- Best Air Paint Sprayer
- Best Airless Paint Sprayer
- Best HVLP Paint Sprayer
- Best Cup Paint Sprayer
Best Paint Sprayer
Of all the methods which have been devised for applying paint, nothing has approached the efficiency and finish quality of spraying. That’s why spraying paint is used throughout manufacturing industries, as well as being the number one means for applying paint to new residential and commercial construction.
Granted, there are places where spraying isn’t always appropriate, such as the inside of a furnished house. In that case, the overspray from using the spray equipment would cause unacceptable damage to the furnishings. Another such case is for doing fine detail work. In those cases, a brush often can give better results, with less time invested, that what would be required to mask everything in order to paint those details with a sprayer.
However, not all paint sprayers are appropriate for all uses. You must pick the right type of paint sprayer for the paint you are going to use, as well as the category of item that you are painting. Check out our buyer's guide below for more information on what type of paint sprayer to use for your job.
Best Air Paint Sprayer:
Fine automotive paint finishes are an art. While just about anyone can grab a spray gun and paint a car, going for an exceptional paint job takes time, patience and the right tools. While you can buy spray guns for under $20.00; this is one place where the old saying “you get what you pay for” really speaks loudly.
While the function of an inexpensive and expensive spray gun are the same, and the visible differences in the guns themselves are so minimal as to be ridiculous; the differences you can’t see are enormous. The basic difference between a good gun and a cheap gun is in how they atomize the paint and how they control the paint spray pattern. Those differences show up very clearly in the quality of the paint finish that the gun produces.
- Atomizing refers to the process of converting the liquid paint into an aerosol; or in other words, breaking it up into a million little droplets. In a spray gun, you want there to be as many droplets as possible, and you want them to be as small as possible.
- Spray pattern refers to the shape of the paint cone as it hits the surface you are painting. Ideally, you want your pattern to be a fairly thin vertical line. Converting the round cone into a vertical line is a tricky process, requiring exacting design and precision machining.
The nozzle, cone and needle are what affect the atomizing and spray pattern. How well they do that is what separates the men from the boys in this highly competitive field. The rest of the gun is designed more to insure that the airflow is smooth, well controlled and that the paint gets into the airstream. Finally, making the gun easy to control and comfortable is important as well.
Many people like gravity feed spray guns, where the paint canister is above the gun. In fact, gravity feed guns are taking over the marketplace from siphon feed guns. However, I guess I’m just old-fashioned, because I prefer suction feed guns. There are four advantages of suction feed over gravity feed:
- First of all, the gun can hold more paint.
- Second of all, the canister isn’t in your line of site.
- Third of all, you can turn the gun sideways while you are painting.
- They can be used with a pressure pot for larger quantities of paint or for HVLP
A large part of the reason that gravity feed is taking over the market from siphon feed paint cups is the advent of HVLP. HVLP doesn’t operate at high enough pressure to draw the paint out of a siphon feed cup. The way that this problem is solved is to pressurize the paint cup, making it essentially a gun-mounted pressure pot. With this combination, you can have the traditional paint cup with the more advanced HVLP gun.
As an "old-timer" in the paint spray field, DeVilbiss has long been recognized as providing some of the best spray guns on the market. This gun will provide superior performance and high quality finish work. Read Full Review
Binks is my personal favorite, as I've done a lot of automotive painting with one. Their guns provide excellent finish quality, good enough to rival DeVilbiss. Ergonomics and light weight are important to the Binks designers, who make some of the easiest guns around to work with. Read Full Review
This gun from Sharpe has been specifically designed to rival HVLP for material transfer efficiency. That's quite an accomplishment, considering that it's a conventional gun. Read Full Review
For those who need to count their scheckles, take a look at Campbell Hausfield. This gun works off a pressure cup, holding up to 1000 cc of paint. Read Full Review
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Best Airless Paint Sprayer:
An airless paint sprayer is essentially a pump. It sits over a 5-gallon paint bucket (or a one gallon can is possible) and sucks the paint up out of the bucket, pressurizing it to at least 2,500 PSI. This pressurized paint is then passed through a hose to a paint spray gun, where the painter can control the flow of the paint through a nozzle which atomizes it.
