Field painting, striping and marking

Field markings define the parameters of the game and add to the visual appeal of the site. Fortunately for the industry, there are a number of excellent options for natural and synthetic fields.


Parks and recreation marking

Don Scholl is superintendent of the parks, landscapes and sports fields division of the Tracy City Public Works Department, Tracy, Calif. He oversees a total of 15 fields at various sites throughout the city, with seven of those fields lighted. Scholl says, “We limit our lining to the softball and baseball fields.”

Scholl uses Brite Stripe VOC-free paint from Pioneer Athletics on the turf. He says, “It holds color well, and the environmentally friendly designation is a good fit for our overall sustainability program. We add a little Primo to the paint to extend the interval between paintings. We use Dolomark, a chalk product packed in 50-pound bags, to mark the skinned surfaces. We apply it with a typical drop-type field liner. ”

Pregame field preparation is standard and specified in the baseball/softball field use agreement. Scholl says, “We do charge if the league or tournament director requests additional field prep between games during the event. We’ll drag, reline or [do] both, as needed. Some groups request multiple field preps based on typical needs at sites that have a higher sand content than ours or aren’t as well constructed. Generally, our lines and clay hold up well, so we’ll consult with the director about adjusting the prescheduled timing to fit actual field conditions. Some regional tournaments have specific intervals for field prep that must be followed. Most others agree to the rescheduling and appreciate the savings.”

Scholl and his staff maintain the multiuse fields, keeping them safe and in good, playable condition. They don’t handle the field setup, lining or striping of those fields, and they don’t paint logos. He says, “Instead, we allow the nine or 10 different leagues that regularly use our fields to do their own painting, stipulating [that] they use the products we approve.”

Scholl and his staff monitor play, making sure the leagues use the designated fields only as scheduled and follow the field use rules, including those related to painting products and procedures. He says, “We’re not an enforcement arm of city government, so we can’t impose penalties. If the rules are ignored, we can threaten the offenders with cancellation of their field use reservations. That step is seldom needed, in part because the leagues are doing the painting. It helps them take ownership of ‘their’ fields.”

Multiuse natural grass fields

Preston C. Courtney, field manager for ESPN’s Wide World of Sports at the Disney Complex in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., is a master at coordinating the painting for fast turnarounds. Super Bowl weekend was the only weekend with no scheduled action on the natural grass multisport fields until September. Courtney says, “We’re continually changing the field layouts. In late January, we wrapped up a lacrosse tournament during the week, painting the men’s markings in white and the women’s in blue. Then we set up 13 fields for field hockey play on the weekend.”

Multiple events often overlap. Walt Disney World’s Pro Soccer Classic was held February 24 to 27, a Flag Football Jamboree on February 27 and 28, with the Atlanta Braves’ first spring training game also on February 27. Courtney says, “In one of our tightest turnarounds, we wrapped up a soccer tournament late in the evening and had two of those field painted for football, complete with five logos, and ready for kickoff at 8 a.m. the following morning.”

With the ESPN on-site video cameras and editing capabilities, nearly all events are captured for viewing. Courtney says, “We frequently use green aerosol paint to cover the markings from one sport prior to painting a different sport layout. When multiple fields are being switched over, we’ll use the Graco FieldLazer, mixing green paint with a touch of yellow – a tip I learned from Ross Kurcab of the Denver Broncos that helps mask the old lines for video and TV broadcasts. The amount of yellow varies seasonally to more closely match our turf color.”

Pregame preparation of baseball and softball fields is a standard part of the field use agreement for the city of Tracy.

Courtney has five FieldLazers in his arsenal. He says, “I’ll map out the field painting schedule for the week based on how much time we have between events and which fields are needed first. Typically, we’ll run three or four three-person crews for painting the multiuse fields, with two crew members handling the string and the third operating the machine. We use standard field paint for natural grass, mixing it one to one for lines.”

On the baseball and softball fields, the turf areas are painted and the skinned areas chalked. Courtney has four crews designated for the baseball fields. One crew works mornings into the afternoon, the other the afternoon into the evening, on Sunday through Wednesday. The other two crews follow the same timing Wednesday through Saturday. He says, “We keep the same people on the same fields for baseball because they also work the clay. I want them to know it inside out so they can manage it for best performance in all conditions.”

