California C-33 Painting Contractor License Guide

TLDR: In California, a C-33 painting and decorating contractor refers to a licensed professional who specializes in various aspects of painting and decorative finishes for both residential and commercial properties. Their main responsibility is to improve the visual appeal of surfaces by applying paint, coatings, and various decorative materials. There are currently 12,450 licensed painting and decorating contractors in California, which makes up 5% of the total number of contractors. This is a relatively big and competitive field that is regulated by the California State Licensing Board(CSLB). In order to start working as a painter in California and take on projects worth more than $500, it is mandatory to get licensed by the CSLB. In this article, we will take you through the process of applying for your license to get you started working in your trade.

What is the CSLB, and what do they do

The Contractors State License Board (CSLB) is a California state agency responsible for licensing and regulating contractors operating within the state. Their primary role is to protect consumers by ensuring that contractors are qualified, licensed, and operating in compliance with state laws and regulations.

In regards to someone who wants to become licensed as a painting and decorating contractor (C-33), the CSLB oversees the licensing process and sets the requirements that individuals must meet. Here's an overview of the CSLB's involvement:

  • Application Process: The CSLB provides the application forms and instructions for individuals seeking a C-33 contractor's license. Applicants are required to submit the completed application, along with the necessary supporting documents and fees, to the CSLB.
  • Qualifications and Experience: The CSLB establishes the eligibility criteria for obtaining a C-33 license. Generally, applicants must demonstrate a combination of education, work experience, and/or apprenticeship training in the painting and decorating field to meet the experience requirements.
  • Examinations: The CSLB administers the contractor's license examinations, including a trade-specific examination for painting and decorating contractors. The exam assesses an applicant's knowledge of industry practices, safety regulations, and other relevant topics. Passing the examination is a prerequisite for obtaining the license.
  • Background Checks: The CSLB conducts background checks on all applicants, including verifying their identity, checking for any criminal history, and reviewing their prior contracting experience.
  • Licensing and Renewal: Once an applicant fulfills all the requirements, including passing the examination and meeting the background check criteria, the CSLB issues the C-33 painting and decorating contractor's license. Licenses are typically valid for a specific period and need to be renewed periodically as per CSLB regulations.
  • Consumer Complaints and Investigations: The CSLB handles consumer complaints against licensed contractors. They investigate allegations of wrongdoing, such as fraudulent activities, substandard work, or contract violations. If necessary, the CSLB can take disciplinary action against the contractor, including license suspension or revocation.

The CSLB's involvement ensures that individuals seeking to become painting and decorating contractors in California go through a standardized process, adhere to legal requirements, and maintain professional standards. It helps protect consumers by promoting a level playing field and ensuring that licensed contractors possess the necessary skills and knowledge to perform their work safely and competently.

What is a C-33 Painting and Decorating Contractor

In California, a C-33 painting and decorating contractor refers to a licensed professional who specializes in painting and decorative finishes for both residential and commercial properties. Their primary role is to enhance the appearance of surfaces by applying paint, stains, coatings, and other decorative materials.

Here's an overview of what a C-33 painting and decorating contractor does in California:

  • Surface Preparation: Contractors prepare surfaces by cleaning, sanding, and filling cracks or holes to ensure a smooth and even painting surface. They may also remove old paint or wallpaper as necessary.
  • Material Selection: They advise clients on appropriate paint types, colors, and finishes based on the desired aesthetic, budget, and surface requirements. They may also provide samples and help clients make informed decisions.
  • Painting and Coating Application: Contractors apply paint, stains, varnishes, or other coatings using brushes, rollers, sprayers, or other suitable tools. They ensure proper coverage, smooth application, and clean lines while following industry standards.
  • Decorative Finishes: They specialize in various decorative techniques such as faux finishes, textures, stenciling, murals, or wallpaper installation to create unique and visually appealing surfaces.
  • Surface Protection: Contractors may apply sealants, waterproofing coatings, or protective finishes to extend the life of painted surfaces and provide resistance against moisture, UV rays, or other environmental factors.

The role of a C-33 painting and decorating contractor is to provide professional painting services while ensuring quality workmanship, attention to detail, and customer satisfaction. By utilizing their skills, knowledge, and creativity, they transform spaces and enhance the aesthetic appeal of residential and commercial properties.

Here are the steps you should follow to obtain your license.

Step 1: Gain working experience as a painter

To be eligible for the C-33 painting and decorating contractor license exam in California, candidates are required to have a minimum of four years of experience working as a journeyman. A journeyman is a highly skilled worker who has attained full qualifications in their trade and can perform tasks independently without requiring direct supervision. This experience can be acquired through completion of an apprenticeship program or by obtaining the necessary training and qualifications from a recognized Joint Examination Board. 

