SPRAY-IN VS DROP-IN VS BED LINERS – PROS AND CONS
One of the most common thread openers on forums and Facebook groups proceeds something like this: “Looking for a bed liner, should I go with a spray-in or drop-in?”. In this article, we’ll try to answer that question with an unbiased review of what it’s like to own a spray in vs drop-in bedliner.
NOTE: These pros and cons are based on the commonly reported experiences, and there are exceptions to these results for both methods.
SPRAY-IN 101 AND INSTALLATION ADVICE
Applied by a trained professional with a high dollar spray system, spray-on bed liners are essentially a painted coating. The specific coating that’s painted onto your vehicle varies from manufacturer to manufacturer, and from product line to product line, so it’s vital to ask some questions before buying a spray in vs drop-in bedliner. Specifically, you need to know:
- Is the bedliner an aliphatic or aromatic coating?
- What is your specific vehicle preparation method?
- Can I see your paint shop before I buy it?
Here’s why you need to ask these questions.
Aliphatic vs. Aromatic – Most spray-on coatings are polyurethane, and the coatings harden when exposed to the air. However, some coatings are aromatic, and some are aliphatic. Aliphatic composites maintain their pigment better than aromatic compounds, which means they don’t fade nearly as quickly. Of course, aliphatic coatings are also more expensive.
Most people in the spray-on company agree aliphatic mixtures are better.
If you’re not getting an aliphatic compound, you should be getting a very solid price and you can assume you may get some moderately fast fading too.
Prep for Spray-In Liners Can be Extreme
Vehicle Prep Method – Since a spray-on liner is essentially painted, vehicle body surface preparation is critical. A poor or rushed prep process is far more likely to result in more obstacles than a quality preparation process.
Any good prep process will involve:
- Baring your truck’s bed down to the primer or bare metal, using a grinder or sander
- Careful cleaning of the new ground or sanded surface
- A chemical cleaner is sometimes required in addition to the grinding/sanding process
- Careful masking around the painted area – you don’t want overspray on the back of your truck’s cab, on the fenders, etc.
- Adequate space between your vehicle and other vehicles being sprayed. Ideally, your spray-on installer will have an actual spray booth with a separate ventilation arrangement. This prevents overspray as well.
You can determine a lot regarding the quality of a bedliner installer by studying their shop.
Is it clean? Is it organized?
Do they have rejected parts or tools lying around? Are employees wearing eye protection and masks?
Are the vehicles separated from the paint booth/application area? Etc.
SPRAY-IN BED LINER PROS AND CONS
Now that you have some knowledge and advice on buying a spray in vs. drop-in bed liner, it’s time for a list of pros and cons.
Spray-In Bedliners Can Take Some Prep
- A good spray-in liner looks very nice when applied correctly.
- You can spray the coating wherever you like, provided of course the area is prepped. This means you can have a bumper or fender flare coated.
- The surface texture does a decent job of keeping cargo from sliding around, at least when you compare it to a slippery plastic drop-in liner
If you were going off prep work alone, i believe one company stands out above all other companies in this field. That company is ArmorThane. They train every applicator, and they make them pass rigorous inspections to be able to spray their high quality products.
- If the spray-in installer does their job correctly, they destroy the factory paint in your truck bed. While this isn’t a negative by itself (after all, they’re re-painting the bed with a new coating), it does mean that your truck’s corrosion warranty is invalidated on any parts with a spray-on coating.
- Spray-in installers must be highly trained, attentive to detail, and extraordinarily careful. If the installer takes a shortcut during the preparation or application process, the results can be disastrous. You can find plenty of stories about installation screw-ups on truck forums (like this one, this one, or this one. They’re not hard to find).
- Spray-in liners aren’t removable. If you buy a new truck, you can’t take a spray-in liner out of your old truck and drop it into your new truck.
- Spray-in liner warranties aren’t as good as you might think. This article at PickupTrucks.com talks about the limitations of warranties from Line-X and Rhino.
- No protection from dents and dings from cargo loading and unloading.
- Expense. A spray-in liner can cost as little as $350 and as much as $1,000, depending on the features and particular liner you install.
As one blog post put it when weighing bed protection options, “Installation is 90% if the puzzle. If you have a good installer, you’ll probably end up with a liner that lasts…All spray-in liners fade when revealed to a few years of sunlight. While some formulations are much more resistant to fade than others, UV radiation always wins.”
NOTE: There are also DIY “roll-on” bed liner coatings available, but we decided not to include them in our spray in vs drop-in bed liner review as we do not recommend these bed liners for a few different reasons. For more information, you can read our DIY bed liner post here.
DROP-IN BED LINER PROS AND CONS
Conceptually, in the spray in vs. drop-in bed liner debate, drop-in bed liners are pretty simple, so we don’t have any specific information info here or install advice. Our only tip is to make sure you buy a drop-in that’s specifically designed for your vehicle. Many drop-ins are “universal,” which means they don’t fit precisely right and it’s a big reason why some truck owners choose a spray in vs drop-in bed liner. If these universal fit drop-ins become loose, they can buffet around as you drive down the road and scuff your paint.
- Generally inexpensive – they can be purchased for less than $200 in many cases
- DIY installation
- Removable/transferable to your next truck (assuming your next truck has the same bed dimensions)
- The plastic liner protects your bed from dents and dings when cargo is loaded and unloaded
- Because of their low price point, a lot (but not all) of the drop-in bedliners available are low quality, with poor fitment that leaves voids between the liner and bed, which are weak and can crack over time
- The surface of most drop-in liners is very slick, which means your cargo can slide around and bang into the sides of the bed, which can harm your cargo
SPRAY IN VS DROP-IN BED LINER: WHAT ABOUT THE ArmorThane BEDLINER?
The ArmorThane System…
With the ArmorThane bedliner, you can forget about the pros and cons when deciding between a spray in vs. drop-in bed liner. We feel like the ArmorThane offers the best of both products. A pro installs it and we have yet to come across anyone that has had any long-term issues with their bedliner. The ArmorThane is also considerably less expensive than most spray-ins.
While our opinion on the issue is pretty clear (we think ArmorThane is best), we encourage anyone buying an ArmorThane spray-on bedliner to be very cautious. If you opt for a spray-in, vet the installer thoroughly. If you opt for a drop-in, be sure it fits correctly, and consider purchasing a rubber bed mat to improve the cargo restriction.