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


Painters typically do the following:

  • Protect floors, furniture, and trim by covering surfaces with drop cloths and tarps and securing with tape
  • Install scaffolding and raise ladders
  • Fill holes and cracks with putty or plaster
  • Prepare surfaces by removing outlet and switch covers and 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, coatings, or other finishes, using hand brushes, rollers, or sprayers

Painters apply liquid coatings and other sealers that dry into solids to add texture or color to interiors and to protect exterior surfaces from damage caused by weather, sunlight, and pollution.

For each job, painters must choose the correct tool, such as a roller, power sprayer, or brush. There are several ways to apply paint, and deciding on which tool to use typically depends on both the type of surface to be painted and the characteristics of the paint. Some employers require painters to provide their own tools

The following are types of painters:

Commercial painters prepare and paint the interiors and exteriors of offices, businesses, and other nonresidential buildings. Commercial painters may work with and be responsible for large areas due to the size of buildings involved in nonresidential projects.

Industrial painters prepare and paint large machinery, such as industrial or manufacturing equipment; vehicles, such as cars and ships; and structures, such as bridges and water towers. Industrial painters may also apply special coating materials to structure or equipment surfaces to protect them from corrosion or deterioration.

Industrial painters must contain the area in which they are working to prevent hazardous materials from contaminating the environment and exposing the public to risks. Industrial and commercial painters also must perform quality control and quality assurance to ensure that they find mistakes, meet technical specifications, and use materials appropriately.

Residential painters prepare and paint the interiors and exteriors of homes and multifamily residential buildings. Residential painters may interact with customers living in the home while painting is in progress. As a result, residential painters may need to adjust their hours or work plans to accommodate customer needs or schedules.

Work Environment

Painters, construction and maintenance held about 365,300 jobs in 2021. The largest employers of painters, construction and maintenance were as follows:

Self-employed workers 42%
Painting and wall covering contractors              37
Residential building construction 4
Government 2
Nonresidential building construction 1

Painters work on a variety of structures, including bridges, machinery, and the interiors and exteriors of buildings. Painting requires a lot of bending, kneeling, reaching, and climbing. Those who paint bridges or buildings may work at extreme heights or in uncomfortable positions; some painters are suspended by ropes or cables as they work.

Painters typically work both indoors and outdoors. When working outside or in confined spaces, painters may be exposed to extreme temperatures. 

Painters may need to 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.

Injuries and Illnesses

Painters risk injury on the job. Common hazards include falls from ladders, muscle strains from lifting, and exposure to drywall dust and other irritants.

Work Schedules

Most painters work full time. Self-employed painters may be able to set their own schedules. Industrial painters may be required to travel for work. Painting jobs that are outdoors may be seasonal.

Education and Training

Painters typically learn their trade on the job. No formal education is typically required to enter the occupation.


There are no formal education requirements to become a painter. Some technical schools offer optional certificates in painting.


Painters typically learn on the job: how to prepare surfaces, apply coating, hang wall covering, and match colors. Painters may have to complete additional safety training in order to work with scaffolding and harnesses.

Although less common, painting apprenticeships lasting 3 or 4 years may be available for candidates who have a high school diploma or equivalent and who are at least 18 years old. For example, the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades, in conjunction with the Finishing Trades Institute, offers a 3-year apprenticeship for painters. For each year of a typical program, apprentices must complete a predetermined number of hours of technical training and paid on-the-job training before becoming journey workers. Apprenticeship program requirements differ based on the type of program and by region.

Although most painters learn their trade on the job or through an apprenticeship, some new workers enter training programs offered by the hiring contractor.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

Those interested in industrial painting can earn several certifications from NACE International Institute or from the Society for Protective Coatings. Courses range from 1 day to several weeks, depending on the certification program and specialty. Applicants also must meet work experience requirements.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency provides certification for lead paint abatement.

Some states require licensing for lead paint removal. Contact your state’s licensing board for more information.

Employers may require workers to have a driver’s license to commute to jobsites.


After gaining experience, painters may advance to supervisors, superintendents, or managers, directing other painters and the jobsite. Painters may also work as estimators or start their own business. 

Painters who work in a union may have advancement opportunities within the organization as a union official, training instructor, or business manager. 

Personality and Interests

Painters typically have an interest in the Building and Organizing interest areas, according to the Holland Code framework. The Building interest area indicates a focus on working with tools and machines, and making or fixing practical things. The Organizing interest area indicates a focus on working with information and processes to keep things arranged in orderly systems.

If you are not sure whether you have a Building or Organizing interest which might fit with a career as a painter, you can take a career test to measure your interests.

Painters should also possess the following specific qualities:

Color vision. Painters must be able to identify and differentiate between subtle differences in color of paints.

Customer-service skills. Workers who paint the inside and outside of residential homes often interact with clients. They must communicate with the client, listen to what the client wants, and select colors and application techniques that satisfy the client.

Detail oriented. Painters must be precise when creating or painting edges, because minor flaws can be noticeable.

Physical stamina. Painters should be able to stay physically active for many hours, because they spend most of the day standing with their arms extended.


The median annual wage for painters, construction and maintenance was $45,590 in May 2021. 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 $29,770, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $70,570.

In May 2021, the median annual wages for painters, construction and maintenance in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Government $60,570
Nonresidential building construction 48,380
Residential building construction 46,080
Painting and wall covering contractors          44,040

Apprentices make less than fully trained painters, but they receive increases as they learn to do more.

Most painters work full time. Self-employed workers may be able to set their own schedule.

Job Outlook

Employment of painters, construction and maintenance is projected to show little or no change from 2021 to 2031.

Despite limited employment growth, about 31,600 openings for painters, construction and maintenance are projected each year, on average, over the decade. Most of those openings are expected to result from the need to replace workers who transfer to different occupations or exit the labor force, such as to retire. 


The expected increase in new construction will continue to create a need for painters. Investors who sell or lease properties also will require painters’ services. However, many homeowners choose to do painting themselves rather than hire workers for it, which will temper employment growth for painters.

For More Information

Apprenticeship information is available from the U.S. Department of Labor’s Apprenticeship program online or by phone at 877-872-5627. For details about apprenticeships or other work opportunities for painters, contact the offices of the state employment service, the state apprenticeship agency, local contractors, or firms that employ painters. Visit to search for apprenticeship opportunities.

For more information about painters and training opportunities, visit

Associated Builders and Contractors

International Union of Painters and Allied Trades

Home Builders Institute


Painting and Decorating Contractors of America

For more information about pre-apprenticeship training, visit

Home Builders Institute

For more information about the work of industrial painters and about opportunities for training and certification as a protective coating specialist, visit

NACE International Institute

Society of Protective Coatings

For information about opportunities for military veterans, visit:

Helmets to Hardhats




Where does this information come from?

The career information above is taken from the Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook. This excellent resource for occupational data is published by the U.S. Department of Labor every two years. Truity periodically updates our site with information from the BLS database.

I would like to cite this page for a report. Who is the author?

There is no published author for this page. Please use citation guidelines for webpages without an author available. 

I think I have found an error or inaccurate information on this page. Who should I contact?

This information is taken directly from the Occupational Outlook Handbook published by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. Truity does not editorialize the information, including changing information that our readers believe is inaccurate, because we consider the BLS to be the authority on occupational information. However, if you would like to correct a typo or other technical error, you can reach us at

I am not sure if this career is right for me. How can I decide?

There are many excellent tools available that will allow you to measure your interests, profile your personality, and match these traits with appropriate careers. On this site, you can take the Career Personality Profiler assessment, the Holland Code assessment, or the Photo Career Quiz.

Get Our Newsletter