Meeting this experience requirement ensures that candidates have developed the necessary expertise and competence in the painting and decorating field, enabling them to take on the responsibilities of a licensed contractor effectively.

Gaining working experience as a journeyman before applying for a C-33 painting and decorating contractor in California is beneficial for several reasons. Here's why:

  • Skill Development: Working as a journeyman allows you to develop essential skills and expertise in the painting and decorating trade. It provides hands-on experience in various aspects of the profession, such as surface preparation, application techniques, material selection, and problem-solving. This practical knowledge is valuable when you eventually become a licensed contractor.
  • Industry Knowledge: Through working as a journeyman, you gain exposure to different projects, clients, and industry practices. This experience helps you understand the nuances of the painting and decorating field, including emerging trends, best practices, and industry standards. It allows you to stay updated with the latest techniques, materials, and regulations relevant to your trade.
  • Networking Opportunities: During your journeyman experience, you have the chance to collaborate with other professionals in the construction industry, including contractors, architects, designers, and suppliers. Building relationships and networking can lead to future business opportunities, referrals, and partnerships, which are valuable assets when you establish yourself as a contractor.
  • Confidence and Credibility: Working as a journeyman helps build your confidence and credibility in the eyes of potential clients and employers. Having a solid foundation of practical experience demonstrates your competence, professionalism, and ability to deliver high-quality work. This experience gives clients the assurance that you have the skills and knowledge necessary to handle their painting and decorating needs.

Upon successfully completing the required training period, applicants for the C-33 painting and decorating contractor license in California must submit a Certification of Work Experience form. This form serves as a verification of their practical experience and is included as part of their application packet.

Step 2: Get credible witnesses to testify to your painter background

To ensure the validity of your work experience, it is essential to gather testimonials from reputable individuals who have direct knowledge of your skills and capabilities. These endorsements can be obtained from a variety of reliable sources, including employers, contractors, supervisors, co-workers, fellow journeyman workers, union representatives, building inspectors, architects, engineers, or even homeowners. The endorsers should have first-hand experience and have personally witnessed the tasks you have performed. Their involvement entails completing the experience certification section of your application.

When determining which documents to submit as evidence of your work history, you can refer to the following list, which outlines acceptable supporting experience documentation. By providing these documents, you substantiate your claims and strengthen your application:

1. Wage or Tax Documentation and Paycheck Stubs: 

  • Copies of the applicant’s state or
  • federal income tax forms showing income from construction activities (W-2 from an employer, 1099 from a contractor, Schedule C for self-employment, etc.)
  • End-of-year paycheck stubs showing gross earnings and hourly/salary rates
  • Wage transcripts from the Internal Revenue Service(IRS)

2. Employer Contact Information

3. Duty Statement

4. Out-of-State Proof of Employer’s Licensure

5. Notarized Certification of Work Experience

6. Permits/Inspections

  • Copies of city and/or county building permits
  • Statement detailing the work the applicant performed
  • For homeowner permits, include applicant’s contract/invoice with a detailed scope of work

7. Contracts

  • Copies of complete and signed contracts that have been entered into and performed, including client contact information, description of work performed, and project start and end dates
  • Statement indicating a reasonable estimate of the actual time spent to complete the project
  • Itemized Bills, Work Orders, and Invoices

8. Canceled Checks

  • Copies of both sides of canceled checks from jobs applicant has performed.
  • Letter or Certification of Work Experience from the person who paid the check describing work performed.

9. Copies of Deeds and Proofs of Sale

  • For work done on applicant’s own properties.
  • Statement detailing work done on the properties and dates of projects.

10. Material Receipts

  • To support other documentation (including permits, contracts, invoices, canceled checks, etc.)
  • Accompanied by letters or Certifications of Work Experience from individuals for whom the applicant performed the work and applied the materials.

11. Education

  • Sealed official transcripts for evaluation of college degrees/units in related construction trade.
  • Transcripts for degrees earned outside of the United States must be translated into English and evaluated by an accredited evaluation service that does business within the United States
  • Granted a maximum of three (3) years of experience credit

12. Apprenticeship Certificate of Completion

  • Proof of formal apprenticeships in related construction trade, including those administered by unions and vocational or accredited schools
  • Granted a maximum of three (3) years of experience credit

13. Union Journeyman Book or Letter From Union Supporting Applicant’s Journey-Level Status

  • Copies of hour printouts maintained by unions
  • To support the applicant’s claimed experience, as reported on a Certification of Work Experience, and/or journey-level status

