how to get your C-33 painting contractor license in California

C-33 License: Painting Contractor’s Complete Guide

Table of Contents

Painting Contractors are some of the busiest and most in-demand skilled tradesmen there are.

As urban communities all over the country experience economic shifts due to gentrification and development, there will be a large increase in property owners looking to invest in the equity of their property.

Often times the quickest way to do this is with a fresh paint job. 

This article will provide you with every single detail you need to know about the C-33 License and how to get it, what to expect on the exam, and even what to expect on the application.

Jobs You Can Do With the C-33 License!

What is the C-33 License?

“A painting and decorating contractor prepares by scraping, sandblasting or other means and applies any of the following: paints, papers, textures, fabrics, pigments, oils, turpentines, japans, driers, thinners, varnishes, shellacs, stains, fillers, waxes, adhesives, water and any other vehicles, mediums and materials which adhere by evaporation and may be mixed, used and applied to the surfaces of structures and the appurtenances thereto for purposes of decorating, protecting, fireproofing and waterproofing”CSLB.GOV

The C-33 License is the classification required in the state of California for all painting contractors that want to bid on residential and commercial painting projects where the cost of labor and materials exceeds $500.

Duties of a Painting Contractor

Some of the duties that a painting contractor typically include:

A paint brush and roller along with several cans of paint

  • Cleaning and preparing walls
  • Removing old paint, including the safe removal of lead paint
  • Trim and exterior work
  • Stain and varnish work
  • Use of brushes, spray guns, rollers, and scaffolds 
  • Finish work
  • Maintaining an environmentally safe job-site
  • Estimating, bidding, accounting, and book-keeping
  • Creating invoices 

The CSLB considers the painting contractor license one of the most important because of its direct connection with the consumer public.

A C-33 painting contractor legally is not allowed to bid on a project that falls outside of the spectrum of painting & decorating work.


The Contractors State License Board (CSLB) is the governing body for all contractors in the state of California.

Their sole responsibility is to protect the consumer public and ensure that anyone charging over $500 for construction services is qualified and registered with the state of California.

The C-33 License is issued to painting contractors by the CSLB.

The CSLB administers applications and exams. They also maintain a database of all active and inactive contractor license numbers which are public domain. 

EPA Certification

Logo of the United States Environmental Protection Agency

Understanding how to properly treat potentially contaminated soil as well as encounter and safely contain lead paint is a fundamental skill for painting contractors looking to get the C-33 license.

Knowing the correct processes and procedures required by the Environmental Protection Agency are critical for painting contractors in California.

  • Lead paint can travel miles through the air, rest on soil, and even enter air ducts causing potentially fatal damage to those that come in contact with it.
  • Painting contractors looking to build a profitable business must position themselves as experts and the authority within their industry. 
  • Contractors must be a source of information for their clients and community if they want referrals and repeat business.

For more information on adhering to EPA Standards when dealing with Lead Paint check out my article on lead safety.

Painting Subcontractor

Man standing on a ladder using a spray gun on a residential home

A painting contractor who holds the C-33 license may work directly with a homeowner or business to execute a specific duty involving painting.

However in a new construction or renovation setting, typically a painting contractor would function as a subcontractor to a General Contractor.

A General Contractor may need professional painting services on an ongoing basis for various projects and continually work with a painting company or subcontractor that holds the C-33 license.

General Contractors bring in painting contractors for their expertise to oversee this important part of the construction process.

A General Contractor would hire someone holding the C-33 license to ensure that everything is not only executed to the client’s request but also adhering to environmental and safety standards. 

How to get a Painter's License in California

To get a C-33 license in California, you must prove a minimum of 4 years of journeyman-level experience and pass a two-part state exam with the Contractor State License Board.

