How to Use A Paint Sprayer- Step by Step Guide

Practice makes perfect in any skill.

Paint spraying is no different to this and to become skilled and get the best finishes involves hours spent setting up and using a paint gun.

Everybody has to start somewhere. Whether it is spraying emulsion, gloss or satinwood.

We hope that by the end of this guide you will have learned the basics in what is required to use a paint sprayer.

So, where should you begin on your journey to using a paint sprayer?

Follow the steps through and by the end, you should have your first project where you have applied paint via a paint sprayer.

If you are looking for a starter sprayer check out of guide for the best DIY HVLP paint sprayers

Step by Step Beginners Guide How to Use a Paint Sprayer

There are a few items to consider before paint is actually sprayed. You will need to consider what is being sprayed.

It will require preparation, masking surrounding areas and the environment it is going to be sprayed in.

The paint spraying aspect of a task is probably less than ten per cent of the time.

The other ninety per cent goes into preparing the areas and surrounding areas ready to receive coats of paint.

What Material is being Sprayed?

Typical items suited for paint spraying are:

Wood– Kitchen cabinets, staircase sections, furniture, windows, doors, skirting and architrave, fences

Metal– doors, windows, architectural items, railings, gates

Plastic– items include window frames and small furnishings

What Paint should be used when Paint Spraying?

After deciding that you would like to spray a particular object the next stage is identifying which paint system is best suited for durability, longevity and to give it the best finish.

This is a long list of paint and coatings and will be covered in another post but ideally, you are looking for tried and tested coatings.

Advice: Get the paint product data sheet from the manufacturers.

This should be on their website!

This will explain how to mix paint and how it should be applied properly as well as ideal temperature conditions and more information.

Preparing the Existing Substrate

The next step is to prep the material that you are spraying on to thoroughly.

Arguably, this is the most important stage of the spraying process.

Cleaning– The surface should be free of any dust, dirt and where applicable rust before any prep work goes into the project.

Jet washers are ideal for larger projects.

Sanding– an important part of the painting process is sanding down.

There are various grades of sandpaper and sanding back can be carried out by hand or mechanically.

Filling and flattening off. If there are holes or problems with the metal or woodwork, spraying will not hide these.

They require extensive preparatory work by filling with special fillers or putty

The Paint Spraying Area

The area you are spraying in should be as dust-free as possible.

There should also be no other items in the area.

You should mask up any surrounding items that you do not want to be covered in overspray.

Temperature: You need it to the surrounding area to be in a temperature where the paint will cure correctly.

Not too cold and not hot.

It is worth bearing in mind that the substrate temperature may remain too cold or hot regardless of the air temperature

Masking: Another important part of the spraying process is making sure that anything that is within spraying distance is covered adequately.

Any form of spraying has a degree of overspray.

Both HVLP and Airless spraying, especially airless have a degree of overspray that you will want to cover surrounding items.

If you are spraying the interior or exterior walls, you will want to protect windows and frames for instance and any skirting or brickwork.

Advice: Never underestimate the distance that paint can travel and mask up well.

There have been reports of paint travelling well over a mile where airless machines have been used incorrectly in the past. If in doubt seek out advice!

Lighting: getting the best lighting is always a good idea.

Light can play tricks and you may think that you have sprayed over certain areas only to finish an area and see that it has been missed when you inspect in a better light.

Which Spray Equipment should be used?

There are two main choices for home projects. These are:

HVLP Spray Guns– Used for smaller projects where finesse is required- like kitchen cabinets, items of furniture, staircase sections.

Airless Spray Guns– Used for larger projects like interior and exterior walls, where large volumes of paint are able to be applied in a small amount of time.

Your Safety when Spraying

Safety is a vital part of spraying. We want you to enjoy the process but not harm yourself in doing so.

With that in mind, it is vital that you are aware of what you are spraying. Take a look at the datasheets.

See what is involved in the paint and whether you need protection.

Also, please be aware of what you are spraying on. If it is old paint, does it contain lead for instance.

You need to take precautions.

We cannot overstate this enough.

Please take care of yourself and others!

Safety Wear or PPE

Using solvent-based and even water-based paints can result in some nasties.

We recommend getting into a good habit of wearing a respirator every time you spray paint.

Which respirator mask and filters will you need? Well, that depends on the paint you are spraying.

Tip: please see a paint datasheet and paint tin for guidance on what mask is required.

