Accuracy is your top priority. Use the official field layout specifications as provided by the correct governing body for the sport at the correct level of play and follow it precisely. The markings you paint define the parameters of the game and provide the basis for decisions on those close calls during play. Make sure the current, official information is quickly available as a resource in case an issue of accuracy does arise.
Accuracy is required for those decorative logos you paint, too. They not only add to the visual appeal of the site, but the correct size, form and colors of the logos also contribute to the brand of the teams and organizations connected to the game. In some instances, your painting of special logos or markings for games or other on-field events helps generate revenue for your team, facility or a charitable organization.
Select the right tools
There are many good sports field paint, marking materials and application equipment suppliers offering a range of options for both natural grass and synthetic turf fields. For best results, use only quality products specifically designated for use on sports fields. Match your selections to the type of field surface and the requirements of the events to be held.
The two main field paint options are aerosol and bulk, though there are multiple variations within these categories.
Aerosol paints dry quickly and are easy to use. The machines used to apply them are easy to operate and relatively inexpensive.
Aerosol paints will cost more for the same amount of coverage than bulk paints. So, weigh the cost to labor availability to decide where their use is cost effective for your program. Many sports field managers use them for marking the half-moons of stenciled logos, small painting projects, pre-game touch-ups and when weather conditions require a fast-drying option.
Select quality bulk paint that delivers the degree of brightness and the on-field longevity you want.
To determine the amount of bulk paint needed and to compare bulk paint costs, work with the ratio you use when you dilute it for application instead of the per-bucket price. The typical water to paint ratio for the first application is one part water to one part paint. For the second coat or for touch-up applications, the ratio could include more water, with two, three or four parts water to one part paint. Test the ratios with the paint you will use on your fields to determine what ratios work best for your program.
Consider your options when selecting equipment to find the best match to fit your field painting needs and your staff size. For bulk paints, there are both compressor tank and airless type applicators. Select the type, size and accessory package that you prefer. With any of the bulk-type painting equipment, you want consistent agitation, consistent pressure and consistent control of the application.
Purchase templates and stencils for all of the markings you’ll need for the various sports and teams that will use your fields.
Conduct your own tests
Build in time to conduct a test when painting a surface new to you, whether it’s a different variety of natural turfgrass or a different type of synthetic field, or when considering a different paint product for use on a field surface you know well.
Select a spot off the actual playing area that won’t be seen by spectators. Time the application to match the interval you’ll want the paint to last. If possible, select an area that will be exposed to traffic similar to what it would have on the field. Then evaluate your results.
Also test periodically to determine how your paint drying-time intervals change with varying seasonal conditions such as heat, cold and humidity levels, so you can adapt your program accordingly.
Prepare for success
For stadium fields dedicated to a single sport, or to two main sports such as football and soccer, it pays to place in-ground marker “sleeves” at strategic spots to serve as the base measuring points each time you paint. These may be purchased socket-type markers or made by your staff from sections of PVC pipe. Check the official field layout guidelines and measure accurately to establish these base points.
You’ll insert your peg of wrapped string into these sleeves to establish the basic lines for your field.
For large sports complexes, where field layouts change frequently within the season, determine how to most effectively establish base measuring points for differing field configurations.
When developing your initial base measuring points and when measuring for additional line placement, use a steel tape measure for greatest accuracy.
Determine all the markings that must be painted for a specific sport and plot out the best sequence to follow in painting them. If you’ve not painted a field for that sport previously, ask an experienced sports field manager with the same type of field to share their scheduling. Or, if possible, observe them during the process. Develop your own initial scheduling based on their plan and fine-tune it over time as you work with your staff on your fields.
Mix your bulk paint off the field surface in a safe area where you can control any spills to make sure no paint enters storm drains. Use one of the 5-gallon shakers available through suppliers or purchase a mixing blade bit to inset into a large electric drill. Check thoroughly for even particle distribution within the paint mix before filling the paint machine. If you’ve premixed paint and water, agitate the mix and do a visual check prior to use. As a further check, run the paint through a strainer as you pour it into the machine. Link a rope or cord to the paint machine’s canister lid and slip the cord over the handle to suspend the lid when filling or cleaning the canister to keep the lid handy and clean.
Check weather conditions. You want to avoid painting when rain is anticipated. Use one or two of the computer-based weather services in combination with your local or regional media weather forecasts and your own observations. Check wind speed and direction to avoid painting in windy conditions, if possible. If you must paint in the wind, bring additional cardboard, plywood or plastic panels to the field and position crew members to use them to shield against any paint drift. Smaller shields of similar materials may be used at any time to avoid overspray when marking the field.
Gather all the materials needed before you start painting. That includes a wet towel to wipe any mistakes off the grass while the paint is still wet and a bucket of water to clean up any spills. Check the lids of your paint containers to ensure they are on tight before moving them.
