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Everything You Need to Know About How to Use a Paint Sprayer in 3 Easy Steps

Do you have a large painting project coming up? Maybe you’re painting a whole room or the outside of your house. Or maybe you’re looking for a way to tackle a smaller project with a lot of hard-to-reach spots like a gate or a piece of furniture. If you’re looking for a high-quality finish and to get the job done in record time, look no further than a paint sprayer.

How to use a paint sprayer

Paint sprayers can shorten your paint time by hours and leave you with a professional-looking final product. These tools produce a fine, even mist of paints and stains to evenly coat patterned, rough, or smooth surfaces of all kinds.

However, while paint sprayers are the easiest way to get some projects done, there’s a definite learning curve. If you don’t know how to use one, it can be a frustrating, messy, and expensive experience.

There’s good news! This post will go into detail on everything you need to know to choose and use a paint sprayer.

Read on for everything you need to know about how to use a paint sprayer!

How to Choose a Paint Sprayer

There are three types of paint sprayers used most commonly: High Volume Low Pressure (HVLP) sprayers, airless sprayers, and pneumatic sprayers. Once you’ve learned how to use a paint sprayer in general, you’ll be able to use any of these. But it’s still good to be aware of the different kinds that are best suited to different projects and budgets.

HVLP paint sprayers are best used when you are working on something with a lot of details that requires accuracy and a smooth finish. These types of sprayers use paint volume controls and airflow for even and fast paint spraying. HVLP paint sprayers can cover large surfaces quickly but is also effective for touch-up work. To avoid your arm getting worn out, choose a standing or a lightweight, stationary model since these sprayers can be heavy.

Airless paint sprayers are used by both beginning and professionals for large surfaces like your interior walls or house siding. An airless sprayer can deliver up to a half gallon to 2 gallons of paint a minute. It uses pressurized force to deliver that volume of paint so quickly. This is a good choice for a project that is pretty large but doesn’t require much precision work.

Using an Airless Paint Sprayer

Pneumatic paint sprayers use compressed air to spray the paint and can apply an even greater volume of paint than HVLP or airless sprayers. Pneumatic sprayers are pretty niche and aren’t usually used by beginners, but you should know all your options before choosing one. These are typically used for commercial or industrial work such as car body parts.

If you’re still not sure which one to choose or would like more information, check out The Best Paint Sprayer for Every Home Painting Project.

How to Use a Paint Sprayer

There are a few simple steps you need to follow to get the results you hope to see from your paint sprayer. Make sure you follow these while you’re learning how to use a paint sprayer so that you can build good habits from the start and achieve the best results.

1. Prep Your Space

Here’s a little pro-tip you may not want to hear but need to understand— when it comes to how to use a paint sprayer, about half of the entire project time will be used prepping everything to get it ready for painting. It’s a longer process and can be tedious, but it’s absolutely worth it.

Move & Cover Your Stuff

One thing you should know when learning how to use a paint sprayer is that paint sprayers make a big mess. Take the time to move out any furniture or decorations that are in the space you’re painting. If you don’t have another room to move it into, scoot it all to the middle of the room and cover it all with plastic.

Preparing a Room for Painting with a Paint Sprayer

Emptying the room not only ensures your furniture will stay paint-free, it also ensures your air hoses, power cords, airless hoses, and paint containers won’t get caught on anything. Make sure that absolutely any area you don’t want paint to get on—like floors, windows, or trim— are covered with plastic sheeting or drop cloths.

Check the Temperature

It may sound insignificant, but being aware of the temperature it will be when you’re using your paint sprayer is one of the most important steps to the whole process. If it’s too hot or too cold, your sprayer won’t work well.

The ideal temperature in which to paint is between 45-75°F. If colder, your paint sprayer will clog and leave your frustrated. If it’s hotter than that, your paint will dry too quickly and not bond properly. It’s also not ideal to paint in direct sunlight if you can avoid it. That will also cause your paint to dry quickly and not bond.

Protect Yourself

There are a few different ways to protect yourself while using and learning how to use a paint sprayer. If you’re painting inside, make sure it’s well ventilated. You can open the windows or use window-mounted fans to get the paint vapors out of your environment. Make sure to wear a respirator or face mask to protect yourself from breathing in tiny airborne paint particles.

A man wearing appropriate face mask and body protection while using a paint sprayer

You’ve also got to prepare to get messy! If you wear glasses, make sure to wear goggles that will keep them paint free. Gloves to keep your hands clean are also a must. And since the paint sprayer makes the paint go all over the place, either wear clothes you don’t mind getting covered in paint or invest in some coveralls.

Besides not wanting to get yourself covered in paint, keeping your skin covered with some protective gear is a good idea in general because some high pressure airless sprayers produce enough force at the spray tip to break your skin!

2. Practice, Practice, Practice!

Each paint sprayer will be slightly different and each will definitely have a learning curve. You’ll be so excited to get a fresh coat of paint on whatever you’re painting, but don’t skip this step because you think you don’t need it. If it is your first time learning how to use a paint sprayer, you need to practice using it!

