Painters and painting contractors in Washington State are required to be licensed and insured in order to operate legally. Proper licensing and insurance protects both painters and their customers, and ensures that painting projects are completed safely and responsibly. This comprehensive guide provides a detailed overview of all requirements to become a licensed painter or painting contractor in Washington, as well as steps for obtaining, renewing, and transferring a painter’s license.

Requirements for Becoming a Licensed Painter or Painting Contractor

To become a licensed painter or painting contractor in Washington State, individuals must meet the following eligibility criteria:

  • Be 18 years of age or older. Applicants must provide valid proof of age such as a driver’s license or ID card.
  • Have a valid Social Security number or federal tax ID number. This is required for registering your painting business.
  • Not have any pending or unsatisfied judgments related to construction activities. Background checks will be performed to verify no outstanding construction-related judgments.
  • Obtain a continuous surety bond of $6,000 if operating as a specialty contractor. All licensed painters and painting contractors are considered specialty contractors in Washington and must be bonded.
  • Obtain general liability insurance coverage of at least $200,000 for public liability and $50,000 for property damage, or $250,000 combined single limit. This insurance must cover any property damage or injuries that occur because of the painting company’s work.
  • Complete the contractor registration application process through the Department of Labor and Industries. This involves submitting the application, documentation, and licensing fees.
  • Pay all required licensing fees. The base registration fee is $124.70, with additional charges for business registration, bonding, etc.

In Washington, painters and painting contractors are considered specialty contractors. This means they cannot hire or manage subcontractors, and they can only perform painting-related work within their specialty. General contractors are able to engage subcontractors and perform general construction work.

Meeting all eligibility criteria and formally registering through the Department of Labor and Industries is required to legally operate as a painting contractor in Washington. Performing contracting work without proper licensing can result in significant fines and penalties.

Obtaining a New Painting Contractor License

Follow these detailed steps to obtain a new painting contractor license in Washington:

Step 1: Establish Eligibility

First, interested individuals should confirm they meet the eligibility criteria to become a licensed painter or painting contractor, including:

  • Being at least 18 years old
  • Having a valid Social Security Number that allows them to legally work in the United States
  • Having no outstanding or pending judgments related to any construction activities
  • Being prepared and able to obtain the required specialty contractor surety bond
  • Being prepared and able to obtain appropriate general liability insurance coverage

Applicants should gather documentation that proves they meet age, SSN, and judgments eligibility criteria before proceeding.

Step 2: Select a Business Structure

The next step is deciding on a business structure for operating the painting company. Common options include:

  • Sole proprietorship – This is a business owned and operated by one individual. It’s the simplest structure with minimal registration requirements. Profits and losses flow directly to the business owner. Sole proprietors may operate under their own name or register a DBA (“doing business as”).
  • Partnership – This involves two or more individuals owning and operating the business together. Partners split profits and share control of the company. Registration requirements are minimal unless a DBA is used. A partnership agreement is recommended to detail partner roles, responsibilities, and splits.
  • Limited liability company (LLC) – This structure combines aspects of partnerships and corporations to provide personal liability protection for the owners while allowing pass-through taxation. Forming an LLC requires more registration paperwork and fees through the Secretary of State. An operating agreement outlines member responsibilities.
  • Corporation – Corporations are separate legal entities from their owners and require the most formal registration. Owners (shareholders) are not personally liable for debts and legal actions. Corporations have more complex operating and tax-filing requirements.

Most new painters and contractors in Washington operate as sole proprietors or partnerships initially before growing into an LLC or corporation structure.

Step 3: Register Your Business

Once the appropriate business structure is selected, painting business owners must complete the necessary registrations:

Sole Proprietor

  • File a “doing business as” (DBA) name if you want to operate under a name different than your personal name
  • There is a $10 filing fee for a DBA registration


  • File a DBA if you wish to use a business name instead of the partners’ names
  • There is a $10 DBA filing fee

LLC or Corporation

  • File formal business registration documents with the Washington Secretary of State’s office
  • There is a $180 filing fee for new corporations or LLCs
  • Obtain a Unified Business Identifier (UBI) number for tax and licensing purposes

Completing the appropriate business registrations for your entity type will establish your business and allow you to obtain your painting contractor license.

Step 4: Purchase Bond and Insurance

Painting contractors in Washington must be bonded and insured in order to be licensed. The next step is to acquire:

  • A $6,000 specialty contractor surety bond – this guarantees you will satisfy any valid legal claims related to your painting work. It must be obtained through an approved bonding company, not self-bonded.
  • General liability insurance coverage of at least $200,000 for public liability and $50,000 for property damage, or a $250,000 combined single limit policy. This protects against third-party bodily injury and property damage claims.

Work with your insurance agent to obtain the proper specialty contractor bond and general liability insurance in the name of your registered business. Provide them with any necessary business documentation.

