The automotive aftermarket makes use of decorative carbon fiber as an aesthetic means to differentiate a vehicle. Carbon fiber hoods, spoilers, and interior pieces add a cool aspect to many of the “tuner” vehicles that are specialized. A sample of this is would look appear to have a black woven pattern underneath a clear topcoat. True carbon fiber panels can be much lighter and stronger than a comparative sheet metal piece.

These parts and panels can be made using a fiberglass mold that has been made in the desired shape. The mold is waxed and then sprayed with a nice layer of clear gelcoat. It is very important to have a clear layer on top of the carbon fiber to distance it from the surface finish. Then a good polyester or vinylester resin is mixed with clear catalyst before wetting out the carbon fiber and laying it in the mold. Extreme care must be taken to orient the pattern of the carbon fiber so that it has good presentation, as the topside of this first layer will be seen through the clearcoat. The laminate can be backed with additional carbon fiber, fiberglass, or coring to achieve sufficient structure for the part being made.

One of the projects I have worked with in the past was a complex carbon fiber part where orientation was tricky. This required the mold to be made to be transparent. This was done using clear gelcoat, fiberglass reinforcement, and clear catalyst. This allowed for viewing the completed surface through the mold to ensure good cosmetics for the orientation of the weave on the finished side of the part.

One of the recent developments over the last ten years is dyed and woven fiberglass that appears to be real carbon fiber. The big advantage is cost; as it is does not have the same weight savings or strength properties of carbon fiber. Offerings also include red, yellow, and combinations of these colors in the same weave to achieve interesting decorative surfaces.