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How To Use a Paint Sprayer, Airless, HVLP, And Compressed Air

how to use a paint sprayer

graco airlessSometimes it just makes sense to use a paint sprayer as opposed to using traditional methods such as a brush or roller. Let’s go over how to use a paint sprayer in detail, both airless and HVLP sprayers. But first, some questions.

To begin, we need to determine just what we intend to paint, then, what type of sprayer is the most suitable, what type of paint are we using, and what is the best method for application.

Uses Of Paint Sprayers

At this point, you probably have a project in mind that you feel would be better tackled using the spray painting technique.

There are many different situations you may use a sprayer for example around the home you may be.

Painting interior rooms, exterior siding, fences, landscape timber or roofs. Other projects may include indoor and outdoor furniture, kitchen and bathroom makeovers, cars, motorcycles, boats, or the products you sell.

All of these will have a different approach and specific sprayers. So before we go into how to use a paint sprayer we must determine which type is best for your project,.

Types of Paint Sprayer

There are three common types of paint sprayers. Compressed air sprayers, Airless paint sprayers, and HVLP paint sprayers

Compressed Air Sprayers –

These are the traditional method of spray painting. They consist of an air compressor that feeds pressurized air through to the paint spray gun.  Compressed air sprayers are commonly used for painting cars, motorcycles, and furniture, or anywhere where the paint finish is to be of high quality.

While compressed air sprayers are very efficient at applying paint, they are best used in controlled environments such as in a spray painting booth. There is a lot of paint coming from the spray gun in a fine but concentrated mist. Using such equipment outdoors can result in a lot of paint not going onto the job due to windy conditions.

Air compressor painting is mostly restricted to using solvent-based paints and stains as they need to be thinned down. This process allows a very fine paint spray so hence the great finish they can produce.

It’s not advisable to use latex, water-based paint with a compressed air sprayer as the paint is to thick. You would have to thin the latex paint so much that to get good coverage would take many coats of paint.

Airless Paint Sprayers

The best Airless paint sprayers rely on an electric pump and piston to create pressure and to send the paint through a hose to the spray gun tip.

The paint is atomized with the pressure and allows the paint spray to be properly directed with the spray gun tip.

Airless sprayers have two hoses. One hose goes directly into the can of paint. From here the paint is drawn through the sprayer to the main spray hose.

The main hose is usually between twenty-five and fifty feet long, depending on the machine brand. The spray gun directs the paint fan to the job.

How to Use A Paint Sprayer -Airless


Airless sprayers can pump out a lot of paint. They also are ideal for using latex water-based paints. This makes them a perfect tool for DIY jobs around the home. Use for painting interior and exterior walls, roofing, and fences.

This type of painting is very quick compared to the traditional brush and roller and is where these machines shine.

You will, however, use more paint with an airless sprayer than you would with a paint roller.

Airless paint sprayers aren’t just confined to slapping on copious quantities of paint in at a quick rate.

They are also excellent for painting timber or similar interior surfaces to a mirror-like finish.

Using different spray tips its easy to paint with stains, varnishes, and lacquers. These finishes do require some practice to get it right but the end results can be amazing. Especially on cabinets and furniture.

HVLP Paint Sprayer – What Does HVLP Mean

HVLP stands for High Volume Low Pressure. These spray-guns are capable of dispensing a lot of paint at low pressure and still maintaining a fine finish.

The low pressure from an HVLP paint sprayer ensures that less paint is wasted.

Conventional high-pressure compressor driven sprayers pump a lot of paint to surrounding areas due to the high pressure. This causes more waste than a low-pressure HVLP system.

Types Of HVLP Paint Sprayers

There are two types of HVLP paint sprayers. The first is suited to use with the conventional compressor system called a conversion system.

This basically converts your high-pressure compressor to a more controlled HVLP system. This gives you more control and less paint overspray than a standard compressor set up.

The other type of HVLP sprayers is small and portable units that are called dedicated systems. These are great for do it yourself, enthusiasts.

One of the better-known models is the Wagner series of HVLP sprayers.

HVLP Spray Painting Tips And Techniques

How to use a paint sprayer that is high volume and low pressure.

Thinning paint is a good idea if the consistency is too heavy.

This is because the channels in the spray gun are small and can get blocked easily. The thinning ratios will differ from paint to paint and you will soon discover the required consistency.

Finishes like paint stain are about right and probably won’t need thinning. However, don’t panic If you over-thin it just means you will need to spray more coats. Alternatively, just add more un-thinned product.

Always filter your paint through a paint strainer to filter out any lumps that may be present. You can get these from your local hardware store. Or you could use an old pair of tights.

