The Art of Line Marking
By Laurence Gale MSc
History of linemarking
Regular marking of sports pitch lines has been in existence since the late 19th century with the formation of the Football Association and the Rugby Football Union. Each sport's governing body began to develop their own rules and regulations, which led to each sport having their own particular pitch markings. Also, at around the same time, the All England Croquet Club decided to offer lawn tennis as an added attraction. Markings were used earlier in cricket following the foundation of the Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) and the creation of a Code of Laws requiring the wickets to be pitched 22 yards apart.
Most, if not all, of these sports were played on grass surfaces and required some form of line marking. Some of the earliest marking materials used were wood shavings and dust. Eventually, this progressed to chalk and limestone materials that could be crushed into simple dry marking compounds and easily spread. Being white, the chalk and limestone materials reflected the light, thus enhancing the visibility of the lines. A further development saw these materials being mixed with water which acted as a carrier enabling more efficient use of the materials. At this time a simple transfer wheel marker was designed and developed to apply this liquid mix of chalk/ limestone and water.
Early marking materials did not have the ability to last long, being easily washed out during rain. To overcome this problem some groundstaff resorted to adding weed killers or substituting white line marking materials with creosote. The use of these materials generally killed off the grass, and between the 1960's and 1980s' was an accepted practice. Law now bans the use of lime and creosote.
During the 1960's and early 1970's a wide range of marking machines became available, better designed with enhanced engineering techniques giving an improved wheel performance. Pressurised jet systems were being developed allowing the marking out of two lines at once and giving an alternative method of application.
Today we have a wide range of marking products available, applied through a variety of machines and applicators. Marking materials are designed to produce either permanent or non permanent lines:-
Powders. Chalk based products mainly for use on grass surfaces. The powder can be used on its own using a gravity fed dry marker or be mixed with water or emulsion products to produce a liquid and used in transfer wheel markers or some spray markers.
All Weather Surface Compounds. Special dry compounds for use on redgra, black ash and similar surfaces. Used in gravity fed dry markers.
Liquids. Water based paints and emulsions can be used on all grass and artificial surfaces (not redgra/black ash). Can be supplied in a ready to use form or concentrated. Used in transfer wheel or spray markers.
Paint. For use on playgrounds, car parks, sports halls and areas that need frequent washing. Applied by brush or a pump system sponge roller.
Aerosols. For use on grass or all hard surfaces. Can be applied by hand, with a handgun applicator or a purpose built wheeled applicator.
Tapes. Plastic for use on grass or gravel/Redgra type surfaces. Fixed with nails or tacks.
Redrock Pitch Line. A new concept involving the stitching of UV treated polypropylene material into the surface of the pitch using a specialist machine. Produces a permanent line that, according to the manufacturer, is guaranteed for ten years.
The use of modern plastics and design technology has brought about a revolution in the development of pitch marking machines. They now come in a range of shapes, sizes and systems.
The quality of line marking will be determined by a number of key factors: -
Type of surface and surface conditions.
The suitability of the machine/line marker used.
Selection and preparation of marking materials.
Experience and skills of the Groundsman/Greenkeeper.
Dry Line Marker
For use on grass, redgra and clay. In some instances, particularly on muddy surfaces, it is still the best method of producing lines.
Materials used for dry line markers come in various forms. These whitening powders are non-toxic and are based on ground natural calcium carbonate.
Hydrated Lime (Calcium hydroxide) should never be used for line marking. It is toxic and can give rise to chemical skin burns and irritations. It can cause serious damage to the eyes and skin on contact in both its dry and wet forms. It is illegal in the UK to use hydrated lime.
Tip - ensure the powder and hopper are dry. Damp powder will prevent free flow.
Transfer Wheel Marker
What has changed is the quality of materials used in their construction. On some of the old steel machines screws would rust and often became loose allowing marking fluid to leak out, however modern concealed metal/plastic tanks have rectified this problem.
Also, better chassis, lighter plastic tanks and pneumatic tyres have revolutionised their performance and ease of use.
The middle, smaller wheels do vary from manufacturer to manufacturer - some have dimples, others grooves or rubber surfaces. All have the purpose of transferring the marking fluid efficiently and evenly.
These machines are for use on grass surfaces. Width of line is dependant upon the width of the marking wheel, and can vary from 1inch (25mm) to 4inch (100mm). Best results are achieved when string lines are used as a guide.
A reasonable amount of grass cover is required to produce a good line. These machines do not produce good lines when the ground conditions are very wet and muddy.
A problem can arise if loose grass clippings are picked up by the marker wheel, as they can clog up the machine.
Tip - when using powder and water, mix the materials in a bucket before pouring into the tank.
Belt Transfer Marker
For use on grass. Line width depends upon the width of the belt and can vary from 2inch (50mm) to 4inch (100mm). These machines do work very well, giving a bright clear line, however the marker will not work effectively on muddy surfaces.
As with the transfer wheel marker, if powder and water is used, it is important to mix them in a bucket before pouring into the tank to reduce the likelihood of clogging the mechanism with lumps.
Spray Jet Marker
For use on grass and redgra. Not suitable for artificial or hard indoor surfaces.
There are a wide range of pressure jet markers on the market these new generation markers offer a whole range of new features:-
Pedestrian markers offer different tank capacities ranging from 5-35 litres, variable spray width adjustments, better transport wheels for easier handling and inbuilt tank washing facilities.