These paint sprayers are designed for moving a lot of paint in a little time. Average medium duty units can go through 1/3 gallon of paint per minute, while heavy duty units can pump over a gallon. That makes the real challenge of using an airless paint sprayer one of control. If you dont have excellent control of the gun, its very easy to end up with runs and drips all over the place, not to mention painting over windows, trees and the neighbors cat.
Masking is essential when using an airless paint sprayer. Not only do things like windows and doors need to be masked, but the very ground needs it. While it is possible to tape masking to windows and doors, its not all that easy to do so with dirt. For that, youre better off using masking paddles.
On the other hand, if you want to paint quickly, theres nothing that can beat one of these airless paint sprayers. A number of years ago when I had a painting company, I painted three average sized houses in one day on a dare. I had to send my crews ahead to mask, because that actually took longer than it did to paint the houses.
An important factor in using an airless paint sprayer is the tip. There are several details you must take into consideration on tip selection:
- The larger the tip size, the more paint moves through it per minute.
- The thicker the paint, the larger an orifice size you need to get that material through.
- When painting with thinner (viscosity) materials, you need a smaller tip to control the paint flow.
- There are different types of spray patterns. You want to use a pattern that is conducive to the painting you are going to do. In most cases, when painting interior or exterior walls, that means a 12 fan pattern.
- Tips wear, so you cant use them forever.
- Tips are sized with the idea that you will be holding the paint gun 12 away from the surface you are painting.
- You cant use a larger orifice tip than what the airless paint sprayer you are using is rated for.
Since airless paint sprayers are commonly used for both home and commercial painting, a lot of collective experience has been accumulated in their use. Based on that experience, Here are the recommended tip size for various types of home paint products:
- Block Fillers .025 - .039
- Elastomerics .025 - .039
- Elsatomerics (smooth) .021 - .025
- Heavy Latex .021 - .025
- Oil Based Primers .017 - .019
- Latex Based Primers .015 - .017
- Exterior Latex Paint .015 - .019
- Interior Latex Paint .013 - .017
- Oil Based Enamels .013 - .015
- Solid Stains .013 - .015
- Polyurethanes .013 - .015
- Low VOC Varnishes .013 - .015
- 100% Latex Acrylics (interior) .013 - .015
- Clear Acrylics .012 - .014
- Water Borne Lacquers .012 - .014
- Pure, Thinned Tung Oil .011 - .013
- Thin Water Sealers .011 - .013
- Transparent Stains .011 - .013
- Clear Shellac .009 - .013
- Clear Coat Lacquers .009 - .011
One important factor you must always keep in mind when using airless paint sprayers is that they must be cleaned thoroughly, immediately after each use. To clean one, place the nozzle in water or the appropriate solvent for that paint material, and pump out all the paint still in the sprayer, hose and gun (this can be as much as 1/2 gallon). Then clean the pump suction shaft and intake screen manually. Youll probably need to remove the screen and use a wire brush on it. Youll also need to use your wire brush to clean the nozzle area of the gun and the nozzle itself.
Pump water or solvent through the sprayer, without the nozzle, until the water is coming out clearly. While pumping, be sure to clean the outside of the gun. Disassemble the gun, and carefully clean the filter screen that it inside it, then reassemble. Coil your hoses in a manner to avoid kinking them.
Never point an airless paint sprayer gun at yourself or another person. They produce enough pressure that they can actually peel skin off, especially if there is already a cut to start with.
So, what makes a good paint sprayer? The things that make one paint sprayer better than another are actually somewhat intangible; theyre a combination of factors that make the unit usable. More than anything, you want a paint sprayer that wont clog on you. There is an art and a science to designing these.
Some designs, which looked excellent, are very hard to clean, which often results in paint being left in the sprayer, where it causes clogging. A clogged paint sprayer is a useless piece of equipment.
The major specifications to look at when buying an airless paint sprayer are:
- Motor size too small a motor, and itll overheat too much.