To qualify for an exam date you must meet the following requirements:

  • Be at least 18 years of age
  • Have a valid Driver's License or USA Issued Identification
  • Have a Social Security or ITIN #
  • Not Currently on probation or parole

You must also have:

  • 4 Years Journey Level Experience
  • A Certifier to sign off on your experience
  • A way to prove your experience if the state asks for documentation

What is a Journeyman Level painter?

pain hanging from a rope painting the side of a building. 4 years of Journey level experience is required to get the C-33 license

A Journeyman level painter is a painter who has gained experience working unsupervised full time for either a painting company, General Contractor, union, or directly under someone that holds the C-33 License.

Some Journeyman-level painters have also completed apprenticeship programs. A Journeyman level painter can perform all the duties associated with his or her trade.

The state will want to see 4 full-time years of experience within the last 10 years.

The years do not need to be consecutive, but they do need to be 4 years in total.

Signature of a Certifier

The following people may be used as certifier to sign off on your experience when applying for the C-33 license:

  • Licensed General Contractor
  • C-33 License Holder
  • Fellow Employee (within the last 10 years)
  • Former Supervisor (within the last 10 years)
  • Business Associate
  • Fellow Journeyman
  • Union Representative

Filling out the C-33 License Application

Your certifier will also need to provide a brief but detailed description of your knowledge and skill set.

The way this description is written will be critical to whether or not your application is accepted. For example:

“John is a great guy and has worked in painting for a long time…” is not descriptive enough.

The CSLB will want to see: “John has prepared and cleaned walls, used sprayers, brushes, scaffolds, and done varnish work”

For a full list of the exact verbiage to increase the likelihood of your application being accepted.

Check out my article on filling out the CSLB application.

The description written by your qualifying individual will need to include the core skills required by a painting contractor.

Work Experience for the C-33 License

Men hanging from ropes paining the side of a building

There is a possibility that the CSLB will ask you to submit documentation supporting your painting experience.

The state board gives you many ways to prove your experience including Tax Returns, check stubs, receipts, invoices, and even contracts.

The contractor's state license board receives thousands of applications per month so there is a good chance they won’t request further documentation of your experience but if you are one of the applicants that get reviewed you will need to be ready to submit this documentation.

Once your application has been accepted, you should receive your exam date within a matter of weeks.

C-33 License Application Processing, Fees, and Criminal History

The average application processing time for the C-33 license is between 6-8 weeks.

Typically you receive your exam date with another 3-4 weeks' notice before actually going to take the exam. 

This time frame can fluctuate based on many factors including time of year (processing time slows down during the holidays), Criminal History, request to prove further documentation of experience, and or potential mistakes on your application.

In total, the entire process should take 90 days assuming none of the mentioned issues arise. 

The current state fees are:

1. State Application Fee (one-time fee per application sent to the state board )

2. License Activation Fee ( paid every two years )

Upon passing the exam, you will also be required to provide a Contractor Bond numberFor more information on bonding. Check out my article on Contractor Bonds.  

Can you get a Contractor's License with a Felony in California?

wooden gavel with two law books

Having a criminal record in no way stops you from getting the C-33 License. Thousands of contractors get licensed each year despite their criminal records.

Be honest on the application, even if the felony or misdemeanor happened years ago and even if it was expunged. BE 100% HONEST ON THE APPLICATION, because they will see everything when you do a live scan fingerprinting.

The CSLB handles criminal records on a case-by-case basis. Remember, the state board's responsibility is to protect the public.

 In my experience, they are mainly concerned with criminal charges associated with fraud, embezzlement, forgery, or some type of financial-related crime. 

If your conviction does not fall under these categories most likely, you will have no issues when applying for a C-33 license, but you will need to be prepared to submit any court documents or prove rehabilitation at the state’s request.

In the state of California, you are required to divulge any criminal charges when applying for any type of state license even if they have been expunged.

