Painting and Coating Workers

Career, Salary and Education Information

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What Painting and Coating Workers Do[About this section] [To Top]

Painting and coating workers often use machines to paint and coat a wide range of products, including cars, jewelry, and ceramics.

Duties of Painting and Coating Workers

Painting and coating workers typically do the following:

  • Set up and operate machines that paint or coat products
  • Select the paint or coating needed for the job
  • Clean and prepare products to be painted or coated
  • Determine the required flow of paint and the quality of the coating
  • Apply paint or coating
  • Clean and maintain tools, equipment, and work areas

Millions of items ranging from cars to furniture are coated by paint, varnish, rustproofing, or other types of liquid applications. Painting or coating is used to make a product more attractive or protect it from the elements. The paint finish on an automobile, for example, makes the vehicle more attractive and provides protection from corrosion.

Before workers begin to apply the paint or other coating, they often need to prepare the surface by sanding or cleaning it carefully to prevent dust from becoming trapped under the paint. Masking is frequently required and involves carefully covering portions of the product with tape and paper.

After the product is prepared, workers may use a number of techniques to apply the paint or coating. A common technique is dipping an item in a large vat of paint or some other coating. Spraying products with paint or another coating is also common. Many factories use automated painting systems.

The following are examples of types of painting and coating workers:

Coating, painting, and spraying machine setters, operators, and tenders position the spray guns, set the nozzles, and synchronize the action of the guns with the speed of the conveyor carrying products through the machine. During the process, these workers program the machine, tend the equipment, watch gauges on the control panel, and check products to ensure that they are being painted evenly. The operator may use a manual spray gun to touch up flaws.

Dippers use power hoists to immerse products in vats of paint, liquid plastic, or other solutions. This technique is commonly used for small parts of electronic equipment, such as cell phones.

Painting, coating, and decorating workers apply coatings to furniture, glass, pottery, toys, books, and other products. Paper is often coated to give it a gloss. Silver, tin, and copper solutions are frequently sprayed onto glass to make mirrors.

Spraying machine operators use spray guns to coat metal, wood, ceramic, fabric, and paper products with paint and other coating solutions.

Transportation equipment painters are the best known group of painting and coating workers. There are three major specialties:

  • Transportation equipment workers, or automotive painters, usually refinish old or damaged cars, trucks, and buses in automotive repair and paint shops by applying paint by hand with a spray gun. Those who work in repair shops are among the most competent manual spray operators: they perform intricate, detailed work and mix paints to match the original color—a task that is especially difficult if the color has faded. Painting an old car is similar to painting other metal objects.
  • Transportation equipment painters work on new cars and oversee several automated steps. A modern car is first dipped in an anticorrosion bath, then coated with colored paint, and finally painted with several coats of clear paint to prevent damage to the colored paint.
  • Other transportation equipment painters either paint equipment that is too large to paint automatically—such as ships or giant construction equipment—or do touchup work to fix flaws in the paint that are caused by damage either during assembly or during the automated painting process.

Work Environment for Painting and Coating Workers[About this section] [To Top]

Painting and coating workers held about 169,500 jobs in 2014. Employment in the detailed occupations that make up painting and coating workers in 2014 was distributed as follows:

Coating, painting, and spraying machine setters, operators, and tenders 97,700
Painters, transportation equipment 54,300
Painting, coating, and decorating workers 17,500

Painting and coating is usually done in specially ventilated areas. Nonetheless, workers must wear masks or respirators that cover their nose and mouth.

Coating workers often stand for long periods. When using a spray gun, they may have to bend, stoop, or crouch in uncomfortable positions to reach different parts of the products.

Injuries and Illnesses

Both transportation equipment painters and painting, coating, and decorating workers have higher rates of injuries and illnesses than the national average. Hazards include muscle strains and exposure to toxic materials. More sophisticated paint booths and fresh-air ventilation systems are increasingly being installed in factories to provide a safer work environment.

Painting and Coating Worker Work Schedules

The vast majority of painting and coating workers are employed full time. Automotive painters in repair shops often work overtime, depending on the number of vehicles that need painting.

