Painting and Coating Workers, Except Construction and Maintenance
About 70 percent of jobs are in manufacturing establishments.
Most workers acquire their skills on the job; for most operators,
training lasts from a few days to several months, but becoming
skilled in all aspects of automotive painting usually requires
1 to 2 years.
Overall employment is projected to grow more slowly than average;
transportation equipment painters are expected to grow about
as fast as average, while coating, painting, and spraying machine
setters, operators, and tenders are expected to decline.
Nature of the Work
Millions of items ranging from cars to candy are covered by paint,
plastic, varnish, chocolate, or some other type of coating solution.
Often, the protection provided by the paint or coating is essential
to the product, as with the coating of insulating material covering
wires and other electrical and electronic components. Also, many
paints and coatings have dual purposes; for example, the paint
finish on an automobile heightens the visual appearance of the
vehicle while providing protection from corrosion.
Coating, painting, and spraying machine setters, operators, and
tenders control the machinery that applies these paints and coatings
to a wide range of manufactured products. Perhaps the most straightforward
technique is simply dipping an item in a large vat of paint or
other coating. This is the technique used by dippers, who
immerse racks or baskets of articles in vats of paint, liquid
plastic, or other solutions by means of a power hoist. Similarly,
tumbling barrel painters deposit articles made of porous
materials into a barrel of paint, varnish, or other coating; the
barrel is then rotated to ensure thorough coverage.
Another familiar technique is spraying products with a solution
of paint or some other coating. Spray machine operators
use spray guns to coat metal, wood, ceramic, fabric, paper, and
food products with paint and other coating solutions. Following
a formula, operators fill the machine’s tanks with a mixture of
paints or chemicals, adding prescribed amounts of solution. Then
they adjust nozzles on the guns to obtain the proper dispersion
of the spray, and they hold or position the guns so as to direct
the spray onto the article. Operators also check the flow and
viscosity of the paint or solution and visually inspect the quality
of the coating. When products are drying, these workers often
must regulate the temperature and air circulation in drying ovens.
Individuals who paint, coat, or decorate articles such as furniture,
glass, pottery, toys, cakes, and books are known as painting,
coating, and decorating workers.
Painting and coating workers use various types of machines to
coat a range of products. Frequently, their job title reflects
the specialized nature of the machine or of the coating being
applied. For example, enrobing machine operators coat,
or “enrobe,” confectionery, bakery, and other food products with
melted chocolate, cheese, oils, sugar, or other substances. Paper
coating machine operators spray “size” on rolls of paper to
give it its gloss or finish. Silvering applicators spray
silver, tin, and copper solutions on glass in the manufacture
In response to concerns about air pollution and worker safety,
manufacturers increasingly are using new types of paints and coatings,
instead of high-solvent paints, on their products. Water-based
paints and powder coatings are two of the most common. These compounds
do not emit as many volatile organic compounds into the air and
can be applied to a variety of products. Powder coatings are sprayed
much as are liquid paints and then are heated to melt and cure
The adoption of new types of paints often is accompanied by a
conversion to more automated painting equipment that the operator
sets and monitors. When using these machines, operators position
the automatic spray guns, set the nozzles, and synchronize the
action of the guns with the speed of the conveyor carrying articles
through the machine and drying ovens. The operator also may add
solvents or water to the paint vessel, thereby preparing the paint
for application. During the operation of the equipment, these
workers tend painting machines, observe gauges on the control
panel, and check articles for evidence of any variation from specifications.
The operator then uses a spray gun to “touch up” spots where necessary.
Although the majority of painting and coating workers are employed
in manufacturing, the best known group refinishes old and damaged
cars, trucks, and buses in automotive body repair and paint shops.
Transportation equipmentpainters, or automotive
painters, are among the most highly skilled manual spray operators,
because they perform intricate, detailed work and mix paints to
match the original color, a task that is especially difficult
if the color has faded.
To prepare a vehicle for painting, painters or their helpers
use power sanders and sandpaper to remove the original paint or
rust and then fill small dents and scratches with body filler.