Depending on the method of spraying may also require eye protection and coveralls. Gloves and ear protection are always a good idea too.

Always protect yourself.

Using the Paint Sprayer

It may seem like we have covered a lot of information before the actual nitty-gritty of using the spray machine, but is advised that you go through every step methodically as it will show in the finished article.

Mixing Paint

So you’ve created the right environment to spray your items now it’s getting to the crunch time.

Mixing the paint correctly.

For this stage you will need:

The Paint

This was decided upon earlier and was based on your item and the best solution. If this was water-based, then this can generally be thinned using water.

If it is oil-based then it will require a solvent-based thinner, usually supplied by the paint manufacturer(be sure to read their datasheet).

Paint Strainer

Whether you’re a first-timer or a seasoned professional, paint clogging is bound to occur. For this reason alone it advised straining the paint.

Simply pour the paint through a strainer to ensure that there are no lumps in your paint.

A paint pot to mix in

An airless machine usually has high enough psi to pump out quite thick paint, whilst an HVLP machine will require thinning paint to ensure that it atomizes and sprays how you want it.

Setting Up the Spray Gun

Again, it advised that you familiarise yourself with the spray equipment as soon as you receive it.

Look at the instruction manual.

Look at online videos by the manufacturers and by users, there is a ton of vital information out there.

How to use the Spray Gun

Make sure that you power it up according to the guidelines

Ensure that you have enough trailing cable to reach the item that you want to spray

TIP: Keep your workspace tidy and avoid any unnecessary trip hazards

This depends on what you are spraying, the finish you require, timescales, etc

For a beginner, it is advised that you start with smaller machines like an HVLP machine Graco Power Plus or a Wagner

Using A HVLP Machine

HVLP Spray Gun

After mixing the paint (see the point above) it is time to fill the paint cup with the coating material. When filled to max level, fit the cup back onto the gun.

Adjust the power or compressor on the machine as advised by the HVLP manufacturers guidelines.

Use practice areas to carry out samples of paint.

How it sprays on, the colour.

Is it looking good? If not play around with the spray gun settings and the paint mixture.

When using an HVLP machine we are looking at getting a clean uniform finish to the paint. Do not over apply the coating.

We recommend dusting a coat on first then apply a coat over the top.

When using an HVLP we like to check the two Fs. The fan and flow. When these two are working correctly, we know we are ready to apply paint.

The spray-zone distance of the gun away from the item as a general rule of thumb is 6 inches.

The needle size of the HVLP Gun determines how thick the paint can be applied.

For thicker paints like primers and polyurethane paints use a 1.8-2.2 mm needle size. 1.4mm are ideally used for base coats and metallic and for spraying small parts with clear coats or lacquers we would shoot for a 1.2mm tip.

Again it is advised to read the paint spec and see what they recommend for spraying.

Tip Size (mm)Uses for Paint Gun Tip
0.8 mmParting Films, PVA mixtures, fine mists
1.2 mmClear Coating and super fine finish
1.4mmGeneral-purpose- clear coats, base coats, single-stage paints. An ideal starter tip.
1.6 mmGeneral-purpose- medium viscosity coatings and lacquers. Be warned: not ideal for light coatings as there is a risk of orange peel.
1.8 mmPriming coats. This tip allows priming quickly
2.2-2.5 mmThese tips are designed for thick reasons over general paints.

Fan control nozzle at the back of the gun determines how wide the spray fan is. If this closed you get a small circle pattern, and if fully open you get a wide fan.

The paint control nozzle allows you to control how much paint comes out of the gun when the trigger is pulled.

The length of hose is an important feature of flow for an HVLP machine.

We advise over 6 feet in length as this eliminates the heating of the paint and reduces drying time.

Start from one side of the item being sprayed and move in a slow steady controlled motion to the other side.

It is advised to start at the topmost part of the object and work down to the bottom.

Advice– Use a large piece of cardboard as a trial area. You should be able to see how the paint is applied and looking to avoid any drops

Adjust the spray fan, the pressure and look for the right level of coverage over the item.

Not too thick and not too thin.

It really is a matter of trial and error especially the first few times.

Using an Airless Machine

airless spray gun

Airless machines pump out large amounts of paint in a small amount of time.

It is for this reason you should only use this machine in a confined area to practice.

Your neighbours won’t thank you if you cover their house or car in your paint.

Point the spray tip at the object to be sprayed and hold perpendicular, most likely to be an interior or exterior wall or interior ceiling.

