Brushes and rollers often get the job done, but in my opinion a paint sprayer is the ultimate tool of choice when it comes to painting like a pro.
Unlike brush strokes, a spray gun leaves a smooth and flawless finish that’s consistent throughout. Not only that, but it also vastly lowers the amount of time it takes to get a job done.
That said, there’s a lot to know before breaking out your trusty spray painter. In this comprehensive guide, I’m going to walk you through 13 things you need to know before using a paint sprayer. Knowing them will help you choose the right spray gun for your DIY projects and learn how to use a spray painter.
Let’s get started.
1 – Why Should You Use a Spray Gun Instead of a Paint Brush or Roller?
Spray guns are meant to make work easier for you. They can spray or varnish any surface using air pressure and are manufactured to make painting more economical and efficient.
Here are just a few reasons you should use a spray painter for your next DIY project.
When you use a brush or roller, a careful eye can see where one brush stroke or roller line ends and another begins. Not everyone can see it, but a professional for sure can. However, with a properly used spray gun, this never happens. It provides a consistent and uniform look that is unrivaled by any other painting tool and makes the surface you painted look incredible.
Efficiency and Effectiveness
Using a spray gun is far faster than using a paint roller or brush. What you would spend hours on can take minutes if you do it right. Having this freed up time allows you to exert yourself in the areas you need to the most while also giving you ample opportunity to finish your projects sooner. Also, a paint sprayer enables you to effortlessly apply paint in hard-to-reach places like corners. Brushes and rollers don’t offer you that luxury.
With the press of a trigger and a motion of your arm, you can automatically spray an entire piece of furniture or even a whole wall. It for sure takes some getting used to if you’re an old fashioned brush and roller guy or gal, but once you get the hang of it painting is a snap.
Saves You Money in the Long Run
No doubt, rollers and brushes are cheaper than a paint sprayer, but certainly not in the long run. When even the best brushes and rollers wear out and need replacing, a good paint sprayer can keep on working for years and years. While going with a spray painter won’t save you a boatload of money, it’s still a huge plus in favor of them.
One of the best things about a paint sprayer is its clean application. No more splattering, spills, or worse. It cleanly and gently applies paint on many different surfaces without much mess.
2 – How Many Types of Spray Painters are There?
Currently, there are five types of spray guns on the market: 1) LVLP, 2) airless, 3) HVLP, 4) compressed air, and 5) gravity feed.
Let’s briefly break down each one.
Low Volume Low Pressure (LVLP)
LVLP paint sprayers are perfect for smaller jobs.
They require far less air (about 10 psi) in order to work than the others, which means you won’t have to spend a fortune on an air compressor (an inexpensive one will do just fine). Also, you can achieve a professional finish without spending a ton of money on pricey equipment to do it.
Worth noting though, LVLP paint sprayers tend to have trouble handling thick paint. Consequently, if you need to use high viscosity paint, opt for a more powerful spray gun.
Airless paint sprayers pump paint at a really high pressure (sometimes as much as 3,000 psi) through a hose and out of a small hole at the tip of the spray gun. The tip breaks up the paint evenly into a fan-shaped spray pattern of tiny droplets.
They’re known for their speed and efficiency. If you’re looking to paint things like your garage door, this is a really good option. It also does a phenomenal jobs with bigger projects.
This tends to be my favorite, but be careful if you buy an airless model – a rookie can easily overspray with it. Also, it would be a mistake to use an airless for a small surface that requires a lot of precision.
High Volume Low Pressure (HVLP)
HVLP spray guns use a high volume of air (between 15-26 cfm) at low pressure (around 10 psi or less) to atomize your paint into a soft, low-velocity pattern of particles.
HVLP sprayers help reduce wastefulness, and some models come fitted with hot air that even reduces drying time. Did I mention they’re quicker when it comes to dispersing paint too?
Granted, sometimes they clog more frequently than I’d like, but overall they get the job done well.
While the LVLP sprayer is also compressed air, I put it in its own category because it deserves separate attention.
Compressed air paint guns are relatively tough to find these days since they have largely been replaced by LVLP models. They pretty much work the same way, but I find that mostly amateur painters use them. Setup is really simple and their extremely easy to use.
However, they clog easily and are quite outdated.
Gravity feed spray guns are named as such because the paint feed reservoir rests above the sprayer and aids in pressure distribution. They work best when it comes to painting a car, and they yield a really fine finish.
Overall, they’re pretty easy to clean up after and super precise, but not great for high volume work.
3 – Do Paint Sprayers Need Special Paint?
