Ultimate Guide to Paint Sprayers

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When you're using a paint sprayer to get a job done, then you can complete it in a fraction of the time it takes traditional methods. So, how do you use a paint sprayer?

Here's where you'll find out everything you need to know about paint sprayers before purchasing one.

The ultimate guide to paint sprayers will show you the different types that are available, certain tricks to make this tool more useful, and how to use a paint sprayer for painting everything from interior walls to your car.

Are you ready to get started?

Our paint sprayer guide has everything you've ever wanted to know about paint sprayers and how they might be able to help you today.

ultimate guide to paint sprayers
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Our Spray Guide

What Are the Different Types of Paint Sprayers?

When you start thinking about the purchase of a paint sprayer, then it becomes important to purchase one that is equipped to do the job that needs to be completed.  How to use a paint sprayer really depends on the project you are working on.

The types of spray paint you’re planning to use is also an important consideration in the purchasing process.

There are three basic types of paint sprayers to consider.

Airless Paint Sprayer

How do airless paint sprayers work?  This type of paint sprayer works by pumping the paint you’re using out at a high pressure.

This causes the paint to fan out in a series of droplets. The end result is an even coat of paint when you use your preferred sprayer as intended.

An airless paint sprayer works best for interior paint, residential outdoor DIY projects like a deck, fencing, or shutters, and especially well for ceilings.

Pros

  • Large Jobs
  • Weighs Less
  • Handles Thick Materials

Cons

  • More Overspray
  • Longer Prep Time
  • Not Really Beginner Friendly

Airless Paint Sprayer Tips and Tricks

Thicker paints typically work best with this type of paint gun.

Compressed Air Painting Sprayer

This type of paint sprayer uses compressed air to force the paint out into an even and smooth finish.

They are almost foolproof in how they operate, so they are perfect for DIY beginners.

Furniture typically sees the best results with this power paint sprayer, but there are some other limited applications, which benefit as well.

PROS

  • Paint Sprayer is Cheaper
  • Beginner Friendly
  • Smooth Even Finish

CONS

  • Requires Compressor
  • Set up is longer

Compressed Air Paint Gun Tips & Tricks

These sprayers use a lot of paint, are typically cheaper, but also require an air compressor to operate.

HVLP Paint Gun

An HVLP paint sprayer uses a steady volume of air to allow the paint droplets to stick to surfaces.

The low pressure creates less mess and waste for your interior projects.  However, if precision at impact is important, you would choose an airless vs an HVLP paint sprayer.

For beginners, an HVLP would work best.  Modern HVLP spray guns don’t require as much experience.   HVLP will paint thinner materials easily and with professional results.

If you are working on smaller projects, or using water based materials, this would be your choice sprayer.

Pros

  • Smooth Finish
  • Less Overspray
  • Less Prep Time
  • Fast Clean up

Cons

  • Slow Pace
  • Only sprays thinned latex
  • Small Jobs Only
  • Need Compressor

HVLP Tips & Tricks

It is important to remember that every type of paint sprayer should be handled with great care.


This is especially true with an electric paint sprayer that operates at very high pressure levels.


The paint can be injected into the skin if it makes contact with the sprayer tip and this can introduce dangerous toxins into the body. 


You should always seek immediate medical treatment if you accidentally inject paint, lacquer, or varnish into your skin.

Gravity Feed Paint Guns

ultimate paint sprayer guide

Gravity feed paint guns are called that because the cup in on the top of the spray gun.  Gravity feeds the paint into the gun to be sprayed.

They require less air pressure meaning they have less overspray so you save money on paint.

The low pressure also allows you to have more control over the spray and delivers a softer finish than an airless gun that uses high pressure of up to 2000 PSI to delivers paint to the nozzle.

Gravity feed guns pair well with HVLP technology delivering great finishes with less paint waste.

