C-33 Painting and Decorating License: A Comprehensive Guide

What is the C-33 License?

The C-33 Painter and Decorating Contractors License is the license assigned to painting and decorating contractors in California who work on jobs involving materials and labor over $500.

The C-33 License is designated for painting and decorating contractors in California. It encompasses various activities such as scraping, sandblasting, and applying paints, textures, fabrics, pigments, oils, varnishes, shellacs, stains, fillers, and adhesives​.

The C-33 License is extremely commonplace in the State with over 12,450 licensed painting and decorating contractors, representing 5% of the total number of contractors. The field is highly competitive and regulated by the Contractors State Licensing Board (CSLB)​.

The Contractors State License Board (CSLB)

The CSLB is the state agency in California responsible for licensing and regulating contractors in the construction industry, including the C-33 License. Everything you do related to the C-33 license

  • Application Process: The CSLB manages application forms and instructions for the C-33 license
  • Qualifications and Experience: The CSLB sets eligibility criteria, including a combination of education, work experience, and/or apprenticeship training
  • Examinations: The CSLB administers the trade-specific and law & business exams necessary for licensure
  • Background Checks: The CSLB verifies identity and criminal history for all contractors
  • Licensing and Renewal: The CSLB issues and renews all contractor licenses
  • Consumer Complaints and Investigations: The CSLB handles complaints and can take disciplinary action against contractors​​. They also work together with SWIFT to catch unlicensed contractors.

Any painting contractor planning to bid on residential or commercial projects in California where the labor and material costs exceed $500 must have this license​​.

What Does A C-33 Painting and Decorating Contractor Do?

Luckily for us, this classification is easy to understand and very straightforward: if you’re painting or decorating a home with materials and labor costing $500, you’re doing C-33 work.

Key Duties

  • Surface Preparation: Cleaning, sanding, and filling surfaces to get them in shape for painting.
  • Material Selection: More of a consulting job – advising clients on paint types, colors, and finishes.
  • Painting and Coating: In addition to painting with rollers or brushes, applying sheens or coatings is covered by this license as well.
  • Trim: Creating trim using paint or coating falls under this umbrella.
  • Decorative Finishes: Faux finishes, textures, and murals.
  • Surface Protection: Sealants and protective finishes​​ for surfaces.

Who Needs the C-33 License?

Contractors who engage in extensive painting and decorating work on various structures and surfaces, and whose project costs surpass $500, are required to hold a C-33 license.

When Do You Need a C-33 License?

Any painting project in California exceeding $500 in labor and materials necessitates a C-33 license. This requirement applies regardless of the project’s complexity or scale. I

If you are doing any painting or decorating job over $500 in California – you need a C-33 License!

When You Don’t Need a C-33 License

For smaller projects under $500, a C-33 license is not mandatory. This is usually applicable only to people who work as handymen or maintenance workers, who have to do a lot of small painting and decorating projects in the scope of their duty.

However, this usually involves things like patching a wall or painting a new hinge – things that cost less than $100 and involve a couple hours of your time.

How to Get a C-33 License

As established, the CSLB is responsible for licensing, maintaining and renewing C-33 licenses. There are a number of prerequisites that a contractor must fulfill before the CSLB will assign a C-33 license.

Below you’ll find the requirements for the C-33 License and the Step-By-Step process to get one from the CSLB.


  • At least 18 years of age
  • Valid driver’s license or ID
  • Social Security or ITIN number
  • Not on probation or parole
  • Four years of journey-level experience
  • A certifier to verify experience known as the Qualifying Individual
  • Documentation of experience if requested​​.

Step-by-Step Process

  • Gain Work Experience: A minimum of four years of experience as a journeyman is required to acquire ANY CSLB license.
  • Get Endorsements: Credible witnesses must testify to the applicant’s background and skills. Usually this is your boss.
  • Submit A CSLB C-33 License Application: Complete and submit the application with necessary documentation.
  • Pay Fees: Pay all the fees associated with your license.
  • Background Check: Submit fingerprints for a background check.
  • Take the CSLB Exam: This two-part exam has two parts: a painting-specfic exam and a law and business exam.
  • Get Bonded And Insured: Obtain a California contractor bond worth $25,000 and Workers’ Compensation insurance for every contractor under the license.
  • Receive Your License And Get To Work!: If you’ve followed all of these steps correctly, expect your license in a few weeks at most.