Additional spray lines can be added for marking multiples of lines (Athletic tracks).
For use on all types of surface. The line width is variable, set by adjusting the metal guides at each side of the nozzle. Some of the machines also have an automatic self clean functions.
Spray line markers can have a variety of attachments for marking different surfaces, hand spraying and marking more than one line at once.
Tip - Always keep these machines clean, wash thoroughly with water after use to prevent the spray jets blocking up.
These line markers are very simple and effective. Aerosol spray markers come in a manner of designs - hand held applicators, two and four wheel markers.
For use on artificials and tarmac. Can be used on grass but not an economical option.
Wheeled applicators come in two and four wheeled options, with some that can be converted into either mode. Basically, the carriage holds an aerosol can in a inverted position with a hand spray release lever that allows you full control over the spraying.
The width of the line is determined by the height of the can holder that is controlled by an adjustment screw on the handle of the marker.
Care needs to be taken if the surface is uneven, this can easily affect your line quality. Keeping an even and slow pace not only ensures you keep the line straight but also ensures you deliver a brighter line. Care should also be taken when running the marker over recently painted lines, they need to be dry to prevent smudging.
The spray quality can also be affected by wind turbulence, the aerosol spray is very fine and can easily be influenced by poor weather conditions. Some markers are fitted with wind shields to prevent spray drift. The surface being sprayed must be clean and dry for maximum adhesion of paint.
The advantages of using aerosol markers is the speed of use. There is no premixing of materials, the paint is instant. However, the cans of paint do not last long. One 750ml can of usually covers (25mm width line) about 70 metres, but this will be dependant on the surface being marked.
There are a wide range of aerosol markers on the market all offering the same sort of performance and reliability. Most operate in the same way and provide a wide range of colours for marking.
Tip - it is important to check the spray nozzles before re-use as they can become blocked.
Tapes and permanent lines
Tapes are used on redgra/clay tennis court surfaces. Permanent fixed plastic tapes are secured to the playing surface by tacks or screws. With the development of better marking materials the use of tapes is now on the decline.
Permanent line technology has progressed to natural turf where recent developments have seen the introduction of the Redrock Pitch-line, a permanent inlaid synthetic pitch line that is mechanically sewn into the turf. The machine sews three UV treated polypropylene ribbons producing a 60mm wide line. The manufacturer claims the product has a life expectancy of ten years.
The pros and cons of line marking
Pros and Cons
Dry Line markers
The cost of these machines range from £350-£600.
One of the cheapest methods of line marking. It is a very easy operation with no mixing required. However it is important to keep the materials dry; using damp materials will affect the performance of the machine.
Very effective when having to mark on wet and muddy surfaces as there is no need for surface contact.
Transfer Wheel Markers
Offer a range of marking widths, with different tank capacities.
Cost of transfer wheel markers range between £200-£500.
Produce a very good line on turf surfaces. Easy to use.
The quality of line can deteriorate on muddy and very wet surfaces. Machines can get blocked up with debris picked up on the marking wheel.
Ready made fluid saves time compared to mixing powder and water.
Spray Jet Markers
Some even have a tank washing process built into the unit for ease of maintenance.
Fast and efficient.
Large tanks. Easily adjustable line widths. Some models are self cleaning.
This technology has enabled the development of ride on markers that can complete a pitch in 10 minutes.
A range of attachments available for multi line marking and for spraying.
Cost of Aerosol applicators range between £20-£150
Quick and easy to use, however spray quality can be affected in windy conditions.
Expensive if marking large areas.
Preparation and Marking
On grass surfaces, linemarking is normally the last task to be undertaken after brushing and cutting. This will remove any debris from the surface and prepare the grass for receiving the marking fluid.
On synthetic and hard surfaces brushing is required to remove any debris.
Make sure you are aware of the marking requirements of the particular sport. Details of pitch markings can be found in the Useful Information section of the Pitchcare site. Some sports, such as football, can have different width lines.
Poor line marking is generally attributed to poor preparation and poor attitude to the job or, in many cases, not having enough time allocated to this task.
Health & Safety
As with many work based activities Health and Safety is paramount when carrying out line marking operations. Careful planning and recording of the work carried out should be undertaken. You have a duty of care under the Health & Safety At Work Act 1974 to ensure the workplace is safe for employees, contractors, visitors, players and spectators.
It is important to obtain product data sheets of the materials you are using. All products and materials must be approved and meet the requirements of the COSHH regulations (Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 1994). All manufacturers should provide product data sheets for all materials supplied, these sheets give you information on the active ingredients and the approved methods of use.
It is also a requirement to carry out risk assessments of the line marking task in relation to the nature of the hazard, degree of risk and the actions taken to minimise the risk.
In the UK it is illegal to add pesticides or herbicides to line marking materials.
There are, however, herbicides on the market which can be used for marking lines on grass surfaces. These have to be applied separately, a COSHH and Risk Assessment must be carried out prior to any application, and the user must have obtained his/her Certificate of Competence in Use of Pesticides (PA1, PA2A or PA6A). Any herbicide product for line marking must be used with the conditions of approval granted under the Control of Pesticide Regulations, 1986 (COPR) and as outlined on the product label.
The use of creosote and hydrated lime is also illegal.
Play safe - use only safe and approved compounds that are currently available on the market. Do not use old compounds.