Pros

  • Smooth Finish
  • Less Overspray
  • Great for thinner materials

Cons

  • Only sprays thinned latex
  • Cups can be too Small
  • Balance b/w paint cup and gun can be challenging

Siphon Feed Paint Sprayers

ultimate paint sprayer guide

Siphon Feed Paint Sprayers have their paint cup on the bottom of the gun, instead of on the top like a gravity feed sprayer.  It uses air to create a vacuum which sucks the paint up into the gun. 

With the invention of gravity feed and HVLP, you see less and less of siphon feed guns as the newer models deliver better results, faster, with less paint waste.

Pros

  • Specialized Coatings
  • Metallic Paints and Pigments
  • Minimal Overspray

Cons

  • Higher Air Pressure
  • More Overspray
  • Less versatile than Gravity Feed, HVLP etc.

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Buying a Paint Sprayer: 4 Important Features

electric paint sprayer

As with any tool, you can expect to find certain features to be available in different combinations depending on the type of 

paint gun you’re looking at.

Comprehensive online reviews will help you take a look at the effectiveness of these 4 common features you’ll want to consider having with your sprayer so your project can be completed with quality in a reasonable amount of time.

1. Portability

A portable paint gun can complete large and small projects equally well. These are needed more for outdoor projects when compared to indoor projects.

Working with furniture, cabinetry, or automotive painting often requires portability as well.

Most paint sprayers either come in a “backpack” form or are outfitted with wheels to allow for a greater freedom of movement.

2. Flexibility

Some paint sprayers offer users the chance to adjust how the paint is delivered to the surface. You may be able to dispense the paint at various levels of thickness.

Some paint spray gun pressure setting options may restrict what kind of projects you can work on.  Other paint guns offer multiple speed settings.

Sometimes you’ll even have access to different spray patterns. If you want a sprayer that maximizes its versatility, then look for a sprayer that will give you paint, lacquer, and varnish settings based on the type of materials you’re using. 

The best indoor paint sprayers will offer a ton of options so that you can use them for all your DIY porjects.

3. Power

Paint sprayers can be powered in a number of different ways. The basic sprayer is controlled by hand, much like a spray bottle.

You’ll also have cordless, electric, or fuel-powered options depending on what kind of delivery system you need.

Certain models may need a power source for a compressor in addition to the power source for the paint sprayer, so keep this in mind during the shopping process.

4. Cleaning Your Paint Sprayer

The messiest part of owning any paint sprayer is the cleanup process. It takes a lot of time to take apart a sprayer so it can be flushed out.

You’re going to have paint go everywhere while you’re getting this job done as well.

Certain makes and models can attach to a garden hose, however, to make cleanup go a lot faster.

Look for this feature if you don’t like the idea of getting messy.

There are other unique features that may be available only in specific brands or in certain types of paint sprayers as well.

The best paint sprayer reviews can help you to sort out which features each model has so you can have confidence in your purchase.

That way your next DIY project will get finished faster than you imagined possible.

Features to Look for in a Paint Sprayer

  • Easy to Adjust Pressure Controls
  • Brass or Stainless Steel Parts
  • Many Spray Patterns
  • Can spray a Variety of Materials
  • Brand Name Tips Available
  • Easy to Clean
  • Good Reviews
  • Strong Warranty

What Accessories Can Work With a Paint Sprayer?

The best paint sprayer is designed to make your job easier. The accessories that come with certain paint guns also help to make fast work of your next DIY project.paint gun

Some are even designed to help extend the life of your preferred electric paint sprayer.

Here are the best-selling options that come with some models and can often be found separately for purchase if they are not included.

Hoses

You’ll need several hoses available for your paint sprayer so that it can be as versatile as possible. A smaller work area requires a smaller and shorter hose.

On the other hand, if you’re working on a fence, you’ll want a hose that is at least 25 feet in length so you have space with which to work.

Extensions

Certain rods can be attached to today’s paint sprayers to make delivering a smooth surface a lot easier to do.

Ceilings, decks, and other hard to reach areas benefit from this accessory and it’s a lot easier on your back as well.

Filters

You must have a paint sprayer with a filter if you want a finish that is smooth. Filters are designed to make sure contaminants are kept to a minimum in the paint.