14. Military Training:

  • Copy of applicant’s DD214 or military discharge papers if applicant’s military training is related to the classification for which he/she is applying
  • Military service during a national emergency extends a 10-year period in which experience is calculated

Step 3: Fill in the original contractor license application

The next important step is to complete the Application for Original Contractor's License. It is crucial to thoroughly review the provided instructions, as an incomplete application may cause delays or even lead to potential rejection. Once you have submitted the application, the Contractors State License Board (CSLB) will send you an acknowledgment letter. This letter will include an application fee number as well as a four-digit PIN. These details are essential for checking the status of your application. Keeping track of your application's progress using the provided application fee number and PIN will help ensure that you stay informed throughout the licensing process.

Step 4:Submit your application and pay the required fees

Once you have ensured that you have met all the necessary requirements and thoroughly completed your application, it is time to move forward with the submission process. You should submit your application along with the required documents and the application processing fee, which is currently set at $450 to:

CSLB Headquarters
Contractors State License Board
P.O. Box 26000
Sacramento, CA 95826-0026

Please be aware that payments at CSLB's Sacramento office can be made using cash, check, or money order.

Step 5: Submit your fingerprints

Upon the approval of your application, you will be issued a fingerprinting live scan packet, which is a critical step in the licensing process. The Contractors State License Board (CSLB) requires all applicants, including officers, partners, owners, responsible managing employees, and home improvement salesperson applicants, to undergo fingerprinting. This procedure enables the CSLB to conduct a comprehensive criminal background check on individuals seeking a license.

The fingerprinting process involves comparing your fingerprints against records held by both the California Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to determine if any criminal history exists. It is an important step in ensuring the safety and integrity of the construction industry.

While individuals who currently hold a CSLB license and are not making any changes to their license, as well as joint venture license applicants, are exempt from this requirement, all other applicants must undergo fingerprinting.

Once the CSLB deems your application complete, each individual listed on the application will receive detailed instructions on how to obtain and submit their fingerprints. You will also be provided with a "Request for Live Scan Service" form (BCII 8016).

To proceed, complete the necessary fields in the third section (applicant information) of the form. Then, take three copies of the completed form to a Live Scan station. These stations are available at local police and sheriff departments, as well as other public Live Scan sites. The Live Scan station will process your fingerprints and forward them to the DOJ and the FBI for review.

It is crucial to carefully follow the instructions provided to ensure the proper submission of your fingerprints for the background check. Adhering to the guidelines will help facilitate the thorough examination of your criminal history and contribute to the overall licensing process.

Here is a list of live scan locations.

Step 6: Take the CSLB Examination

Once your application has been approved, you will receive a notification instructing you to attend the examination. The notice should be sent to you with a minimum of three weeks' notice before the scheduled exam date. It is crucial to allocate sufficient time for studying and preparation in order to be well-equipped for the CSLB exam.

When you go to the testing center, it is important to bring a valid form of identification with a picture. However, personal calculators, cell phones, pagers, and other electronic devices are strictly prohibited in the testing area. The exam itself has a duration of three and a half hours.

The exam is divided into two sections. The first section focuses on contractor law and consists of 115 multiple-choice questions. The second section concentrates on the specific trade of painting and decorating and also consists of 115 multiple-choice questions. Both sections are computer-based and administered at the designated testing location. It is important to note that the examination is conducted in English. However, if you make prior arrangements, you may be allowed to bring a translator.

To help you prepare for the exam, you can utilize the California Contractor License Law & Reference Book as a study guide. This resource will assist you in familiarizing yourself with the relevant laws and regulations necessary for successful completion of the exam. We recommend using the PCA Craftsman Manual and Textbook as preparation material for the painter portion of the exam. 

Step 7: Get bonded

After successfully passing the exam, you will receive a bond and fee notification form at the testing site, which outlines the necessary requirements to obtain your license.

One of these requirements is obtaining a California contractor bonds worth $25,000. This type of surety bond is specifically designed for contractors and serves as a financial safeguard for clients and the public. It ensures that contractors fulfill their contractual obligations, adhere to applicable laws and regulations, and operate their business in an ethical and responsible manner.

To obtain a contractor bond, you typically need to provide basic information such as your business name, owner's name, and address and undergo a soft credit check by providing your social security number.

Once your dealer bond application is approved, you can proceed with making the payment for the bond. Shortly thereafter, you can anticipate receiving the physical copy of the bond through mail within 3-5 business days. It is essential to possess a hard copy of the bond for your license application.

Need help with your surety bond?
Call 1 (888) 236-8589 to talk to one of our surety experts today.
Request a free quote online
Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.

