Wheel Finishes Explained

When shopping for new wheels, or maintaining what’s already on your car it’s important to know the different wheel finishes, and how to properly care for each. The most popular wheel finishes have drastically different ways to clean and maintain and it’s not possible to do properly unless you know what’s on your car but don’t worry… today we’re going to dive deep you’ll learn about all the popular wheel finishes available today.

The most popular wheel finishes have drastically different ways to clean and maintain and it’s not possible to do properly unless you know what’s on your car.


Example of a Painted Wheel
This painted wheel has a liquid sprayed paint, just like the hood of your car.

Painted wheels are very common and have a coating virtually identical to the surface of your car’s body. The color is chemically bonded and typically clear coated for durability and UV protection just like the hood of your car. Painted wheels are very easy to clean and maintain and repair if necessary. A majority of the wheels in our catalog have a painted finish.

Powder Coated

Powder coating is a type of coating that is applied by spraying a free-flowing dry powder using an electrostatic gun and curing in an oven. During the curing process, the powder begins to melt and chemically reacts to form a higher molecular weight polymer that’s extremely tough and durable. Powder coated wheels have a thicker coating than those with liquid paint and powder does not run or drip, so powder coated wheels usually have less variance in finish than a painted wheel. One disadvantage of powder coating is that removing the powder coat for refinishing is much more difficult than paint. Abrasive blasting or high heat is needed which can negatively affect the integrity of the wheel. Many people incorrectly assume that when refinishing a wheel, powder coating is needed however it’s much easier and less expensive to have wheels custom painted.

Example of a polished wheel
It’s not chrome! A polished American Racing wheel.
This forged American Force wheel is highly polished.


Example of a Machined Wheel Finish
This XXR 536 wheel has a highly reflective machined lip.

Machining is a process in which a piece of raw aluminum is cut by a controlled removal process. Typically, a wheel is spun and a CNC diamond coated bit removes a layer from all or part of the wheel. Depending on the type of lathe tools used, machining can result in a wide range of dull to highly reflective raw aluminum finishes. Frequently, the lip of a wheel is machined to give a two-tone appearance. Machining is also used to give a sharper front edge than can be achieved by simply casting a wheel in a mold. Machined finishes are almost always clear coated for protection and are maintained just like a painted finish wheel.

Physical Vapor Deposition (PVD)

PVD is a method in which a vapor transforms to a thin film which can result in a very shiny, chrome-like finish. PVD finishes are extremely durable and are not only used on wheels but also on exterior cladding of buildings, and on the Space Gray and Gold finishes of the iPhone X and XS. Some wheel manufacturers refer to the finish as PVD, while others use trade names such as XXR Platinum and Black Platinum finishes. PVD has become increasingly popular for a number of reasons. PVD is much more environmentally friendly than painted or electroplated wheels, and much more cost effective than chrome plating. It’s important to note that while PVD wheels often have a chrome-like finish, use of a cleaning product designed for chrome wheels will instantly destroy a PVD wheel. PVD Wheels are almost always clear coated for protection and should be cleaned and maintained like a painted wheel.

Next Level Motoring customer @kait_gsxr295 Mustang GT with PVD coated Platinum XXR 531 wheels


Anodizing is an electrochemical process that increases the thickness of the natural oxide layer on the surface of metal parts, and is not only decorative but also prevents corrosion of the wheel. Anodizing aluminum alloy changes the microscopic texture of the wheel, and is typically porous so anodized wheels are typically finished in a clear coat paint, and thus should be cleaned and maintained just like a clear coated painted wheel.


Chrome plating is a shiny, mirror-like finish. It’s performed by inserting the wheel in a chrome plating vat where current is applied to attain the desired finish. Chrome plating results in a durable finish which is resistant to rust and corrosion. Once extremely popular, chrome plating is much less common today due to high cost, and alternatives such as PVD finishes. The process of chrome plating involves toxic substances and involves many restrictions and regulations. For this reason, there are few facilities remaining which are able to continue offering chrome plating services resulting in high manufacturing costs.


Wheels are not limited to only one type of finish. Many wheels contain a combination of finishes, resulting in a unique final product. Painting, machining, anodizing, PVD can all be combined on a single wheel.

These are the common types of wheel finishing. Check out our article of Wheel Cleaning & Care Tips to learn how to keep your wheels looking good.

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