They also help to prevent splattering and clogging.

Protectants and/or Conditioners

These formulas can be added to your paint sprayer so corrosion, freezing, or sticking is kept to a minimum.

To maximize the life of your home paint sprayer, you’ll want to have these on-hand and use them as recommended by the manufacturer.

Tips

Different tips are used for specific jobs on your preferred paint gun.

They can help you use thicker or thinner paints, change spray patterns, or let your sprayer be used for varnish or lacquer in addition to paint. This gives your tool the most versatility when it comes to exterior and interior projects. 

Sometimes you’ll find that a paint sprayer comes with certain personal protective equipment.

Make sure the equipment is of the proper size before finalizing your purchase.  Otherwise you’ll have to purchase more protective gear that does fit your unique needs at an extra cost and you’ll be stuck with useless gear at home. 

How to Use a Paint Sprayer 

A paint sprayer can be an intimidating tool if you’re not used to using one.  Although it seems like you should be able to hook your sprayer up to the paint and get to work, it doesn’t quite work this way.

Our Tips for Using a Paint Sprayer

A good place to start is to practice using your new sprayer on some cardboard first so you can perfect your technique.

When you’re able to create even coverage, only then should you proceed to painting other things.

Never use a paint sprayer if the temperature is below 45F or above 75F.

This will affect the quality of the paint. You’ll also want to avoid painting in direct sunlight as well because this will cause the paint to dry too quickly and this changes how it bonds.

Cold paint dries slowly and will attract debris, which also means the sprayer is likely to clog. 

Prepping Your Paint Gun

Clogging, in fact, is the #1 complaint that people have when using a paint sprayer. You’ll see this as a running theme in the public reviews of today’s best paint sprayers.

To prevent clogs, it is important to stir your paint extremely well. You’ll then need to strain it before hooking it up to the sprayer for best results. 

Once you’ve done all this, you’re ready to begin painting.

How to Use a Paint Sprayer Indoors

You’ll want to start moving the sprayer before you start applying the paint.  You move the sprayer with your arm in a sweeping motion, instead of using your wrist.

Keep it moving in strokes that are long and straight. The sprayer will apply paint quickly, so this technique will prevent having the paint run.

You’re basically replicating how you would paint with a brush, but you’re holding a sprayer instead. 

Don’t get too close

Sprayers will cause paint to run if they’re held closer than 10-12 inches from the surface.

You must also maintain the same distance as much as possible because even small changes will alter the surface of the paint.

Tilting the sprayer upward or downward will also cause the sprayer to spit out paint and that can create unwanted results. 

Most people tend to use what is called the “bowtie” method of painting with a sprayer. This means the sprayer is swung in an arc motion.

The end result is paint that is thicker in the middle, but thinner and wider in application at the edges.

It’s always better to be too light than too heavy in your application.

Start with the corners, then paint any protrusions, and finally save the larger flat areas to paint for last for best results. 

How to Maintain a Paint Sprayer 

Since clogging is the #1 complaint of paint sprayer owners, a little proactive maintenance will go a long way toward resolving this issue.

Most sprayers today come with a tip guard installed to prevent accidental paint injection into the skin.

You’ll need to clear this guard from time to time while working since the paint can bond there. Remove your finger from the sprayer trigger and clean it off every so often using a rag. 

Never use your fingers or your hand to clean out a spray tip or nozzle to avoid accidental injection. 

Cleaning Your Paint Sprayer

You must also clean out the paint sprayer after every use. This may even include when you change paint sources if there is a long enough break between the two painting sessions.

If your sprayer is not designed to be hooked up to a standard garden hose, then you’ll need to take the sprayer apart to wash it out.

Follow the instructions given by the manufacturer in the manual for the tool.

If you do have a clogged tip, you’ll want to twist the tip a full 180 degrees. Then point your sprayer at a cardboard or wood scrap and then squeeze the trigger until the clog clears.

You may also find clogs at the filter which will need to be manually cleared. 