Application and Exam

Processing Time

The application process typically takes 6-8 weeks. Exam dates are usually given with 3-4 weeks’ notice​​.

Once you’ve passed the exam and you’ve provided all of the necessary paperwork, you will receive your license quickly – possibly within a few days, if the backlog of applications isn’t too big.

The CSLB Exam

The CSLB Exam is notorious for breaking even the smartest, most experienced contractors. This 230 question exam can take up to 6 hours and involves two sections: one on the finer points of painting and decorating, and one section on the business and law of contracting.

Exam Breakdown

  • The C-33 Contractor Exam: 115 questions related to general contractor knowledge as well as specific information about painting and decorating.
  • Law & Business Exam: 115 questions related to the business and law of contracting in the State of California.

C-33 Painting and Decorating Contractors Exam Content

Here’s what you can expect when taking the C-33 license contractors license exam.

  • Planning and Estimating (28%)
  • Substrate Repair and Surface Preparation (30%)
  • Application of Paint, Wallcoverings, and Finishes (21%)
  • Safety (21%)​​

C-33 License Maintenance and Renewal

Renewal Process

The C-33 license must be renewed every two years.
Renewal applications must accurately reflect any changes in business information​​. If you change address, add anyone to your license, or have any changes at all to your C-33 license, make sure you let the CSLB know.

Exam and Re-Examination

Exam results are provided immediately after the test, so you’ll know if you passed or not on the day of the exam.
Unsuccessful candidates receive a performance breakdown for improvement​​. If you fail, you’ll know the specific areas that you need to improve upon to pass the exam.
If you fail the exam, you can retake the exam as many times as you like. Note that the CSLB charges an examination retaking fee every time you need to retake the exam.

Fees and Costs

There’s a litany of costs associated with getting your C-33 License. At the very least, expect to spend $700 on your license, with fees increasing or decreasing based on your business structure, exam results, and so on.

  • Initial application fee: $500.
  • License fee (sole owner): $200; (non-sole owner): $350.
  • Re-examination fee: $100.
  • Fingerprinting fees: DOJ – $32, FBI – $17​​.


If you’re doing painting work in California, you need a C-33 license. Sure, you can get by doing small jobs here and there, but painters really make their money on the big jobs involving multiple rooms or multiple facilities – and in those situations you absolutely need to be licensed.

Getting your C-33 License is not hard at all if you’re prepared and know what you’re doing. The hardest part for any contractor is passing the notoriously difficult CSLB exam, so if you study hard and study often, you’re giving yourself a huge advantage in becoming a licensed C-33 contractor.

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About CSLS

Contractors State License Service (CSLS) is the largest school in California devoted to the Construction professional. For over 23 years, CSLS has helped its students pass the exam to become licensed contractors in the State of California, licensing more students than any other school. From our main offices in Southern California, CSLS operates over 25 locations with full-service support and classrooms. We have grown to this extent by providing quality, professional services. In comparison, this provides 7 times the number of convenient locations than the second largest contractor school. Contractors State License Services is one of the only contractor schools in the state that is run by educators, not lawyers or people mostly interested in the bonding and insurance business. Contractors State License Services formerly operated under the oversight of the State of California's Bureau for Private Post Secondary and Vocational Education. As of January 1 2010, the new Bureau for Private Postsecondary Education (BPPE) came into existence replacing the BPPVE. CSLS now operates under the provisions of the California Private Postsecondary Education Act of 2009 (CPPEA), Article 4 Section 94874(f). Our Mission is simple; We can help you pass your California Contractors License Exam. Celebrating our 25th year, CSLS has helped over 120,000 students pass the California contractor licensing exam to become licensed contractors in the State of California. Additionally, we offer complete home study and online contractor’s license programs to help you pass your California contractors license exam. CSLS offers licensing classes for all types of contractor licenses, including General Engineering Contractor, General Building Contractor, Specialty Contractor, Insulation and Acoustical Contractor, Framing and Rough Carpentry Contractor, Cabinet, Millwork and Finish Carpentry Contractor, Concrete Contractor, Drywall Contractor, Electrical Contractor, Elevator Contractor, Landscaping Contractor, Warm-Air Heating, Ventilating and Air-Conditioning Contractor, and many others. For a complete list of contractor licenses, visit www.MakeMeAContractor.com and tuned for more informative posts.