Choose the Right Paint

Each type of sprayer uses a different kind of paint and has a specific way to use them to ensure an even, smooth spray. But once you’ve learned the general steps for how to use a paint sprayer, you’ll be all set to use any of them.

HVLP paint sprayers work with oil-based paints, but anything thicker than that, such as a water-based latex, can clog the nozzle, leaving you with a big mess to clean up! To avoid that, add a half cup of water for every gallon of latex paint you’re using in a bucket and stir it to thoroughly combine it and thin its consistency before adding it to an HVLP paint sprayer.

An airless paint sprayer can be used with oil-based paint or stain, making it a great choice for staining a deck or another large area of wood.

Pneumatic paint sprayers are the most flexible and work with oil-based enamel, acrylic paint, and latex paints.

Practice the Motion

Whatever sprayer you’ve decided to use, use a paint strainer to get out any rouge chunky bits, then load it up and practice spraying on a piece of cardboard or some scraps of wood. Get the feel of the pressure needed, arm motions to make, and what it feel like to use it before you commit to your actual work surface.

Practicing how to use a paint sprayer

Here are some general tips and ideas of what you need to practice when learning how to use a paint sprayer:

  • Move the sprayer in both vertical and horizontal spraying movements. Find out what feels comfortable because you’ll need to use a steady, consistent movement to get the uniform look you want at the end.
  • Hold the spray gun closer to the surface. This will apply more paint at once and create a narrower spray pattern.
  • Hold the gun further away from your practice material. It will create a thinner coat of paint and a wider spray pattern.
  • Don’t hold the nozzle too far away from your surface! The paint can actually dry in the air before getting to your surface, making you need paint it again which would waste your paint supply.

Don’t Skip This!

This extra step of practice will make the actual paint process go much, much quicker once you get started! So please take your time in the beginning and learn how to use a paint sprayer the right way.

3. Get your Paint On!

Now that you’ve prepped and practiced, it’s time to get to painting! Here are our top tips and tricks to make using your paint sprayer a piece of cake.

Stay Consistent

Now that you know the right movements for how to use a paint sprayer, it’s important to stay aware of the distance your gun is away from the surface you’re painting. It needs to stay as consistent as possible to make the finished product smooth and splotch-free. It’s easy to get lazy or lax about this and start moving your arm in an arching motion, but don’t do this!

The correct painting motion should feel more robotic. You should be turning your whole body, not just your arm and certainly not just your wrist. Spray straight towards the surface and don’t direct the spray at any steep angles.

Take Your Time

Work in short, even strokes while learning how to use a paint sprayer. Your strokes shouldn’t be more than 18 inches wide or tall, depending on if you’re painting vertically or horizontally. Make sure your nozzle tip is adjusted for the application pattern you’ve chosen.

Everything You Need to Know About How to Use a Paint Sprayer in 3 Easy Steps 1

To ensure you’re not missing spots, overlap the strokes by 50%. Move quickly enough that there aren’t drips, but slow enough to get a good, even coverage.

Start Moving Before Pulling the Trigger

This is a crucial tip to master when learning how to use a paint sprayer. Start your stoke movement, either vertically or horizontally, before pulling the trigger. This stops too much paint from building up at the start of your strokes in the split second before you start moving.

The opposite is true for when you end a stroke. Let go of the trigger before you end your stroke. Or in other words, continue the stroke after you’ve released the trigger.

Your movement pattern should be:

Move :: Trigger :: Untrigger :: Stop

Avoid ever pulling the trigger at a standstill or you’ll end up with a whole puddle of paint drips you’ll have to deal with!

Start with the Corners

When it comes to how to use a paint sprayer the most efficient way, t make your life easier, do any eaves or corners first. Go from the top down. Spray vertically and go quicker than usual to avoid completely overloading the area with paint.

Paining the Corners First with a Paint Sprayer

Check Your Work

One important habit to build while learning how to use a paint sprayer is to regularly take a step back and check your work. If there are any missed or light spots, you can fill them in with a paintbrush or a roller.

Take note of where it isn’t looking perfect and adjust your technique to fix the problem moving forward.

If you have one available to you, shining a bright work light at an angle onto the surface you are painting can help illuminate any less than perfect spots.

Keep It Clean

Another important step to learning how to use a paint sprayer is to make a habit of regularly wiping off the tip of the paint spray gun with a rag to stop paint from drying and messing up the spray pattern.

Don’t store any paint in the paint sprayer for any extended period of time. Only load up what you’re planning on using at that moment.

When you’re done painting, don’t wait to clean it out. Clean the entire paint sprayer thoroughly, carefully following the manufacturer’s instructions. Some sprayers even come with a flush feature, letting you connect it to your garden hose for a super easy cleanup! Every sprayer is different, so make sure to pay attention to your particular model’s instructions.

Wrapping Up How to Use a Paint Sprayer

Now that you’re armed with all the best tips and tricks for how to use a paint sprayer, you can tackle any DIY painting projects inside or outside of your house. If you’re looking for some more information or details about what sort of paint sprayer may work best for you, check out these additional resources:

The Best Airless Paint Sprayer: Top 10 Choices

A Complete Buyers Guide for the 9 Best HVLP Paint Sprayers

The Best Paint Sprayer For Every Home Painting Project