Types of Window Tint: A Beginner’s Guide

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Australia’s sunny weather and hot summers makes car window tint a worthwhile investment.

However, tinting technology has improved a lot over the years and the choice for car owners can be overwhelming.

In this article, we look at what types of car window tints are available and the pros and cons of each.

What is window tint?

Window tint is a laminate film, coating, or pigment applied to glass that blocks and filters varying amounts of ultraviolet (UV) and infrared (IR) light.

The result is increased protection from heat and light inside the vehicle, as well as improved privacy and security.

Types of car window tint

car window tint

The major difference is in the materials used to filter and block light rays, and secondly how effective each is. The price generally increases in line with the effectiveness of the technology.

There are five popular types of car window tinting:

1. Dyed window tint

Dyed film is the cheapest tinting option, and the level of tint is achieved by adding more layers of film. It is the least effective for UV and infrared light filtering but it still offers some heat rejection properties.

However, as an economical window tint film, it ticks enough boxes for some.

This is the oldest tinting technology, and while improvements have been made to reduce bubbling and peeling, it doesn’t perform as well as newer options and older dyed tints are famous for fading and turning purple over time.

  • Pros: Cheap, many VLT (visible light transmittance) options, no interference issues with electronic equipment
  • Cons: Lowest heat rejection and UV blocking performance, poor-quality films prone to fading and turning purple

2. Carbon window tint

Carbon tints have carbon particles mixed into the film. They are more effective at keeping a car interior cooler than most options thanks to better heat rejection properties while filtering up to 99% of infrared and UV light.

While it is more expensive, carbon tint is also more effective.

  • Pros: Excellent heat rejection, UV and IR blocking, no interference issues with electronic equipment, no fading
  • Cons: Expensive, VLT impacts tint effectiveness against glare, heat, and infrared light, low angle haze

3. Ceramic window tint

This is the best at blocking infrared and UV light, and it blocks heat effectively regardless of the VLT.

Ceramic tint is unique in this regard, as the other tints rely on lower VLT levels to be effective. The overall high performance helps justify the price tag.

  • Pros: best heat rejection, no interference issues, VLT has little effect on UV and IR blocking performance
  • Cons: Most expensive, low angle haze

RELATED: Carbon vs Ceramic Tint

4. Metallic window tint

A metallic or metalised window tint has metallic micro-particles mixed into the tint film. These metal particles have reflective properties which provide a different look from the outside compared to the other tint options, appearing almost mirror-like.

The metal in the tint can interfere with the signals from radio, GPS, and mobile devices, which may deter some car owners.

It is possible to find hybrid tint made up of dyed and metallic film, though these are becoming less popular over time as the industry has moved on to other technologies.

  • Pros: Heat rejection, glare reduction, UV blocking
  • Cons: Shiny mirror-like look, interference issues with electronic equipment, VLT impacts tinting performance

5. Factory tint

Also known as privacy glass, the tinting process occurs during glass manufacturing, when a pigment is added as the glass is being made.

While it reduces visible light transmittance (VLT, normally within the 20-35% range), it does little to insulate from heat or filter UV light. A clear film can be installed to achieve this.

  • Pros: Reduces VLT
  • Cons: Does not insulate from heat or filter UV light

Considerations when choosing window tint

red car

Price

The cheapest type of window tint by far is a simple, multi-layered dyed film.

While the cost of a quality ceramic tint might be triple, that difference may still be only a few hundred dollars.

The most expensive tinting options can be as much as $1,000, but you get what you pay for.

Heat rejection performance

This is the biggest difference after cost.

Most modern window tints filter 90% or more of infrared and UV light.

How it insulates and how it looks are major attributes to consider as well. Total Solar Energy Rejection (TSER) is the measurement that most impacts cabin comfort as it shows how much heat a car tint blocks.

That can vary wildly, starting from 20% for a very basic film, and move past 70% for the premium ceramic window tints.

Driver and passenger health

Quality window tint films filter as much as 99% of harmful UV A and B rays and reduce your exposure to sunburn and, in turn, the risk of skin cancer.

Some films even come with recommendations from various skin cancer authorities because sun exposure is reduced so much.

Additionally, modern carbon and ceramic window films with strong TSER properties block heat and stop the interior from getting hot.

Interior protection

Less UV and infrared light means less damage to the plastic, leather, and material in your car.

Leather and plastics are prone to dry out, and the pigment used to colour trim pieces fades over time due to sunlight exposure.