Step 5: Complete Licensing Application

With your business registered and insurance/bonding secured, you can now complete the painting contractor license application:

  • Obtain a copy of the Application for Contractor Registration form from the Department of Labor and Industries website or office
  • Fill out the application fully and accurately, indicating painting as your specialty
  • Gather documentation including your bond, insurance, business registration, etc.
  • Double check that your business name matches exactly on all documents
  • Make photocopies of original documents for your records

Submitting an incomplete or inaccurate application can delay processing and approval of your painting contractor license.

Step 6: Submit Application and Fees

The final step is to submit your contractor license application and pay required fees:

  • The base registration fee is $124.70
  • Include any business registration, bond, and insurance fees
  • Application can be submitted in person or by mail to Department of Labor and Industries
  • Licenses are typically issued within 4 weeks of receiving a complete application

Once approved, you will receive your official painting contractor license number. This must be included on all business documents, vehicles, advertising, and other communications. You can now legally offer painting services in Washington.

Renewing a Washington Painting Contractor License

Painting contractor licenses must be renewed annually in Washington. Follow these steps to complete your license renewal:

  • Review your license renewal application for any business information changes needed
  • Confirm your specialty contractor surety bond is current and sufficient
  • Verify your general liability insurance policy is active and covers minimum amounts
  • Pay the $124.70 standard renewal fee
  • Submit renewal application and payment by the deadline

There are currently no continuing education requirements for renewing a painting contractor license in Washington. However, you must maintain an active bond and insurance policy to qualify for renewal.

Renewal applications can be completed online, mailed in, submitted in person, or reinstated if expired. Licenses will be suspended if the renewal process is not completed with current bond and insurance by the deadline.

License Reciprocity with Other States

Unfortunately, Washington does not have direct license reciprocity agreements with other states for painting contractors. Instead, painters and painting contractors licensed in other states must go through Washington’s full specialty contractor licensing application process to become licensed.

However, individuals may be able to use prior experience and education to help qualify for exemptions from certain application requirements:

  • Applicants licensed as painting contractors in other states can provide this as proof of sufficient experience and competency to exempt them from having to take the specialty contractor exam.
  • If an applicant completed the education classes and exams to obtain a painting contractor license in a different state, they can likely use this to exempt them from needing to take exams to get their Washington license.
  • Out-of-state painters may also request partial credit for application fees already paid for their existing license.

While full license reciprocity is not available, providing evidence of current licensure and qualifications from another state can potentially help streamline portions of the Washington application process. It is highly recommended that painters and contractors licensed elsewhere contact the Department of Labor and Industries for guidance on their specific situation before applying. The department can clarify what exemptions you may qualify for based on where you are licensed, your credentials, and experience.

Bond Requirements

As a painting specialty contractor, all applicants are required to obtain a $6,000 specialty contractor surety bond to become licensed in Washington. Key requirements include:

  • Bond must be from an approved surety bonding company, not self-bonded
  • Original bond documentation must be provided with contractor license application
  • Business name on bond must match business name on contractor license application
  • Bond must remain valid and in effect as long as contractor license is active

The purpose of the surety bond is to provide financial protection and recourse if the painting contractor fails to satisfy a valid claim. Common reasons bond claims may be filed include:

  • Failure to pay subcontractors, suppliers, taxes, wages as required
  • Failure to replace or repair defective materials and workmanship
  • Failure to return customer deposits or property when withdrawing from a project
  • Violating state construction, licensing, or tax laws

Having adequate bonding demonstrates a minimum level of financial responsibility and protects clients if legal judgements are entered against the painter. Insufficient bonding can lead to license suspension.

Painting contractors must ensure they maintain the $6,000 bond at all times to remain properly licensed. Bond coverage must be sufficient to pay potential claims. Allowing bond coverage to lapse will result in penalties.

Insurance Requirements

Along with bonding, painting contractors must meet minimum general liability insurance requirements to be licensed:

  • Policy must provide at least $200,000 public liability coverage and at least $50,000 property damage coverage


  • A combined single limit policy of at least $250,000

This insurance protects against third-party bodily injury and property damage claims that arise from the painting company’s operations, materials, or employee actions.

Having inadequate insurance puts the contractor at risk of major liability if an incident does occur. Customers may also require higher liability limits than state minimums on specific jobs.

As with bonding, the insurer, coverage amounts, and dates must be accurate and up-to-date on the contractor’s license at all times. Lapses in insurance can lead to license suspension until requirements are met.

Certificates of liability insurance must be provided any time policies are changed or renewed. The business name on the insurance must precisely match the registered contractor license name.


Painting contractors and painters-for-hire in Washington must meet all requirements to legally obtain and renew a specialty contractor license. This includes registering as a business, obtaining a $6,000 surety bond, acquiring adequate insurance, completing the full contractor application process, and maintaining current credentials.

Properly licensing painting contractors ensures they have the training, resources, and accountability to safely perform quality work and meet their financial obligations. It also provides critical consumer protection if issues with a project arise. Verifying painters have an active specialty license before hiring helps minimize risk and supports professional contracting services.