- Maximum flow in GPM (Gallons per minute)
- Maximum tip size you want to be sure that the unit you are selecting will handle the material you are intending to use
- Maximum pressure this is a pump, so the higher the pressure, the more flexibility you have
- Configuration some paint sprayers are high mounted where the pump actually sits above the bucket, while other are low mounted with a siphon hose. This is a personal preference item, but Ive always found the high mounted units easier to use.
Besides the specifications, you want a reversible gun. What this means is that the tip can be reversed, without having to take it out of the gun. This allows you to blow out the tip with the pain, should a piece of debris get into it, blocking the tip. Thats an incredible time saver, which also prevents you from having to waste paint in cleaning out the gun.
For the sake of this review, I've limited myself to units that would be practical for home painting. All of these companies produce larger, more expensive units for commercial applications. However, they have prices to match. The ones shown here are the cream of the crop for home painting.
Graco has a great reputation for making paint equipment which is logically designed for use. This is actually one of their medium duty sprayers, but ideal for home painting work. Read Full Review
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The 7/8 HP motor on this unit provides 0.042 gallons of paint per minute, making it the most powerful unit on our list. The pump is "twin stroke," designed to pump on both the up and down strokes, reducing pressure surges. Read Full Review
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Titan is another company that has been making airless paint spraying equipment for a while. This unit provides a little less pressure and a little less flow than the Graco, but is a great unit nevertheless. Read Full Review
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Campbell Hausfield is another old-timer in the painting business, better known for their conventional air-driven paint guns. This product has more safety features built into it than any of the others I've reviewed.
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Best HVLP Paint Sprayer:
HVLP is a more recent invention as far as paint sprayers are concerned. The abbreviation stands for “high volume, low pressure” which accurately explains what it does. Instead of using a low volume of air at high pressure, it uses a high volume of air at low pressure.
I first saw HVLP demonstrated for use in the '80s for painting trim in architectural applications. The salesman demonstrating it used a paint stirring paddle as a masking guide, to paint a piece of door casing. He was wearing dress clothes at the time, not painter’s clothes. The overspray from the gun was so minimal, that the dark blue paint he was spraying didn’t get on the white wall around the doorframe. The 1-1/4” wide paint paddle was enough.
That was pretty impressive, especially for anyone who is familiar with conventional spray equipment, either air or airless. The biggest problem with most paint spray operations is overspray, whether painting cars, airplanes or homes.
At that time, it wasn’t being used for automotive work, although it wasn’t long after that, when it started being used for automotive paint finishing. The problem with using HVLP for automotive finish was that those early guns produced a lot of orange peel. Automotive finishes need to be smooth, and that orange peel finish was unacceptable by anybody’s standards.
HVLP technology has come a long way since then, and it is currently used extensively in automotive paint operations. EPA regulations almost require HVLP in many applications, as there are lower VOC emissions with it than there are with conventional paint operations. That is mostly because HVLP uses less paint to paint the same surface.
Actually, the HVLP isn’t depositing any less paint onto a surface than conventional spray methods; it’s just not spraying a lot of paint into the air in the form of overspray. Overspray is actually paint droplets that have hit the intended surface and bounced off. All paint that becomes overspray is waste. By reducing overspray, HVLP reduces waste.Today, HVLP is used both automotive-type paint applications and architectural applications; essentially anywhere that overspray, VOCs or material usage is a concern.
It is important to select a HVLP spray gun that is designed for the material you want to apply. More than anything, the issue is one of viscosity. The more viscous (thicker) a paint product is, the harder it is to push it through the paint gun to the nozzle and to atomize it. To reduce this problem, either a gravity feed cup or a pressure pot need to be used for the paint. A siphon feed cup will not work good with high viscosity materials in a HVLP paint operation.
