Field painting is part of the art and science of sports field management. It’s a time-consuming task, but an important one. Painting creates the functional field markings that are essential to the play of the game, and accuracy provides the basis for those close calls that decide the outcome of the action on the field.
Do’s and don’ts to improve your field painting technique
Field Painting Do’s
Paint healthy grass. No matter how skilled you are at field painting, you’ll get poor results if you paint on poor grass. You want a good, tight, thick, short turf to serve as the canopy for your painting. The shorter the grass, the greater the detail you can put in. Warm-season bermudagrass, mowed at the height of 3/8 to .5 inch, works well for complex logos. Any height above 2 inches is pushing the window to get good results.
Minimize painting. Don’t paint natural grass fields any more frequently than you have to in order to support the game or event. A painted logo isn’t as good a playing surface for football as the grass alone. Water-holding capacity and slickness increase on the painted area. If you are not able to reduce the number of times you paint, use as little paint as possible with each application.
Be accurate. Functional markings are essential to the game. Use the official field layout specifications as provided by the correct governing body for the sport at the level of play of those who will be playing the game.
Buy quality paint. This is a huge issue. Quality paint will more than pay for itself over time. You’ll spend less time mixing it, it’s less likely to clog your spray equipment, and it will last longer after it’s applied.
To find the true cost, consider the cost of the paint at the ratio you dilute it for application rather than the price per bucket as purchased. Better paint can be diluted more and still give you the brightness and the staying power you want.
Mix your paint well. If you don’t, the particle distribution within the paint mix will be uneven, so neither the white nor the colors will be consistent. Agitate the paint and water before you put it into the machine. Different brands or different colors may mix differently, so always check the results before filling the machine. There are 5-gallon shakers available for mixing, or use a stir bit on an electric drill.
Use good equipment. Have the right equipment to do the job the way it needs to be done. You do get what you pay for, so explore your options. You want consistent agitation, consistent pressure and consistent control of the application.
Paint with the least amount of pressure required to get the results you want. You want to paint the grass, not the soil. I like to lightly frost the grass blade moving in one direction and do the same moving in the opposite direction. The plant will grow out of the paint on the blades. A coating of paint on the soil seals the soil surface, blocking the movement of water and air to the grass roots.
Mow right before you paint. Freshly mowed grass is shorter, giving you a better surface for painting, and it gives you the longest possible interval before you mow again.
Use a stencil. The stencil gives a more precise finished product with no overspray on the grass. You don’t have to hold the nozzle as close to the grass surface, so you can frost the blades rather than coating them heavily, and you’re not blasting the outer edges of the marking.
Paint as close to the game or event as you can for maximum brightness, but allow enough time for the paint to dry. Different paints have different drying times. Some dry in a couple hours, others take days. Experiment so you know what to expect from your paint and how it will perform under differing seasonal conditions.
Field Painting Don’ts
Don’t get sloppy with your strings. Take the time to double-check the accuracy of the placement and pull the strings taut before you start to paint.
Don’t paint logos in heavy traffic areas if you can avoid it. We paint three Bronco head logos on our football field, one in each of the end zones and one at midfield. By the end of the season, the midfield Bronco head is looking pretty weak, even after a fresh application of paint. The same logos in the end zones are still good and sharp.
Don’t paint if it’s windy. Wind makes it much harder to pull the strings straight and blows your paint. You’ll be able to determine how much drift you are getting by the amount of spray particles suspended in the air as you look from the point of application toward the sun. If there’s no way to avoid painting in the wind, have crew members hold plywood or Masonite boards along both sides of the section you’re painting to block the drift.
Don’t paint if rain is anticipated or if you’ll need to irrigate before the paint dries. Use a combination of resources to track weather patterns. Use a computer-based weather service if you can, and tap into the local and regional weather reports. Paint on a non-irrigation day or irrigate first, allow the grass to dry, and then paint.
Don’t scrub paint off of natural grass. Even if you use one of the so-called temporary paints, you’ll have to scrub the grass blades enough to cause damage. If you must remove a logo or other markings, you’ll put less stress on the grass by painting them out. Use a combination of yellow paint, diluted to your usual ratio, with enough green dye added to match the color of your grass.
Don’t use field paint aerosols for all your painting. That can be expensive. Do determine when to use them as a cost-effective fit to your overall painting program. The aerosols work well for marking the half moons of logos and for touch-ups and small jobs. They’re easy to handle, and they generally do dry more quickly than other paints. Shake the can well before starting to spray. Even though these aerosols use a special propellant, if too much of the propellant is toward the top of the can, it will burn the grass.
Don’t use a white base coat of paint under the logo. The white background does make the colored paints look brighter when first applied, but some of the white base paint may flake up and change the shade of the color on top when it’s mowed. Instead, apply two coats of the same color paint to get the level of brightness you want. The need to double- paint varies with the colors. Never double-paint based on assumptions. It’s best to gauge that need according to the paint you use and the darker and lighter color variations of your grass as you go through the season.
Don’t start painting without preparing for spills and mistakes. Always carry a wet towel on the paint machine, especially when you’re doing logos. If you do make a mistake, wipe the paint off the grass while it’s still wet. Carry a bucket of water on your cart, too, for quick spill cleanup. Always double-check to make sure the lids of the paint containers are on tight before moving them. You’ll save a lot of time and trouble if a container does tip over or fall out of the cart. Never double-stack the paint pails in the cart, even after you’ve mixed it.
Don’t paint yourself into a corner. Start from the top and work down, or from the center and work out, especially when painting a large logo. If you don’t plan ahead, someone will have to hold up the hose for you so it doesn’t drag across the wet paint and smear.
Don’t wear clothes that you don’t want to ruin. Keep a set of paint clothes and a pair of paint shoes in your maintenance building or stashed in your car or truck so they’re handy when you need them.
Ross Kurcab, CSFM, is turf manager for the Denver Broncos Football Club, overseeing the multiple activities that take place on INVESCO Field at Mile High Stadium. He was the first individual to earn the certified sports field manager designation.