A brief beginner’s guide to anti-graffiti coatings


A brief beginner’s guide to anti-graffiti coatings

In recent decades graffiti has emerged as a growing issue for communities (and counter to perception, graffiti is not exclusive to urban areas and motives vary).  Graffiti can either be a nightmare or be fairly manageable, depending on your willingness to be proactive in addressing the threat.

Though it is likely that crime prevention techniques may help your odds of avoiding graffiti and should be considered, bearing in mind that graffiti isn’t a problem that can be addressed or deterred through the justice system. Like most forms of vandalism, those who commit graffiti-related offenses are rarely apprehended or even reported. For all intents and purposes, you are on your own in dealing with this issue.

If graffiti strikes, remove it. Simply leaving the graffiti on the building may invite even more graffiti efforts against it, marring the aesthetic qualities of the building (and even the greater area). It may also cause visitors to feel unsafe, regardless of whether the local area has a crime problem or not. Removing graffiti is always worth it and with some preventative preparation will not take much effort.

This preventative measure is achieved through one of two anti-graffiti coating methods: Permanent and Sacrificial.




As the name suggests, permanent coatings are a one-time application that protects your building long term. Permanent coatings (if done properly to protect against both oil and water based paints) will flat out prevent paints from sticking to your walls. This is the “set it and forget it” option. As great as this sounds, permanent coatings do have some significant drawbacks and aren’t right for every situation.

Permanent coatings come in two forms: film-forming and non-film-forming. Unfortunately, many surfaces can only work with the film-forming variety, and the visibility of this film can vary in intensity. In the best case, the visual difference is negligible, in a worse case, it can make your building look dirty. Because of this, certain surfaces should NEVER use permanent coatings (more on that later).




A sacrificial coating is a clear polymer, wax, or acrylic layer that leaves far less of a visible gloss. It doesn’t outright prevent paints from forming but it does allow maintenance personnel to pressure wash graffiti off with very hot water in a matter of minutes. The drawback to sacrificial coatings is in the added cost over time. It’s a small amount of labor time for maintenance workers and the coating itself will have to be replaced every 1-2 cleanings.


Sacrificial vs Permanent


Choosing which of these options will come down to a few factors. Sacrificial is strongly recommended for wood exteriors and artistically painted surfaces. The absorbent quality of wood tends to react poorly with permanent coatings. The potential for a dirty gloss from a permanent coating makes it a poor compliment for a mural.

As a rule of thumb, sacrificial coatings are going to have better aesthetic quality than permanent. So if your building is pretty and you want to keep it that way, it should be favored as a method. With that said, over the long haul sacrificial could prove to be significantly more costly especially if you anticipate graffiti to be a regular occurrence.

In most other cases, you are generally fine with choosing permanent coating. Keep in mind that painted, steel and plastic surfaces cannot be penetrated by non-film graffiti prevention. You’ll need to use a glossy coating for those. Because the results of glossy coatings are so varied, it is highly recommended that you test the coating on a piece of material from your building exterior to see how it looks before applying it to the whole building. The last thing you want to do is apply the wrong coating and end up with a dirty looking surface.


Seek expert advice


This article is not meant to be a comprehensive guide, only an introduction to some of the basics. Since there are so many outcomes with different anti-graffiti products and different surfaces, being familiar with these results ahead of time is of great importance. Sometimes even products marked as “clear” don’t produce clear results at all. It would be a good idea to seek out an expert such as a specialist from Sherwin Williams and follow their advice, particularly if you are favoring a permanent coating.