has its advantages and disadvantages, so it’s crucial to research and choose the one that suits your requirements.

Preparing Your Tonneau Cover for Painting

The preparation phase is the most critical step in painting your tonneau cover. The surface must be cleaned and sanded to ensure the paint adheres correctly. Use a high-quality sandpaper to sand the surface of the cover gently. Be sure to clean the surface thoroughly with soap and water, then dry it completely before painting.

How to Paint a Tonneau Cover: Step-by-step

From a personal anecdote, it all began with a regular Dodge vehicle tonneau cover that needed some TLC. The cover had seen better days with scratches and a peeled off clear coat, but luckily, no structural issues were evident. Equipments to work with tonneau cover:

Dish Soap and WaterCleaning the tonneau cover before starting the process
Dolly SystemTransporting the heavy tonneau cover
DA SanderUsed for sanding the tonneau cover
320-grit SandpaperUsed for initial sanding process
ScrewdriverRemoving hidden screws
2K Style FillerFilling in major gouges
Red Glaze PuttyAddressing minor chips
80 grit paperScuffing areas around major chips
Airtight Quart CanStoring 2K fine filler
Steel BladeCleaning hardened filler off tools
180 grit on a Dual Density BlockUsed for sanding down the fiberglass tonneau cover
2K PrimerPrimer application over the surface
Compressed AirCleaning the surface before priming
Clean ClothCleaning the surface before priming
Wax and Grease RemoverCleaning the surface before priming
Used Tack RagCleaning the surface before priming
Flat Black Aerosol PaintUsed as a guide coat for the subsequent sanding process
Blazing PuttyFilling small defects before sanding
600 grit SandpaperFinal cleaning of larger areas before painting
Scotch BriteHandwork in complex areas like radius lines before painting

Step 1: Prepping for the Task

The initial process started with a simple wash using dish soap and water. As a nod to the Rolling Stones, I’d always play their tunes to liven up the mood. However, you’ll often find that one round of cleaning won’t always suffice, particularly when dealing with stubborn dirt.

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For transportation of the hefty cover, I utilized a dolly system. These babies are pretty heavy, so make sure you’re prepared for some heavy lifting.

Step 2: Sanding and Cleaning

Next up was the sanding. A DA sander with 320-grit sandpaper came in handy here, efficiently smoothing out the surface. And hey, you might discover hidden gems, like I did – a sticker that was hiding a screw. It’s like a treasure hunt of sorts, only in this case, the treasure was the opportunity to detach and separately paint the handle.

Step 3: Finishing Touches and Costs

With every project, keeping an eye on costs is essential. So far, each piece of sandpaper had cost around 50 cents, but the results were worth every penny. For major chips, I filled them using a 2K style filler and used red glaze putty for minor ones.

A handy tip for the future: you can extend the usability of 2K fine filler by storing it in an airtight quart can. It does harden pretty quickly though, so make sure to apply it swiftly.

To make the filler stick better, I scuffed up areas around the chips with 80 grit paper. All scratches and minor stone impacts were filled to smooth out the cover.

paint tonneau cover

Step 4: The Intricacies of Sanding and Priming

Moving on to the next stage, I sanded down the fiberglass tonneau cover using 180 grit on a dual density block until a ‘halo’ was visible around the repair area. This was the sign that the sanding was adequate.

You must take care when sanding not to dig into the repair area. It creates a depression that would need further filling.

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Next, I prepared the area for primer application, intending to apply two to three good coats of 2K primer over the entire surface. But first, a thorough wash was due. A word of caution – using lacquer thinners on exposed base coat can cause trouble. I had a firsthand experience of this when it raised the base coat, and I had to sand it back.

To clean the surface before priming, I used compressed air, a clean cloth, wax, and grease remover, and a used tack rag. Some areas needed multiple priming, especially where clear coat had been sanded back.

paint tonneau cover2

Step 5: The Final Touches

After leaving the primer overnight to harden, I woke up to an unwelcome surprise – spiders in the garage left debris on the cover which I had to dust off.

