DIY Spray Paint tips/tricks

I wrote this a few years ago but I get asked for help from time to time in DM’s, texts, messages so I thought I’d share some of advice to up your game when it comes time to paint your project.


I’m by no means an expert but I’ve spray painted a lot of junk over the years. Most of what I’ll list here are common paint tips, but apply to this project as well.

  1. Wash your hands! Keeping your oils off the project is key to adhesion of paint. Wear powder-free rubber gloves when handling your project. Keep your project clean. Not just oil free, but dust free as well.
  2. Back tape the edges of your work with painters tape . This will allow an easier transition of the paint and what you are painting on not to stick together and ruin your project. It will also allow you a place to place your fingers if you need to pick up or move your project.
  3. Elevate your project. If it’s possible to get your project to an area you can walk around and comfortably shoot at from an upright position, you will have much greater results. I recommend saw horses or a step ladder in an open area. Keep in mind that most spray paint cans are designed to work in a vertical position only.
  4. Keep a consistent distance from your subject. Always try to stay the same distance away when you make your results from tip to topic. If some areas are hard to reach, do some practice motions without spraying so you know if you need something to step on or whatever to stay consistent.
  5. Don’t use old paint! It cost me a lot more in time than money to just buy a fresh can. Take your time and test everything before you get in a hurry to lay it all down.
  6. Wipe your project down with alcohol before you paint , let it gas out before you spray (about 10-20 minutes to evaporate). This is basically true for every color change, scuff or between long periods of 24 hours or more with coats.
  7. Follow the instructions on the can. They are usually right but give very general specs based on a wide range of conditions. If it’s hot, you probably need less dry time and cold, you’ll need more.
  8. Shake the dang cans up! Don’t forget to give a good shake. If you’ve been spraying for 30 seconds or more consistently, you probably need to give it a quick shake before starting again. When the can gets low, it can “spit” at your project. Stop using that can if it’s spitting as this causes more problems than it helps.
  9. Do a test panel! I highly recommend having a piece of scrap sheet metal or plexiglass that you can test all of results on before screwing up your project. This will allow you to see what the paint will do before you paint your topic. Do all the same steps as you would with your project with prep and treatment. If you do all the steps, side by side, first on the panel, then on your project, you may be able to see where things went wrong before messing up your project. Use this test panel if you’re the kind of person who likes to test to see if the paint is tacky with your finger.
  10. Do light coats at first and let them just set up a bit before the next coat. After a tack coating is done, use wet coats (move in a little closer to the topic) Example: If your light, tack coats are are 10-12" away, your wet coats will be 6-8" away from your project.
  11. Keep a “wet edge” . Overlap your coats moving either left to right or up and down. Don’t let it drip or sag if you can avoid it. It can be fixable, but you’ll spend a lot more time and energy sanding than if you were careful to begin with.
  12. Between coats of paint, invert the spray can and discharge until it’s just air coming out. This keeps the nozzle clean and ready for the next use. This is pretty important step. Some spray paint cans will print this info on it, but many do not. It makes a world of difference to blow out what is in the tip.
  13. Make sure your paint and your thing you are painting are the same temperature for color paints (see tip #15 for clear). I’ve had some weird results if either your paint or your project are different temperatures. Paint when the temperatures match whats on the can suggested temps and when the humidity and wind is low. If your project is airing out in the sun, move your rattle cans to the sun. If you take your project back to the shade to paint, do the same with the spray paint as well.
  14. Paint in the shade if you can , not in direct sunlight. After the paint begins to set up (10-15 minutes), you may move it to a sunny spot to dry faster. Remember to rotate the piece so it gets sun all over .
  15. Clear coat goes on better when the can is warm . To make the can warm, either place it in the sun directly and rotate it or place the can in a warm bucket of water. It goes on much smoother than if it’s cold.
  16. If your neighbors are mowing the lawn or something that can kick up dust and debris, don’t paint! Or if they start to mow the lawn after you just laid down a layer, move it inside somewhere so it doesn’t pick up crap in the paint. If you should get debris in your paint (like a bug, dog hair, etc) I recommend waiting to remove it when the paint is dry vs. wet as it can be easier to tackle with sanding when dry. I’ve had some success with tweezering out a rouge dog hair when it’s jutting out of fresh paint, but if it’s laying down and you start messing around with it, you cause more harm than good.
  17. Scuff between color changes with a red scotch-brite pad and clean after first with soap and water, then with alcohol before the next coat. If you color sand both colors of paint there is a risk of some bleed over between the colors. The solution is to build up clear coats and sand those so there is less of a step between the layers.
  18. If you can paint inside or a garage or larger space, make sure it’s well ventilated. Mask off areas you don’t want painted as spray paint can really travel.
  19. Lay down enough layers (minimum of three good coats) before sanding, otherwise you will sand right through it.
  20. When doing a color split, I recommend lightly razoring your edge between the paint and the tape so when you pull the tape it doesn’t pull or crack the paint. No need to push hard, a simple scoring of it should suffice.


  1. When wet sanding, use warm water with a mild soap. A good choice for soap would an automotive wash, not a scented hand soap/sanitizer/etc.
  2. No need to “push” when sanding, keep it light and let it glide over your paint. Keep the paper and your project clean. If the paper gets debris in it, throw it out. Keep the water clean. Sand in an X pattern for best results. Keep in mind how much clear coat you put on before grinding it down. If you go through, you’ll be starting again.
  3. Buffing with compound using a variety naps in towels can give different results. Work from large naps to fine naps, ending in micro-fiber towels. Make sure the compound you buy can be used by hand as some are formulated for machine only.


Painting can be expensive, but some things can be bought cheap. Hit the dollar store for disposable items like drop cloths, masking paper, alcohol, terrycloth hand-towels, rubber gloves and the like. You can save a lot of money on things you toss away if you buy smart.

I hope some of this helps someone out!

If you’re interested in seeing a motorcycle helmet I painted, you can go to this link and read more about it.