Newer activities, more sports and the advent of synthetic fields with lights have increased the opportunities to use athletic fields. However, not all of the sports’ markings and desired logos are incorporated in the synthetic field’s layout. So, the demand for field painting on non-grass surfaces is also growing.

Adding other sports

The fastest-growing sport at both the school and recreational levels is lacrosse. The markings for boys’ and girls’ lacrosse are very different, with just a few common lines. This requires different colors to differentiate between the two. Since white is used for football, which is usually the main tenant of a mixed-use field, yellow has become the color of preference for soccer. I decided to use blue for boys’ lacrosse and red for girls.

The girls’ red lacrosse markings extend beyond the boys’ blue lacrosse line. We use permanent paint applied with an airless sprayer to put down the hash marks on this synthetic field. A cardboard inlay inside the template absorbs any extra wet paint and makes cleanup quicker.

Boys’ lacrosse has a standard overall size of 60 yards wide and 110 yards long. So, if you have the chance to make a decision on the length of a soccer field that will also be used for lacrosse, I recommend 110 yards. If the field is longer, you’ll need to paint an additional line in the end zone. The crease in boys’ lacrosse is a 9-foot radius from the center of the 10-yard line. However, the creases for girls’ lacrosse are 8.5 feet from the goal line of the football field. The girls can use the same sideline as the boys, but until recently they had no hard out-of-bounds markings.

At the 30-yard line, both have a solid line across the field connecting to the sideline. That line is called the restraining line. Sometimes I’m asked to paint a line outside the 30-yard lines to highlight them. Most facilities will simply cone them.

The center circle for girls’ lacrosse is the same as for soccer play, but the boys don’t use one. The girls’ layout has a fan and an arc around the crease. The boys have used dashes in the past, but that has now been changed to a solid line, from the end line to the 30-yard line and a solid line from the 40-yard line to the other 40-yard line, 120 feet long.

Track programs have also started using synthetic field surfaces for the discus and javelin throws. (A special rubber tip is used on the javelin to prevent damage on the field.) I have added a little blue to white paint to make a light blue for these markings. Usually I just paint the vectors, but some schools insist on painting the arcs at the recommended distance for calibrating the throws more quickly.

Temporary or permanent?

All of the different markings needed for seasonal sports or events raise another question: Should you use temporary or permanent paint? Some of the markings, such as the football yard marks or some of the soccer markings, may not have been inlaid during the field construction due to costs or preferences. Those markings need to be painted with a permanent paint.

Permanent paint usually has a rubbery base that tends to mat the plastic fibers together, but with constant traffic on the field, I think this is the best formulation to use, as it usually lasts the entire season. If resources are available, a temporary paint can be used on a per-game basis and repainted as needed.

Not all synthetic field materials are the same, so results will vary with different paints. With the old-style carpets, the paint had to be applied thickly to form a base to allow the paint to stick. With the newer infill synthetics, the split film fibers will hold the paint better. With the more recent monofilament fibers it is harder to get the paint to stick, because there is not as much material for it to stick to.

Temporary paints are formulated to withstand seasonal rains and can be removed by using a liquid eraser, some scrubbing and agitation with some water. If you decide to use one of the cheaper paints, you will have more shadowing, as it is harder to remove the line completely.

It is best to use a low-pressure painter when painting on synthetic field surfaces, as you want to keep the paint on top of the fibers and not blown down into the infill material. New nozzles and/or shields will ensure a clean edge on the lines, as well as consistent pressure.

If temporary logos are something you want to apply, I’ve found that Temp-Line dries rather quickly and allows you to move on to the next color. Since a logo usually requires more paint, that raises a dilemma as to what to do with the excess paint after you remove it. The synthetic fields are designed to drain water quickly but the added, unbroken paint particles could build up after time, which could cause puddling or a compacted area.

Logos, names and other special touches can be painted on synthetic field surfaces with temporary paint. The logo at center field is painted on this synthetic field for big games. The lines and numbers are inlaid.

Eco Chemical has developed a riding extractor that uses spinning pressure wands to remove the paint from the fibers, and then vacuums up the paint particles before they start to drain into the field. If you just need to remove the lines, they also have a smaller walk-behind version that breaks down the paint and spreads the particles over a wider area so the residue is relatively unnoticeable.

We use the stencil of the Alpenrose to paint the logo on the skinned area of the field for the Little League Softball World Series.

With the temporary paint products, such as those from Eco Paints, Pioneer Paints or World Class, if you make a mistake or want to add on to or remove certain markings or logos, you can quickly remove the undesired paint. Then wait a couple of minutes for the synthetic turf fibers to dry and paint the desired marking.

I’ve found the best method for removing the temporary paint products, either to correct a mistake or to clean up and sharpen the look of an edge, is to use a small, hand-held brush with a small amount of paint remover solution on it, You might be able to use the same technique on grass fields, but with all the abrasion on the blades you could cause damage to the turf.

Painting on skinned areas

If logos or markings need to be painted on baseball or softball field dirt, some degree of prep work needs to be done. Make sure all loose material is swept off the area to be painted. You want a hardpan. Lightly wet the dirt using a pump-up sprayer, a wet broom or a light misting of water from a hose. Let the surface air dry. If you paint too quickly, the paint will run and smear. If the dirt is too dry, the paint will blow away and make a faint fog over the area. What you are really trying to do is to stain the dirt. By having the dirt at the correct moisture, the paint will stain the dirt, making the colors stand out.

The best way to make sharp logos is to have 1/8-inch plastic stencils cut out by a professional sign company. This will allow you to gently cover the dry painted surface with a new stencil to apply the next color. You don’t have many chances to get it right, so plan ahead and determine what color to start with and what part of the logo is best to begin the process. Pick a non-traffic area if possible. It is a lot of work to paint on dirt, so you don’t want it to be worn away by the first inning.

For the Little League Softball World Series, one of my helpers suggested that we use the team colors to create markings on their side of the field. This gave the teams a little identity after having been on the road so long to get to the World Series, and usually being far from home. This works for softball especially well if you have a senior recognition day at the high school or college level. You can paint the senior players’ numbers using some of your football numbers stencils. If these are too big, you might want to make 4-foot stencils instead. It’s a special touch your facility and the fans will appreciate.

The letters spelling out "Jesuit" were painted freehand on the skinned area. The location, behind home plate and just in front of the backdrop, was selected because it’s easily visible to the fans, yet in a lowtraffic area. Football and baseball share this synthetic field. The football markings are painted on; the baseball markings are inlaid.

Be prepared

Good luck is great, but building really great skills will take you further. I like to be over-prepared. I’ve found it’s always best to be prepared for the worst and hope for the best. At times, it seems that you don’t have enough help, materials or paint machines, so start small, hone your skills and get your processes down pat. Take plenty of pictures of the area before you start, as you work and of the finished project. This will give you a portfolio that will help you as you work your way up to the bigger projects.

Mike Hebrard is the owner/operator of Athletic Field Design, based in Clackamas, Ore. He’s a frequent speaker at national and regional conferences.