Level up: How to spraypaint well

By on Mar 29th

Spray Cans © by cronkiteschool, used under Creative Commons license.

You have to practice spray painting. This came as a surprise to me, my sophomore year of college, my first year of art school, when I was trying to spray paint my Piet Mondrian-inspired birdhouse for Intro to 3D Design on the sidewalk outside my dorm during a very cold March. I guess I thought spray paint was magic — that it automated the process of painting — but I found out that wasn't true, and that I didn't know how to use spray paint at all.

Many projects later, I am a master spraypainter. I paint coatracks and shoes and art work and bones, and I really think this is one of the most valuable DIY skills I have. Being able to finish up a spray paint job with no drips or ripples can make the difference between a ruined project and one I LOVE. Having a good grasp of this skill means anything in my house can be ANY EFFING COLOR I WANT.

Let me teach you the right way to use a can of spray paint.

How to use a can of spray paint

  1. Buy a good brand. The least expensive brands of paint start at $.99, but these paints have less pigment and the one dollar can of paint will never give the same rosbust finish as a $3 can. My favorite brands are Rustoleum and Montana, and I'd recommend against using Krylon paint. Seriously, this is the most important step in the tutorial.
  2. Keep your distance. The most rookie mistake in spray painting is holding the can too close to the canvas. Always keep your can 12-18 inches away from the surface which you are painting, to prevent paint from pooling and dripping.
  3. Move with care. The way you move your can is important, too. It affects the surface of your piece, like a brush stroke. Move the can in fairly slow, even strokes. Do one coat horizontally, one vertically, and so on.
  4. Mind the weather. Spray paint is best applied outdoors, when the wind is calm, not too humid, and between 50-80 degrees Fahrenheit. Temperatures above and below that range can result in poor binding of paint to substrate and slow drying.
  5. Don't try to cover it all in one coat. The VERY best way to spray paint is to apply light dustings of paint in several layers until the surface is covered. Luckily, two coats are enough in most cases, as long as you play by the rules and ESPECIALLY if you're using good paint. Now, it's important to note that if you cannot apply a second coat within 60 minutes of laying down the first coat, you should wait 24 hours for that first coat to finish setting. If you apply during the middle ground — more than 60 minutes and less than 24 hours later — the paint often looks uneven or remains tacky because the new coat and old coat do not bond correctly.
  6. Prime. Always use primer. Use a good primer. You may only skip primer IF you're out of primer and you are using Montana paints, and even then — primer is better.

Follow these steps and you'll find your spray painted projects come out shinier, more durable, and looking sleek every time.

Go. Buy your paints. Next week I'm posting a tutorial you'll want to use your newfound skillz on.

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About Cat Rocketship

I was the Managing Editor of Offbeat Home for a year and a half. I have a rich Internet life and also a pretty good real life. Hobbies include D&D, Twitter, and working on making our household more self-reliant. I also draw things.