barb blairbefore & after basics

before and after basics: spray paint

by Barb

Spray paint has long been considered a quick and easy way to spruce up forlorn pieces of furniture, but if you are like me, you can spot — literally — a bad spray job from a mile away. Uneven lines and a spotty appearance are tell-tale signs of “I just want to get this done in an hour.” I personally find that spray painting is not always the easy way out in terms of application. If you are not careful, things can go downhill really fast. I hope these few tips today on Before & After Basics will make your next spray-painting job much smoother! — Barb

CLICK HERE for the full how-to after the jump!


  • spray paint (I prefer Krylon)
  • mask
  • painter’s tape
  • mirror or whatever you are painting
  • newspaper
  • craft knife
  • drop cloth


1. Tape off your piece really well. This is one of the biggest mistakes made in spray painting. The paint particles are so small and fly everywhere, so they will get into any little crack available. So be sure to have the areas you do not want painted completely covered.

2. Make sure that you are working in a well-ventilated area, either outside or in a studio with open doors and windows. Please make sure to wear a mask and goggles for your protection, as well. There are harsh chemicals that you will be exposed to, so please read the safety precautions and follow them exactly.

3. Once you have taped off the piece and are wearing your mask . . . ahem . . . begin to spray your piece. Hold the can 10 to 12 inches away from the surface you are painting in order to avoid drips. It is much better to apply three to four coats than to rush it and have a thick, drippy mess. Now the trick to spraying is to start your spray off the piece, and end your spray off the piece. This is how you avoid those awful “spots” that you will get from an uneven concentration in one area. This is a must, especially when working on large surfaces.

4. Allow the paint to dry for at least 20 minutes between coats. I know that the can says it dries in 12 minutes or less, but unless you are painting in the perfect temperature conditions, it tends to take a little longer to dry.

I have a story . . . spray paint and I had some serious bonding time in July when my parents retired and moved here to Greenville! I needed to touch up about eight pieces because they had been spray painted previously, and my dad had already bought all of the spray paint for me . . . without asking me my brand of preference, I might add. I told my dad that I wasn’t going to be able to spray with the paint that he bought because of the nozzle, and he looked at me like I had sprouted horns! Needless to say, I tried his cans and what went down was purely awful. I convinced my dad to get a couple cans of Krylon and see the difference. Let me just say that I totally have a new believer in the power of a fan spray nozzle! There is something to it, and I stand by it completely. The fan nozzles spread out the spray so much more effectively, making smoothness much more attainable.

I completely understand if you do not share my love of the fan nozzle; you use whatever works best for you. I have just used plenty of different kinds in my painting life and have found that this is what works best for me.

Spray away my friends, and beware of spottage!

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  • Love the orange mirror! :) Do you find that sanding what your about to spray is necessary? Also, I want to spray this old metal lamp… Should I use a spray primer first or just use a paint specifically for metals? Thanks!!! Xoxox

  • Thank you for this! I haven’t tried Krylon but will definitely test it on my next spray paint project.

    Does anyone else have the same issue I do of wanting to spray paint **everything** after doing one little project? One day I painted 8 things silver. Eight!

  • Do you never sand? I tend to sand first if the surface is at all shiny (metal, veneered wood, plastic) which I find usually makes a nice surface for spraying.

  • great post barb- def have had my share of “spottage” on
    larger pieces in the past. i am a brush girl myself, but these tips
    are good to know for smaller chairs and mirrors like this GREAT
    orange one! sweeeeet color choice.

  • I use spray paint on lamps and even chairs sometimes, but i
    always used Kilz spray primer and love it. I usually don’t worry
    about sanding until after the primer is on, bc you have to sand
    that anyway. Plus sanding really helps those ‘spots’! Love the
    mirror color!

  • Great tip about the starting the spray off the project and
    then moving it on! (1st link to Before & After Basics in
    intro paragraph has a double http, so it doesn’t work…)

  • I would also recommend buying a nozzle trigger for a couple
    bucks. You can attach it to almost any spray paint can. It will
    SAVE your fingers so much pain. Wow. Very worth it! You can find it
    near the spray paint cans. Save it forever.

  • I have a love/hate with the Krylon nozzle. I agree that
    it’s far superior in even coverage, however I’ve had 3 of them
    break on me with about half the can full. Such a waste!

