Watching paint dry may be famously boring, but putting on a fresh coat can bring a dull space to life. Painters apply paint and stain to bring a new look and weather protection to surfaces of homes, buildings, and other structures. Painters uncover the original surface, and even out any imperfections before applying primer or sealant. To protect adjacent surfaces, they tape off, or cover them with tarps. Only after careful preparation do they paint— using hand brushes, rollers, or sprayers. Industrial painters work on bridges, oil rigs, and tall buildings. They may operate sand blasters to remove old coatings, and work from scaffolding, or suspended by cables from harnesses. Artisan painters use special techniques to create unique finishes. Helpers haul materials and tools, clean work areas and equipment, and perform other basic tasks as assigned. Painters typically work both indoors and outdoors, spending the day climbing, bending, kneeling, and reaching. They have one of the highest rates of injuries and illnesses of all occupations. Falls from ladders, muscle strains from lifting, and exposure to irritants such as drywall dust are common risks. Protective eyewear and clothing is worn when needed. Most painters work full time, and many are self-employed. There is no education requirement and most painters learn on the job. Some learn the trade through a 3- or 4-year apprenticeship that combines paid work experience with more formal training.

Painters apply paint, stain, and coatings to walls and ceilings, buildings, bridges, and other structures.

What Do Painters Construction and Maintenance Workers Do?

Duties

Painters typically do the following:

  • Cover floors, furniture, and trim with drop cloths, tarps, and masking tape to protect surfaces
  • Remove and replace pictures and outlet and switch covers
  • Install scaffolding and raise ladders
  • Fill holes and cracks with putty or plaster
  • Prepare surfaces by scraping, wire brushing, or sanding to a smooth finish
  • Calculate the size of the area to be painted and the amount of paint needed for the area
  • Apply primers or sealers so the paint will stick to the surface
  • Apply paint or other finishes, using hand brushes, rollers, or sprayers

Paints and other sealers protect surfaces from damage caused by weather, sunlight, and pollution.

There are several ways to apply paint to a surface, and painters must choose the correct tool for each job, such as a roller, power sprayer, or brush. Choosing the right tool typically depends on the type of surface to be painted and the characteristics of the paint to be used. Some employers require painters to provide their own equipment.

Painters may wear special safety equipment for a job. For example, painters working in confined spaces, such as the inside of a large storage tank, must wear self-contained suits to avoid inhaling toxic fumes. Some painters wear additional clothing and protective eyewear when operating abrasive blasters to remove old coatings. When painting bridges, ships, tall buildings, or oil rigs, painters may work from scaffolding or harnesses.

Career Snapshot

Exterior Painters apply paint, stain, and coatings to buildings, large machinery and equipment, and bridges and other structures using brushes, rollers, and spray guns. May remove old paint to prepare surface prior to painting. May mix colors or oils to obtain desired color or consistency.

(Exterior Painters may also have these job titles: Facilities Painter, Foreman, Highway Painter, House Painter, Industrial Painter, Journeyman Painter, Maintenance Painter, Painter, Painter Foreman, Senior Painter)

Job Details

Exterior Painters typically:

  • Apply material to fill gaps in surfaces
  • Protect structures or surfaces near work areas to avoid damage
  • Smooth surfaces with abrasive materials or tools
  • Review blueprints or specifications to determine work requirements
  • Prepare surfaces for finishing
  • Apply paint to surfaces
  • Assemble temporary equipment or structures
  • Mix substances or compounds needed for work activities
  • Estimate materials requirements for projects
  • Estimate construction project costs
  • Clean surfaces in preparation for work activities

Education and Experience

A high school diploma or equivalent is typically required to enter the occupation. There are no formal education requirements to become a painter. Some states require an occupational license to work in this career.

Career Outlook

  • Annual pay: The average salary in May 2019 was approximately $40,000
  • Employment growth forecast 2018-2028: 6%
  • Entry-level education: No formal education credentials

Career Growth Opportunity

The expected increase in new construction activity will continue to create a need for Exterior Painters. As well, openings are expected to arise from the need to replace workers who leave the occupation each year.

Professional Associations

  • Painting Contractors Association - PCA is a national trade association dedicated to the success of painting and decorating contractors through ethics, education and excellence. PCA is recognized and supported by many industry manufacturers and suppliers as the premier organization committed to helping professional painting and decorating contractors improve their business.
  • Associated Builders and Contractors - ABC's membership represents all specialties within the U.S. construction industry and is comprised primarily of firms that perform work in the industrial and commercial sectors.
  • International Union of Painters and Allied Trades - Members of this organization work in the Finishing Trades as industrial and commercial painters, drywall finishers, wall coverers, glaziers, glass workers, floor covering installers, sign makers, display workers, convention and show decorators and in many more exciting occupations.
  • NACE International Institute - The NACE Institute administers 23 certifications on a variety of disciplines.
  • American Coatings Association - This non-profit organization focuses mostly on paint products, research and development.
  • Home Builders Institute - This organization’s mission is to advance and provide education, career development, training and placement of men and women serving the building industry.
  • National Association of Home Builders - NAHB strives to protect the American Dream of housing opportunities for all, while working to achieve professional success for its members who build communities, create jobs and strengthen our economy.
  • The Associated General Contractors of America - The AGC of America works to ensure the continued success of the commercial construction industry by advocating for federal, state and local measures that support the industry; providing opportunities for firms to learn about ways to become more accomplished; and connecting them with the resources and individuals they need to be successful businesses and corporate citizens.
  • National Center for Construction Education and Research (NCCER) - This mission of this organization is to build a safe, productive and sustainable workforce of craft professionals.  Their vision is to be universally recognized by industry and government as the training, assessment, certification and career development standard for construction and maintenance craft professionals.
  • The Associated General Contractors of America - The Associated General Contractors of America works to ensure the continued success of the commercial construction industry by advocating for federal, state and local measures that support the industry.

Publications

  • Paint Magazine - Paint TV, Paint News, Paint Topics, Paint Radio
  • Paint Pro Magazine - This magazine has digital archives featuring over eight years' worth of valuable how-to information on decorative concrete, faux finishes, and painting and decorating techniques.
  • Painter’s Weekly - a free magazine for painting contractors and house painters
  • American Painting Contractor – good source for information that helps painters do more business and increase profits
  • InPaint Magazine - delivers engaging and informative articles on the industry’s current trends in services and products
  • Professional Painting Contractor - offers important business growth information for painting contractors in the commercial and residential markets

Additional Information for Exterior Painter Construction and Maintenance

Depending on the work you do, some states may require an occupational license to work in this career sector.  Apprenticeships combine paid on-the-job-training with classroom lessons and may help in career advancement.  As well, technical institutes and two-year colleges offering a certification program can help you get a job and/or get a promotion.