Then came the final touches. Small defects were filled with blazing putty before sanding began. A flat black aerosol paint served as a guide coat to aid in the subsequent sanding process.

paint tonneau cover3

The Grand Finale

The final process was the painting. The process is as meticulous as a jeweler refining a diamond. First, I sanded the cover using a 320 grit sandpaper for larger areas, then a finer 600 grit to finish cleaning. This helped reveal any imperfections in the cover.

Complex areas, such as radius lines, needed special attention. I used scotch brite and sandpaper and did careful handwork in these sections.

Before painting, be sure to read the manufacturer’s instructions on your selected paint type. It’s best to apply a primer to the surface first, as it can help the paint adhere better and last longer. Apply two to three coats of paint, allowing each coat to dry before the next application. Be sure to follow the manufacturer’s recommended drying time between coats. Once the final coat has dried, apply a clear coat to protect the paint from UV rays and other external factors.

It’s essential to take the necessary precautions while painting, such as wearing a mask and gloves. Work in a well-ventilated area and always choose a dry day to paint your tonneau cover to avoid moisture damage.

After painting, it was essential to do a meticulous final check for any missed spots on the primer. I’ve learned from past experiences that overlooking this step can lead to less than perfect results.

Painting also requires precautions, such as avoiding certain areas during sanding. Sealing, base coating, and applying clear coats are crucial steps, and it’s best to coat edges first, then the rest of the surface.

Product Reviews

Primer: Rust-Oleum Automotive 2-in-1 Filler & Sandable Primer

This primer is great for filling in small imperfections and creating a smooth surface for painting. It also sands easily, making it easy to get a perfect finish. However, it can be a bit thick, so be sure to follow the manufacturer’s instructions for thinning it out if necessary.

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Paint: Dupli-Color Perfect Match Automotive Paint

This paint is a great choice for tonneau covers because it’s automotive-grade and designed to match the color of your truck. It goes on smoothly and dries quickly, but be sure to apply it in thin coats to avoid drips.

Clear Coat: USC Spray Max 2k High Gloss Clearcoat

This clear coat is easy to apply and dries quickly to create a high-gloss finish. It’s also very durable and provides excellent protection against UV rays and other environmental factors. However, it can be a bit tricky to use if you’re not familiar with spray guns.


While it might not have been a perfect process, it was certainly a learning experience. Imperfections arose due to issues with the drying process of the base coat and the environmental conditions of the workspace. But, with every project, you take away lessons for future endeavors.

In terms of costs, the total estimate was around $160, excluding some smaller supplies like disposable liners and lids, thinners, and shop rags. But the outcome? Priceless.

So, if you’ve got a tonneau cover that needs a facelift, why not give it a try? With the right tools, and maybe a Rolling Stones track playing in the background, it’s a project well worth the effort.

F.A.Q. Section

Can I paint a vinyl tonneau cover?

Yes, you can paint a vinyl tonneau cover. However, you need to use a special type of paint that is formulated for use on vinyl surfaces.

How long does it take to paint a tonneau cover?

Yes, you can paint a vinyl tonneau cover. However, you need to use a special type of paint that is formulated for use on vinyl surfaces.

Can I paint a tonneau cover myself, or do I need to hire a professional?

Painting a tonneau cover can be done as a DIY project, but it does require some preparation and patience. If you’re not confident in your ability to do it yourself, it’s best to hire a professional.

Can tonneau cover be painted?

Yes, tonneau covers can be painted. If you want to customize the color of your Elite Smooth Tonneau Cover or SE Smooth Tonneau Cover, you can have a body shop match it to your truck. Even if the color has faded over time, painting the tonneau cover is a great option to restore its appearance.

How do you make a hard tonneau cover look new?

To make a hard tonneau cover look new, start by rinsing it off to remove any soap residue. For drying, try flipping up the cover to help it air dry. This will prevent watermarks and ensure a clean and polished appearance. By following these steps, you can easily maintain and restore the sleek look of your hard tonneau cover.

How do you restore a soft tonneau cover?

To restore a soft tonneau cover, start by cleaning it with a mild soap and water solution. Scrub gently with a soft brush to remove dirt and grime. Rinse thoroughly and allow it to air dry. Then, apply a vinyl protectant to restore flexibility and protect against UV damage. Regular maintenance will help prolong the life of your tonneau cover.

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