  • Uhm…this looks really good. I have a tin mirror that I
    would love to paint…wonder if it would work? Thank you for
    sharing. xo Coco COCOCOZY

  • I’m in the middle of a big (70 frames!) spray paint project
    now and chose Krylon by dumb luck. I really like the nozzle too,
    but I didn’t know it was exclusive to them. Thanks for the

  • lol, I’m using can of Krylon’s Pumpking Orange spray paint
    right now, to revamp some Holiday Decor. Well, the first coat is
    drying right now… Krylon has the best selection of colors

  • lol. I’m using a can of Krylon’s Pumpkin Orange spray paint
    right now, to revamp some Holiday Decor. Well, the first coat is
    drying right now… Krylon has the best selection of colors too;
    they are my favorite brand.

  • thanks for the post. i was just thinking of spraying some
    things and wasn’t sure where to start :)

  • I recently painted the pedestal legs of my dining table. I
    was spraying outside (Southern California), slight breeze, starting
    and ending off the project and ended up with a textured finish as
    if I was using a textured paint reminiscent of the 90’s. I didn’t
    think I was too close but is this the culprit? (I was using

  • Depending on the job, I generally lightly sand the surface
    of whatever I’m spray painting– the lightly scuffed surface helps
    that 1st layer stick nicely, and the sanding will knock off any
    loose crud that you might not notice until it has already been
    painted over. Shiny surfaces will take the paint much better if you
    lightly sand first to take the sheen off. I sand and then prime
    when I am looking for a very durable final surface; an antique
    tubular steel hospital bed I re-painted recently got the full
    treatment: sanding, several coats of primer sanded lightly between
    each coat, then several final coats of Krylon.

    • Hello , Hello you guys! I totally forgot to mention the sanding issue with spray painting because I did not sand this piece before painting. I hear all of the collective gasps….BUT…. the reason being….I have found that when you clean old antiques up and spray paint them the paint takes so much better than if you had sanded the surface. Here’s why: when you sand, sometimes some of the raw wood gets exposed, and that makes the paint take differently than where there is finish. Typically you would prime to alleviate that , but I would rather have the original wood finish show through than a primer. I know, I know…I am a painting rogue….but it works! Now If the finish you are spray painting is super glossy or metal or plastic, then I do recommend a sanding and a coat of primer before painting. There are fusion spray paints especially for plastic that do not require a primer, but I always recommend a primer for metal.

      Leigh, well, the breeze may have been the culprit because it makes the spray paint more powdery. But also did you notice if your finger was getting in the way of the nozzle? Sometimes without noticing fingers can cause a really textured spray. Lastly, it could have been a bad nozzle….but my gut says it is the breeze. :)

      Kelly Ann, How funny is that!? You are totally right about them having the best colors!

      Cococozy, you can totally spray paint your tin mirror, just make sure that you prime the metal first with a spray primer.

      Stephanie, yes…I have had several brands of nozzles break on me before , and it is really frustrating! It just happens sometimes I think!

      Lauren, I totally bought one of those this summer while working on my parents pieces, and It was okay…but I am not sold. Maybe I need to revisit it, and see if I can like it more!:)

      So glad this was helpful and fun for you all…..xo

  • This is excellent! I had avoided spray paint because I was so bad at it for years. I tried it again this summer and was so excited at how much time I saved and how easy it was to get even paint into wacky little corers I never could’ve managed with a brush. Thanks for th encouragement, Barb, I’m going to keep trying with great new tips from you!

  • I recently spray painted a mirror and didn’t tape it off well enough and ended up with some yellow mistakes on my mirror’s reflective surface..Fear not! Put some Acetone Nail Polish Remover in an el cheapo spray bottle and it comes right off with a paper town

    • Mbburner, thank you so much! The wall color in the background is Forde Abby by Ralph Lauren. I love this color so much too! xo

    • Emma, you are so right about the shaking, and it is good to shake it in between sprays every so often too ! Now, the warming up part is a new one for me……my luck I would blow the can up! hah!

      Annie, Spray painting is advantageous for those small detailed pieces like chairs,cubby holes, lots of spindles….places that are hard or tedious to reach with a brush. It is a good bit of work, and the smell is bad, but for some things it is just worth it.

      Rochelle, that gadget sounds awesome….I have not used it personally, but will certainly check it out. Let us know how it goes!

      Betsy, You crack me up….you need to make sure to wear a mask next time….I bet you had a big old headache too! :)

      Emily, I know , it is so difficult in the winter to spray paint. You need a ventilated studio or a great spray booth indoors with exhaust fans to make it work. Spring is just around the corner right! :) I have not used the Montana brand paints, but I always love what Dick Blick has to offer! Let us know if you try it!