Focus on your ball-check valves, your hose connections, and the internal spraying mechanisms when performing maintenance on your sprayer and you’ll prevent most of the troubles that are complained about when users review sprayers in a negative way. 

What Is Backbrushing or Backrolling?

Some paint sprayers recommend that users perform a technique called “backbrushing” after applying the paint. Sometimes this might be referred to as “back rolling” instead.

It basically means that after the paint has been applied to the surface, the user must then use a brush or roller to create a coat that is more even or can better penetrate the application surface.

First you spray, then you brush, and then the paint dries. 

Not every surface requires backbrushing, but if you’re painting unfinished wood or wood that has been previously painted or stained, it is a good idea to do so even if the tool doesn’t recommend that it needs to be done.

This allows for the surface to look even instead of having the patchwork look that some paints may leave. 

When applying a sealant or a primer, backbrushing is almost always recommended. 

What Are the Jobs a Paint Sprayer Can Do?

airless paint sprayer tips tricks

There are certain do’s and don’ts when using a paint sprayer to follow when there are DIY projects which need to be completed.

Here is a look at what jobs a paint sprayer can do and when a paint sprayer might not be the best tool to get the job done.

Paint Sprayer Guide

The Do’s of Painting with a Paint Gun

Do use a paint sprayer when you’ve got a large painting space which needs to be completed.

This can be anything from the siding on your home to the interior walls of your room.

Just make sure you have plastic sheeting or other protections in place to prevent paint from going places where you don’t want it to go. 

Do use paint sprayers when you’re painting furniture.

A sprayer that produces a fine mist will allow the paint to get into the difficult corners, cracks, and nooks that are spots your average paint roller or brush is able to reach. 

Do use a paint sprayer when you’ve got multiple surfaces which need to be painted with the same color of paint.

Because this tool creates a rather large mess, you’ll have better results if you are planning to paint the trim, ceiling, and walls the same color.

Precision work takes a lot of prep time, but it can be done if you make preparation efforts. 

Do figure out how much you will be using your sprayer.  If you’re using it frequently to paint large areas like fencing, decks or home exteriors, you will exceed the gallon limit on most paint sprayers. 

Take a look at buying a commercial paint sprayer for professionals.  They have much higher annual gallon use recommendations.

Do make sure you take time to practice your technique. Each spray pattern is a little different.

Make sure you have some cardboard or scrap wood around so you can practice before starting to paint for real. 

Do try to use a paint sprayer when no one else is around. It works best to paint when a room is empty, a house is empty, or the weather is cooperating with you outside.

Low wind conditions are the best conditions for outdoor use with this tool. 

Always use a paint sprayer in an environment that is well ventilated for best results. 

Do use protective personal equipment when using any type of paint sprayer. This means you should wear something to protect your airways, such as a mask.

Safety glasses are a must-have to prevent paint, lacquer, or varnish getting into the eyes. You’ll want to wear clothes that you don’t mind being ruined. 

The Don’ts of Painting with  Paint Sprayer

Don’t use a paint sprayer if you are concerned about how much paint you’ll be using. A paint sprayer will almost always use more paint than a brush or a roller.

If your budget is tight and you want to minimize paint waste,  other tools will more effectively get your job done. 

Don’t use a paint sprayer for small jobs you’ve got around the house. This is especially true if you don’t have enough room to be able to use the paint sprayer. 

Don’t use paint sprayers if you aren’t willing to invest some time into your prep work.

You’ll be taping and covering many things before you get to work. This has a time and cost investment associated with it, so it may not be right for everyone. 

Don’t use a paint sprayer if cleaning up after a project is your least favorite thing to do.

You’ll need to take apart your paint sprayer to clean it out after every use and this consumes a lot of time – especially when compared to cleaning out a brush or roller and a paint tray. 

How to Use a Paint Sprayer: 6 Helpful Tips

There are certain best practices that have been developed over the years from professionals and DIY experts that make using a paint sprayer relatively simple, even if you don’t have previous experience with this tool.

Here are some helpful tips that can help you maximize the use of your sprayer before you get to work on your next project.