Paint is paint whether you’re going to roll it, brush it, or spray it. However, depending on the spray gun you’re using, special paint may be needed. For example, some paint guns can’t handle thick paint while others do so handily.
The particular kind of paint gun you’re using will greatly determine the kind of paint you need to purchase in order to do the paint job properly and most effectively.
Regardless of which spray painter you have, it’s almost a guarantee that you’ll need to thin out your paint before you get started. Doing this gets the paint to the proper consistency you’ll need for your particular paint sprayer.
4 – Do Paint Sprayers Need an Air Compressor?
Every paint sprayer needs air, but not every paint sprayer needs an air compressor. For example, some HVLP models along with most airless sprayers do not need an air compressor. However, all other types usually will.
Air plays a huge role in generating fine finishes. An air compressor provides the sprayer with compressed air to atomize the paint properly.
Before making your purchase, be sure to find out whether your particular model needs one or not. If it does, be sure to factor the compressor into your overall budget for the tool.
5 – Beside the Compressor, What are the Most Important Parts of a Paint Sprayer?
There are several different components of a spray gun. The following are the most essential parts that you should know about along with the functions they perform.
The airhead is the most critical part of your spray gun, and it’s where air enters. It directly impacts the amount of paint used. Consequently, it can directly affect the quality of the work you do. Depending on the type of gun, air can either be mixed internally or externally.
The flow regulator is located in the handle or trigger of your spray gun. It’s responsible for determining the amount of paint that comes through the nozzle, and it can vary the shape of the paint jet.
This should go without saying, but don’t restrict your flow regulator tightly. Upon closing the flow regulator, pressure is exerted to the trigger and to the flow regulator. This is a huge no no: it’ll deform your regulator and produce drips.
The nozzle is where the paint comes out. Nozzles come in different shapes and sizes, which gives you the ability to change the amount and size of the paint you would like to end up on your surface.
There are more than 15 types of nozzles on the market. Three of them (low-pressure aspersion, airless, and airless assisted) are used for industrial finishing.
Some spray guns are connected to a tank. This is where the paint is usually stored.
This allows the valve to open so that air can flow seamlessly.
The trigger is what you press to allow the paint to come out. It’s connected to the plunger rod, needle, nozzle, and valves.
To use your spray gun, you’ll need to squeeze the trigger. Doing this will cause the plunger rod to become suppressed. Then, air will start flowing through the unit. The needle will become active, and air will find its way to the air cap thereby allowing liquid paint to reach the nozzle.
Valves are located throughout your paint sprayer. They serve different functions, but work in tandem with one another. For instance, there are valves that control the air pressure and others that control liquid pressure. All together, they ensure the spray gun is working properly and smoothly.
This area is responsible for allowing materials into the gun. The fluid inlet is regulated by the air pressure and intensity of pulling the trigger. The two will determine the amount of paint that ultimately gets dispensed.
6 – Which Surfaces Can You Use a Spray Painter on?
There are a lot of surfaces you can use your sprayer on. Here are the ones I find most people use.
Some folks like to use a spray painter on ceramic because you can get a really glossy finish. Be aware though, the surface of ceramic can sometimes pose a challenge when spray painting. Definitely don’t use a paint gun to spray paint something small. Also, if I were you, I’d use very thin coats and wipe after each layer I apply to get the best results.
This may sound strange, but you can easily change the color of your duvet or curtains using a spray painter. You know the old adage: don’t knock it until you’ve tried it.
Have an old metal chair laying around that you were going to throw out? Sand off any rust and spray paint it instead. It’ll look good as new. The whole project should take only a few minutes, and you’ll be able to keep using that chair for years and years.
With so many colors to choose from and so many different things made out of metal, the sky is really the limit on what you can accomplish.
Show me a piece of wood furniture that looks worn out, and I’ll show you the next DIY project you can do this Sunday. Spray painting wood furniture can give it a new lease on life and dress up a room like nothing else.
Also, if you have a wooden deck or fence in need of painting, a spray painter should be your first port of call. It does a great job, takes only a few hours of sweat equity, and makes it look amazing. Just be sure to sand down any trouble spots before you start painting.
7 – What Safety Tips Should You Follow When Spray Painting?
Spray painting is quite easy if you follow instructions. That said, here are some safety tips you need to be aware of before starting a project. Yes, they’re pretty obvious, but they’re worth mentioning.
Keep away from any form of heat. Don’t smoke where you’re using a paint sprayer, extinguish all flames, and turn off any nearby stoves or electric tools and appliances.
