How to Bid a Paint Job: A Step-By-Step Guide

A man is painting a customer's wall after learning how to bid a paint job

Learning how to bid painting jobs is one of the toughest challenges for commercial or residential painters. Here’s why:

Bid too high, and you risk losing the job.

Bid too low, however, and you could end up losing a lot of money – money that eventually comes out of your own pocket.

That’s why it’s so important for residential and commercial painters to learn how to bid a paint job. When you bid just the right price, you should end up increasing your odds of getting the job, as well as making sure you make a tidy profit.

Don’t want to figure out how to bid a painting job on your own? Luckily, we’ve gathered the best tips on how to estimate a paint job, so you don’t have to deal with that pesky learning curve!

How to Bid Painting Jobs by Square Foot

Okay, you’ve got a potential client who’s interested in working with you. You’re at the site, ready to place your bid. Since you want to make sure you’re creating a bid that compensates you fairly – while keeping your client happy – follow this step-by-step guide on how to bid paint jobs by square foot.

1. Calculate your square footage.

One of the first things to know about how to bid a paint job is that you’ll need to figure out how much your client is asking you to paint. It’s no surprise here – calculating square footage forms the basis of your paint job bid. Here’s how to quickly calculate the square footage of a residential or commercial property for your paint job bid:

  • Begin by measuring rectangular areas by length and width. Multiple those numbers together to get your square footage (ft2).

  • If you’re measuring an area that doesn’t form a traditional rectangle (for example, an L-shaped wall), break that area down into smaller rectangles, measure them, and add the square footage together to get the area’s total square footage for your paint bid.

  • If you find that some of your measurements are in feet and inches (or you’re using a different form of measurement, like yards), you’ll need to convert it all into feet to get the most accurate paint bid.

Not sure how to convert measurements into feet, or just want a quick and dirty way of calculating square footage? Just plug your measurements into the square footage calculator at and boom – you’re done.

Once you have the final square footage number, figure out how many coats of paint the entire area will need. Multiply the total number of paint coats with the final square footage. Finally, add 20% to that final figure. Mark it down, as we’ll come back to this number at the end of these steps on bidding on a paint job.

2. Factor in the paint supplies you’ll need.

Next, you’ll want to determine the amount of expendable supplies it will take to complete this paint job. Why the emphasis on expendable? Easy: You’re going to go through paint brushes, rollers, tarps, and other supplies pretty quickly – sometimes within the same job. Your paint job bid should allow for these expenses, so it’s important to keep an eye on your supplies.

Count out all the supplies you have that to use (and potentially replace) on this paint job. Once you have that number, add 25%. Don’t lose it! We’re coming back to this number during the last step of creating your paint job bid.

3. Add in the cost of equipment rentals.

Do you have to rent anything in order to complete this paint job? As you did in the previous step, count out what supplies you’ll need to rent and determine what they’ll cost you. Once you have this final number, add 25%. You guessed it – we’ll come back to this number in just a bit.

4. Figure out your time and labor.

Here’s where a lot of commercial and residential painters tend to end up making mistakes, which can seriously cost you on your final paint job. There may be an instinct to underestimate the amount of time you’ll be spending on this paint job.

Maybe the potential client is really trying to push for a fast turnaround time, or you don’t want to end up losing the bid, so you overpromise on the timeframe.

Whatever the case may be, it’s always best to be generous with your time estimation for the painting job. Unforeseen events tend to slow things down – and even if you’re the best residential or commercial painter on the block, you won’t be able to complete your job on time if you end up running out of supplies or encounter some bad weather.

Some painters also make the mistake of not including non-painting time in the final paint bid. For example, if a client requests a specific paint brand that you have to travel to get, you should include that travel time in your final paint job bid.

When you figure out how long it’s going to take you to complete the paint job, multiple that time by your hourly rate or day rate. Finally, add 10% to that number.

5. Don’t forget business insurance.

You probably got painters insurance when you first started your painting company (and if you haven’t, you may be legally required to get coverage). business insurance – especially general liability insurance – ensures that your painting business remains protected in cases of accidents, damage, and/or loss.

For example, if you’re painting the interior of an office and you end up getting paint on a computer, business insurance can help pay for the cost of that computer. It’s a great way to ensure that you’re not personally on the hook for paying for damages, which is pretty good news for you and your family.

Plus, a lot of clients won’t work with residential or commercial painters if they don’t have business insurance.

It goes without saying that if you want to land more paint jobs, you need business insurance.

If you got a general liability policy back when you first started your painting business, you might be wondering why you should include it when coming up with a paint job bid.

Here’s why: Your liability policy is a business expense. Without this coverage, you wouldn’t be able to offer your client the protection and peace of mind that comes along with insurance. You should absolutely include some of the cost of business insurance in your paint job bid, especially if you had to take out a new policy for that specific paint job.

When it comes to business insurance, you have one of two options:

If you had to take out a new policy for the project: You should charge the client the initial cost of that policy premium. For example, if you had to take out a $3 million liability insurance policy to work on a commercial paint job, include the costs of the policy premium for every month you’re on the job.

It’s up to you if you want to keep that specific coverage amount once you’re done with the job, but if you have to take out a new policy for a client, they should definitely cover those costs.

If you’re using your standard business insurance coverage: This should be treated as a normal business expense and included in the final markup for your paint job bid.

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6. Multiply everything by this magic number to get your final painting bid.

Remember all those final figures you were asked to save? It’s time to round them up and add them together. Once you’ve done that, multiply it by 1.5 to get the price of what you should bid on a paint job.

This general step-by-step painting job guide should make it considerably easier to bid on a paint job. Remember to add in any extra costs associated with that paint job, like disposing of hazardous wastes or taking out special permits and licenses.

Okay, so you’ve provided your potential customer with your painting job bid. But how can you make it so that your bid rises to the top of the pile?

It’s simple: Make sure your client understands all the benefits and advantages of working with you.

Why’s that so important? Well, think about it from the perspective of your customer: You’re probably not the only painting company they’re getting bids from. Maybe you’re not the cheapest bid, or the customer is getting painting bids from companies that are charging a lot more than what you’re quoting. That leaves the customer wondering why there’s such a huge difference in pricing between the bids.

Why are some painting bids cheaper than others?

That’s why once you’ve submitted your painting job bid, walk your customer through everything that quote includes, such like:

  • Any warranties (whether they’re from you or a product you’re using)
  • Quality of products being used
  • Guarantees

Ultimately, your client wants your painting job bid to be as transparent and straightforward as possible. If the customer fully understands what to expect from working with you, you’ll be much more likely to land that painting job.

Mariah Bliss

I love writing about the small business experience because I happen to be a small business owner – I’ve had a freelance copywriting business for over 10 years. In addition to that, I also head up the content strategy here at Simply Business. Reach out if you have a great idea for an article or just want to say hi!
Mariah writes on a number of topics such as small business planning, contractor insurance, and business licenses.