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

Duties

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 
  • Clean and maintain tools, equipment, and work area

Millions of items ranging from cars to furniture are covered by paint, plastic, varnish, or other types of coating. 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. Sometimes, masking is required, which 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. The most straightforward technique is dipping an item in a large vat of paint or some other coating. Spraying products with a solution of paint or another coating is also common. Many factories use automated painting systems.

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

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

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

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 and through drying ovens. During the process, these workers 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.

Painting, coating, and decorating workers paint, coat, or decorate products such as furniture, glass, pottery, toys, and books. Paper is often coated to give it its gloss. Silver, tin, and copper solutions are frequently sprayed on glass to make mirrors.

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

  • Transportation equipment workers who refinish old or damaged cars, trucks, and buses in automotive body repair and paint shops normally apply paint by hand with a controlled spray gun. Those who work in repair shops are among the most highly-skilled 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. Preparing an old car is similar to painting other metal objects.
  • Transportation equipment painters who work on new cars oversee several automated steps. A modern car is first dipped in an anticorrosion bath, coated with colored paint, and then painted in several coats of clear paint to prevent damage to the colored paint.
  • Other transportation equipment painters either paint equipment too large to paint automatically—such as ships or giant construction equipment—or do touchup work to fix flaws in the paint caused by damage either during assembly or during the automated painting process.

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Work Environment

Painting and coating workers held about 149,700 jobs in 2012. Employment in the detailed occupations that make up painting and coating worker was distributed as follows:

Coating, painting, and spraying machine setters, operators, and tenders 83,800
Painters, transportation equipment 48,900
Painting, coating, and decorating workers 17,000

Painting, coating, and decorating are usually done in special ventilated areas. Nonetheless, workers still 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

Painting, coating, and decorating workers have a higher rate of injuries and illnesses than the national average. Common hazards include muscle strains and exposure to toxic materials. More sophisticated paint booths and fresh-air systems are increasingly being used to provide a safer work environment.

Work Schedules

Most 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.

Education and Training

Most painting and coating workers learn on the job. Although training for most new workers usually lasts from a few days to several months, those who paint automobiles generally need 1 to 2 years of training.

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.

High school courses in automotive painting is recommended.

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

Training

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

Workers who modify the operation of computer-controlled equipment may require additional training in computer operations and programming.

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 automotive refinishing taken while in high school, a trade or vocational school, or 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.

Personality and Interests

Painting and coating workers typically have an interest in the Building, Thinking 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 Thinking interest area indicates a focus on researching, investigating, and increasing the understanding of natural laws. 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 Thinking or Organizing interest which might fit with a career as a painting and coating worker, you can take a career test to measure your interests.

Painting and coating workers should also possess the following specific qualities:

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 properly in order to match existing colors on a surface.

Mechanical skills. Because workers must operate and maintain sprayers that apply paints and coatings, they should have good mechanical skills.

Pay

The median annual wage for painting and coating workers was $32,850 in May 2012. 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 $20,870, and the top 10 percent earned more than $54,600.

In May 2012, median annual wages for painting and coating occupations were as follows:

  • $39,600 for transportation equipment painters
  • $30,530 for coating, painting, and spraying machine setters, operators, and tenders
  • $27,790 for painting, coating, and decorating workers

Many automotive painters who work for motor vehicle dealers and independent automotive repair shops get a commission. Employers frequently guarantee commissioned painters a minimum weekly salary.

Helpers and trainees usually get an hourly rate until they become skilled enough to work on commission.

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

Most 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

Overall employment of painting and coating workers is projected to grow 4 percent from 2012 to 2022, slower than the average for all occupations. Employment growth will vary by specialty and industry.

Employment of coating, painting, and spraying machine setters, operators, and tenders is projected to show little or no change from 2012 to 2022. Despite little or no employment growth, the many consumer, commercial, and industrial products that require painting or coating will provide opportunities for these workers. However, productivity gains are expected to offset any employment growth.

Employment of transportation equipment painters is projected to grow 10 percent from 2012 to 2022, about as fast as the average for all occupations. The vast majority of all new jobs will be driven by the need for painters in auto repair shops.

Employment of painting, coating, and decorating workers is projected to show little or no change from 2012 to 2022. Increased automation in most manufacturing facilities will reduce the need for these workers.

Job Prospects

As with many skilled 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. Although higher education requirements would normally reduce competition for automotive painters in repair shops, the large number of people who enjoy working on cars should offset that reduction.

For More Information

For more information about job opportunities for painting and coating workers, visit

  • Local manufacturers
  • Automotive body repair shops
  • Motor vehicle dealers
  • Vocational schools
  • Local unions representing painting and coating workers
  • Local offices of state employment services

For a directory of certified automotive painting programs, visit

National Automotive Technician Education Foundation

National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence

FAQ

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.

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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. We recommend the Career Personality Profiler assessment ($29), the Holland Code assessment ($19), or the Photo Career Quiz (free).