How to become a painter and decorator

Do you love working with your hands? Are you naturally creative and enjoy working outdoors? If so, then becoming a painter could be a great career for you. Your role is to paint walls and furniture, varnish floorboards, and perform finishing touches to protect or embellish homes, commercial premises, and industrial buildings.

Most painters work in the construction industry; however painters are also found working in other business sectors such as mining and manufacturing when painting industrial equipment.

What is a painter and what does a painter do?

Well, as a painter or decorator, you use various tools and materials to improve the texture and appearance of surfaces. The job typically involves painting interior and exterior surfaces using varnishes, paints, stains, or sealers. You scrape off old paint, use sandpaper to smooth surfaces, or add filler to seal holes in the walls of old buildings.

Professional painters who hold a painting certification often work in construction companies, which means they decorate both commercial and residential properties. In building maintenance companies, a painter’s job often includes applying wallpaper, adding vinyl wall fabrics and other types of installation to improve the appearance of interior surfaces.

Becoming a successful painter requires an excellent eye for colour to ensure the correct mixing and application of colours. Sometimes you will be blending colours and other materials to get the right texture or shade for your working surfaces.

As a painter with a painting trade qualification, you will also often work alongside construction crews. It is important for painters to meet project deadlines and ensure that quality standards are adhered to by using high-quality products, staying within project budgets, and avoiding wasting resources.

How much do painters earn?

Once you have your painting trade qualification, your earning capacity as a painter will be determined based on your experience level. When you are new to the role, you are likely to earn less due to your limited experience, while professional painters attract higher salaries because of their expertise.

The remuneration package of a painter is determined by the project size and the complexity of the role. With extensive experience, painters can negotiate a higher salary due to their expertise. However, entry-level painters with limited experience typically start on a lower salary and will work their way up.

Painting commercial buildings generally pays more than working on residential projects. As such, you can demand higher remuneration for working on complex projects such as industrial equipment painting. The hours you work also influence your earnings. For instance, full-time painters usually take home higher hourly rates than part-time painters and decorators.

Types of painters

Becoming a painter doesn’t mean you are limited to just painting walls and other surfaces. The reality is that there are various types of painters, including the following:

  • Industrial painters: As an industrial painter, you work to improve the aesthetics of industrial structures during construction. Your job usually involves finishing the exterior of a building and adding paint to make it visually appealing.
  • Decorative painters: As a decorative painter, you use paint to enhance the interior appearance of a house. You blend colours to create a contemporary look, or a traditional appearance.
  • Designer painters: Your painting skills don’t have to be limited to building interiors. You can also expand your expertise to work in fashion and interior design. You may also produce wall finishes such as wallpapers and decorative poster designs or fabric patterns.
  • Restoration painters: You clean, prepare, and retouch old works of art as a restoration painter. You need exceptional skills to return old paintings to their original state. Additional training is often required to become a restoration painter.

The life of a working painter

Working as a painter involves decorating walls and surfaces to make them attractive and appealing. Let’s explore the flexible work schedules and stimulating working environments that a painting career can offer.

The specific duties of a painter can be very dependent on the project they are working on and the employer they are working for. However, some typical responsibilities include the following.

Evaluating the condition and size of work surfaces

Before you start working on a project, assess the state of the surfaces and determine the preliminary work required. You can estimate the cost and time necessary to complete the tasks from your initial assessment.

Preparing the work area

When you are ready to start painting, install scaffold towers and set up work platforms. It is also important to protect the area that doesn’t require painting. For instance, if you are painting the interior of a house, cover the furniture and floors and remove items hanging on the walls.

Preparing the surface to be painted

As a painter, part of your job is to ensure smooth, even, clean surfaces. Your job may require you to seal damaged areas and fill the cracks caused by deteriorated plaster for external walls. You will use scrapers to smooth the surfaces in the case of old paint or wallpaper. It is also necessary to fill in crevices and holes in the walls using sealants or plaster. Sometimes, you may also apply a new base layer.