      Staci, The flowers are metal flowers that I painted, and see at my studio. Feel free to email me about them. barb@knackstudios.com

      Thank you all for the positive words….I’m so glad you found this helpful…and even more glad that you all are excited about creating!

  • This is another lovely idea from you folks! I recently revamped a decaying cane chair and sprayed with undercoat then a few coats of spray paint and has come up beautifully. I often just stand and admire my handywork!

  • I make spray-painted stencil portraits and couldn’t agree more with your first point – it is absolutely amazing where those little droplets of paint can get!

    Another little tip is to really, really, really shake that can. The cans say to shake for 5 minutes but I usually shake it for at least 10 solid minutes (I walk around shaking it every few minutes for the hour before I spray).

    Another tip is to warm the can up by a heater before you start shaking it. Don’t cook it or anything, but get it a bit warm – it’s easier to get all the paint to flow smoothly if it’s a little warm.

    Phew – didn’t realise I had all those tips in me! Hope they are useful to someone. :)

  • I’m not sure why you would spray paint when the smell is so bad and the preparation time is so long taping etc and having to do it an area where there is nothing around. Can someone explain the advantage?

  • this is so timely!! I am moments away from starting to spray my vintage garden chairs. I was planning to sand first then prime, but I guess I might do it the other way around now….but I have another question. Has anyone used the spray gadget that allow you to use canned paint, and spray (therefore opening up the range of colors? ) It has aerosol cartridges that you plug into the little device after filling the chamber with your paint? My paint guy sold it to me and I am not sure how this is going to work out. Seems to me that paint in the can might be thicker than normal spray paint and clog things up – but given that this is what the device is meant to do, maybe I am overly concerned. Still, since I am using latex paint, I think I might water it down a bit and plan to do extra coats. Would love to hear if anyone else had used this gadget though.

  • perfect timing! i’m about to spray paint a bunch of frames! THANK YOU. i love this site.

  • I just spray-painted a cheap craig’s list corner desk my husband got in his bachelor years… it was kind of a disaster piece to begin with, so I had the “I want this done in an hour” mindset to begin with. It is a big improvement post-spray but I wouldn’t want anyone to look too close! I also should’ve worn a mask…I was blowing black paint out my nose!!

  • This is so great!! Now I know where I went wrong with the table I spray painted last weekend :-D… You paint, you learn – you read, you learn!

    Thanks Barb!

  • I just wish paint dried decently in the cold. My spray
    painting season is so short around here – either it dries too
    quickly and cracks in the summer if it’s not in 100% shade (or if
    the shade moves…) or else it doesn’t work at all in the winter,
    partially because I get spray everywhere in the garage (oops) and
    partially because the garage is about 10 degrees right now. I have
    a chair just waiting for spring… Thanks for the tips. Has anyone
    tried the Montana spray paint brand? They sell them at Dick
    Blick…so many colors. I’m curious about the coverage.

  • Awesome! I NEED those flowers in the vase in front of the
    mirror. where are they from??

  • Great Post Barb- thx! We have a chemically sensitive child and try to use no-VOC paints and products…..so I’ve foregone spray-painting for quite a while. Is there a “safe” alternative spray-paint that’s low- or no VOCs? Maybe the gismo that uses latex paint is worth a try!? (I’d never heard of that before….)

  • I love spray painting things. The only thing I have found it that if I use a gloss or semi gloss, I get spots of higher shine areas. It doesn’t matter how much shaking I do. I notice it especially on a larger piece. It is like the glossy part of the paint deposits itself sporadically. The only way I have been able to remedy this is by putting a polyurethane on the finished piece to even out the shine. Has anyone else experienced this?

    • annie t, i think your best route would be to try the spray nozzle that you can deposit directly in to the paint can. I don’t know of a spray paint that is low in VOC although Krylon has made an attempt. you can read a review here: http://www.treehugger.com/files/2009/03/krylon-latex-spray-paint-is-better-but-not-best.php

      tracey, i think the problem here would be the spray itself….. are you starting off and ending off? Doing this will help eliminate a lot of the spot concentration.

      cvjn, too funny! :) i hope the hives were not around for too long!

