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Breaking Down Paint Specifications

The paint specifications sheet will determine the entire scope of any coating project. Specifically, for a painting project, this is broken down into three broad categories; the product to be used, the surface preparation required and how the product should be applied.

As mentioned in our previous post on how to write paint specifications, a specification’s worth is largely a matter of detail. Instructions must be detailed enough to avoid misunderstandings between the contractor and the owner, while not being unnecessarily restrictive. The following are details that may be included for each category of the specification.

The Product

“Sole spec” sheets are written specifically for a certain product. This is a situation where “shall” or an equally stern term will be used to refer to the product to be used. In some instances, such as federally funded projects, sole spec sheets are not permitted. In these instances, a few options may be provided, or “may” will be used to indicate a tolerable substitute. Here a product may be referred to as “trade name or equal”. This section will also likely specify any unique product formulations the project requires. For instance, if strict VOC regulations are a concern, this section could stipulate a high solids or even 100% solids formulation.

Surface Preparation

The most commonly accepted industry standards pertaining to surface preparation were devised by the Society for Protective Coatings (SSPC) and the National Association of Corrosion Engineers International (NACE). These are the gold standard for measuring the readiness of a surface to receive a coat of paint. These surface preparation standards range from SP1 to SP14, though a higher number does not necessarily indicate a higher level of surface cleanliness. Each standard indicates the method of cleaning as well as criteria for evaluating the outcome. For instance, an SP5/NACE 1 level of surface preparation is a white metal blast cleaning “that should leave the surface free of visible oil, grease, dust, dirt, mill scale, rust, coating, oxides, corrosion products and other foreign matter.”

Because surface preparation is such a tremendously important step in the process (improperly preparing a surface is a surefire way to shorten the coating’s service life) spec sheets must either stipulate the required level of surface preparation or direct the contractor to a product data sheet that does so.


This is another section of the spec sheet that should heavily reference specific product data sheets. The ambient conditions, number of coats and mil thickness required for a successful application should be spelled out in that document.

The specification sheet should also specify the method to be used during application. If a specific formulation, such as a 100% solids formulation is called for, then this section should also include any notes on required application equipment such as plural component pumps. The contractor should also be made aware of any other challenges that may arise during the application process in this section of the specification sheet.

Your paint specification sheet will specify what products are needed and how they need to be applied, as well as the surface preparation required for the job. These are the core elements of a paint specification, but to learn everything there is to know about paint specifications you can download our comprehensive guide below.




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