For compressors set the pressure around 45kps.

Always practice on some scrap or up against a sheet of cardboard to find the ideal spray pattern. You can adjust this using the spray gun tip adjustment.

 Airless Sprayers Deliver A Professional Finish For Less

graco_Magnum_X5Airless sprayers create a spray finish with materials like stains, lacquers, and paints – without using any compressed air. This is a huge advantage since it means you’ll need far less equipment (saving you hundreds of dollars) to get a professional finish on your various projects.

If you’re a serious do-it-yourselfer with several projects on the go, or you simply want to paint the whole house, an airless paint sprayer can help you get the job done more professionally – in a fraction of the time.

The savings in dollars versus having your home professionally painted in full is immense. On even the smallest home, it can save you 3000 to 5000 dollars.

You Can’t Beat A Sprayed On Finish

As far as I’m concerned, if you want a professional finish, the only way to get it is to spray it on. But your options are somewhat limited, so your choices are;

You can use a traditional sprayer with a compressor and air-line. That’s what most pros use in shop settings to finish everything from furniture to cars.

You could also use those cheap spray bombs. But the problem with those is that you’re depending on the quality of the trigger nozzle and once they jam up or get clogged – they’re finished.

Spray bombs can they can work for small jobs – but they’re not the best solution, by a long shot.

A third more effective option is the airless paint sprayer. It’s an economical choice that gives you a quality spray paint finish – without the costs of all the associated equipment typically required.

Tips For Best Results Using Airless Paint Sprayers

For best results, you should always strain your finishing material – whether it’s polyurethane or latex paint. It’s also helpful (in most cases) to thin the paint down, making it less likely to clog the nozzle. The paint will go further also without compromising the finish.

Be sure to mask the area and tape off everything in close proximity to your project, to protect it from overspray.

Preparation is the key to a good finish and it can take a lot longer than simply spraying on the finish.

More About HVLP Sprayers

High Volume – Low-Pressure sprayers push stains, paints, and clear coat finishes through a nozzle where a low-pressure airstream meets the material. This creates a mist-like spray that lands directly on the surface you’re finishing.

Spray finishing provides a high level of efficiency in the transfer of material to the surface, resulting in a faster finishing job every time.

With HVLP sprayers, some nozzles are made for thicker materials. Depending on your system, even latex paint can be sprayed on directly.

You may need to thin the material down though, so it doesn’t clog the nozzle too readily.

HVLPs sprayers can cover a large area efficiently. And in most cases, you can pull the liquid finishing material directly from a 5-gallon bucket or 1-gallon pail.

HVLP sprayers are excellent finishing tools as they deliver a high volume of low-pressure air which intersects with the material, breaking it into tiny particles.

Since the air pressure is low and consistent, the atomized paint particles have less bounce back (with less overspray) and you have better control.

Maintain An Even Distance With Smooth Strokes

When spray finishing, it’s important to hold the gun at an even distance away from the surface being finished. The farther away you are, the more overspray you’ll get. But you don’t want to get too close to the surface either –  or you’ll apply too much material.

Start your stroke before you pull the trigger and continue each stroke after releasing the trigger to continue a smooth and fluid movement.

And be sure to keep the gun moving at a steady speed.

It’s always best to test on a large piece of scrap cardboard. If you’re finishing wood furniture, it’s best to test it on a piece of the actual wood that’s being spray finished.

Clean well After Each Use

Do not store any finishing material in your paint sprayer when you’re done.  You’ve got to clean it after each use and make sure that the nozzles are absolutely clean and unclogged, or you’ll have difficulty using it the next time.

Most paint sprayers can be used with water-based finishes and traditional oil-based finishes. To clean water-based material from a gun and nozzle – use warm soapy water and rinse it out thoroughly. For oil-based materials use mineral spirits.

Paint strain bags can be very helpful in keeping your gun functioning longer with less clogging.

If you can’t find them or don’t have one handy, you can create a similar filtering effect by feeding the material through pantyhose.

Preparation Makes A Difference to The Finish

It doesn’t matter what you’re finishing – preparation is the key.

Use masking tape to tape off trim areas and set up drop cloths everywhere.

If you’re sparing an outside project like a fence – be aware that tiny particles can travel quite a distance and land where you don’t want them to land. So it’s best to cover everything you can in advance.

Wear old clothes and a safety mask with respirator, so that you have full protection.

Wrap up.

Learning how to use a paint sprayer is straight forward once you know what type of sprayer is best for your job.

Each type will suit different projects and you may even need two or all three sprayers in your workshop.

Rest assured, like anything new, take the time to practice. Be patient and you will soon be getting very impressive spray paint finishes.

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