How to Use a Paint Sprayer

Using a paint sprayer can improve coverage and reduce the overall time spent on a project.

paint sprayer

Getty Images / Daniel Lozano Gonzalez

When most people think of painting walls, ceilings, or even an outdoor deck, they typically picture a can of paint and a paintbrush. Those with some painting experience might also visualize a tray and roller, which are used to apply a large amount of paint over a broad area. However, you can also use a paint sprayer to quickly and effectively paint walls, furniture, fencing, and more.

A paint sprayer, as the name implies, sprays paint onto a surface with the use of a trigger on the device. This tool helps shorten a project's timeline and improves the paint finish quality. However, a paint sprayer generally uses about 33% more paint than a roller, so make sure to plan ahead when buying paint. Take a look at this helpful guide to learn how to use a paint sprayer. 

Types of Paint Sprayers

There are several types of paint sprayers, so before you can learn how to use a paint sprayer, it’s important to be able to identify the type of sprayer you need, whether it's an airless, HVLP, or pneumatic paint sprayer.

  • Airless paint sprayers are the most common option for DIYers because they don't require an air compressor to use. Instead, airless sprayers have an electric pump that pumps the paint from a container, through a hose, into the spray gun, and out of the sprayer tip to apply paint to the target area. 
  • HVLP paint sprayers, or high-volume low-pressure sprayers, use an air compressor to push the paint through a hose and into the spray gun nozzle. At this point, a low-pressure air stream meets the paint as it is released from the tip of the sprayer to create a mist-like spray pattern. This type of paint sprayer is typically the most efficient option but is not suitable for thick paint products, like latex. 
  • Pneumatic paint sprayers are similar to HVLP sprayers in that they use an air compressor to push the paint through a hose and into the spray gun. However, instead of meeting a low-pressure air stream, the paint is simply projected out through the nozzle at a high velocity. These paint sprayers are great for painting cars, but they can also be used to paint a range of interior and exterior surfaces.

How to Use a Paint Sprayer

It isn’t difficult to use a paint sprayer, but it’s important to take it slow to avoid accidentally spraying surfaces, furniture, fixtures, and other objects that you don’t intend to paint. Follow this guide to learn how to use a paint sprayer.

What You Need

  • Drop cloth
  • Painters tape
  • Paint strainer
  • Paint
  • Paint sprayer
  • Mineral spirits
  • Clamps
  • Drill

Step 1: Prepare the Area

First, make sure the area where you will be working is protected. Paint can make a big mess that can be difficult to clean up. For this reason, it’s important to ensure the area is properly protected with drop cloths and clearly outlined with painters tape to avoid accidentally painting nearby surfaces, furniture, or objects. 

If you are working outdoors, it’s necessary to factor in the amount of wind and the wind direction before you start spraying. Strong winds can affect the direction of the spray, so make sure to cover trees, bushes, flowers, lawn ornaments, paving stones, and other items or surfaces that you don’t want coated in paint.

Step 2: Fill the Paint Reservoir

Globs of partially dried paint or thin films of paint can clog the tip of the paint sprayer. To avoid this, pour the paint through a strainer to remove any dried paint or other debris that may have fallen into the paint can. After straining, pour the paint or stain into the paint sprayer reservoir. Depending on the size and style of the sprayer, the reservoir may be attached to the sprayer gun, or it could be a separate container that needs to be connected to the sprayer gun with a hose.

Step 3: Test the Paint Sprayer

Before aiming the sprayer at the target surface, test the loaded sprayer on a piece of scrap material, like a piece of wood. Doing so allows you to get a feel for the sprayer, spray pattern, and spray speed. You can use this initial test to adjust the paint flow, spray pattern, or even switch to a more suitable tip before you get started on the actual project.

Step 4: Apply Paint

After testing the paint sprayer and figuring out the pattern and speed, it’s time to start painting. Adjust the nozzle so that it sits vertically if you are going to be spraying side-to-side or turn the nozzle horizontally if you will be spraying in up-and-down strokes. Keep the sprayer about 6 to 12 inches at a perpendicular angle from the target surface and make sure to keep your hand steady while you work.

Squeeze the trigger to start spraying the paint. Apply the paint with short strokes of about 1-1/2 feet and avoid spraying the paint while the sprayer is stationary to prevent drips and running paint. Start moving the sprayer in the selected direction first. Squeeze the trigger to start spraying immediately after you begin moving the sprayer. Release the trigger before you stop moving the sprayer. Make sure to overlap the edges of the spray pattern by a couple of inches for a smooth, even finish. 

Step 5: Clean and Store Paint Sprayer

Dried paint can clog the device mid-spray, so ensure the sprayer is properly taken care of after use. When you're done painting, disassemble the sprayer according to the manufacturer’s directions in order to clean the sprayer tips, paint cup, intake tubes, nozzle parts, and any seals. Dump unused paint into its original container, then use water to rinse away water-based paint or mineral spirits to rinse oil-based paints and stains. After rinsing all paint, discharge fresh cleaning solution through the spray gun until it comes out clear. Allow the sprayer to dry, then store it safely for your next painting project.

paint sprayer

Jay Wilde

Selecting the Right Tip

One of the most important factors to keep in mind when setting up your paint sprayer is the tip. The tip helps control the width and speed of the spray. Larger tips are intended for thicker viscosity fluids; a tip that’s too fine may clog during use. However, a fine tip is the right choice if you are working with a thin liquid, like stain.

Paint sprayer tips come in a range of sizes, starting at 0.009 inches. The size of the tip increases in increments of 0.002 inches. Generally, fine tips range from 0.009 inches to 0.013 inches, medium tips range from 0.015 inches to 0.019 inches, and larger tips are essentially any tips that measure 0.021 inches or more. 

Fine tips are best for thin liquids, like stains and lacquers. Medium tips are the most commonly used because they are the best choice for oil-based and latex paint. If you are applying heavy latex, elastomeric, or block filler, then a larger tip is a good option. 

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