How to become a painter and decorator

A close-up of a painter/decorator holding a roller tool for painting walls.

A career as a self-employed painter and decorator can be rewarding and lucrative. With great demand for the skills of this trade, you shouldn’t find yourself struggling for work if you play your cards right.

You’ll also have the opportunity to work on many different types of projects, from small domestic jobs to big commercial developments, making this an exciting career choice.

So, how do you start a career in this trade?

In this guide, we explain exactly what a career as a painter and decorator looks like, how much you could earn and what it takes to find success. We also discuss how specialist painter and decorator insurance cover can help to protect your career.

What does a painter and decorator do?

Painters and decorators are responsible for a broad range of different tasks. With so many different areas they can specialise in - from domestic decorating to listed building renovation, and everything in between - it is a highly skilled trade. However, on a basic level, their primary function is to enhance the appearance and texture of surfaces in order to transform the look and feel of a space.

A painter decorator’s main tasks include painting, staining and applying wallpapers to interior and exterior walls and/or furniture. However, this isn’t as simple as it sounds. A big part of the job requires the skills to properly repair surfaces through filling and smoothing techniques. After all, the preparation of walls and surfaces is key to the quality of the final finish a painter decorator can deliver.

Finally, the job also includes tasks such as carefully measuring-up spaces in order to accurately assess how much material is needed for a job, meticulously preparing rooms before decorating, and tidying up once the job is done. This means strong organisational skills and keen attention to detail are must-haves for successful painter decorators.

How to be a painter and decorator

There are a number of paths into the painting and decorating trade. For example, some people choose to undertake formal training courses, while others simply buy supplies and start getting the word out.

Before you decide how to start your career as a painter and decorator, it's important to know the answers to the below questions. From tips on trade qualifications and tools to often overlooked insurance requirements, our advice will help you make the best possible start in your new profession.

1. Do you need qualifications to be a painter and decorator?

The simple answer to this is no. There is no one gateway into painting and decorating, and you don’t legally need any qualifications to work in this industry. Indeed, many people in this field learn their skills on the job, going from an apprentice to an experienced tradesperson.

However, it can be beneficial to complete a qualification in painting and decorating in order to make yourself more appealing to potential customers. Courses - such as the level two National Vocational Qualification (NVQ) in painting and decorating - will equip you with the skills you need to succeed. Remember, painting and decorating is a highly skilled trade. It requires problem-solving skills, patience and precision, and a well-trained eye for detail. Picking up relevant qualifications can make sure you have the foundations for these skills to grow by the time you land your first job.

2. What tools does a painter and decorator need?

Although you will likely be provided with the tools and equipment you need if you start your career as an apprentice or an employee, this is not the case if you decide to go it alone. To be a self-employed painter and decorator, you will need to source the tools required to carry out your daily tasks. Although not an exhaustive list, the basics all self-employed painter decorators require include:

  • Paintbrushes and rollers in a range of sizes
  • Paint trays
  • Materials used for cleaning brushes and rollers (turps, large bucket, paper towels, etc.)
  • Wallpaper scraper
  • Wallpaper pasting table
  • Wallpaper paste brushes
  • Wallpaper steamer
  • Sandpaper and/or electric sander
  • Filler and filling knife
  • Stanley knives
  • Masking/decorators tape
  • Stepladders
  • Basic hand tools - hammer, spirit level, screwdrivers, spanner (to remove fixtures and fittings)
  • Dust sheets
  • Work overalls

3. Do painters need insurance?

If you are looking to become a self-employed painter decorator, getting the right insurance is important. This is because, as the owner of the business, you are personally liable for any accidents that result in injuries or property damage. The financial consequences of even a small mistake can be enough to cripple your business. For this reason, making sure you’re protected is crucially important.

All self-employed painters and decorators should consider public liability insurance. This is designed to protect your business against claims related to injury or property loss/damage caused in the line of your work. It’s worth noting that, in many cases, self-employed painters and decorators may be required to take out public liability insurance as part of the contractual agreement they sign with a client.

If you’re planning on employing staff, the law states you must take out employers’ liability insurance. This cover will provide financial support if an employee makes a claim against you for a work-related illness or injury. Painter decorators may also choose to purchase tools’ insurance to financially protect their business should their tools get lost or stolen.

How much does a self-employed painter and decorator earn?

Your earning potential as a self-employed painter and decorator will depend on a variety of factors, including the number of years’ experience you have, the number of employees you have on your books and the location you are operating in.

It’s important to remember that in order to win work, your jobs must be priced competitively. Pricing will need to be set in line with the area you are operating in and the quality of work you can offer. For this reason, it pays to gain as much experience as possible before setting up your own business. It can also pay to pick up an industry specialism, such as renovations or the decoration of heritage buildings. After all, the more specialist skills a painter decorator possesses, the more opportunities they are likely to have.

Here at Markel Direct, we understand the needs of small businesses in this industry. We offer specialised painter and decorator insurance that allows you to combine a number of covers together into a single policy.

Business insurance from £5 a month