With Airless we recommend about 10 inches away from the object to be sprayed.

Use a sheet of cardboard or masking paper to test the setting of pressure, and fan to see the finish.

Airless Pressure Settings

If the paint is coming out thin and looks fragmented and there are thin bands at the top and bottom of the spray fan then there is most likely to be too little pressure.

If the paint is beginning to drip with runs and these are visible with obvious mist surround then there is likely to be too much pressure.

As with an HVLP machine, selecting the right tip size for the gun is vital.

Accessories

Airless spray machines come with a variety of accessories that will aid DIYers and commercial decorators.

Accessories include roller attachments, extension lances, line laser tips, and heated hose systems.

Advice: Finding the correct pressure with an Airless system is essential to get the best finish possible.

Start low and sample.

Increase slightly on sample area until the coating is even and there is no evidence of misses.

Keep practising, even seasoned professional have their off days!

Reducing Overspray

Things to check if the overspray is occurring:

  • The distance of the gun from the surface
  • Size of the nozzle
  • Pressure/ Speed set too high

Advice: One thing is for certain is that if you are spraying, overspray will occur as a direct result.

Get into good habits of masking with painters tape and brown paper. This will save on cleaning overspray from items in the long run!

Cover as much as you can beforehand.

How to Clean the Paint Sprayer

Make sure that the paint sprayer is cleaned each and every time that it is used. This is vital to make sure that the machine works correctly and to ensure that it works over a longer period.

Advice: Get into the good habits of cleaning each and every time. Please note that you shouldn’t clean water-based paints with solvents as this can cause reactions in the finish the next time you come to spray

There are HVLP cleaning kits available online. They include small brushes for thorough cleaning of the paint gun and tubes/lines. A good investment to stop any clogging or problems in the future.

Finishing Touches

Clean the area you have been spraying in. Check the finish of the sprayed item. If happy with the result, excellent you have achieved your first goal in your paint spraying journey.

If not happy with the finish, you may have to wait for the paint to cure completely to try again. this may be in another 24-48 hours depending on the coating used.

Don’t be disheartened if this occurs. 99% of paint beginner sprayers will have this happen to them in the first few projects. The other 1% is probably lying to you!

Demask any surrounding areas and put the waste in the trash.

Inspect your item and sit back in the knowledge that you are now a paint sprayer! What is your next project going to be, bigger and better- we are here to help.

Maintenance and Problem Solving

Checking the machine over- Spray Gun

The machine- It should be checked over every time it is used. Visually inspect for any obvious signs of defect. When starting the machine make sure it sounds and looks as though it operating correctly.

Paint- Is it in date? Only use paints that are within the shelf life that is recommended by the manufacturer. Out of date paint can react and be less effective as a coating.

Is the paint suitable to be sprayed? The paint should be suitable to be sprayed but as mentioned check with the retailer and product datasheets. It should mention everything you need to know on how to apply the paint.

Is it mixed to the right ratios and to the paint manufacturer’s guidelines? Sounding like a broken record but check the coating providers advice

Is the paint suitable for the surface it is being sprayed on?

Advice- Making notes is always a good idea self for reflection. A small paragraph about what went right, what went wrong and the sprayer set up and paint used. This can help you if you go to spray a similar project in the future.

Beginners Paint Sprayers FAQ’s

Why would you want to spray rather than brush or roller?

The paint finish is superior using a spray machine. You do not get the unsightly brush or roller areas. No brush marks. The best finish that you can achieve on-site.

Speed- Paint spraying large areas can result in a finish area in little time compared to other methods of paint application.

Is Paint Spraying Safe?

If you plan the whole process out, definitely yes. If you just think paint spraying is a matter of picking up a paint spray gun and pointing it at something, then no!

How much air does an HVLP paint gun use?

Typically less than 10 PSI is required to atomize paint in an HVLP gun.

Conclusion

Paint spraying can be an enjoyable way of applying paint to a whole variety of items. There are different spray machines in different areas.

Our advice is to just get started. You only learn by trial and error and each paint sprayer has their favourite way of applying coatings.

Please keep your self safe. Prepare as much as you can and plan it out. the spraying will be over faster than you think. Try and invest in the best quality products (they last longer if applied correctly).

Let us know if this was your first time spraying, what you sprayed and how you got along. We want to hear your stories.

Further Reading & watching:

https://www.graco.com/gb/en.html