#1. How to prime a paint sprayer

Most paint sprayers have a valve that gives you two or more options: prime and spray, then different types of sprays.

You'll want to switch the valve to prime, switch the pump on, and then turn the pressure valve up until the pump starts on many models.

When you see the paint starting to flow through the priming tube, you're ready to move it into the paint bucket and begin getting to work.

Let it run for about 30 seconds to remove any air bubbles.

#2. Know your tip size

Paint sprayer tips are defined by a 3 digit number. The first digit tells you the width of the spray fan when measured at 10-12 inches when you double the number.

The second and third number tell you what the size of the application hole in the tip happens to be in thousandths of an inch.

If you have a large surface to spray with latex paint, having a 515 tip or larger would be beneficial.

For staining or varnishing, a 310 tip would provide better results. 

#3. Watch out for tails

Even if you've used a paint sprayer before, it is important to test your spray on a piece of cardboard or scrap wood before getting to work.

You're doing this so you can check for “tails” which appear at the end of the paint.

You can recognize a tail because it gives your spray pattern a rounded corner.

This means your air pressure is too low. If you have overspray, then you have too much pressure. Retest your spray pattern until you get consistent results. 

#4. Always keep your trigger locked

It's a simple step, but one that is often forgotten when you're done spraying.

Keep your trigger locked and follow the manufacturer's pressure relief procedures before you start the cleaning process or perform maintenance tasks.

This will help to prevent accidental injections from occurring.

#5. Follow grounding precautions for certain materials

You can spray oil-based products through many of today's paint sprayers. The only problem is that these products are also highly flammable.

You'll need to make sure that you follow all grounding precautions and procedures so sparking can be preventing while spraying.

Your owner's manual will have specific step-by-step instructions that must be followed to make sure your gun and paint or product pail is properly grounded. 

#6. Give yourself a break from time to time 

When you hold a paint sprayer for some time, you'll find that your grip will begin to cramp up.

This can even cause finger spasms to occur if you force yourself into a state of fatigue.

Allow yourself to have a 5 minute break for every 25-30 minutes of work to prevent mistakes that may happen because your hands have worn out. 

For best results, you'll always want to move back and forth like you would a paint brush or roller when using a paint sprayer.

Horizontal application strokes tend to work better than vertical ones because it reduces the chances of a bothersome run or the sprayer spitting.

Take your time, go slow, and don't worry about how much paint you're using.

If you can do that and follow these tips, then you'll be proud of the results you were able to create.

Practice Makes Perfect

A paint sprayer can save you a lot of time. It will also save you a lot of money once you’re able to perfect guide to best paint sprayersyour techniques.

Give yourself some time to practice instead of jumping into a project right away and your experiences with this kind of tool will be much more positive.

Don’t expect perfection right away.

Although some people get the techniques down with just a pass or two in practice, it can take a couple of days or a couple of weeks to get it right. Everyone is different.

It is more important to learn the skill than it is to complete a task quickly.

Because of this need for skill development, some people may find that brushes or rollers are more appropriate for them.

Some jobs, especially smaller ones in enclosed spaces, may not even be suitable for a sprayer in the first place.

Evaluate your needs first; review the types and features of each paint sprayer before purchasing one, and then practice, practice, practice with your newly purchased tool for best results.

Remember that the tip you use can make or break your user experience. Always use the tips that are recommended by the manufacturer for best results.

Conclusion

The ultimate guide to paint sprayers is intended to help you see if this tool could be right for you.

If you believe it could be, then the next step is to find the best paint sprayer for your upcoming project. Get started with your research today right here and you’ll be able to find the right product at the right price for your budget.

Quick FAQs

What Are the Different Types of Paint Sprayers?

HVLP, Airless, Compressed Air, Gravity Feed, Siphon Feed.

Buying a Paint Sprayer: 4 Important Features

Portability, flexiblity, power and easy to clean

What Is Backbrushing or Backrolling?

After the paint has been applied to the surface, the user must then use a brush or roller to create a coat that is more even or can better penetrate the application surface.


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