Making Sense Of The European Paints Directive

Posted on 31 May 2016 Jake Martin


For paint sprayers, compliance with EU and British legislation is an important part of our professional lives. For the past twelve years the most influential document has been the European Paints Directive 2004/42/EC. The full text of the directive is available to download for free from the EUR-Lex website. However, interpreting the directive is often quite a different matter to simply reading!

The purpose of this article is to give a brief overview of the Paints Directive and what it means for automotive sprayers in practical terms:

What Is The Paints Directive?

Directive 2004/42/EC was promulgated by the European Council and European Parliament on 21st April 2004 to regulate the use of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in commercial decorative paints. The regulation applies to all sorts of decorative paints, varnishes, lacquers and finishing products used on vehicles. It also covers commercial paints used on houses and in industry. It amended and strengthened the previous Paints Directive (1999/13/EC), which had been in force since 1999. The directive applies to all paint products made or traded within the European internal market.

The Purpose Of The Paints Directive

The idea of the directive is to reduce the environmental harm coming from VOCs. VOCs are released as fumes from many paints due to the organic solvents that went into their manufacture. These omissions were then released into the atmosphere, posing a hazard to human health and a risk to the environment. The directive effectively reduced the maximum VOC content of any paint, forcing the industry to innovate and find new ways of creating economically viable and eco-friendly automotive paints.

What This Means For Automotive Spray Painters

In practical terms the Directive means you can only use paint and finishing products that comply with the maximum level of VOC emissions permitted by the EU. This continues to be a source of confusion in the industry, as VOC levels vary widely between different brands, and the Directive’s categories are sometimes ambiguous and overlap.

The summary below sets out the maximum level of VOCs in grams per litre (g/l) permissible for different categories of product.

  1. For the purposes of this Directive, "vehicle refinishing products" means products listed in the subcategories below. They are used for the coating of road vehicles as defined in Directive 70/156/EEC, or part of them, carried out as part of vehicle repair, conservation or decoration outside of manufacturing installations.

2.1. Subcategories explained as per the Directive 70/156/EEC

Category A: "preparatory and cleaning" means products designed to remove old coatings and rust, either mechanically or chemically, or to provide a key for new coatings:

Category A part 1: Max VOC level 850 g/l “preparatory products include gunwash (a product designed for cleaning spray-guns and other equipment), paint strippers, degreasers (including anti-static types for plastic) and silicone removers;

Category A part 2: Max VOC level 200g/l "precleaner" means a cleaning product designed for the removal of surface contamination during preparation for and prior to the application of coating materials;

Category B (Max VOC - all types - 250 g/l): "Bodyfiller/stopper" means heavy-bodied compounds designed to be applied to fill deep surface imperfections prior to the application of the surfacer/filler;

Category B: (Max VOC - all types - 250 g/l): "primer" means any coating that is designed for application to bare metal or existing finishes to provide corrosion protection prior to application of a primer surfacer:

Category C part 1: Max VOC 540 g/l "surfacer/filler" means a coating designed for application immediately prior to the application of topcoat for the purpose of corrosion resistance, to ensure adhesion of the topcoat, and to promote the formation of a uniform surface finish by filling in minor surface imperfections;

Category C part 2: Max VOC 540 g/l "general metal primer" means a coating designed for application as primers, such as adhesion promoters, sealers, surfacers, undercoats, plastic primers, wet-on-wet, non-sand fillers and spray fillers;

Category C part 3: Max VOC 780 g/l "wash primer" means coatings containing at least 0,5 % by weight of phosphoric acid designed to be applied directly to bare metal surfaces to provide corrosion resistance and adhesion; coatings used as weldable primers; and mordant solutions for galvanised and zinc surfaces;

Category D: "topcoat" means any pigmented coating that is designed to be applied either as a single-layer or as a multiple-layer base to provide gloss and durability. It includes all products involved such as base coatings and clear coatings:

Category D part 1: Max VOC 420 g/l "base coatings" means pigmented coatings designed to provide colour and any desired optical effects, but not the gloss or surface resistance of the coating system;

Category D part 2: Max VOC 420 g/l "clear coating" means a transparent coating designed to provide the final gloss and resistance properties of the coating system;

Category E: Max VOC 840 g/l "special finishes" means coatings designed for application as topcoats requiring special properties, such as metallic or pearl effect, in a single layer, high-performance solid-colour and clear coats, (e.g. anti-scratch and fluorinated clear- coat), reflective base coat, texture finishes (e.g. hammer), anti-slip, under-body sealers, anti-chip coatings, interior finishes; and aerosols.

Complying With The Paint Directive

When the VOC emission level is in doubt, it is always safest to refer to the lowest applicable levels of emission, as this ensures that compliance is met in all cases. At the FLP Group we can help you understand what can and what can’t be used across different applications in the modern bodyshop. Please contact us to arrange an informal chat regarding the EU Directive and how it affects your company procedures.


Subscribe to Email Updates

New Call-to-action

Follow FLP

Recent Posts