Airless Spray Painting Tips & Tricks

An airless spray painter can get the job much faster than a traditional brush or roller method, and with a few tips and tricks to get you on your way the results can be excellent. It is possible to cover large areas in your desired color, all the while keeping a very even finish.

There are, however, some fatal flaws to look out for while air painting, and to the beginner it can all seem a bit daunting. Don't let this stop you! Airless spray painting can save you a lot of time and effort in the long run, and is a crucial tool for any handyman, professional or otherwise, to add to their repertoire.

Our airless spray painting tips and tricks give you all of the information that you need to become an expert.

Airless Spraying Vs Brush Painting

The first issue to address, is whether brush painting is still the favorable method over the relatively modern spray painting:

Airless spraying:

Pros

  • Very fast application, even on jobs that require gallons of paint.
  • Only requires one coat paint.
  • If delivered well, provides a very smooth finish, and is free of brush strokes or roller marks.
  • Allows you to paint very hard to reach places.



Cons

  • Takes more preparation, practice, and more time to clean up.
  • Can result in uneven coverage, especially when inexperienced, and can be difficult to use on windy days.
  • Uses much more paint than brushing, perhaps 2-3 times more.
  • Poor adhesion. Paint can be lost to the air, and can stick on surfaces. You will need to cover vulnerable surfaces if you don't want paint splattered.

Brush sprayers:

Pros

  • Excellent control
  • Sticks very well, and nearly no paint is lost
  • Even coverage
  • Quick and easy to use, easy to clean up, minimal mess


Cons

  • Slow application, especially if you have a large area to cover
  • Can require multiple coats
  • Can leave brush marks, and paint more likely to run
  • May struggle when painting near obstructions

You can see from this analysis of the pros and cons of both airless spray painting, and brush painting, that both have their time and place. Both have their problems when it comes to application, and the main reason in the end to go for spray painting, is the sheer speed in which you can cover an area with paint!

Safety first

Safety should always come first when you are using any sort of power tools, so these are some airless spray painting tips that you would be wise not to ignore:

  • Always read the instructions manual and safety guide before you operate your sprayer. If you have rented one, then make sure the guide is included in some form, and if you buy it second hand, acquire about the manual. If the seller no longer has one, then consult the manufacturer, or search for the manual online.
  • One of the major health problems with airless spraying, has to do with the paint fumes, which can cause respiration issues if precautions are not taken. Keep any indoor areas that you are spraying well ventilated, and do not inhale the fumes. Wear an approved respirator when you are on the job.
  • Be sure to protect your eyes with safety goggles.
  • Always keep the trigger locked when you are not spraying, especially when you are cleaning, or servicing the machine. Always depressurize the unit after use. Not doing so could be very dangerous. Never (ever) put your hand in front of the sprayer tip – a slip on the finger could cause poisonous paint to be injected under your skin – not nice! The paint is pressurized, and can move at over 100mph through the tip. It should be treated with some respect! Many airless paint sprayers have tip guards, but until you should still take the utmost care.

It's always worth taking a moment to remember that we are dealing with a powerful tool here, and one that needs to be treated with respect.

Who Would Benefit From Airless Spray Painting?

You would benefit from an airless spray painting unit if:

  • You want an easy way to paint.
  • You are in the trade, and need a sprayer for professional use.
  • You are a keen DIY hobbyist, or have major home improvements to make.
  • You have a large area to paint.
  • For any reason you want to try out the airless spraying method.

Is It Better To Buy One, Or Hire One?

It is possible to find a fairly decent sprayer for around $200, while renting one for the day can cost around $50-$80. If you are doing a one-off job, and are unlikely to need a sprayer again in the near future, then renting might be a better option for you, but keep in mind that after only four times hiring one, you could have bought a cheap one yourself.

In the long run, it is probably better to buy one if you think you might use an airless sprayer again.

If you do decide to rent a sprayer, then you should make sure you make the most of your rental time; prep all of the areas that you plan to paint, stock up on the right colors (if they do not come with the rental), and try to dedicate the full day to getting as much spraying done as possible.

Airless Spray Painting

How Do I Know Which Type Is Best For Me?

When it comes to making a purchase, there is a number of considerations to make. The price that you want to pay, for example, which may correlate (but not necessarily) to the grade of airless sprayer that you need.

There are many brands and models on the market. Some reputable brand names to look out for include, Graco, Homeright, Titan, Wagner, and more. In general, you can trust well established brand names to bring you products that do the job, but you should also be careful to take note of user reviews, which reveal more than the words of the manufacturer.

Most airless spray guns are measured by their GPM; the number of gallons of paint per minute they can spray. This gives you an idea of how quickly a sprayer can do a job. Smaller, handheld airless sprayers are more suitable for a spot of DIY, while large units are available, which are capable of professionally applying much more paint, in a much shorter time. You can expect to pay more for a larger, more powerful professional unit.

If you need help choosing, then see our article here, which recommends the best airless sprayer for the money.

Tips And Tricks To Do A Perfect Job Airless Spray Painting

Here is the fun part! You have got your equipment and now you plan to use it. But not so fast. A few airless paint sprayer tips and tricks will make all the difference between a perfect coating, and a ruined project.

Preparation

  • Before using the sprayer, remove any hazards from the area, and any objects that might snag the hose. Be sure to move anything that you don't want to risk splattering with paint too.
  • Protect any surfaces near to where you want to paint, as well as covering edges that lead to walls and so on. You can do this with a dropcloths.
  • Stir your paint thoroughly, and then strain it through a mesh filter bag. This will help prevent the paint from clogging.