Choosing the ideal paint

You are responsible for choosing suitable paint for every room and surface. Your client may provide the colour scheme, but sometimes you will use your creativity when it comes to colour selection. The type of paint also matters since it affects the quality of the finish.

Cleaning the work area after painting

When you finish painting, remove the protective covers and dismantle the support structures. It is important to ensure your work area and tools are clean at the completion of a job.

A painter’s working environment

As a painter, you will work on various interior and exterior surfaces, including the walls, ceilings, and facades of buildings and structures. You may work with specialists such as glaziers and plumbers, and also under the supervision of a maintenance supervisor or site supervisor.

As such, your day-to-day work environment is determined by the project you are currently working on and its specific location. If you are painting a bridge or an industrial facility, the work environment may be outdoors – and sometimes in harsh weather conditions. Because of this, painters will often require personal protective equipment due to the dust and paint fumes that are present in the work environment.

Who are your colleagues on job sites?

Depending on your employer and the industry you work in, your colleagues might include decorators, construction labourers, and spray painters, to name a few. You might also be working in close proximity to interior designers and trades assistants, as well as other building specialists.

What working hours do painters keep?

Painters and decorators often enjoy flexible working hours depending on the projects they are working on at the time. As a painter you will usually work during the day, but some projects may require that you work at night. While the specific working hours can vary, generally speaking painters work full-time hours (40 hours a week, give or take, potentially with overtime). That said, sometimes for certain projects painters may be required to work overtime or on weekends to meet urgent deadlines.

While it can depend on the requirements of each project, painters can also have the option to work in a full-time or part-time capacity. Many large trade employers offer full-time and part-time jobs depending on the projects available. Some painters also choose to work on a contract basis.

What is the job outlook for painters?

As a professional painter, you have multiple career progression options. For instance, you can work as a general handyman, or in time you can choose to move into a team supervisor or a site supervisor position when you have the experience and when the opportunity presents itself. Alternatively, you may move into a related construction role such as set design, interior design, or historical conservation. Another option for career diversity for painters is extending into contract management.

Painter and decorator FAQs

What are the duties of a painter?

A painter’s main job is to paint and design rooms and buildings to exceed client expectations. The typical day-to-day duties of a painter may include:

  • Choosing the right colours in a room as per the client’s instructions.
  • Interpreting client plans and defining how to embrace the client’s requests.
  • Working with different materials, including timber, metal, paint, and plaster to enhance the structure’s appearance.
  • Determining the best paint styles for making intricate patterns, structures, and illustrations.
  • Adding unique touches to interior and exterior surfaces, including walls, ceilings, benchtops, decorators, backdrops, and ground surface.
  • Collaborate with clients to create a finished product per the building plan.

Is painting a good career?

Becoming a professional painter can offer an exciting career with numerous opportunities. Painting brings the satisfaction of creating something new and appealing by matching complementary colours to create decorative pieces. While a painter’s salary can be promising, painting also offers great career progression opportunities across a variety of industries.

Are painters in demand in Australia?

Painters are employed in various sectors and locations across Australia, increasing the demand for the role. Qualified and skilled painters are often  in demand in Australia. According to labourmarketinsights.gov.au/, from November 2021 through to November 2026 the number of painters working in Australia is likely to remain stable.

How long does it take to become a painter?

Like most trades, becoming a painter and decorator requires both theoretical and practical training. In Australia, many aspiring painters will complete a Certificate III in Painting and Decorating at a TAFE or another registered training organisation (RTO) and this qualification is often offered as part of a paid painting apprenticeship. The Certification III in Painting and Decorating apprenticeship can generally be completed within four years.

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This information is general only and does not take into account your objectives, financial situation or needs. It should not be relied upon as advice. As with any insurance, cover will be subject to the terms, conditions and exclusions contained in the policy wording.
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