Binks is one of the original manufacturers of HVLP equipment. That gives them a distinct advantage in design, as they have been at it longer. That advantage shows itself in the quality of finish provided by their guns. Read Full Review
DeVilbiss is an "old timer" in the spray gun industry, providing professional spray paint equipment to a wide range of industries. This gun can take the place of three separate guns, as it comes with three different sized fluid tips. Read Full Review
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This gun provides a 14-inch wide pattern, which is much wider than other guns on the market. All the fluid passages are stainless steel, allowing the gun to be used with water-based paint products. Read Full Review
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This HVLP gun package is a complete setup for painting architectural trim and moldings. The gun comes with its own turbine air pump. A push-n-click spray pattern control allows you to quickly switch the pattern from horizontal to vertical or make it round. Read Full Review
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Wagner is one of the best known names is residential paint equipment. Their specialty is providing power paint systems to the homeowner, which provide professional results at a do-it-yourselfer price. This HVLP system is no exception. Read Full Review
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Best Cup Paint Sprayer:
The traditional siphon fed paint spray gun has gradually been giving way to the gravity feed paint spray gun for a number of years. While the movement has been gradual, it is also unmistakable. Twenty years ago, gravity feed paint cups were rare, whereas today there are more cup guns on the market than there are siphon feed guns.
This change has been driven more by HVLP (high-volume, low-pressure) technology taking over the market, than by any other reason. With HVLP, there isnt enough air pressure in the gun to draw the paint out of the siphon cup, making gravity feed a much more viable option. The solution to this is to pressurize the low mounted paint cup, pushing the paint up to the gun; however, it is easier to design and build gravity fed guns, meaning that they are less expensive as well.
Gravity fed guns arent limited by the viscosity of the paint material either. Heavier bodied paints will feed just as well as thin ones do, reducing problems with switching over from one to the other. Finally, gravity fed guns make a more compact package, which is ultimately easier for the painter to use.
Quality paint spray guns arent cheap. While you can buy paint spray guns for as little as $20, you might not be all that happy with the quality of the paint finish that you get from that cheaper gun. Manufacturing spray guns and especially spray gun nozzles and caps that provide a clean, consistent pattern and a quality finish requires extremely precise machining, with attention to detail. The type of work that is usually glossed over on lesser expensive tools.
There are two key elements in the quality of a paint gun; its ability to atomize the paint and its ability to control the pattern. Atomizing the paint is the job of the nozzle. The needle fitting into the nozzle acts as both a trigger and part of the nozzle itself. The paint passes between the hole in the nozzle and this needle. As it does, it is hit by blasts of air from both sides, provided by the air cap. Between the nozzle and the air from the air cap, the paint is atomized. Additional holes in the air cap provide streams of air to shape the round paint pattern into a vertical line (called a fan).
Controls on the gun allow the painter to determine the amount of paint and air flow through the nozzle and cap, thereby controlling the shape and density of the paint pattern. These controls are by necessity extremely finely machined, as a minor difference in material or air flow will make a major difference in the paint job produced.
Not all gravity feed paint guns have the same size cup. This might make a difference if you are painting large vehicles. While a cup can be refilled, you are better off being able to carry enough paint to paint the whole vehicle, without having to stop. Typically, the point where you stop and restart has to be buffed out, as the first part begins to dry before the second part is applied.
DeVilbiss is one of the two top choices for paint professionals. This gun is unique in that it is optimized for use in all climates, through changing out the air caps. Read Full Review
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Binks is the other top choice of paint professionals. This gun is extremely ergonomic, with a very comfortable handle and trigger. It is extremely lightweight at only 410 grams. Read Full Review
Sharpe is Graco's automotive paint tool division; providing the same high quality to automotive painters that their other division provides to home painters. This gun provides a 13 inch spray pattern, with a width as low as 1.2 mm. Read Full Review
Ingersoll Rand is a name that is well known for pneumatic tools. While they may not be as well known for paint equipment, they provide a good quality gun at a very reasonable price. Read Full Review
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For those looking for a bargain, Campbell Housfeld offers a no-nonsense gravity feed gun which is very inexpensive. The cup will hold 20 ounces of paint, enough to cover a large area, but not so much as to make the gun heavy. Read Full Review
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Paint Sprayer Buyer's Guide
Paint sprayers come in many types, each of which is created to meet a particular need. You can’t effectively paint a building using automotive spray equipment (trust me, I know; I learned that the hard way as a teen). Nor can you paint a car with an airless paint sprayer and latex paint. Just like there are different types of paint, created for different applications, there are also different types of paint sprayers, created for use in applying those different paints.
