7 Tips for Perfect Spray Painting

When you think of spray painting, you probably think of graffiti, porch furniture, and school spirit boulders. But did you know that pretty much everything can be spray painted? Yes, everything. I have spray painted sneakers, sticks, plastic cat litter bins, vinyl chairs, pillows, cameras, cheap glass vases, lamps, and more. A couple of coats of spray paint can make almost anything look better, even if it looked great before.

I got to visit with Colleen on Charlotte Today and show her a big batch of different things you can spray paint. I also shared a few important tips for ensuring your spray paint looks great. Take a look:


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On the air, I had to be pretty brief, so I thought I’d share some more details here. It’s not like there’s a huge complicated list of things to do before you spray paint; you just need to follow a few basic rules. They don’t add much time to the project, but they do guarantee a perfect paint job. And who doesn’t want a perfect paint job?

1. Prep your surface. Every single time.

I cannot stress this enough, which is why it’s item #1. Pretty much any time a spray paint project hasn’t worked well, it’s because I didn’t prep properly. Here’s the order of operations:

  1. Sand with 220 grit sandpaper. This is a very fine grain which will just scuff the surface of whatever you’re planning to paint. In the case of wood, it’s enough to smooth out the rough edges and splintery areas; in the case of plastic, it’s enough to scuff the surface enough that it will take the paint better.
  2. Wipe with tack cloth. Tack cloth is just cheesecloth that’s been covered in slightly sticky stuff. It removes all the dust you created when you sanded. You can get it at any hardware store, in the paint section, near the sandpaper.
  3. Clean with Trisodium Phosphate (TSP). TSP is a fancy name for degreaser; as in it literally dissolves grease and oil. This makes it the best pre-painting cleaner because grease is kryptonite to paint. Also, if you’re painting something that has already been painted, TSP breaks the gloss of oil-based paints and opens the pores of latex-based paint. All this enables your new paint to adhere to the surface. Don’t be afraid of TSP. You can get it at any hardware store.
  4. Let it dry completely. Rinse the TSP off your piece (damp sponge, hose it down, rinse in the sink, etc.) and let it dry. Fully dry. Water repels paint, so you don’t want any water on it. At all. None.

2. Shake shake shake. Shake shake shake. Shake shake shake.

If you read the instructions on the back of the can it will tell you to shake for 1 minute before painting. Follow this rule. Spray paint contains propellants which must be completely combined before you spray. If they aren’t completely combined, they will come out of the can in uneven proportions which means some areas will have more propellant and some will have more paint. What does this mean? It means your paint will clump. And nobody wants clumpy paint. So shake your cans.

3. Multiple light coats are better than a single heavy coat.

You should assume that you’ll be applying at least 3 coats to everything you spray paint. I know this may sound like a pain in the neck, but stay with me. Spray paint contains a solvent that evaporates quickly which enables the paint to stick immediately to the surface. If you apply the paint too thickly, the solvent doesn’t have a chance to evaporate and the paint will drip and run Or worse, it will crack as it dries. If you apply the paint with long, fluid, light coats, you will be able to apply another coat in 5 minutes. Yep, you read that right. In 5 minutes your paint will be totally ready for a second coat. Then wait 5 more minutes and you can apply a third coat. That means the whole thing can be painted in a little more than 10 minutes. With no drips or cracks.

4. Spray paint is a fair weather friend.

I know I’m starting to repeat myself by talking about all the chemistry involved in spray painting, but it’s just a major factor in how your project turns out. The best temperature for spray painting is between 65° and 85°F (18° – 30°C), and 75°F (24°C) with no humidity is ideal. If it’s too cold your paint won’t dry; too hot and your paint will dry too fast. Just right and your paint will be just right. Be like Goldilocks.

5. Don’t paint in direct, bright sun.

This seems very counter-intuitive, but trust me on this one. Direct sun causes the solvents to evaporate before the paint even hits your piece, which results in tiny little clumps all over your paint. It will look like you painted something covered in dust or sand, even though I know you followed my instructions and cleaned the heck out of your piece.

6. Keep it moving and be sure to oversprayoverspray

Lingering too long in one spot causes the paint to blotch. This will actually create a raised surface on your piece which is very noticeable once the painting is finished. To avoid this, keep the paint can moving constantly (slowly and fluidly), and change directions off your piece. I call this overspray, which refers to the areas around your piece that get sprayed in the process of moving the can back and forth. That’s where you want to change direction — to the right or left of the piece as you spray — to make sure you don’t get unintentional build-up on your piece.

7. Let it dry. Then let it cure.

Most spray paint is dry enough to handle in about 6-8 hours. But it still isn’t completely dry. For maximum adhesion and hardness, you need to let the piece cure before you really start using it. This takes between 3-7 days, depending on the weather and how many coats you applied. To test if a piece is cured, choose an inconspicuous area and press your fingernail into the paint. If it leaves an indent your paint is not fully cured. If no indent is visible and the surface is hard, your paint has cured.

And that’s it! I can’t wait to see what you paint. Please share your creations with me, either with a link in the comments, over on our Facebook Page, or tag your Instagram posts with #stepawayfromthescreen.

 

 

 

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  1. […] like stain, but color, so the wood shows through); on one I spray painted a single, white stripe (here are 7 tips for successful spray painting); and on the last one, I wood-burned a design into the […]

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