How To Spray Paint Like a Pro

updated Feb 23, 2019
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(Image credit: Ashley Poskin)

Spray paint is an easy and affordable way to spruce up something you already have or transform a cheap craigslist find. You can spray paint pretty much anything; but a seemingly simple spray paint project can quickly go south if done poorly. Drips, crackling and uneven coverage are all common problems that can be avoided if you take your time and know what you’re doing. Here are some general tips for making your next spray paint project a success.

(Image credit: Ashley Poskin)

Get the right products
If you’re not sure what kind of paint to buy, ask someone at your local home improvement store. They will be able to suggest primers and types of paint based on your project materials and use. Color selection is generally not amazing with spray paint, but you can usually find something that will work. Craft and art supply stores often have more colors than home improvement or hardware stores, but you will usually end up paying more. If the store doesn’t carry a specific color you are looking for they will often order it for you. Just ask.

Work in a well ventilated area
Outside is best. Try to work out of direct sunlight and wait for a day that isn’t too windy to prevent dirt and debris from blowing onto the wet paint. If you must do it inside, open your doors and windows and cover every visible surface.

Cover up any exposed areas
Use newspaper or drop cloths to block everything you don’t want to get covered in spray paint. You’d be surprised how far spray paint will travel. If you’re not careful, you’ll find a light coating of paint on everything around you.

(Image credit: Ashley Poskin)

Wear a mask and gloves
Spray paint is pretty toxic stuff so it is a good idea to wear a mask. Throw on a pair of disposable gloves if you don’t want to get paint all over your hands.

Prep your surface
To get nice, smooth coverage it is essential to start with a clean surface. Sand away any imperfections or older paint and stain. After sanding, make sure you clean the surface very well to remove any dirt or dust.

Start with a coat of primer
Depending on the project, you can sometimes get away with skipping this step but it is generally a good idea to start with a fresh coat of primer. It helps the spray paint go on smoothly and evenly and if you don’t prime first you will probably end up needing several coats of spray paint for complete coverage. Let the primer dry according to the manufacturers directions before applying the spray paint.

Shake well before using
It is very important to shake the can really well before using and also through out the application.

Don’t spray too close or too much
Test the nozzle on your drop cloth or an inconspicuous area of your surface first. Sometimes nozzles sputter a bit and need a spray or two to get going. Spray 6 to 8 inches away from your surface and do a thin, even coat while moving the can in a sweeping motion from side to side. Several thin coats will look much better than one thick coat and will help prevent drips.

Let it dry thoroughly
If a second coat is needed, be patient and let your project dry for as long as the can suggests before applying, generally 24 hours. Once you’re satisfied with the coverage, let it dry for at least 24 hours.

Helpful spray paint resources:
•Spray Paint Isn’t Just for Vandals Anymore
•Spray Paint Projects For The Home
Centsational Girl has a very helpful Spray Paint FAQ that covers come common problems like crackling and drips.
Krylon’s website has helpful information including product details, FAQ’s, and Spray Painting Tips.
Valspar also has some helpful information.

Image: Kate Wangsgard