Setup

  • Make sure the screen on your airless paint sprayer located at the intake is clean, and do the same for the filter.
  • Before you begin spraying you have to prime the pump. This may sound like a lot of work, but it is a very easy and automatic process. There should be two tubes on your airless pump. Place the smaller one in a waste bucket – something to catch the paint – and the suction tube in the bucket of strained paint. Switch the valve in the unit to “prime,” and switch on the pump. Turn the pressure up, until the paint starts flowing from the smaller tube. Place the smaller tube in the paint bucket now, and clip it to the suction tube. Run the pump until no air bubbles can be seen coming out.
  • With the pump primed, you can now fill the hose with paint, by holding it over the waste barrel, flipping over to “spray” and holding the trigger until paint is coming out in a steady flow.
  • Now you need to relieve the pressure, for safety, ready to put the tip on. Turn the power off, flick the switch back to “prime,” and pull the trigger on the hose (in the bucket of course!) to release the pressure. Now lock the trigger.
  • Choose the tip you would like to use for your airless spray painter, and attach it, ensuring that it has clicked into place. Voila! You have successfully set up your sprayer, and are ready to go ahead and paint.

Technique

  • Before you spray straight on to the surface you are working on, you will want to adjust the pressure to ensure a neat finish. Turn on the power, and flick your unit to “spray.” Spray across a piece of cardboard. If there is too little pressure, the paint will be uneven, and you may see a tail effect. Turn the pressure up. Too much pressure will cause excessive overspray. Keep checking and adjusting, until you find the perfect pressure.
  • Keep a good posture while you spray, to keep yourself centered, and ensure an even finish. Keep a loose, but firm grip on the gun.
  • Do corners and edges first. You can use a vertical, corner to corner sweep, in order to ensure neatness. Do this a little quicker than usual, so that you do not overload the corners when you do the main area.
  • With the tricky stuff taken care of, you can now focus on the main area. Hold the airless paint sprayer about 10-12 inches away from the surface, and move in long, straight motions. Get the motion right, and when you are ready start to spray. You should not move in an arc, but remain perpendicular to the surface at all times, keeping the same distance. If you can do that, then you will do a good job, but it may take some practice to get it perfect.
  • Move about as quickly as you would with a brush, but know that it is better to do a coat that is too light, and go over it, than it is to come down too heavy with one layer.
  • Try to release and activate the trigger at the right time to start and stop the spray. This will prevent build ups at the edges.
  • As you move down on your surface, overlap the previous layer by around 30-50%. If you are going from left to right, finish the first line at the right, move down and start the second line in a right to left motion, being careful to keep the overlap.
  • Finish the whole surface in this way, take a step back, and admire your handywork!

Practice Makes Perfect

Remember that practice makes perfect, and that this applies to anything that you do. There is some technique to using an airless paint sprayer, some skill to getting it right. With the tips we have given you, you will be able to create a stunning finish in no time at all, but the more you spray, the better you will become. Your technique will improve. So have faith, and if you want to get good without ruining your walls in the process, then practice on scraps of wood or something!

Avoiding The Pitfalls Of Airless Spraying

As well as working on your technique, it can help to be aware of some of the common pitfalls and troubles that people encounter while using paint sprayers:

  • Keep the pressure as low as you can get it without there being tails. It might be tempting to whack it up to full pressure and get the job down fast, but this will only result in a botch-job, huge overspray, and wasted paint. A lower pressure makes a neater finish, and will also help to reduce the wear on your pump and tip.
  • Make sure each stroke you do includes a press of the trigger, and a release of it. If it doesn't then there will be serious overlap where you have changed directions.
  • Weather conditions and temperature can affect how well your airless paint sprayer functions, and how well the overall finish comes out. Windy conditions are especially treacherous, and can result in a mist of paint going everywhere but your intended target. If it is extremely hot (over 75 degrees F) then the paint will dry to fast and may not bond, and if it is too low (45 or less) then it will dry too slowly, and may end up encrusted with bugs and dirt. Pick your moment to spray outside.
  • You should already have reduced clogging by keeping the pressure down, but it still happens. When it does, you will need to change the tip, or if you have an airless paint sprayer with the feature (most do), you can simply twist the tip 180 degrees, point the gun into a waste bucket, and spray until it has cleared. Test spray it again once cleared, to ensure it is fully unblocked.
  • Make sure you have the right tip for the job. This is essential to get the perfect finish. Not all paint sprayers are compatible with all tips, so check to see which ones your unit takes. Generally, you want a smaller orifice of tip for a light and thin coating, and a larger orifice for thicker materials. A three digit number is used to code the tips – 517 for example. The “5” represents a 10' fan pattern (at a distance of 12'), and the 17 represents a 0.017' orifice size. You will get used to this system. If you are in doubt, a 415 tip is a popular all-rounder.

Here is a video from The Idaho Painter about what spray tips to use:

Clean Up After Your Operation

There is only one step left now! We have guided you from clueless, to expert spray painter armed with great techniques and tips. All that is left is for you to clean up after a job well done:

  • Fill a bucket with water, or with paint thinner if you used oil-based paints. Place the intake hose in the bucket.
  • Shoot the paint left over in the gun back into the paint can from which it came. Keep shooting to draw the water (or thinner) through the unit, until clear liquid runs through the gun.
  • Take a cloth, wet with water or thinner, and wipe down all areas of the unit that have paint on them, internal and external. Disassemble the gun, and soak each part.

Image credits: homeright.com

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