Courtney keeps at least one or two crew members at the baseball fields during all events to do whatever is needed. “We’ll generally drag and re-chalk every one or two games, but that depends on the umpires. If there’s any chance of rain, they’ll often run the games back to back to work them all in.”

Courtney has been experimenting with different types and concentrations of turf dyes, but notes he’s not yet incorporated them into his program. He says, “Like sports field managers everywhere, we’re always looking for ways to achieve the best results more efficiently and cost-effectively. We’ve found linking a rope or cord to the paint machine’s canister lid and slipping the cord over the handle to suspend the lid while we’re filling or cleaning the canister keeps the lid handy and clean. It’s a simple step, but each little improvement contributes to the big picture.”

Painting chalk lines on the clay.

Synthetic fields

Darian Daily is head groundskeeper for Paul Brown Stadium, home of the Cincinnati Bengals. A FieldTurf synthetic turf system was installed prior to the kick off of the 2004 football season. All on-field lines and markings for pro-level football, along with all the team logos, were inlaid into the synthetic surface. Daily says, “We only paint the NFL shield and the media restriction lines.”

Daily recommends using paints developed specifically for application on synthetic fields, matching your choice to what you want to accomplish. He notes there are three main categories. 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.

Daily uses the removable paint for the NFL shield, applying it with an airless paint applicator. He says, “We follow the same basic techniques we use when painting a natural grass field. We concentrate on the job, observing the consistency of the paint and how well it sticks. We apply the paint evenly, trying to keep it just on the fibers.”

To remove the paint, Daily first applies a solvent to help break it down, and then goes over it with a scrubbing machine. He says, “After that, we’ll flush the area with a little water to wash away any residue. With the temporary paint, this process does a good job of removal.”

Three person crews do the painting of multiuse fields at ESPN’sWide World of Sports complex; two handle the string and one operatesthe painter.

Another option for a single event on a synthetic field is sprayable chalk in an aerosol container. Daily says, “It’s quick and easy to apply. We use it for the logos for our playoff games. It flakes off so easily and will disappear entirely in about a week if we don’t do anything to remove it. If we need a faster turnaround, we just brush it with a stiff-bristled push broom.”

When paint developed for a natural grass field is used on a synthetic surface, there’s generally some shadowing, or ghosting, remaining after the removal process, notes Daily. “I’ve received calls from sports field managers at high school fields where one of the coaches used regular paint from a box store to paint the synthetic field,” says Daily. “That’s extremely tough to get off. I recommend using the same removal methods, repeated again and again, trying not to be too abrasive to the fibers.”

Repeated painting of the same logo in the same place is an issue. Daily says, “We have that with the NFL shield. To reduce the amount of paint applied, we use an 11 or 13 orifice tip on the airless sprayer. [The smaller the number, the less paint put out.] When we need to cover a bigger area, we’ll go with a larger tip, but apply the paint in a lighter coat to use less of it.”

The infill is a mix of sand and rubber. “Usually it’s relatively loose and flexible, performing as it’s designed to,” says Daily. “Though we concentrate on preventing it, paint eventually gets into the infill, where it acts almost like glue. The rubber, sand and paint coagulate into a glob that becomes hard and abrasive over time. During the summer, we use hard-tine hand rakes to break up the coagulated infill in those areas, then drag to move the paint-contaminated infill away, replacing it with infill from adjacent areas of the field.”

As the field gets older, the UV-resistant coating gradually wears away. “So, repeated painting in the same area begins to leave a bit of stain on the fiber,” says Daily. “Initially, we painted the NFL initiative logos as well as the shield, but because of this factor, our ownership has opted not to paint them to avoid the potential for ghosting. The synthetic fiber companies have seen this issue and have made adjustments in the process to reduce or alleviate it.”

Scholl, Courtney and Daily agree that the technology keeps improving. Daily says, “The paint suppliers listen to our issues and work toward delivering products to address them. Ideally, I’d like a temporary paint for synthetic fields that lasts for 48 hours and then disappears. They’re working on it.”

The author is a contributing editor for SportsField Management.