It’s a great time to get involved in painting because there is a shortage of quality painters. So many people left the painting industry during the Great Recession of 2008—and then they never came back. Meanwhile, high school guidance counselors were pushing college as the best choice for students.

Dan Brady, founder of Dan Brady Painting in Traverse City, Mich., says that “pretty much I’m always in hiring mode.”

“I’m lucky, I’ve got a good core of great guys,” he said. “I try to pay them fairly and treat them well.”

It’s pretty simple to become a painter. Just start painting. Most painters are self-taught, non-union and never went through an apprenticeship program.

In this post, we will look at what one has to do to become a residential and/or commercial painter and set themselves apart from the competition. When you’re through with the post, you’ll have a better idea if painting’s the right route for you.

What training is necessary to become a painter?

Most professional painters are self-taught. Dan started painting as a junior high summer job. In high school, he painted with a master painter who took him under his wing. Eventually, Dan rented this guy’s equipment and painted through high school. Then he put himself through getting a degree in Finance from Central Michigan University with painting. After five years in the Rat Race, he went back home to Traverse City to figure out his next move.

“I thought, ‘I’ll just paint until I decide what to do’—and now, 20 years later I’m still painting,” he said.

States differ on what kind of license is required to paint. For example, in Arizona, a house painter or contractor must have two years of verified work experience. Pay stubs are a good way to prove work experience. Texas does not have a licensing requirement but does require painters to carry liability insurance.

Some states have written licensing exams and may require painters to be bonded.

Michigan requires no license and no formal training. Dan’s extended his skills through his membership with the Painting Contractor Association and with several mentors. But on his own, Dan has created a training program for his employees.

“The state of Michigan had a program where they would provide funds to build a training program. So we created one, and now a new hire with my company goes through scaffolding, CPR, lead abatement—just about everything you need to know.”

The EPA’s Lead Renovation, Repair and Painting Rule requires that renovations of child-occupied facilities such as schools, childcare facilities and hospitals be carried out only by Lead-Safe Certified renovation firms, using certified renovators trained in lead-safe work practices. This is to ensure that these renovations do not inadvertently contaminate your facility and expose children to hazardous lead dust.

How much do painters earn?

The Bureau of Labor Statistics lists the median wages for painters at $40,000. Newly hired painters with no experience typically make $11 to $15 per hour. This relatively low wage can be discouraging to some, especially given the physical demands of the job — climbing ladders, lifting, working overhead, kneeling, bending and reaching.

If you want to want to go beyond $40,000 a year, you have two options: hire more painters and/or branch into other coatings than paint. Dan does a thriving business in wood restoration for the many vacation home decks in Traverse City.

Should you go commercial or residential?

It really depends on your market. The skills are pretty much the same. The main difference is more color options in residential.

In Dan’s case, he’s mostly residential because Traverse City is more of a vacation destination than a commercial hub. He focuses on repaint, in particular. Other painters focus on new paint.

Materials such as paintbrushes, rollers, painting trays, step ladders, drop cloths, and cleaning materials are typical of what a residential painter will use on the job.

Meanwhile, commercial painters work with different surfaces—concrete, marble, metal, reinforced plastic, and a lot more.  So the equipment they must use differs from residential painters: pressure washers, sandblasters, paint sprayers, scaffolding, and aerial lifts. They also need expertise in using commercial and industrial-grade paints, primers, tints, and other specialty coatings.

What common mistakes do new painters make?

Jason Paris, chairman of the Painting Contractors Association, said, “If you are just getting started, I would recommend getting connected with other painters so that you do not have to operate on an island. There is so much opportunity in this industry, and many of us start stranded on our own not really knowing what is real and what is not.”

Beyond that, “I think one of the most common mistakes new painters make is not having the confidence to charge appropriately for their services,” Jason added.

“For rates, there are two main tactics most painters use: Experience Estimating and Metric-Based Bidding. Experience Estimating is where the painter uses their experience and knowledge to estimate how much time a project will take. They may say ‘Well I’ve done a house like this, and I think it will take three painters three days.’  Metric-based bidding is where you use production rates to measure out the linear footage, square footage, or item count of each project section to come to a final price.”

What separates the great painters from the good painters?

“The great painters are the ones who can keep quality high at a fast pace,” Dan said. “You ask two people who are just average painters to paint the side of a house and it takes them two days. Two great painters can do it in two hours—and do a better job.”

Jason of the Painting Contractors Association said “a commitment to education” sets apart painters.

“The market is constantly changing, and those who want to get or stay great must be continually investing in keeping up with new variables,” he said.

Wrapping up

So, you want to be a painter? Nothing but good news! First off, painters are in high demand. Two, there’s no formal training required, and the start-up equipment costs are low. Three, the ceiling is high for income potential. Want to learn more? Head over to the Painting Contractors Association and learn more.


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