The Basics of Using Carbon Fiber Laminates

Close up of a carbon fiber car spoiler.

Yahya S./Flickr/CC BY 2.0

If using carbon-fiber composites was easy, they would be everywhere. Using carbon fiber takes as much science and mechanical skill as it does art and finesse.

The Basics

Whether you are working on a hobby project or trying to trick out your car, first think carefully about why you want to use carbon fiber. Although the composite is versatile, it can be expensive to work with and may not be the right material for the job.

Carbon fiber has a lot of benefits. This material is extremely lightweight, incredibly strong, and it has excellent mechanical properties.

However, carbon fiber is also trendy, which means people may use it for the sake of using it. For example, if all you really want is the surface finish of a carbon-fiber weave, then save yourself the trouble and simply apply a carbon-fiber vinyl adhesive film. Carbon fiber is quite expensive compared to similar composites.

Carbon Fiber Vinyl Film

Carbon fiber vinyl film is available in rolls or sheets. It has the look and texture of actual carbon fiber. However, this adhesive-backed film is as easy to apply as a sticker. Simply cut it to size, peel, and stick.

Many distributors sell this film, which is dramatically inexpensive compared to actual carbon fiber. The carbon fiber film has great UV resistance and does provide some impact-resistance. It's used in everything from cell phones to sports cars.

How to Use Carbon Fiber

It's not difficult to learn how to laminate carbon fiber. First, again ask yourself what the purpose the carbon fiber is going to serve. If it is purely for aesthetics, then a single layer of inexpensive carbon fiber will probably do the trick. This layer can cover a thicker laminate of fiberglass.

However, if you're planning a structural component or something else that needs to be strong, more robust use of carbon fiber may be warranted.

If you are building a snowboard in your garage or designing an aircraft part using carbon fiber, do some planning before you begin. This can help you avoid manufacturing a part that will fail, and also prevent you from wasting expensive material. Use a composite material software program, many of which are free, to design the specific carbon fiber item you need. The program knows the properties of the carbon fiber and applies this data to the laminate being designed. Consult with a professional engineer when you're designing a critical part or piece, the failure of which could cause harm to yourself or others.

Laminating carbon fiber is no different than fiberglass or other reinforcements. Practice learning how to laminate carbon fiber with fiberglass, which is a fraction of the cost.

Pick your resin carefully. If it is a part intended for its appearance and free of gel coat, use a high-quality polyester or epoxy resin. Most epoxies and polyester resins will have a yellowish or brownish tint. A clear resin will be your best choice. Any resin used in surfboard manufacturing is usually as clear as water.

You're now prepared to laminate your carbon fiber composite.

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Your Citation
Johnson, Todd. "The Basics of Using Carbon Fiber Laminates." ThoughtCo, Aug. 28, 2020, Johnson, Todd. (2020, August 28). The Basics of Using Carbon Fiber Laminates. Retrieved from Johnson, Todd. "The Basics of Using Carbon Fiber Laminates." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 8, 2023).