  • man, have i had some BAD experiences with spray paint. it is not easy AT ALL. you have to read all the super tiny, finest fine print about drying times and recoating or it leads to disaster in the form of crackling. plus, i have done every single thing right, and STILL had a disaster because of a bad batch of paint.

    and then, of course, there were the hives.

  • I love this post and all the comments. What a great color
    on the mirror! I just bought some old bentwood chairs and want to
    paint them a glossy red, like this:
    I’m stripping them first, then sanding, and was going to use a
    brush but now I’m wondering if spray paint is better. Does anyone
    have experience refinishing a chair with so may curved surfaces and
    tight spaces like this? Thanks, all!

    • Laura, Chairs are interesting to paint and if thre are a lot of curves and angles spraying them is the most effective way to go! you can use spray paint or a paint sprayer to get a nice even finish. I always go the spray route with chairs :)

  • I sprayed a bunch of cabinet pulls after wire-brushing years of kitchen gunk from them (a previous owner to my brother’s new home) … I did this outside and I believe a bit of outside particles, dust, etc. got into the paint while it was drying. Those pulls are going in the corners! Ha! Still look pretty! :)

  • I wonder if Krylon spray paint or any other spray paint needs to be shaken first before you begin using it. You did’nt mention it in your post. Pardon my ignorance!

    • Hi Carlos! Just follow the package instructions! You usually need to shake the Krylon spray! Thanks! Amy

  • I have a shelf , table and tv stand that I am thinking of spray painting black (they all are a light brown and a bit of a shine finish). A few people have told me to sand before I spray paint and to use a primer as well. Also a few people have said I don’t need to sand before. What are your thoughts?

  • I used Krylon two wks ago and the item i painted still smells horribly. it has beenoutside since i spraypainted it and smell isnt going away. im really upset about this.

  • Your poor Dad…”nozzle trigger”…..and all spray nozzles break or do not work sometimes. I agree the paint it self is different.

  • Hi! Thank you so much for your post on this! I have two twin wooden spindle beds that are probably 150 years old (they’re currently a dark stained wood). I would love to paint them a fun turquoise color for our girls’ room. The surface is kind of grimy with lots of dents and imperfections, so unfortunately I think I’m going to have to sand it. For a damaged antique like this with lots of detail, do you recommend sanding then applying a spray primer and spray paint? Or would you prime and paint with a brush to get long term use/beauty? Thanks so much for your blog and great advice!

  • Similar to Liz’s situation, I just bought a 26 year old crib for $15.00 at a garage sale. It is in good shape though, just worn. It is a medium stained wood and want to paint it white as I am going for an all white nursery. It is ALL spindles! And even though I dread the thought of sanding, priming and then painting…I can’t bring myself to spend hundreds of dollars on a brand new crib! So I decided to Google a no need to sand spray paint primer, hoping to eliminate at least the tedious sanding process. But you think that I can just spray it white and it will turn out just fine??

  • DawnMarie- Just be sure you do it before it gets too cold. I put off painting just such a crib until winter and then tried to do it in my bedroom, which was the only space I had. I thought an open window with a fan would work to pull the overspray out, but the outside wind was stronger….The baby is now 20 and the crib long gone, but my bedroom furniture and mirror are still hazed with RED. The bedding was a loss where the plastic drop cloth had slipped and the carpet a mess. Live and learn.

  • Spraying with Krylon sometimes has dirty, or pop corn on the surface. I never use it because of that, it makes my furniture is suck. I want to buy paint sprayer, I think it is good. My friend said me that it was cool. No dirty, No suck. I will try this

  • Great tip about the starting the spray off the project and
    then moving it on! (1st link to Before & After Basics in
    intro paragraph has a double http, so it doesn’t work…)

  • I have a question. I painted a piece of furniture after lightly sanding, and priming, I used Rustoleum Painters touch semi-gloss then decided to spray Rustoleum Painters Touch Clear Gloss to protect. The paint finish then became powdery and lost it’s sheen looking as if it was dusty. Do you have any idea what could have happened? The piece was not solid wood but some type of veneer. Never had this happen before.
    Thank you!

  • Thanks for the ‘know how before you mess up step by step instructions’ !!! I really need these instructions for several upcoming projects.

    Please begin posting new ideas again. Your site is both informative and interesting. Love.

  • hi guys if i were to spray paint something ceramic (a large figurine thing) would i be able to clean/polish it? or does to paint come off?

  • I’m a huge fan. I’ve seen time and time again in blogland how so many can transform something really ugly into something completely different and beautiful with spray paint.