DIY

How to Tint Headlights: A Step-by-Step Guide

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As most of the population shelters in place in the next few weeks to prevent the spread of COVID-19, many are choosing to keep a positive mindset and look for ways to stay productive at home. For car enthusiasts, this may be the time to start or complete a DIY project that you couldn’t find time for back when you weren’t stuck at home every day.

If you’ve been thinking of tinting your headlights for a while now, this guide will teach you how to do it safely and correctly.

man unwrapping tinted car headlight
Now is the perfect time to complete a DIY project such as tinting your headlights.

How to Tint Headlights (Tint Film or Tint Spray)

Tinting your headlights is a fun and rewarding project that you can complete in a day. To get the best results, make sure to carefully read and follow the instructions provided by the headlight tint manufacturer.

Are Tinted Headlights Legal?

Before getting started, it’s important that you determine whether or not it is legal to have tinted headlights in your state. This can be a bit tricky because most states don’t have laws that explicitly discuss tinted headlights.

However, you should note that this modification could be interpreted as a violation of other existing motor laws. For example, some states specify that headlights must cast a white beam. On the other hand, other states only go so far as identifying which colors are restricted for use on headlights (i.e., red and amber). To err on the safe side, contact your local authorities before moving forward with smoking your headlights.

Another thing that you should keep in mind is that for your headlights to be deemed roadworthy, they must be able to project light within the distance required by state motor law. Obviously, tinting your headlights will alter how far they can illuminate.

There is an alternative for those who wish to try out smoked headlights but can’t commit to modifying their stock lights. You may choose to get smoked headlight covers that will give you the same effect. Headlight covers only take a few minutes to install and can easily be removed in case you change your mind later on.

What You’ll Need:

For cleaning your headlights

For applying headlight tint film

For applying headlight tint spray

Choose Between a Vinyl Wrap or Spray Tint

bmw with tinted headlights
Contact your local authorities before tinting your headlights. | Source: f30.bimmerpost.com

Both film and spray tint application will test the limits of your patience. For most vehicle owners, choosing between the two methods all boils down to how easy removal would be should they change their minds. In this case, removing tint film is easier because it can be peeled without damaging the lens.

Meanwhile, removing spray tint may require the use of chemicals that may harm the paint job.

For a general guideline of how to DIY this project, we’ve narrowed it down to a few easy steps.

How to Apply Headlight Tint Film

Step 1: Dismount the headlight assembly

Check the vehicle repair manual and follow the instructions for dismounting your headlights.

Step 2: Clean the headlight lens

It’s important to start with a pair of clean headlights to ensure that the vinyl film adheres, or the spray coats the surface evenly. You can wash dirt and grime off the headlight lens using soap, water, and a microfiber/lint-free towel. If you will be using a spray tint, sand the lens using a 2000 grit wet/dry sandpaper and soapy water to prep the surface.

To make sure that the surface is free of any grease or dust, wipe it down with rubbing alcohol. If the headlight lenses still appear obscured and foggy after cleaning, use a headlight restoration kit to make the plastic clear again before proceeding with applying the tint.

Step 3: Read and follow the instructions that came with the vinyl tint for the best results

Select a vinyl tint that is designed specifically for headlights. There are companies that manufacture pre-cut film for specific vehicle models, but you may also purchase full sheets that require more work trimming.

Step 4: Remove the backing on the film and mist the lens with water

Water on the back of the vinyl sheet and on the surface of the headlight lens will act as lubrication and allow you to adjust the position of the film.

Step 5: Align the film on the headlight lens

Lightly place the film on the flattest part of the headlight lens and gently work your way toward the curved edges. Take your time and reposition the film until you get it right.

Step 6: Use a squeegee to push out air and water.

Once you’re happy with the position of the film, wet the side of the sheet facing you. Go back to the flattest part of the lens, and with the squeegee, push out all the trapped air and water underneath the film using smooth strokes.

Step 7: Use heat to smooth out curved and difficult areas.

Use a heat gun or a blow dryer to make the tint film more pliable and adhere smoothly on curved surfaces or hard-to-reach areas.

Step 8: Trim the excess headlight tint film and leave the headlights to cure.

The next step is trimming all the excess film. If you’re installing a pre-cut vinyl tint, the amount of trimming you need to do will be very minimal. If you’re using a larger sheet, it’s recommended to do the trim in two stages.

Start with a rough cut to remove all the excess film and follow up with a closer, more detailed final trim. Make sure to control the razor and score the film, careful not scratch the headlight lens underneath. Pull the excess strips and poke any remaining air bubbles using a fine needle.

Step 9: Reinstall the headlight assembly and test light output.

The last step is to mount the headlight assembly back onto the vehicle and test if the light output after tinting meets legal requirements. If you think your newly smoked headlights are too dim, it may be a good idea to replace the existing bulb with one that has a brighter output.

putting tint vinyl to a headlight
Removing tint film is easier because it can be peeled without damaging the lens.

How to Tint Headlights with Spray

Step 1: Dismount the headlight assembly

Check the vehicle repair manual and follow the instructions for dismounting your headlights.

Step 2: Clean the headlight lens

Follow the same instructions provided above.

Step 3: Read and follow the instructions that came with the aerosol tint for the best results.

Choose a spray tint that is designed specifically for headlight use. Before applying any aerosol product, it’s highly recommended that you wear protective gear like a disposable mask to protect yourself from inhaling the spray.

Step 4: Prep the headlight lenses and your work area.

Cover all the other parts that you don’t want to be sprayed with masking tape. Place the lens on a clean and stable work surface.

Step 5: Spray one lens at a time and start with a thin coat.

Hold the aerosol can perpendicular to the lens and keep it one foot away from the surface. As you apply the product, move the spray can from side to side. Be careful not to linger on one spot.

Step 6: Wait in between coats.

Spray tints will typically darken as they dry. To avoid applying too much product, wait until the surface is partly dry yet still tacky. This should take around 15 minutes.

You may check if it is ready for another coat by touching the taped parts that have been sprayed. Do not touch the lens surface.

Step 7: Apply a clear coat using the same technique.

Once the tint is dry, spray a clear coat for a better finish, as well as to add extra protection from UV rays and chipping.

Step 8: Leave to dry for at least 12 hours before removing the tape.

After applying a layer of clear coat, leave the headlights to dry overnight for at least 12 hours. Hold off on removing the tape until the lenses are completely dry.

Step 9: Reinstall the headlight assembly and test light output.

Again, the last step is to mount the headlight assembly back onto the vehicle and test if the light output after tinting meets legal requirements. If you think your newly smoked headlights are too dim, it may be a good idea to replace the existing bulb with one that has a brighter output.

spraying tint on car headlights
Wait for the tint to dry before applying another layer.
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