Steel and aluminum are the two most popular materials you will find throughout the majority of cars, especially low to mid-range cars. As you probably know, carbon fiber is becoming increasingly popular in the automotive world and can typically be found on high-end cars. In the aftermarket world, carbon fiber is very popular as it’s an easy way to shed weight off your vehicle which improves performance and economy. We’ve already covered how different carbon fiber weaves have different benefits. Check out our 1×1 vs 2×2 Weave article for more info. Regardless of the weave, there are two basic kinds of carbon fiber: wet or dry.
Before we dive into the difference between wet and dry carbon, we should first cover the basics of carbon fiber. Carbon fiber originated for aerospace use, as many new materials do. It’s very strong and very lightweight, so naturally, it became popular in the automotive space. Carbon fiber consists of thousands of carbon atom fibers in diameters of 5 to 10 micrometers. These super thin fibers are wound together and then woven together to create a fabric. The fabric is then placed into a mold where the desired shape is created.
The “Wet” name comes from the manufacturing process which typically leaves the final product with an excessive epoxy coating giving it a somewhat wet look. Typically the carbon fiber cloth is coated in a resin and then placed into a mold. The resin and carbon cloth are vacuum-sealed to cure. The pressure of the vacuum forces the resin into the cloth and also surrounds the cloth. This leaves a glossy appearance which is essentially excess resin. This method of producing carbon fiber is cheap and quick, making it very popular for automotive applications. The glossy look can be made matte by sanding.
Dry carbon fiber, as you can imagine, gets its name from looking dry right after the manufacturing process. This is because there is not an excess coat of resin on top of the carbon cloth once the process is completed. Instead of coating the carbon cloth and then molding it, the resin is built into the fiber weave. This is often referred to as pre-preg carbon, as the resin is pre-impregnated into the fiber. The pre-impregnated carbon cloth is placed into an autoclave where it is cured under high pressure and high heat which fixes any irregularities and strengthens the material. With the resin baked inside the materials rather than on top of the material, it comes out with a flat and dry look. Of course, dry carbon can be clear coated, giving it a glossy look.
Which One is Better?
Which one is better depends on who you ask? Wet carbon is faster and cheaper to make than dry carbon, making it extremely popular in all industries. Dry carbon fiber is those who want the lightest parts possible. With the resin being pre-impregnated, there is effectively no excess resin, resulting in a lighter product. Unfortunately, dry carbon is more complicated and time-consuming, so it’s typically reserved for very expensive parts designed for race teams. Dry carbon is also significantly stronger, as there are fewer irregularities compared to wet carbon.