5 Techniques to Spray Paint Like a Pro


Spray paint is a convenient way to add a touch of color to your project. It’s available in just about any color you’d want, and can be purchased at your local big-box hardware store. Using spray paint may seem like a straightforward process, but if you’re not familiar with it, the results can be disappointing. Here are some tips and tricks to ensure that your paint job comes out as beautiful as you’d expect.

Basic Spray Paint Techniques

Screen Shot 2015-07-08 at 8.48.20 AM
First, make sure that the surface to be painted is clean, free of rust and debris, and smooth. Any surface bumps or imperfections will show through the paint, so use sandpaper or steel wool to clean and smooth the surface, then use a lint-free cloth to remove any remaining dust.

Start with a can of spray paint that is room temperature and shake it for 3 or 4 minutes to mix the paint thoroughly. You can’t shake the can too much, but you can shake it too little! Be sure to shake the can occasionally while painting as well.

Press down on the tip with the can about 10″ to 12″ away from the surface, aimed to one side, then, in one fluid motion, sweep the paint horizontally across the surface and release the tip when you reach the other side. Use your entire arm to move the can, not just your wrist, and be sure to start the spray before reaching the surface, and release after passing it.

For a large surface where multiple passes are required, overlap your passes slightly. Several light coats, allowing the paint to dry in between, will look much better than one heavy coat. Different paints dry at different rates, so read the instructions on the back of the can for drying times. Be patient, apply multiple light, smooth layers of paint (usually at least three), and your paint job will come out looking professional.

When you’re done painting, turn the can upside-down and press the tip until the spray becomes clear. This will clear the tip and prevent paint from drying inside it.

Painting Small Objects

Screen Shot 2015-07-08 at 8.51.04 AMIf you’re painting something small, use a paint booth to limit overspray.

You can set up a makeshift paint booth using a cardboard box on its side. Setting the object on a turntable will allow you to spin it without touching it so that you can paint from all angles.


Using a Spray Gun

If you have a large painting job, and have a compressor, consider buying a spray gun.

Instead of using compressed gas in a can, a spray gun uses the air delivered from your compressor to suck paint from a paint basin and blow it through a nozzle, creating a fine spray.

Use a Respirator


Spray paint fumes are toxic, and cheap dust masks offer very little protection. Be sure to spray-paint in a well-ventilated area where paint fumes won’t build up. A respirator with replaceable filters costs just $20 or $30, and will survive many paint projects. You’ll save money in the long run, and it’s much cheaper than going to the doctor for respiratory problems.

Reviving Old Cans of Paint

m46_Skillbuilder_SprayPaint-17Occasionally, a used can of spray paint will refuse to spray.

Remove the nozzle and soak it overnight in a solvent such as mineral spirits or paint thinner to dissolve the paint. If that doesn’t work, try putting the can in a bucket of hot (not boiling!) water. This will reduce the viscosity of the paint, and help increase the pressure in the can.

1 thought on “5 Techniques to Spray Paint Like a Pro

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Technical Editor at Maker Media. Maker. Hacker. Artist. Sometimes Scientist. Pretengineer. Builder of things. Maker of stuff.

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