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Spray Gun Operator Overview

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Working As a Spray Gun Operator

  • Controlling Machines and Processes
  • Inspecting Equipment, Structures, or Material
  • Getting Information
  • Monitor Processes, Materials, or Surroundings
  • Performing General Physical Activities
  • Stressful

  • $44,000

    Average Salary

What Does A Spray Gun Operator Do

Painting and coating workers often use machines to paint and coat a wide range of products, including cars, jewelry, and ceramics.


Painting and coating workers typically do the following:

  • Set up and operate machines that paint or coat products
  • Select the paint or coating needed for the job 
  • Clean and prepare products to be painted or coated
  • Determine the required flow of paint and the quality of the coating 
  • Apply paint or coating
  • Clean and maintain tools, equipment, and work areas

Millions of items ranging from cars to furniture are coated by paint, varnish, rustproofing, or other types of liquid applications. Painting or coating is used to make a product more attractive or protect it from the elements. The paint finish on an automobile, for example, makes the vehicle more attractive and provides protection from corrosion.

Before workers begin to apply the paint or other coating, they often need to prepare the surface by sanding or cleaning it carefully to prevent dust from becoming trapped under the paint. Masking is frequently required and involves carefully covering portions of the product with tape and paper.

After the product is prepared, workers may use a number of techniques to apply the paint or coating. A common technique is dipping an item in a large vat of paint or some other coating. Spraying products with paint or another coating is also common. Many factories use automated painting systems.

The following are examples of types of painting and coating workers:

Coating, painting, and spraying machine setters, operators, and tenders position the spray guns, set the nozzles, and synchronize the action of the guns with the speed of the conveyor carrying products through the machine. During the process, these workers program the machine, tend the equipment, watch gauges on the control panel, and check products to ensure that they are being painted evenly. The operator may use a manual spray gun to touch up flaws.

Dippers use power hoists to immerse products in vats of paint, liquid plastic, or other solutions. This technique is commonly used for small parts of electronic equipment, such as cell phones.

Painting, coating, and decorating workers apply coatings to furniture, glass, pottery, toys, books, and other products. Paper is often coated to give it a gloss. Silver, tin, and copper solutions are frequently sprayed onto glass to make mirrors.

Spraying machine operators use spray guns to coat metal, wood, ceramic, fabric, and paper products with paint and other coating solutions.

Transportation equipment painters are the best known group of painting and coating workers. There are three major specialties:

  • Transportation equipment workers, or automotive painters, usually refinish old or damaged cars, trucks, and buses in automotive repair and paint shops by applying paint by hand with a spray gun. Those who work in repair shops are among the most competent manual spray operators: they perform intricate, detailed work and mix paints to match the original color—a task that is especially difficult if the color has faded. Painting an old car is similar to painting other metal objects.
  • Transportation equipment painters work on new cars and oversee several automated steps. A modern car is first dipped in an anticorrosion bath, then coated with colored paint, and finally painted with several coats of clear paint to prevent damage to the colored paint.
  • Other transportation equipment painters either paint equipment that is too large to paint automatically—such as ships or giant construction equipment—or do touchup work to fix flaws in the paint that are caused by damage either during assembly or during the automated painting process.

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How To Become A Spray Gun Operator

Most painting and coating workers learn on the job after earning a high school diploma or equivalent. Training for new workers usually lasts from a few days to several months.


Painting and coating workers in the manufacturing sector usually must have a high school diploma or equivalent. Employers outside of manufacturing sometimes hire workers without a high school diploma.

Taking high school courses in automotive painting is recommended.

Some automotive painters attend a technical or vocational school where they receive hands-on training and learn the intricacies of mixing and applying different types of paint.


Most entry-level workers receive on-the-job training that may last from a few days to a few months.

Workers who operate computer-controlled equipment may require additional training in computer programming.

Manufacturing transportation equipment painters typically learn to paint on the job.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

Voluntary certification by the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) is recognized as the standard of achievement for automotive painters. To obtain certification, painters must pass a written exam and have at least 2 years of experience in the field. Recertification is required every 5 years. Few painting and coating workers other than automobile painters obtain certification.

ASE-approved training in refinishing taken while one is enrolled in high school, a trade or vocational school, or a community college may substitute for up to 1 year of work experience. To keep the certification, painters must retake the exam at least every 5 years.

Important Qualities

Artistic ability. Some workers make elaborate or decorative designs. For example, some automotive painters specialize in making custom designs for vehicles. 

Color vision. Workers must be able to blend new paint colors in order to match existing colors on a surface.

Mechanical skills. Workers must be able to operate and maintain sprayers that apply paints and coatings.

Physical stamina. Some workers must stand at their station for extended periods. Continuous standing or activity can be tiring.

Physical strength. Workers may need to lift heavy objects. Some products that are painted or coated may weigh over 50 pounds.

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Spray Gun Operator Demographics










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Spray Gun Operator Education


Lakeshore Technical College


Maricopa Community Colleges - Rio Salado Community College


Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College


John A Logan College

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General Studies


Heating And Air Conditioning


Audiovisual Communications Technologies




Graphic Design


Electrical Engineering Technology


Precision Metal Working

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