Top Tips for Spray Painting

The next time you have a project that involves spray paint, follow these simple steps to get a smooth, even finish while keeping mess to a minimum.

By Jennifer Noonan | Published Oct 7, 2013 2:17 PM

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How to Spray Paint - Can


Spray paint offers a quick and easy way to transform virtually any surface. Available in countless colors and an expanding variety of finishes—from matte to satin to gloss—spray paint helps you get the job done fast, without having to lower your aesthetic standards. Follow these basic tips to get professional-looking results with your next spray-painting project, whether you’re reviving a vintage armoire or bringing a bold look to a dull concrete walkway.

1. Choose a Well-Ventilated Location
Spray-paint outdoors or in a well-ventilated area. Be aware that wind complicates outdoors work, so keep an eye on the weather report. Better yet, carve out a project area in your garage, but remember to open the garage door before you get started. Oh, and cover or move anything you want to protect (for example, your car).

2. Prep Your Work and Work Area
Sand any parts of your workpiece that require smoothing, then wash it thoroughly with mild detergent. Rinse well with water, allowing ample time for drying. While you’re waiting, take some minor precautions to avoid a major cleanup later. Decide where you want to do your spraying and cover the area with a bedsheet or a layer of newspaper. If you’re painting something small, it’s possible to contain overspray by setting the piece into a cardboard box. Primer? It’s necessary only if you’re covering a dark color with a lighter one; if you’re unsure, you can always use a product that combines both primer and paint.

painting with spray paint


3. Apply Several Thin Coats
Paint manufacturers attest that several thin coats are superior to fewer thick coats, and in my experience, that’s true. A heavy application of spray paint causes unwanted drips; multiple light coats produce better results. But don’t worry: Spray paint dries quickly, so this approach doesn’t commit you to a two-week-long process.

4. Use a Sweeping Motion
Imagine that your arm is a paintbrush and the spray can in your hand, the bristles. Proceed to paint in a sweeping motion, stroking across the surface and then back again, letting the spray fall a few inches past each side of the workpiece. Depress the valve slightly as you hit the first edge, then completely as you go over the opposite edge. You should hear short bursts of air, not a prolonged hiss. If you just wave the can back and forth, spraying constantly, you are bound to end up with a heavy, dripping, unsatisfactory result.

5. Allow to Dry Thoroughly
As mentioned, spray paint dries fast. It’s important, however, not to move the piece until the paint has thoroughly cured. How long does that take exactly? Consult the can and heed its recommendations. After all, having made it this far, the last thing you want now is to let fingerprints ruin your pretty paint job.

Instant gratification: That’s probably the greatest thing about spray paint. Once you get started, you may be tempted to paint everything in the garage. And why not? Just be sure to leave your car to the professionals!