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Polished, Plated, Painted | Grille Finishes For Any Taste

Before choosing the best custom grille for your vehicle, you need to know about combinations regarding materials and finishes. We provide a thorough review of what’s available.

Automotive enthusiasts enjoy engaging in discussions about which car model is sleekest, which truck is brawniest, which wheels are best-looking, which car wax makes paint its shiniest, and so on. The conversations are eternal, encouraging exploration of minute details on any given subject. But ultimately, there really isn't any answer to the question of what is the best of something because it comes down to a matter of taste. Custom grilles are certainly no exception.

In this article, we've decided to look at which finishes are "best" for a grille. As we just said, there really is no "best". But knowing about grille material and finish combinations will allow you to make a smarter purchase - one that will lead to the best choice for you. We'll provide details on grille finishes such as chrome, black chrome, powder coat, polished bare metal, and paint. Note that if a grille has been coated with a specific finish, that fact will be displayed clearly in the product description. If you see only phrases such as "mirror-like" without a clear reference to any applied coatings, that means the outer surface of the grille is bare metal (stainless steel or aluminum) and has been machine-polished to a high sheen resembling chrome.


Chrome Car

A chrome finish is a thin plate of chromium deposited on metal or plastic by electrolysis. Often (but not always), there will be a layer of copper and/or a layer of zinc under the chrome. This plating results in a bright, metallic surface that polishes to the highest level of shine. The base material and chrome's adherence to it play a big part in the chrome's longevity. Grilles which are chrome-plated over stainless steel or ABS plastic usually give the best results.

Chrome Finish Over ABS Plastic

Grilles made from ABS plastic are probably the easiest to take care of thanks to the durable and flexible nature of the polymer compounds used. Chrome bonds to ABS plastic well; once chrome is applied to ABS plastic, the end result is a grille that looks just as commanding, shiny, and lustrous as a metal one. Because ABS plastic is completely non-corrosive, the chrome finish won't become pitted or tarnished. A primary concern with ABS plastic is that it needs to be of high quality to avoid separation of finish from the plastic. We offer peace of mind by selecting only grille manufacturers with proven records of quality and customer satisfaction.

ABS Plastic offers advantages of light weight and low production costs - two distinct pluses any automotive enthusiast will find desirable. Should you be interested in chromed ABS plastic grilles, we offer a few. You can review choices such as grille inserts from RI, grille overlays from CCI, billet grilles from Spec-D, and mesh grilles from Spec-D.

Chrome Billet Grille By Spec-D
One example of a pattern available on Spec-D's Billet Grille, featuring chrome finish on top of ABS plastic.
Chrome Mesh Grille By Spec-D
Spec D's Mesh Grille.

Chrome Finish Over Aluminum

Liquid Mesh Grille Insert
The Liquid Mesh Grille Insert from Putco.

For those who appreciate chrome but prefer a lightweight grille made of high-strength metal, we've got the Putco Liquid Mesh Grille Insert. It's an insert piece with a fine mesh pattern crafted from aluminum that's been covered in chrome. (Later on in this article we'll cover aluminum grilles which have been polished to a "chrome-like" shine.)

Chrome Plated Stainless Steel Grilles

SES Trims Chromed Stainless Steel Billet Grille
The SES Trims Chromed Stainless Steel Billet Grille.
E&G Classics Mesh Grille
The E&G Classics Mesh Grille.
Dresden Chrome Mesh Grille Kit
The Dresden Chrome Mesh Grille Kit.

When it comes to chrome-plated metal grilles, stainless steel can be your highest-quality choice because it's virtually non-corrosive with or without chrome finish applied. We've got variations of chrome-plated stainless steel grilles for every taste. If you like horizontal billet grilles, there's the RI Billet Grille with horizontally-running bars as well as the SES Trims Chromed Stainless Steel Billet Grille. SES Trims continues the trend with their chrome-plated stainless mesh grilles. If you prefer grilles which are a little more amped up, check out the high-end grille kits from Dresden.

How about a dual-weave heavy mesh Macaro Mesh Grille from DJ Grilles? (Note that the chrome finish is an option you would choose within the Product Options drop-down menu.) There are also a variety of chrome-over-stainless grille styles available in the selection field of E&G Classics' Mesh Grilles.

Black Chrome

RaceMesh Standard Weave Black Chrome Mesh Grille
The RaceMesh Standard Weave Black Chrome Mesh Grille.
E&G Classics Black Ice Mesh Grille
The E&G Classics Black Ice Mesh Grille.

Like traditional silver chrome, black chrome is usually plated over bright nickel or matte nickel. In the black chroming process, chemical salts are added then treated with industrial acidic compounds to achieve a result that ranges from dark gray resembling tinted glass to an almost perfect black. While black chrome is a tough and wear-resistant plating, it may or may not be as lustrous or as long-lasting as chrome. It does, however, possess a glow that's distinctive and luxurious.

If you're interested in black chrome-plated grilles, we've got a selection to choose from - all made from stainless steel. For example, E&G Classics offers the Black Ice Mesh Grille, and the Black Ice Heavy Mesh Grille. Racemesh also offers the RaceMesh Gothic Weave Black Chrome Mesh Grille and the Standard Weave Black Chrome Mesh Grille just to name a few.