Paint can ruin good clothes. So, designate an older pair of pants, a shirt, jacket and shoes or boots as your paint clothes and keep them at your facility’s maintenance building or in your vehicle to change into for painting.
You want a light application of paint, just “frosting” the grass blade as you move in one direction and repeating the process as you move in the opposite direction. When applying the paint by machine, some experienced field painters opt for a lower pressure setting to lightly frost the grass blades. Others prefer higher pressure, feeling the finer droplets will frost the blades more effectively and dry more quickly.
When using this back and forth motion for painting large areas, turn the machine off and then back on as you change directions to avoid over-painting at the starting point.
Set up the string lines and double check for accuracy before painting. Keep the string lines taut. Use the best nozzle size for the lines you’ll be painting and make sure you are placing the paint machine properly to apply the paint inside, outside or precisely down the middle of the string line for that marking.
Keep the paint off the soil. A buildup of paint on the soil surface can block the movement of water and air to the grass roots.
When painting dark letters, consider adding white outlines to help the images “pop” against the background of dark grass.
Use quality stencils for your logos. These are typically colored vinyl with small half-moon holes cut in them at intervals so you can spray the corresponding color of paint into the holes to create a dot-to-dot pattern. Once the stencil is removed, you can connect the dots to complete the outline of the logo and then fill it in with the appropriate colors.
To make sure the stencil is placed correctly, set up string lines to intersect at precisely the center of the logo’s dimensions and position it there. Stretch out the logo evenly in all directions from the center and then double-check for accuracy before you begin painting.
As with the other markings, you don’t want to cross wet paint, drag a hose through it or paint yourself into a corner. So, when painting the logo, start from the center and work out or from the top and work down.
Paint all of one color within the logo. Then clean the paint machine thoroughly and fill it with next color paint. Repeat the process until the logo is completed. When working on complex logos, have a crew member assist in keeping track of the spray machine hose to avoid dragging it over wet paint.
Keep a copy of each logo you’ll be painting with your supplies as you paint to make sure no details are missed in the process. Small details within the logo or in other areas can be painted with aerosols or with bulk mixed paint either applied with a small hand-held compression sprayer or with a brush or roller.
Once painting is completed for the day, thoroughly clean paint machines, including the screens and nozzle tips. Make sure any remaining mixed bulk paint containers are tightly closed and any used paint items are disposed of properly.
Tips for natural grass fields
Paint healthy, thick grass. As the canvas for your painting, it is living and growing, so be prepared to adjust your painting strategy to its seasonal and day-to-day changes.
Mow natural grass fields just before you paint. Shorter grass provides a better surface for painting, allowing you to include greater detail in complex logos and designs. And you’ll extend the interval after painting before you’ll need to mow again.
Minimize the amount of paint you use on a natural grass field. Paint only as frequently as necessary to support the game or event. Apply as little paint as possible with each application. Some sports field managers recommend adding a small amount of plant growth regulator to the mix of bulk paint to extend the interval between paintings.
If your facility and the sports governing bodies will allow it, move logo locations away from the heavy traffic areas, such as the middle of a football field. Though it will take twice as much time, painting two logos at the sides of the field, with one logo facing the stands along each of the two sidelines, will help preserve mid-field turf quality. Be aware that you may only paint over football line markings if the referees can clearly see the lines. In many cases, it will be better to paint the logos around the lines, rather than over them.
Don’t try to remove paint from natural grass. Even a light scrubbing will cause some damage to the grass blades. If a logo or other markings must be removed, paint them out using a combination of yellow paint diluted to your standard ratio and just enough green dye to match the color of the field’s natural grass in that area. Many sports field managers recommend painting a square or rectangle in that spot rather than just covering the logo to avoid creating a “green version” of the old logo.
Tips for synthetic fields
Many synthetic fields already have the lines incorporated for the major sport (or sports) that will be played on them and some have the team logo as well. But, when those fields are used for other sports, or when special logos will be added, select paints developed specifically for application on synthetic fields and match your choice to what you want to accomplish. As with paints developed specifically for use on natural grass fields, these products will vary by supplier. Many offer bulk paint in both standard and environmentally friendly options.
Generally, permanent paint will last for six months to a year, depending on weather conditions and field use. Short-term temporary paint will last for a month or more. Temporary (or removable) paint will last for one or two games.
Sprayable chalk in an aerosol container is another option for a single event on a synthetic field. It typically flakes off easily and disappears entirely in about a week.
With any of the products you select, follow the same procedures you use for a natural grass field to keep the paint on the blades only. You don’t want it to penetrate the infill. If paint does accumulate within the infill over a series of applications, it could clump, requiring removal and replacement.