Even if you’re outside, take occasional breaks to make sure you’re not breathing in a lot of paint fumes. Repeatedly breathing them in not only can get you dizzy and lightheaded, but it can also impact your health.
Don’t touch the paint. Always wear gloves, and wash your hands after the project is done.
I’ve seen it happen more than I’d like to admit. Someone gets really trigger happy spray painting a wall or two, and the next thing you know, they sprayed right over an electrical outlet or even electrical wiring. Do yourself a favor, don’t do that. At a minimum, it will look bad. At worst, you could damage the electrical.
8 – How to Use a Spray Painter (Helpful and Practical Tips)
We’ve covered a lot of ground so far, but you’re still not quite ready to spray paint like a pro just yet. You still need to know how to use a spray painter. Here are some really useful tips to help make your life a whole lot easier and to get the job done as quickly and effectively as possible.
The last thing you want to do is spray something you didn’t intend to paint. Be careful. Overspray is one of the most common problems even pros have when it comes to spray painting.
For small or medium-sized items, put them inside a fairly large box that you don’t mind getting ruined. If the object you’re painting doesn’t easily let you do that, put down a disposable tarp and do it outside on your grass. If you’re careful and using the right paint sprayer, any overspray will land on the tarp and not your grass.
For bigger projects, put down plenty of large tarps and use adhesive tape to cover up every nearby area you don’t want to get paint on. For example, if you’re painting your garage, cover up nearby siding and windows.
Don’t forget, the distance between the surface you’re spraying and your spray gun matters a lot. Make sure to follow the specific directions for your model before pressing that trigger.
Prepare the Surface and Make Sure it’s Clean
Have you ever seen a surface with an excellent finish that reflects light? The person who did the painting almost definitely started off by making sure the surface was clean and ready. Do the same.
Before you begin, ensure that your surface is clean and smooth. If you have to, use sandpaper to remove trouble spots. Also, remove any grease. Regular household cleaning products should do the trick nicely.
I would also make sure no airborne debris could ruin my paint job. This might involve closing a window or just a casual inspection beforehand.
Make Sure the Humidity is Just Right
Humidity also plays a role in spray painting. Believe it or not, high humidity in the air can actually make your spray painter discharge some droplets before reaching the intended surface. While this might go unnoticed and certainly isn’t the end of the world, it can hamper the overall finish and efficiency of your entire project.
Don’t Swing a Spray Gun
I understand that swinging your spray gun “just feels right” when painting. In fact, some amateur DIYers even say it’s the natural way to paint, However, swinging doesn’t give you consistent coverage.
In reality, the left to right or down to up motion will give you lots of variation when spraying that lead to far better results. To do this, aim your nozzle on one part of the surface you’re spraying and steadily lead the gun in a straight and consistent motion. Remember to hold the gun at the right angle because different angles might bring out undesirable patterns and imperfections.
Keep a Close Eye on the Spray Gun to Part Distance
This distance is essential in determining the wetness and thickness of the overall finish. If the spray gun is too close to the object you’re painting, you can expect it to be a paint-soaked mess and a nightmare to clean up. On the other hand, being too far will barely coat the surface and look terrible. Try to strike a balance between the distance and the spray gun. To do this, I recommend experimenting on old junk you were going to already toss to get the hang of things before starting your actual project.
Coating and Runs: Dos and Don’ts
What kind of coat are you going to use? I recommend starting off with a light coat. It’s really the only surefire way to avoid runs on your surface. As a rule of thumb, spray a light coat of paint first and let it dry before moving on to the next coat. Afterward, go for a horizontal coat before progressing. Then, move on to a vertical coat. Repeat this process in the same order until your surface is fully painted. This way, all areas will get adequate time to dry before you return to them.
Overlap Each Pass by 50%
Overlapping means repeatedly adding another layer of paint to create an illusion of depth and thickness. I like to recommend overlapping by 50% because this will lead to uniformity throughout and give your surface a professional look and feel. Try it, and see for yourself.
9 – Do Paint Sprayers Make a Mess?
A paint sprayer will make a mess if you don’t know how to use it. However, if this isn’t you’re first rodeo, your paint sprayer shouldn’t leave a mess at all. It really depends on how well you use it.
There are different spray guns out there with different nozzles and air pressures. Some spray nozzles can spit out huge droplets before they even start and, in the process, severely hamper your project and make a frustratingly big mess. Do your best to get acquainted with your gun’s air pressure along with how the trigger and nozzle work long before starting on any projects.
You can do all this by testing the gun on anything from cardboard boxes, scrap metal you have lying around, or broken wooden furniture you might have stashed away in the basement.
