There is no simple formula for figuring your finishing costs. Any true assessment of finishing costs must consider many factors, including direct costs, indirect costs and labor. Only by carefully assessing those factors can you determine your true costs.

Direct costs

Direct costs are the costs of products and labor directly attributable to the finishing process. They do not include any capital costs, such as equipment, buildings etc. Some examples are shown below. However, many companies may also have direct costs unique to their process.


  • Paints, including stains, sealers, glazes, primers, top coats, etc.
  • Solvents, including thinning solvents, retardants, gun cleaners, washes, etc.
  • Shop sundries such as tack rags, paper towels, stain rags, cleanup rags, sandpaper, etc.
  • Filters for the spray booth, air, spray gun, breathing, paint straining, etc.
  • Health and safety supplies, such as protective clothing, spray masks, sanding masks, etc.
  • Any other products purchased for the finishing department that are a material cost.


  • All labor costs involved in any part of the finishing process, such as sanding, stain wiping, spraying, clean up.

Indirect costs

These are costs that are overhead to the business, parts of which can be attributed to the finishing of the product. Some examples are shown below, but individual companies may have indirect costs unique to them.

  • Overhead
  • Permits, emission costs, environmental fees, etc.
  • Fire insurance.
  • Waste disposal of rags, solvents, filters, toxins, etc.
  • Health checks.

Capital costs

Capital costs are not a factor for the purposes of this analysis. However, if special equipment or major alterations were to be required for a finishing process, this would have to be amortized over a period of time and added as an overhead.

Unit costing

Once all costs have been established, a dollar amount for current processes will be determined. This figure will have to be divided by either the square footage of the product finished, by the number of pieces finished or another measurable unit.

Establishing a unit and calculating the cost per unit is the most accurate way of comparing different finishing materials or processes. It will help if the unit chosen is a practical one for testing purposes, as multiple tests may have to be carried out to prove a saving or develop a desired finish. Subsequently, one piece of furniture or one square foot is a better option than a day's production. In some cases, it may be advantageous to create a specific test unit, such as a one square foot cube or box, as an easy and cheap way to test where normal manufactured items are costly or difficult to assess.

Liquid coatings used in testing should be a measured quantity, such as a pint or quart, as this will give a unit-per-pint/quart figure, which can easily be multiplied to give a units-per-gallon figure.

Finishing process

Breaking each element of the finishing process down into individual steps, which uses specific materials and takes measured amounts of labor, may seem unnecessary, but changing one material may affect many other aspects. A particular finishing product may cost more per gallon, but save labor time or cover a larger area, so an accurate assessment of a product can only be achieved if all the factors are taken into account.

The number of steps in a process needs to be listed individually. Usually, steps will either be spraying, wiping, sanding, dipping, brushing or polishing. Some steps are repeated, such as sanding, and each different grit used must be considered a separate step. These need to be listed as individual steps, as some materials may reduce the amount of sanding or the grit levels required.

Coatings materials

The coatings materials used in a finish process need to be assessed for VOC content, solids content by volume (not by weight as this gives an inaccurate figure), toxin content, HAPS (Hazardous Air Pollutants), carcinogens and price.

The VOC level of coatings must comply with federal and/or local regulations, and will vary with location and the type of coating. Compliant coatings will meet these requirements, but may be restrictive as to the amount of coatings that can be used. It is, therefore, very important to be aware of the permitted amount of VOC an individual plant has, and in turn, how much of a coating can be used.

An example of this would be a plant with a 22 pounds of VOC per day emission allowance. This plant could spray 4.7 gallons of a compliant coating with 4.6 pounds of VOC per gallon or 40 gallons of a compliant coating with .54 pounds of VOC per gallon.

Solids content is the most important number in calculating costs, as the higher the solids content of a coating, the larger square footage it will cover per gallon. The percentage by volume figure shows how much of a gallon will be left after all the liquid elements have dried. Most coating manufacturers publish solids as a percentage by weight figure, and for these calculations a percentage by volume is required. The percentage by weight number is usually a higher figure, giving a misleading solids number. Your coating supplier should be pleased to give you these figures.

As an example, a $10 per gallon material at 19 percent solids by volume is more expensive to use than a $25 per gallon material at 50 percent solids by volume.

Higher solids means higher build-up, therefore, fewer coats, less labor costs, and more savings per gallon.

Toxins and HAPS cover a wide range of chemicals found in coatings used in finishing. They have no direct cost effect on finishing other than an indirect cost in terms of violation fines or health related costs.

Carcinogens also have no direct cost effect, but in looking at coatings in general, the cost to health of both the employees as well as the owners should be of greater importance than minor cost savings.


Price is the most misleading aspect of coatings. As a wise man said, "the bitterness of poor quality will last longer than the sweetness of a cheap price." Coating can be manufactured to a quality or to a price. The higher the quality of the raw materials used in the coating, the better it will work for the consumer, but at a higher price. As shown with the solids content, savings can be deceptive. Quality of materials in a coating can offer savings in the number of coats, due to better hide or tougher finishes requiring fewer coats.

Comparing coatings can be like comparing apples to oranges, different types, makes, and prices all offer different aspects to consider.


Finishing with any product is dependent on three things: application, application and application. Changes in the method of application, the equipment used, the drying time or any other application-related factor can determine the speed and volume of total productivity. The finishing process may be the tail-end of production, but can easily become the tail wagging the dog. Materials that are difficult to apply or require special equipment will require highly skilled operators, so materials should be selected with skill levels in mind.

The reliability of material in changing ambient conditions can also affect the skill requirement of operators, where the addition of retarders or other additional materials are required to combat hotter or colder temperatures. Skilled operators, additives and complex equipment are all cost factors to be considered, as well as any change in costs that may occur with the change in weather conditions.

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