They also remove or mask parts they do not want to paint, such
as chrome trim, headlights, windows, and mirrors. Automotive painters
use a spray gun to apply several coats of paint. They apply enamel
or water-based primers to vehicles with metal bodies and flexible
primers to newer vehicles with plastic body parts. Controlling
the spray gun by hand, they apply successive coats until the finish
of the repaired sections of the vehicle matches that of the original,
undamaged portions. To speed drying between coats, they may place
the freshly painted vehicle under heat lamps or in a special infrared
oven. After each coat of primer dries, they sand the surface to
remove any irregularities and to improve the adhesion of the next
coat. Final sanding of the primers may be done by hand with a
fine grade of sandpaper. A sealer then is applied and allowed
to dry, followed by the final topcoat.
Painting and coating workers typically work indoors and may be
exposed to dangerous fumes from paint and coating solutions. Although
painting usually is done in special ventilated booths, operators
typically wear masks or respirators that cover their noses and
mouths, even in such booths. In addition, Federal legislation
has led to a decrease in workers’ exposure to hazardous chemicals
by regulating emissions of volatile organic compounds and other
hazardous air pollutants. This legislation also has led to the
increasing use of more sophisticated paint booths and fresh-air
systems that provide a safer work environment.
Operators have to stand for long periods, and when using a spray
gun, they may have to bend, stoop, or crouch in uncomfortable
positions to reach different parts of the article. Most operators
work a normal 40-hour week, but self-employed automotive painters
sometimes work more than 50 hours a week, depending on the number
of vehicles customers want repainted.
Training, Other Qualifications, and Advancement
Most painting and coating workers acquire their skills on the
job, usually by watching and helping other, more experienced workers.
For most setters, operators, and tenders, as well as for painting,
coating, and decorating workers, training lasts from a few days
to several months. Coating, painting, and spraying machine setters,
operators, and tenders who modify the operation of computer-controlled
equipment while it is running may require additional training
in computer operations and minor programming.
Similarly, most transportation equipment painters start as helpers
and gain their skills informally on the job. Becoming skilled
in all aspects of automotive painting usually requires 1 to 2
years of on-the-job training. Beginning helpers usually remove
trim, clean and sand surfaces to be painted, mask surfaces they
do not want painted, and polish finished work. As helpers gain
experience, they progress to more complicated tasks, such as mixing
paint to achieve a good match and using spray guns to apply primer
coats or final coats to small areas.
Painters should have keen eyesight and a good sense of color.
The completion of high school generally is not required, but is
advantageous. Additional instruction is offered at many community
colleges and vocational or technical schools. Such programs enhance
one’s employment prospects and can speed promotion to the next
Some employers sponsor training programs to help their workers
become more productive. Training is available from manufacturers
of chemicals, paints, or equipment or from other private sources
and may include safety and quality tips, as well as impart knowledge
of products, equipment, and general business practices. Some automotive
painters are sent to technical schools to learn the intricacies
of mixing and applying different types of paint.
Voluntary certification by the National Institute for Automotive
Service Excellence (ASE) is recognized as the standard of achievement
for automotive painters. For certification, painters must pass
a written examination and have at least 2 years of experience
in the field. High school, trade or vocational school, or community
or junior college training in automotive refinishing that meets
ASE standards may substitute for up to 1 year of experience. To
retain their certification, painters must retake the examination
at least every 5 years.
Experienced painting and coating workers with leadership ability
may become team leaders or supervisors. Those who acquire practical
experience, college, or other formal training may become sales
or technical representatives for chemical or paint companies.
Eventually, some automotive painters open their own shops.
Painting and coating workers held about 186,000 jobs in 2004.
Lesser skilled coating, painting, and spraying machine setters,
operators, and tenders accounted for about 103,000 jobs, while
more skilled transportation equipment painters constituted about
53,000. Another 29,000 jobs were held by painting, coating, and
Approximately 70 percent of salaried jobs were found in manufacturing
establishments, where the workers applied coatings to items such
as fabricated metal products, motor vehicles and related equipment,
industrial machines, household and office furniture, and plastic,
wood, and paper products. Outside manufacturing, workers included
automotive painters employed by independent automotive repair
shops and workers employed by body repair and paint shops operated
by retail motor vehicle dealers. About 6 percent of painting and
coating workers were self-employed.