"Painted" Grilles

Example Of Black Powdercoated Grille
Many of the grilles we offer are available in a finish of black powder coat, regardless if the material underneath is aluminum, ABS plastic, stainless steel, or traditional carbon steel. See Product Options for choices.

Since grilles lead the charge in a front-and-center position on your vehicle, they're vulnerable to road debris such as grit, rocks, oily contaminants, and corrosive salty slush in winter. Traditional paint can really take a pounding in such locations, so powder coat has grown in popularity over paint as a method for applying color to automotive grilles made of metal. In the early days of powder coating, finishes were only available in black or white and dried with a slightly uneven texture on the surface. Today, good quality powder coat finishes are as smooth as spray-on paint, and come in all colors including clear coat finishes which can add a glossy shine or a matte texture. Powder coats are easy to care for and require no more maintenance than traditional automotive paint finishes.

Hidden Headlight Grille By DJ Grilles
For late-model Dodge Challengers and Chevy Camaros, the DJ Grilles Hidden Headlight Grille is available with highlights in 10 different paint colors.

Unlike traditional paint that's sprayed on, powder coating is applied electrostatically as a free-flowing, dry powder, then cured under heat where it liquefies enough to flow and form a smooth, even top surface. The powder itself may be a thermoplastic or a thermoset polymer, but it creates a finish that's harder and tougher than conventional paint. As a result, powder coat is far more resistant to chips, scratches, and peeling. It's also superior in preventing moisture from getting underneath the surface of the coating where corrosion forms, so metal parts tend to last longer. You'll find most powder-coated products have exceptional product warranties.

Putco Flaming Inferno Stainless Steel Grille
The Putco Flaming Inferno Stainless Steel Grille.

We offer a great selection of powder-coated grilles, regardless of the underlying material. Once you've entered make and model, the choice of powder coat will become available on applicable products. Examples include Grillcraft MX grilles which can be powder-coated in sliver or black; T-Rex X-Metal black grilles which are powder-coated for toughness; and ACC black powder-coated mesh grilles which provide that coveted stealthy look.

We've also got several stainless steel grilles available with painted finishes in a variety of color options. First, the Putco Flaming Inferno Grille creates an image of fire with up to 4 mixed colors, DJ Grilles Hidden Headlight Grille offers horizontal highlight bars in 10 colors, and DJ Grilles' Macaro Mesh Grilles can be custom painted in any color you select to match your vehicle. Or, each of the three can be purchased in bare polished metal form.

Polished Bare Metal Finishes

Polishing Process

While bare stainless steel and aluminum can be polished to high levels of shine, they won't quite match the deep luster of chrome. Polished stainless steel comes closer to chrome, but it has a slightly different hue to it. Bare metals cannot be polished with chrome polish because a gray mist will be left on the surface. We recommend always using dedicated stainless steel or aluminum polishes to clean them up. As mentioned earlier, product descriptions that use phrases such as "mirror-like" without a clear reference to any applied coatings means the grille is bare metal that's been machine-polished. Anodized and polished aluminum finishes are very sensitive to the strong chemicals used in car washes and to road salts. Polished aluminum can be covered with a protective clear coat finish that keeps the surface shining for some time. However, if the aluminum starts to oxidize under the clear coat, that top protective layer is more of a problem than an asset.

Polished Stainless Steel Grilles

Putco Patriot Stainless Steel Grille
The Putco Patriot Stainless Steel Grille.
GrilleCraft SW Series Polished SS Mesh Grille
The GrilleCraft SW Series Polished SS Mesh Grille.

When it comes to grilles made completely of polished stainless steel, we'll start with the Putco Patriot Stainless Steel Grille insert for trucks that gives your front end a treatment of stars and stripes. For billet style grilles, we offer the APG Tubular Grille overlay, and the E&G Classics "Q" Style Grille. If you prefer mesh style grilles, you may like the GrillCraft SW Series Polished SS Mesh Grille, the T-Rex Upper Class fine mesh grille, or the Fuel Studded Mesh Grille (choose "polished" in the Product Options drop-down).

Polished Aluminum Grilles

Polished Aluminum T-Rex Billet Grille
The polished aluminum T-Rex Billet Grille.
APG Polished Perimeter Aluminum Grille
The APG Polished Perimeter aluminum grille.

For truly unique looks combined with the advantages of lightweight aluminum, we've got the Putco Liquid Spider Web Grille overlay pieces. If you prefer 1-piece aluminum construction, we've got the APG Polished Perimeter Grille, the Lund Original Bar Style Billet Grille overlay, and the Lund Framed Perimeter Billet grille. Additionally, we've got multi-section horizontal billet bar grilles such as the GrillCraft BG Series Polished Billet Grille (with polished edges and black powder coat on background areas), the T-Rex Billet Grille (open Product Options for finish choices), and the APG Polished Aluminum Billet Grille.

GrilleCraft's BG Series Grille
GrilleCraft's BG Series grilles offer polished aluminum billet bars with contrasting black powder coat covering all background areas.

So, polished, plated, or painted? Perhaps powder-coated? Personal preference (of course). Before you decide, take a long hard look at your ride: its paint color; how much other bright-work you have on the outside; how much you want the new grille to either blend in or stand out; and your budget. Still unsure? Call one of our sales experts who will walk you through all the choices. In the end, you'll have the grille that best captures the new look you're after.

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