Earning Your Stripes

Whether it's the Friday night game or the one televised on Sunday afternoon, the first thing you see when you walk into the stands or turn on the TV is the field. Many communities and professional stadiums take tremendous pride in providing a top quality playing surface for their team to do battle on. Not only is the surface pristine, but the lines and graphic logos that mark the field boundaries and locations are masterfully placed on top of the playing surface. Many spectators do not realize the time and effort it takes to prepare your fields, especially painting lines and logos. The time it takes and the view you take towards athletic field striping is directly related to the equipment and products you use to perform this task. Athletic field striping is an art and like any good artist, you need the proper tools and products to deliver a quality result.


There are many products on the market that help athletic turf managers stripe their fields. Understanding the operation, the goal and the expectations of your program will help you choose the right products. There are four styles of delivery systems for paint application. Each delivers a line on the playing surface; where they differ is in the method and efficiency of the delivery.

  • Electric pump systems utilize a small diaphragm pump and electronic motor to deliver the paint. These units are usually small and can maximize efficiencies if used to line only one or two fields. This unit is not ideal for use on a large number of fields. The paint is delivered in a low-pressure platform with one or two nozzles.

  • Diaphragm pump systems use a large pump and a gas motor to deliver the paint. Units are larger and carry larger quantities of paint. Facilities with multiple fields are a perfect fit for this machine as it can handle the extra workload over the electric pump system. The paint is delivered in a low-pressure platform (30 to 50 psi) with one or two nozzles.

    Keep in mind that the integrity of the diaphragm pump system is only as good as the diaphragm pump on the unit. Large industrial-style pumps will have a longer life and better consistency over the life of the unit than their smaller counterparts. You must always clean these units after every use to mitigate the chances of the pump becoming clogged.

  • Pressure vessel units use a tank system that requires pressure in order to move the paint. The pressure comes in two forms: air or CO2. The air delivery form incorporates a gas engine hooked to a compressor, while the CO2 form includes an additional tank. The integrity of the pressure tank is key for these units to operate properly. Pressure forces the product through the plumbing. If there is a leak anywhere in the system, you face the risk of the system not efficiently applying the product. The paint is delivered in a low-pressure platform (30 to 50 psi) with one or two nozzles.

  • High-pressure units use a direct-draw system with a high-pressure pump. The increased pressure of these units results in better atomization of the paint. These units have an operating range from 300 to 1,200 psi and they deliver a precise stripe. High pressure shoots the paint down into the turf and also the soil. However, this can cause difficulties if your program requires a lot of painting because it can lead to buildup of paint in the soil that may need to be mechanically agitated or removed.

  • One last delivery technique is aerosol paint. While this practice might be perceived as a quick solution, it is very costly when compared to the mixable paints and units that are on the market. If more than one field is being painted, compute the cost of the products used over the season and you will come out with a lower cost per field with mixable paint.

High pressure vs. low pressure is most often decided by the application that you're required to perform. Both types of systems will deliver the same end result. If logos are a major part of your program, then high-pressure units might be a better fit for your operation as long as you understand the effect it will have on the health of the grass.


After you determine what type of unit is required to deliver the desired results for your program, there are a number of other tools needed to make the entire process of painting easier.

The most important tool other than the line painter and the paint is string. String will frame the lines and provide the guide for straight lines. Without string, you have to rely on that the last person who painted the lines kept them straight. Professionalism begins with attention to detail. If the first impression you give of your facility and business is crooked lines, then you will have a hard time improving your systems. Using string to keep lines straight can be a cumbersome practice, especially if you are doing many fields, but it is worth the effort. Keep your string either on a device that you can wind up mechanically or manually. If you paint many soccer fields and have center circles to paint, you can measure out a string that is the proper radius of the circle and then stake it in the center and tie it off to the unit to paint an exact circle.

There are many other products on the market that help improve the painting process as well as tips of the trade.

  • Stencils are used when logos, numbers and hash marks are needed. You can also purchase line sleds that give you a precise line. These sleds tend to require more labor to move from one point to another.

  • Carry spare nozzles with you as well as something to clean them if you experience a clog while you are out on the property.

  • A fresh bucket of water is always good to carry with you to help clean clogged nozzles or to use if a spill occurs.

  • When using low quality athletic field paint, invest in a good screen to strain the mixed paint before you place it into your tank.

  • If you have a small opening on your tank you may also want to purchase a large funnel to expand your pouring radius.

  • Logos may require you to brush or roll paint onto the surface. You can get crisper lines by using splash boards around the edges.

  • Last but not least, you should have clothes that you do not mind getting dirty. Painting is a messy job. Rags are also good backups for those that need a quick wipe down.


Keeping the paint properly mixed will help assure a quality result. The unit must be able to agitate the paint while it's in the tank. Why is this important? If the paint is allowed to settle in the tank you will run the risk of the paint either gumming up the plumbing of the system or you will have inconsistent line quality.

It is important to understand what makes up the latex paint, as it plays an important role in the quality of the paint and comparisons. There are three primary ingredients: vehicle, pigments and solid portion. The vehicle consists of the solvent (water), binder (latex resin) and a wetting agent or dispersing agent. Pigments are made up of primary and fillers. The primary pigment in most paints is titanium dioxide (white). Fillers can be made up of calcium carbonates, silicates, talc and clay. Most of the pigments utilized today are organic that can be synthetically manufactured. These materials are combined and ground to form the coating. Here is where the cost of the paint can escalate. The cheaper paints tend to be those that do not have a detailed or very aggressive grinding process. This can cause for a lot of sediment or particles in your paint even after you have mixed it well. The expensive paints are aggressively ground and have very little sediment.

Many of the expensive paints also come in a paste form. While this may seem like a good thing, it adds a considerable amount of expense in the mixing and separation of the paint once the desired water concentration is added. Almost all heavy paste style paints will need mechanical agitation to properly mix the paint. The expense comes in the handling of the paint and preparation of the product in order to utilize it.

Many of the cheaper paints are just a lower level of the paste product already diluted with water. Why does this matter? You are already jeopardizing quality when buying lower quality paint. If it is already diluted and you dilute it additionally, your end result (quality) will suffer drastically.

The desired look of the field is dependent on the quality of the paint, the pump system, the planning and the expertise of the operator. Just remember to keep lines straight, your logos crisp, and the coach, the team and the community will cheer your efforts.

Boyd Montgomery, CSMF, SCPS, is a sports field and grounds district sales manager for The Toro Co. (Bloomington, Minn.).

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