Overall employment of painting and coating workers is expected
to grow more slowly than the average for all occupations through
the year 2014. Employment growth for highly skilled transportation
painters and automotive refinishers is projected to be faster
than for painting, coating, and decorating workers. In addition
to jobs arising from growth, some jobs will become available each
year as employers replace experienced operators who transfer to
other occupations or leave the labor force.
Despite increasing demanding more manufactured goods, employment
of coating, painting, and spraying machine setters, operators,
and tenders is expect to decline as part of that demand will be
met by products manufactured abroad. Employment will be further
decreased by improvements in the automation of paint and coating
applications that will raise worker productivity. For example,
operators will be able to coat goods more rapidly as they use
sophisticated industrial machinery that moves and aims spray guns
more efficiently. Legislation has set limits on the emissions
of ozone-forming volatile organic compounds and is expected to
impede job growth among operators in manufacturing. As manufacturing
firms switch to water-based and powder coatings to comply with
the law, they will introduce more efficient automation.
Painting, coating, and decorating workers should grow more slowly
than the average for all occupations. Increasing demand for hand-painted
tiles and related specialty products will lead to growth among
these workers. Although competition from imports should temper
increases in employment, the specialized skills required by workers
in this occupation should keep them from seeing as much of an
impact of automation on employment.
Since the detailed work of refinishing automobiles in collision
repair shops and motor vehicle dealerships does not lend itself
to automation, painters employed in these establishments are projected
to experience employment growth about as fast as the average for
all occupations. As the demand for refinishing continues to grow,
slower productivity growth among these workers will lead to employment
increases that are more in line with the growing demand for their
The number of job openings for painting and coating workers in
manufacturing industries may fluctuate from year to year due to
cyclical changes in economic conditions. When demand for manufactured
goods lessens, production may be suspended or reduced, and workers
may be laid off or face a shortened workweek. Automotive painters,
by contrast, can expect relatively steady work because automobiles
damaged in accidents require repair and refinishing regardless
of the state of the economy.
Median hourly earnings of coating, painting, and spraying machine
setters, operators, and tenders were $12.64 in May 2004. The middle
50 percent earned between $10.16 and $15.78 an hour. The lowest
10 percent earned less than $8.54, and the highest 10 percent
earned more than $19.39 an hour.
Median hourly earnings of transportation equipment painters were
$16.89 in May 2004. The middle 50 percent earned between $12.85
and $22.74 an hour. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $10.17,
and the highest 10 percent earned more than $27.52 an hour. Median
hourly earnings of transportation equipment painters were $16.84
in automotive repair and maintenance shops and $24.13 in motor
Median hourly earnings of painting, coating, and decorating workers
were $10.95 in May 2004. The middle 50 percent earned between
$8.76 and $13.94 an hour. The lowest 10 percent earned less than
$7.44, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $18.23 an hour.
Many automotive painters employed by motor vehicle dealers and
independent automotive repair shops receive a commission based
on the labor cost charged to the customer. Under this method,
earnings depend largely on the amount of work a painter does and
how fast it is completed. Employers frequently guarantee commissioned
painters a minimum weekly salary. Helpers and trainees usually
receive an hourly rate until they become sufficiently skilled
to work on commission. Trucking companies, bus lines, and other
organizations that repair and refinish their own vehicles usually
pay by the hour.
Many painting and coating machine operators belong to unions,
including the International Brotherhood of Painters and Allied
Trades, the Sheet Metal Workers International Association, and
the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. Most union operators
work for manufacturers and large motor vehicle dealers.
Other occupations similar to painting and coating workers include
painters and paperhangers, woodworkers, and machine setters, operators,
and tenders—metal and plastic.
Sources of Additional Information
For more details about work opportunities, contact local manufacturers,
automotive body repair shops, motor vehicle dealers, vocational
schools, locals of unions representing painting and coating workers,
or the local office of the State employment service. The State
employment service also may be a source of information about training
Information on how to become a certified automotive painter is
National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE),
101 Blue Seal Dr. S.E., Leesburg, VA 20175. Internet: http://www.asecert.org/
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational
Outlook Handbook, 2006-07 Edition