Paint Protection Film vs Windshield Protection Film: What's the Difference?


Have you ever heard that telltale sound of a rock hitting your windshield or paint and asked yourself if you should be protecting your vehicle? Chances are that you have, and that’s why you’re here.

If you’ve been around the automotive industry for a while, you’re probably well aware that there are products these days that can help protect your car from the daily onslaught of rocks and debris that come flying at it. You may even have heard of the various film-based products that can be used for impact protection like paint protection film (or PPF) and wondered “can’t I just cover my windshield in PPF?”. Well we’re here to tell you why you absolutely should NOT attempt to put PPF on your windshield, and let you know what you should do instead.

Why Vehicle Protection Matters

You probably spend a lot of time and money on your car. And why wouldn’t you? Whether you rely on it to get from point A to point B every day, or only bring it out for special occasions, it’s an expression of yourself - not to mention a lot of fun.

Unfortunately driving on the roads where most of us live is nothing short of an attack on our vehicle’s paint and glass (honestly, sometimes it feels personal). Rocks, dirt, salt, debris, ice - you name it - comes flying at us from all angles at all times. While we always encourage taking the back roads just for the scenic route, it’s impossible to avoid these hazards on the road - especially when you just need to get from point A to point B on the highway.

While 15+ years ago we were forced to just suffer the consequences (or keep our precious car in a garage 99% of the time), in 2023 there are lots of great options to protect your car without compromising the look or driving experience. In fact we’re willing to bet you’ll feel a lot more freedom when you know you can drive pretty much anywhere covered in protection products.

In case you’ve been out of the industry for a while or just want a refresher, we’re here to bring you up to speed on why PPF is still a great investment for your paint, but not for your windshield, and give some pointers on how to protect that beautiful piece of glass you get to see the world through.

What is Paint Protection Film?

Chances are you’re already familiar with this one since it’s now one of the most popular aftermarket film products on the market for the last few years, but if not, here’s a quick overview.

PPF is a thin, (almost) transparent film that can be applied to any painted surface of your vehicle to protect your paint from rock chips, scratches, pitting - you know, everything that makes it look terrible after a year or two of driving.

PPF is definitely no longer a niche market. There are tons of great PPF brands on the market which we won’t get into here, but most options for PPF are made of a plastic material called TPU (which stands for thermoplastic polyurethane) which is a soft, stretchable material that will absorb the impact of rocks or small stones hitting the surface. This is layered with an acrylic adhesive layer which allows the film to stick to the surface of your car, but be easily removed when the film is worn out to leave your paint looking like the day you bought it.

Many PPF products also have a built-in self-healing property. This sounds pretty fancy, but basically means that when it’s heated, the urethane material softens and returns the film to (close to) it’s original state. This means that even if the film gets small scuffs and scratches, it can effectively ‘heal itself’ so you don’t see these small imperfections. This self-healing property is great for small damage, but it’s important to keep in mind that the material will not be able to heal indefinitely, and is unlikely to heal larger damage.

PPF is best installed by a trained professional, where they are able to lay and stretch the material to cover each panel of the vehicle. The film can either be cut by hand or using a pattern, and the quality of the edges and whether or not you really get that seamless finish will depend a lot on the skill level of the installer and how much you’re willing to spend.

What is Windshield Protection Film?

Windshield protection film, as the name suggests, is a thin, transparent film that is applied to the outside of your windshield to give it impact resistance against rocks or any other debris hitting your windshield.

Windshield protection film, while similar in concept to PPF, is made of a completely different material. Most premium windshield protection film options on the market are made up of a different shock absorbing material, called PET (which stands for polyethylene terephthalate). PET does the same job as the TPU in PPF, but is preferable for the windshield primarily due to the significantly better optical properties.

The PET is also typically protected by a built-in hardcoat layer to give it extra abrasion resistance, chemical resistance and weather-resistance that aren’t as critical for the other parts of the vehicle. Windshield protection also uses a special, ultra-clear adhesive that won’t cause any distortion or optical clarity issues when installed on glass.

While windshield protection film typically doesn’t last as long as PPF since the tolerance for minor scratches is much lower on the windshield, it’s also simple to get it removed and reinstalled without affecting the other protection products on your vehicle.

Unlike PPF, windshield protection film is actually heat molded to fit the curvature of your windshield, which is what allows it to adhere perfectly to any shape of glass. In most cases, you’ll need to get a trained professional to install your windshield protection film, with a few exceptions like flat glass vehicles such as Jeeps or Broncos where DIY kits are available.

PPF vs Windshield Protection Film

We’re often asked the question: “can you put ppf on a windshield?”. To which our answer is a resounding - absolutely not.

While PPF looks completely transparent when installed on paint paint, if you were to apply PPF and windshield protection film on a windshield side by side, the difference would be painfully obvious - PPF actually has a slight haziness to it that would make driving with that on your windshield extremely dangerous. On top of that, PPF is made of a much softer material, and even with all the self-healing properties built in, becomes extremely scratched over time, especially when the wiper blades pass across the film, which would mean replacing the film after just a couple months.

A proper windshield protection film has a much harder surface. For example, ExoShield’s windshield protection products have a built in nanoceramic hardcoat layer as the top layer of the film to prevent abrasion from the wiper blades and help it last a lot longer. A windshield protection film will also adhere to the strict optical clarity requirements for the windshield, and should feel like there’s almost nothing there once installed properly.

So should you put PPF on a windshield? Never. Just ask for a windshield protection film instead and enjoy that full vehicle protection feeling.

Learn More About ExoShield Products


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