Step 8: Receive your C-33 license

Congratulations on successfully completing all the necessary steps to obtain your contractor's license. It is truly an accomplishment to navigate through these processes. The final step involves receiving your license and officially commencing work as a licensed contractor.

Once your license is issued, you will be provided with a wall certificate. This certificate prominently displays important information, including the license holder's name (individual or company), license number, classification held, and the date of issue. It is essential to prominently display this wall certificate in your primary office or main place of business, as required by law.

In addition to the wall certificate, you will also receive a plastic pocket card. The pocket card contains crucial details such as your license number, business name, classification, and the expiration date of your license. It is highly recommended to keep this pocket card with you at all times, especially when engaging in business solicitation or interacting with potential customers.

By proudly displaying your wall certificate and keeping your pocket card readily available, you ensure compliance with legal requirements and effectively demonstrate your official status as a licensed contractor. This serves as a symbol of your professional credibility and can instill confidence in your clients and customers as they engage in your services.


Becoming a licensed C-33 painting and decorating contractor in California involves following a comprehensive process overseen by the CSLB. This article guides you through the steps from gaining working experience as a journeyman to submitting your application, passing the examination, obtaining a contractor bond, and receiving your license. It highlights the importance of meeting the CSLB's requirements, such as providing accurate information, completing fingerprinting for background checks, and demonstrating the necessary skills and knowledge in the painting and decorating field. By following these steps, you can embark on an exciting career as a licensed painting and decorating contractor in California.


How often should I renew my contractor license?

In California, it is mandatory to renew your contractor license every two years. During the renewal process, any changes to your general business information must be accurately reflected on the renewal application.

If ownership of a business changes, is the contractor’s license considered to be a part of the purchase?

Typically, with the exception of corporations, a contractor license in California is not directly linked to the business itself. If a corporation retains the same registration number issued by the California Secretary of State, the existing license can be utilized as long as it remains valid and in effect. It is not mandatory for the officers or the qualifying individual to remain unchanged; however, there must be a qualifying individual designated to maintain the license's validity.

Are there any financial requirements to meet in order to qualify for a contractor’s license?

While there are no specific financial requirements to qualify for a contractor's license in California, it is important to understand that obtaining a $25,000 bond is a mandatory requirement prior to obtaining the license. The purpose of this bond is to safeguard consumers in case of defective construction or other breaches of license laws and to ensure that employees receive their rightful wages.

My original exam application was returned for correction; what do I do?

If the authorities determine that your application is inadequate or incomplete, it will be returned to you for further action. In such instances, you are obliged to provide any missing information, rectify any necessary corrections, and resubmit the application within 90 days from the date it was returned. Failure to comply with this timeframe will render the application null and void. Unfortunately, it cannot be reinstated, and if you wish to pursue a license, you will be required to submit an entirely new application along with the corresponding processing fee. It is crucial to ensure that all required information is accurately provided and that any deficiencies are promptly addressed to avoid delays or the need to start the application process from scratch.

How will I know if I have passed the contractor examination

At the testing site, individuals who have taken the exam will receive their score results promptly. Those who successfully pass the examination will be notified of their success without receiving detailed information about their specific score. Conversely, individuals who did not pass the exam will be provided with a statement that outlines their performance in each section of the test. This breakdown allows them to identify the specific areas that require further attention and improvement when preparing for a future attempt. By reviewing their performance summary, unsuccessful test-takers can pinpoint the focus areas necessary for enhancing their knowledge and skills in order to increase their chances of passing the exam on subsequent tries.

Where can I take the CSLB test?

Currently, the CSLB has testing locations in the following cities:

  • Berkeley
  • Fresno
  • Norwalk
  • San Jose
  • Oxnard
  • Sacramento
  • San Bernardino
  • San Diego

You can find a comprehensive list of testing locations on the PSI website.

Upon acceptance of your application, you will receive an assigned testing location based on your city of residence. You will have a total of 18 months from the acceptance date to successfully pass both examinations.

What are the fees involved in getting a contractor license?

Original Application (exam or waiver for one classification $500
Initial License Fee (Sole Owner) $200
Initial License Fee (Non-Sole Owner) $350
Re-Examination $100
Fingerprinting Fees—Paid to Live Scan Operator Dept. of Justice Processing Fee $32
Federal Bureau of Investigation Processing Fee $17


Other fees are available on the Contractor’s State Licensing Board.

Where can I get a contractor bond?

You can buy a Contractor Bond at any major surety agency that is licensed in the state of California. SuretyNow is a reputable surety agency that is appointed with 10+ insurance carriers so it can find you the most affordable rate.