10 – How Do You Properly Clean a Spray Painter?
When it comes to properly maintaining and cleaning your spray painter, follow the instructions in the manual that came with the gun. I know, you were hoping for more than just me saying that, so here are some practical tips you can use to help you clean your paint sprayer.
For waterborne paints, only use neutral pH cleaning fluids. For solvent-based paints use a solvent cleaning fluid. it’s advisable to do this using disposable cups.
After cleaning your spray painter with the proper fluid, thoroughly rinse where the air distribution mechanism is. Afterward, dry that area really well. You should do this pretty regularly to avoid corrosion and rust as well as residue from contaminating the painting process.
When manually cleaning your spray gun, never use a brush made up of metal wires. Doing so can easily damage the gun.
If you really want to successfully clean your sprayer, first disassemble the nozzle set. Remove the paint needle and cap. Then, unscrew the fluid tip. Be careful not to damage anything along the way. Now, clean the fluid in the material passage. Afterward, dry it using a blow dryer.
11 – What are the Common Causes of Spray Painting Mistakes and How Do I Fix Them?
There are many causes of spray painter defects. If something happens to your gun, refer back to this section as a rough-and-ready guide to identifying and fixing possible problems.
Fluttering/Spitting Fan and Air Bubbles
You need to ensure that the fluid tip is well tightened. Otherwise, your gun will keep malfunctioning. You can do this by using a universal wrench. Also, check for dirt or debris that might have damaged the air distribution. That’s usually the culprit.
Deformed, Small, or Crooked Spray Pattern
This problem arises when the air cap drillings are clogged with paint or cleaning fluid. You can fix this by cleaning the air cap with the brush recommended in your user manual. Afterward, blow-dry it and you should be back to work in no time at all.
Permanent Air Flow Issue
If this problem keeps happening to your spray gun, the air piston seat is clogged or worn out. First try to clean it out. If that doesn’t work, replace it and you should be good to go.
If your spray gun has fan trouble, chances are the air distribution insert has been damaged or was poorly installed. Correctly positioning the air distribution insert or exchanging it should fix the problem.
Black Digital Display
This is caused by one of three problems. First, you might have accidentally soaked your spray gun in cleaning fluid (not usually likely). Alternatively, it could have been caused by cleaning fluid that was accidentally left in the spray gun. It might have been blown into your spray gun while it was facing upwards, and the air cap was removed at the same time. Lastly, you might have accidentally left some fluid inside due to shoddy cleaning.
The fix is usually quite simple, but first start by avoiding “soak-spraying” fluid techniques. If you did soak your spray gun in cleaning fluid, whether water-based or solvent-based, immediately remove it and blow dry it thoroughly. If that doesn’t work, manually clean your spray gun following the instructions in your manual and make sure when you’re done it’s bone-dry.
12 – How Much Does a Spray Gun Cost?
Buying a spray painter is harder than you might think. There are tons of options out there, and the prices wildly vary. In fact, you can find a paint sprayer for as little as $20 to as much as $700. This is not a purchase where you’ll want to cut corners, but opting for the most expensive model definitely doesn’t guarantee you the best results either.
You need to bear in mind what you are looking to accomplish with the spray gun you ultimately purchase. If you want to use it in the long run, make sure your buying one that has a solid track record for lasting a while.
Not only that, but you also need to account for hidden costs. Some will require a lot of accessories while others consume more power than others. Both of those lead to higher overall costs in the long run, so know exactly what you’re buying ahead of time.
13 – How Do You Choose the Best Spray Painter?
With all this knowledge, it’s time to buy a paint sprayer! How do you choose the best one? Well, honestly, there is no single answer and it’s really person specific. However, I can tell you the two factors that I would consider when buying a paint gun: 1) frequency of use and 2) application.
Frequency of Use
How frequently are you planning on using the spray gun? Is this for one DIY project or are you planning to do multiple jobs? If you’re looking to use this device frequently, buy a spray gun with a large capacity (read: large tank). This will let you use it for hours and hours every day over a long period of time. Otherwise, a smaller tank will do just fine.
How the spray gun applies the actual paint is mission-critical to your project’s requirements and success, so do your research and ask around. As you know by now, not all spray guns are the same. The spray painter you decide to use will need to accommodate the paint or vanish you choose to use. Also, make sure the sprayer works well both outdoors and indoors unless you definitively know that you only plan on ever using it for one or the other.
After reading this, you should now know everything necessary to get started on your first paint job in addition to having some helpful tips to track down the best paint sprayer for your project. Hope you enjoyed the piece. As always, wishing you tons of success!