Fence Painting 101: Tools, Prep, and Techniques for a Professional Look

Don't miss this step-by-step guide to painting a fence! Learn the tools you will need, the necessary preparations and tips from experts to make your project a breeze!
Renee Lewis
Renee Lewis
Last Update:
November 20, 2023

Just about anyone can paint a fence. Whether you are painting a new fence, doing a quick touch-up, or repainting an older fence with peeling paint, it is the perfect outdoor DIY summer home improvement project. And besides making your fence look better, increasing your curb appeal, or adding some color to your outdoor space, painting your fence is also important for the upkeep of your fence. Unpainted fences are more vulnerable to damage. Let’s talk about the tools and materials you will need for a fence painting project!

Tools and Materials Needed

Compared to other types of DIY projects, painting a fence requires relatively few tools and materials. Most of them have to do with preparing the space and the fence for the painting, rather than the painting the fence itself.




Which Type of Paint to Use on a Fence

The type of paint to use on your fence depends on what type of material your fence is made out of. First thing is to make sure the paint is an exterior paint - which is specially made to be extra tough and durable to withstand the outdoor elements. Then, determine whether you want to use acrylic paint, latex paint, or oil-based paint. In most cases oil-based paints will be the best paint for unpainted fences and hold up better outdoors. The most common types of fences are wood fences, vinyl or PVC fences, and metal fences. Next, consider whether you want to pay more for higher quality paints that offer increased durability or protection from the elements. Maybe you already have a color in mind, and if it is a less common color that may determine which kind of paint you end up using.

Paint Brush vs Sprayer vs Roller?

Once you have your paint picked out, the next decision is what type of tool you want to use to apply the paint to the fence. The choices are paint brush, paint roller, or paint sprayer and they all have advantages and disadvantages depending on your priorities. A paint brush will be the slowest option, but offers you the most control with the paint. Paint rollers can cover more surface faster but may be more of a drip hazard as it holds more paint. A paint sprayer is the fastest way to cover a fence with paint, but requires some skill and extra tools like a high-quality respirator mask or supplied air respirator. This tool also poses the risk of getting paint sprayed on areas you did not want painted, especially in windy weather. Imagine trying to spray paint in the wind! The type of fence you are painting can also influence your decision about whether to use a paint sprayer. Do you have a picket fence? These typically have gaps in between the panels which might pose problems like paint getting sprayed through and on to other things you did not want painted. If the fence posts are built without gaps,

​​When to Paint a Fence

The best time to paint your outdoor fence is during the summer when the forecast is for sunny weather without the chance of rain. It needs to have been dry weather for at least a day before you paint and have another 24 hours for it to cure in dry weather. So be sure to check the weather forecast before planning your start date.

Check the Weather

As discussed above, sunny summer weather is optimal for painting. That does not mean you cannot paint in the spring or fall but you do need clear weather without the chance of rain. Another thing to keep in mind is that paint cures optimally in weather above 40 degrees Fahrenheit so if you paint outside of the summer season there is also a greater chance the temperature could dip below that level. Experts say it should be at least 50 degrees F when you are painting the fence and that it should not drop below 32 degrees at night for several days afterwards. If it does, and especially if you are using water-based paint, dew can form on surfaces and can affect the durability of the paint over time. Colder, wetter weather can result in staining or mildew.

How Often Should You Paint a Fence?

You should paint your fence annually if possible, or at least once every couple of years to keep your fence looking its best. Weather, of course, will impact how long the paint on your fence lasts before it starts getting damaged from peeling and cracking. If you begin to see some peeling or cracking or other types of damage, it is better to paint it sooner than later. To help budget for your paint project, you can read our guide to fence painting costs.

Steps to Follow When Painting a Wooden Fence

Let’s go over the steps to painting a wooden fence!

Clear Surrounding Areas

Step one is to prepare the area by clearing surrounding areas. First, remove anything sitting around in the area like outdoor furniture. Next, get out the lawn mower and mow the grass near the fence. If you have tall plants near your fence, use plant ties to keep them out of the way so they do not get paint on them. Finally, cover any sidewalks, plants, or other landscaping you would not want to get paint on with your drop cloth.

Preparing & Sanding The Fence

Now that the surrounding area is prepared for painting, you will need to prepare the fence itself. First step is to inspect the fence for any necessary repairs. Are there loose nails, screws, or cracked boards? You will need to fix those before you begin the next steps. If your fence has old paint on it, you will need to use a paint scraper to remove paint chips or flaking before getting out the sandpaper to smooth out the surface for painting. Finally, spray down the fence with your garden hose or pressure washer to remove any dust, dirt or other debris and let the fence dry completely before you begin to apply the primer and paint.

Applying Primer

First step for applying the primer is to fill your paint tray with your chosen type of primer. Oil-based exterior primers and paints are best for unpainted wooden fences. Latex exterior primers and paints are better for when there is already paint on the fence. Paint the primer with your paint brush or paint roller in strokes that go with the grain of the wood. If it is a vertical fence, paint up and down, and if it is a horizontal fence paint in horizontal strokes. Use even strokes and avoid overloading your brush or roller so that you do not end up with drips. Let the primer dry for a few hours before you start applying the first coat of paint.

Applying First Coat (And More If Needed)

Applying your first coat of paint on your fence is a similar process to applying primer. Using your paint brush or paint roller, apply smooth, even strokes that go with the grain of the fence. Vertical strokes with vertical fence panels and horizontal strokes with a horizontal fence. You can also use a paint sprayer but you will need to be careful in the wind, as it can get sprayed on objects you do not intend to paint. Be sure to work the paint into the wood and thoroughly cover all areas of the fence. Touch up any spots that were missed in the initial coat of paint and then allow a drying time of at least a few hours before applying a second coat of paint. Remember that the paint needs one to two days to cure fully.

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