C-33 License Exam

The exam will be:

  • 115 Questions of Contractor LAW
  • 115 Questions of Painting
  • 3 hours to complete each portion
  • Multiple choice exam
  • Done on a computer
  • Closed Book

The C-33 Painting License Examination is broken up into 4 parts:

  1. Planning and Estimating (28%)
  • Evaluating job sites
  • Selecting tools, equipment, and materials
  • Selecting paint, stain, and finish colors and
  • Reading blueprints and specifications
  • Estimating job costs for materials,
    supplies, equipment, and labor
  1. Substrate Repair and Surface Preparation
  • Identifying problems
  • Scraping, sanding, and wallpaper removal
  • Patching, caulking, and repairing
  • Masking and protecting job sites
  • Removing paint and cleaning surfaces
  • Applying primer
  1. Application of Paint, Wallcoverings, and
    Finishes (21%)
  • Applying paint and wallcoverings to
  • Applying waterproofing or sealant
  • Staining, sealing, and finishing wood
  • Applying touch-ups and cleaning work
  1. Safety (21%)
  • Tool and equipment safety
  • Personnel and job site safety
  • Environmental safety
  • Handling hazardous materials
  • Cal/OSHA safety requirements

Recommended Courses

CSLB Test Locations

Logo of the contractors state license board. illustration of a paint brush, saw and cement truck

The C-33 license exam is administered on a computer.

The CSLB has exam centers all over the state of California. Once your
application is approved you will be given a list of locations you can go and
take the exam based on your zip code.

These are proctored facilities with cubicles where you take the exam on a
computer. The computer will have a calculator for your use. You will not be
able to bring in a phone, notes, or personal calculator to the exam center.

The state exam is not available online. You are allowed to bring a pre-approved translator with you. The CSLB will grant you 18 months after your application is accepted to pass both examinations.

($100 per retake)

C-33 license study guides and practice tests

Getting your C-33 license can be a smooth process if you have the right information.

Understanding the difference between how things are done every day out in the field vs. how the state will expect you to perform your trade is a very important part of passing the exam.

 Applicants get surprised by how different the subject matter on the state exam is from their years of first-hand experience.

They get confused when they see terms used to describe tools or job site practices. Remember, they are testing you on all the things you will be allowed to bid on, so make sure that you are knowledgeable on all aspects of your trade.

Being prepared is the most important thing you can do in ensuring your success on the contractor license exam.

Studying C-33 license practice tests along with explanations and diagrams for as little as 10 minutes a day is a small investment to make, but will increase your likelihood of success.

It will be essential to study a standardized resource that will give you the information that you need, which is to pass the state exam. 

For schools and C-33 license exam study guides designed to help you with the state exam, check out my post on the best resources to pass your state exam.

Painting Apprenticeships

man standing on a roof painting a window

If you are brand new to the painting trade and don’t have the 4 years required journeyman level experience to obtain a C-33 license, that is ok. Your journey begins here.

Residential and Commercial painting is a very lucrative career path with an unlimited amount of opportunity.

There are resources available for people at every level to help you learn the basics or get up to speed. Painting Apprenticeships are an excellent way to build a solid foundation and learn the skillsets necessary for a long and successful career.

After gaining the necessary experience, an apprentice could attempt to look for a job working unsupervised with a painting contractor, company, or union at which point experience recognized by the Contractors State License Board would begin.

For information on courses in your area or books to get you on the right path click here.

Blue Print Reading Course

two construction workers examining a bluerprint

It is vital for painting contractors to be able to read blueprints and identify specific designs, interior and exterior elevations, floor plans, ceiling plans, and wall section drawings.

Preparing an accurate quote for materials, labor, and costs on a consistent basis is critical to the survival of your business.

Painting contractors involved in new construction or renovation projects must take the time to learn how to read blueprints.

Interpreting construction blueprints and executing your duties safely is an invaluable skill for all tradesmen but is especially important for painting contractors.

For a basic overview of Construction, blueprints be sure to check out our Online Blue Print Reading course.

So what next?

Getting your California painting contractor license can be a smooth process if you have the correct information. However, you must also take action

Check back on this blog post for updates!