Paint Sprayer Types
Paint sprayers basically fall into three different categories, depending upon how much air they use to spray the paint.
Air Paint Sprayers
Air paint sprayers are the most traditional category. They use compressed air to atomize the paint and propel it to the surface being painted. These paint sprayers also allow for changing the height and width of the spray "fan", allowing the painter to set the sprayer for the most efficient use of the paint.
Generally speaking, air paint sprayers are used for automotive paint applications. However, they can literally be used to paint just about anything. The tips are interchangeable so a tip can be chosen that’sthe right size for the viscosity or thickness of the paint being used.
There are two different ways that air paint sprayers can receive the paint to be sprayed; via a gravity feed cup or a pressurized paint pot. The cup is great for smaller jobs, such as touching up a car after replacing a fender. The pressure pot is used when larger amounts of paint are needed, such as painting an entire vehicle. Typical pressure pots hold one quart of paint, although there are also some that hold two gallons if you need to paint something like a 747 or something else large like that.
Airless Paint Sprayers
While theoretically it’s possible to use an air paint sprayer for architectural painting, it's not really practical. Painting homes and commercial structures uses so much paint, that you would end up refilling the paint pot on an air paint sprayer constantly. Therefore, airless paint sprayers are used.
An air paint sprayer creates a stream of air that draws the paint along via the venturi effect. This works well with low viscosity paints, such as those used for automotive painting. However, it doesn't work all that well with high the viscosity, high solids paints used for homes and businesses, especially latex paints (which are higher viscosity than oil-based paints). Instead of this, an airless paint spryer pumps the actual paint to the gun at high pressure where the pressure causes the paint itself to atomize through the nozzle of the gun.
To accommodate this, the design of the spray gun must be different. It is not receiving both paint and air, but only paint; this makes for a simpler gun design. However, the higher viscosity paint has more of a possibility of clogging the nozzle, so the better airless paint sprayers have reversible nozzles, so that you can blow out a clog and keep on painting.
HVLP Paint Sprayers
HVLP, short for "high-volume, low-pressure" is the new kid on the block. It has been developed to deal with the problem of overspray, caused by paint bouncing back off of the surface being painted. Since only low air pressure is used, there is less bounce back, hence less overspray.
The secret is using a higher volume of air to carry the paint. This allows the lower air pressure, while still causing the paint to be carried to whatever is being painted. While there is no such thing as a HVLP for normal latex paint, HVLP is used with oil-based paint for painting door and door frames, as well as for applying stain and varnish, in architectural applications. HVLP is also currently used extensively in automotive manufacturing.
The one problem with HVLP is it tends to provide more orange peel than high pressure air spray guns. The newer spray guns have gone a long way towards eliminating this, with improved airflow and improved nozzle technology.
When we talk about finish quality in painting, the major factor being considered is what’s known as “orange peel”. If you think of how the surface of an orange looks, that pretty well demonstrates what orange peel is. For automotive, furniture and other applications that are viewed up close, orange peel is essentially considered unacceptable. Of course, runs and drips can exist with any type of paint application and those are unacceptable in all circumstances.
Technically, orange peel refers to the roughness of a surface finish provided by the paint sprayer. All spray guns create some orange peel, due to the way that the paint droplets hit the surface being painted. How much orange peel is created is caused by a combination of paint gun design, paint viscosity and how fast the paint dries. Slow drying paints have more of a chance of "flowing out," eliminating the orange peel texture.
Orange peel is the worst when only a light coating of paint is applied. The more paint that’s applied, the more of a chance for it to flow out. However, there’s a point where enough paint can run or sag before it can dry. Ideally, you want to stop just short of this point when applying the paint.
For extremely fine automotive finishes, the paint is sanded and buffed once it’s dried in order to cut the tops off of the orange peel and provide a glass-smooth finish. This is then often covered with several coats of clear coating which is treated in the same way, sanding it and polishing it to provide the final finish.
Airless paint sprayers tend to cause a lot of orange peel, but it is not normally noticed, as architectural applications are normally done over textured surfaces. The one place where they are most likely to be noticed is in the case of interior walls which are almost always textured.