How to Become a Painting and Coating Worker[About this section] [To Top]

Get the education you need: Find schools for Painting and Coating Workers near you!

Most painting and coating workers learn on the job after earning a high school diploma or equivalent. Training for new workers usually lasts from a few days to several months.

Painting and Coating Worker Education

Painting and coating workers in the manufacturing sector usually must have a high school diploma or equivalent. Employers outside of manufacturing sometimes hire workers without a high school diploma.

Taking high school courses in automotive painting is recommended.

Some automotive painters attend a technical or vocational school where they receive hands-on training and learn the intricacies of mixing and applying different types of paint.

Painting and Coating Worker Training

Most entry-level workers receive on-the-job training that may last from a few days to a few months.

Workers who operate computer-controlled equipment may require additional training in computer programming.

Manufacturing transportation equipment painters typically learn to paint on the job.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

Voluntary certification by the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) is recognized as the standard of achievement for automotive painters. To obtain certification, painters must pass a written exam and have at least 2 years of experience in the field. Recertification is required every 5 years. Few painting and coating workers other than automobile painters obtain certification.

ASE-approved training in refinishing taken while one is enrolled in high school, a trade or vocational school, or a community college may substitute for up to 1 year of work experience. To keep the certification, painters must retake the exam at least every 5 years.

Important Qualities for Painting and Coating Workers

Artistic ability. Some workers make elaborate or decorative designs. For example, some automotive painters specialize in making custom designs for vehicles.

Color vision. Workers must be able to blend new paint colors in order to match existing colors on a surface.

Mechanical skills. Workers must be able to operate and maintain sprayers that apply paints and coatings.

Physical stamina. Some workers must stand at their station for extended periods. Continuous standing or activity can be tiring.

Physical strength. Workers may need to lift heavy objects. Some products that are painted or coated may weigh over 50 pounds.

Painting and Coating Worker Salaries[About this section] [More salary/earnings info] [To Top]

The median annual wage for painting and coating workers was $34,340 in May 2015. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $21,890, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $56,910.

Median annual wages for painting and coating workers in May 2015 were as follows:

Painters, transportation equipment $41,150
Coating, painting, and spraying machine setters, operators, and tenders 31,940
Painting, coating, and decorating workers 29,270

Automotive painters in repair shops may receive a bonus or commission in addition to their wages.

Trucking companies, bus lines, and other organizations that repair and refinish their own vehicles generally pay by the hour.

The vast majority of painting and coating workers are employed full time. Automotive painters in repair shops often work overtime, depending on the number of vehicles that need repainting.

Job Outlook for Painting and Coating Workers[About this section] [To Top]

Employment of painting and coating workers is projected to show little or no change from 2014 to 2024. Employment growth will vary by occupation and industry.

Employment of coating, painting, and spraying machine setters, operators, and tenders— the largest occupation in this profile—is projected to show little or no change from 2014 to 2024. Although many consumer, commercial, and industrial products require painting or coating and thus will provide job opportunities for these workers, productivity gains are expected to offset any employment growth.

Employment of transportation equipment painters is projected to grow 6 percent from 2014 to 2024, about as fast as the average for all occupations. The majority of new jobs will be driven by the need for painters in repair shops.

Employment of painting, coating, and decorating workers is projected to decline 2 percent from 2014 to 2024. Increased automation in most manufacturing facilities will reduce job opportunities for these workers.

Painting and Coating Workers Job Prospects

As with many manufacturing jobs, employers often report difficulty finding qualified workers. Therefore, job opportunities should be very good for those with painting experience.

Many job openings should result from the need to replace workers who leave the occupation and from increased specialization in manufacturing.

Employment projections data for Painting and Coating Workers, 2014-24
Occupational Title Employment, 2014 Projected Employment, 2024 Change, 2014-24
Percent Numeric
Painting and coating workers 169,500 171,700 1 2,100
  Coating, painting, and spraying machine setters, operators, and tenders 97,700 97,000 -1 -700
  Painters, transportation equipment 54,300 57,500 6 3,200
  Painting, coating, and decorating workers 17,500 17,200 -2 -300


*Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor. Used by permission.

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