Less variation in heat cycles also increases the life of interior materials.

Fading

Purple window films are largely a thing of the past. Older dyed tint suffered the most from it as the UV rays break down the dye.

Newer carbon, metallic, and ceramic tints are guaranteed to not fade at all.

RELATED: How To Remove Window Tint Glue

VLT

All window tint is measured on the visible light transmittance (VLT) scale.

A VLT of 35% is generally the legal limit in Australia, and it means 35% of visible light is allowed to pass through the window tint film. That means 65% is blocked, reflected or filtered.

Window tint films are available in varying levels, all the way down to 0% VLT (complete black-out film).

Aesthetics

Aesthetics are linked to VLT and the type of tint; the lower the VLT, the darker the tint.

Metallic tints often have a strong reflective look to them, for example.

Modern ceramic films can work just as well as a clear tint or a darker tint, so it isn’t necessary to go dark to have excellent tinting qualities.

Generally speaking, dyed and carbon tint perform better the darker they are, as more light-blocking particles are used.

Night driving

Following on from aesthetics, tinted windows reduce visibility at night, which is a greater concern for older drivers.

35% VLT is generally no problem for most drivers at night, however, going darker can be noticeable for some.

Reduction in glare

Glare and VLT are linked so you have to go darker to reduce more glare. It’s like wearing a pair of sunglasses.

Low Angle Haze is a separate issue, and is a phenomenon that occurs to carbon and ceramic film when the sun is low (sunrise and sunset). It is caused by uneven distribution of the micro-particles used to make the infrared filtering layer of the tint film. Better distribution of the particles in the film helps reduce this issue.

Increased privacy

While it is possible to have light tint and allow more natural light into the car, it does little for privacy. Darker tint means reduced visibility from the outside, so potential thieves have less reason to break in if they can’t see any valuables.

Anti-shattering properties

Some specialised films are a security measure used on VIP and government vehicles that add strength to windows and keep shattered glass from flying everywhere in the event of an impact.

Some ceramic tints are claimed to increase the strength of glass, though our research couldn’t validate these claims.

Installation

There were some differences in installing older types of window tint, but modern films have greatly eased that burden.

Installing window tint generally follows the same process:

  1. The glass is cleaned to remove all traces of dust, oil, and debris.
  2. The film is cut to size and then sprayed liberally with a liquid solution. Measures are taken to protect interior trim pieces from moisture damage.
  3. The liquid solution allows for the installer to correctly stick the film to the glass, and move it if necessary.
  4. Once in place, a tool is used to squeeze the solution and any air bubbles out from between the glass and film.

It sounds easy but it certainly is not. This job is best left to professional window tinting services. Do your own due diligence and research before committing.

Conclusion

We say it all the time, but when it comes to tinting car windows you really get what you pay for.

The difference in price between the cheapest window tint and the most expensive window tint film is often less than $500 for a normal passenger vehicle.

The gap between a dyed window film and a quality ceramic window film can be as little as $250.

What does the extra money get you?

  1. A product that won’t fade (unlike dyed window tinting).
  2. A product that won’t interfere with radio, GPS, or mobile reception (a problem with metalised window tints).
  3. A product that effectively blocks infrared and UV rays. This will protect passengers and keep the interior cool.

Spending a little more on window tinting goes a long way when you realise it will probably outlast your vehicle ownership.

Ceramic tints can keep the car cool by blocking heat and almost all UV radiation. They also reduce glare and increase privacy (when you choose a darker film), and all in all these benefits do justify the extra money.

Window tint FAQ

What is the darkest legal tint I can use?

Most states in Australia allow a maximum visible light transmittance (VLT) of 35% on the front-side windows of passenger vehicles. A darker 20% VLT is allowed for rear-side and rear windows, provided the vehicle is fitted with a rear wing mirror on each side (the Northern Territory is the exception, allowing 15% VLT for rear and rear side windows). The upper 10% of a windscreen can be tinted.

Can I install my own window tint film?

While it is possible to DIY, and modern window tint adhesive makes the job easier than ever, window tint installation is a fine art not given enough credit. Imagine trying to install a piece of plastic film about 60cm across and making sure it is cut the right size down to a couple of millimetres, has no air bubbles, and no dust or dirt between the glass and the film. Now imagine doing it on a rear seat between a parcel shelf and the rear glass. It is a job we suggest leaving to the professionals.