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How to Use a Paint Sprayer

A collage of spray painting.

Have you been considering the many benefits of spray painting but have limited or no experience and think you might lack the skills to do a good job?

No worries, you’re not alone!

But it’s really simple to learn and the rewards are well worth the effort.

This is 2023, and people are smarter now than they used to be. I’ve been an active painter for more than 30 years, and I can assure you that, when applicable, spray painting is superior to brushing and rolling in just about every way imaginable.

So, please join me on a fun and educative journey to the efficient, time-saving, superior-product realm of spray painting!

Ready? Let’s Go!

Why Spray Painting Is So Awesome

Hand spray painting a wooden fence.

OK, before we dive into 9 Pro Tips to make you a better spray painter, let’s quickly review some of the coolest benefits linked to spraying instead of rolling and brushing.

Spray Painting:

  1. Can be completed in a fraction of the time it takes to roll and brush
  2. Allows you to effortlessly coat even the most difficult painting surfaces
  3. Provides superior coverage in a single coat while leaving no brush or roller marks
  4. Is really fun because it makes you feel like a Super-Hero Painter – blasting paint like a beast!

On the downside, spray painting tends to waste some of the paint, or other coating being applied, via overspray. In fact, old-school paint sprayers wasted up to 40%. That’s a lot of waste – y muy expensivo!

But that isn’t nearly as much of a worry with modern paint sprayers. They are engineered to operate with minimized overspray. Plus, quality sprayers come with (almost) no-drip spray tips, which is important after a long day’s spraying because you create a lot less mess.

Anyway, back to the point, in my honest professional opinion, I would rather spray paint ANYTHING than brush and roll it, and I am a superb traditional painter with excellent brushing and rolling skills.

Spray painting is better.

If you’re a homeowner, DIYer, both, or anyone else who has a repetitive need for painting, do yourself a favor and invest in a quality sprayer. You’ll be glad you did.

Now, let’s get into 9 really smart ways to enhance your paint spraying abilities.

Don’t worry a single bit! It’s easier than you might think.

9 Pro Spray Painting Tips

From preparing your painting area to cleaning up the final mess, there are proven methods for enhancing your professionalism on every painting project.

Are you ready for this?

I Know – It’s EXCITING!

PRO TIP 1: SAFETY FIRST (even on small projects)

Woman in safety suit spray painting a board.

Spray painting doesn’t necessarily have to be dangerous, but it can be. In essence, spray painting involves projecting potentially hazardous chemicals via high pressure.

First, you’ll want to protect your breathing. Nothing is more key to staying alive than breathing. Our noses are filters that keep our breath clean as it goes into the lungs, but our noses can only do so much.

Please wear a proper respirator device to match the application of the spraying you’re doing. I like to go overboard on my respiratory health. Breathing in toxic fumes is not something I care to do!

On that note, please choose high-quality paints, stains, and other coatings. Unknown, non-established brands could be inferior, and even dangerous, containing chemicals that quality products will not. Be mindful of this. The world is a crazy place.

Also, be aware that some airless paint sprayers blast out paint at more than 3000 PSI. That’s a lot of pressure! I can tell you that, various times, I have been cut by the pressure from water and paint sprayers.

Most of the time it has been on one of my feet because I was painting barefooted and let the spray tip venture down too far and wasn’t paying close enough attention. I assure you, it will cut right through your flesh!

Along with your proper respirator device, where protective clothing, like a face mask, gloves, eye protection, and whatever else you think you may need to keep you safe while spray painting – like shoes, for instance!

I have known a few old painters that put Vaseline petroleum Jelly on their exposed skin areas so that overspray will not adhere to them and dry, which can be a pain in the butt to get off of you.

Always spray and well-ventilated spaces. Again, think about respiratory health. If you’re painting inside, open the windows and get some fans running.

And if you’re outside, don’t assume that the exterior environment is enough to protect your respiratory health. Wear your respirator please!

Finally, take your time with every step of the painting process. Each is important and spending a little more time on each will help you to achieve a professional-grade result that you’ll be proud to show off.

PRO TIP 2: Don’t Be Stingy with Drop Cloths

Quality paint sprayers ultra-finely atomize paint and other coatings, making them spread onto targeted surfaces fluently and completely.

The overspray from paint sprayers gets some of that ultra-finely atomized paint onto every other thing around the objects that you’re painting, especially if you’re painting outside and there’s any kind of breeze at all.

Even on the inside, the overspray blasts out into a cloud around you, a cloud of tiny paint droplets, each one barely visible to the eye.

Anything that you fail to protect from overspray will be oversprayed!

So follow these tips for saving your valuables and achieving a better paint job overall:

  • Remove your electrical outlet covers or mask them off
  • Newspapers make effective, free covers for windows, lamps, and more
  • Secure drop cloths on all floor areas and run them 6 inches up the walls
  • If you need to cover the walls, extend their coverings over the drop cloth on the floor

In my experience, it’s definitely worth spending a little extra money on masking tape, plastic, and other protective materials, and a little extra time in prep, than it is to forgo the benefits of meticulous preparation. Trust me, you’ll be happy for each extra moment you spend preparing your painting area.

PRO TIP 3: Ergonomics Matter!

Man spraying paint on metal sheet roof.

I was taught: The failure to have a good plan is like having a good plan to fail.

It’s smart to think about your moves beforehand when spray painting, or when performing any other type of work.

It goes along with Safety First.

You don’t want to overstretch, overbend, put your body in awkward positions, or otherwise put yourself at risk of injury. From minor muscle pulls to tripping and breaking bones, it happens all the time!

So, plan your moves.

Always keep your walking path clear of obstructions and obstacles. You want to be able to walk without the worry of tripping, allowing you to focus your vision on your painting.

Don’t bend over to paint items that you could more easily place atop sawhorses or on a workbench. If you are painting for hours, this could injure your back or at least make you pretty sore the next few days. It’s always better to ensure a proper working height.

Likewise, do everything you can think of to make the actual spraying go smoothly and without danger.

PRO TIP 4: Prep Your Paint

Different coating mediums have different viscosities (thicknesses). Generally, urethanes, stains, varnishes, and lacquers are fairly thin, while epoxy resins, chalk paints, and latex paints are thicker.

Some high-velocity, low-pressure (HVLP) and airless paint sprayers can spray unthinned coating mediums, while other sprayers need the mediums to be thinned first, according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

Plus, even if your sprayer can spray unthinned mediums, you always need to be sure they are mixed well. The base, pigments, solvents, and any other additives need to be homogenous.

PRO TIP 5: Prep Your Base Materials

Man sanding wood planks before painting.

Subpar surface prep can cause a painted surface to peel and look bad. Nobody wants that! So, before you begin painting, make sure the surface is clean and free of debris.

Wipe it down. Give it a light sanding. Prep the surface so that it’s ready to accept the paint and look its best afterward.

PRO TIP 6: Choose the Best Spray Tip for Your Application

Paint sprayers come with different sizes of spray tips. The larger the hole in the spray tip, the wider the diameter of the spray pattern.

Thicker mediums tend to require spray tips with larger openings, and thinner mediums, not so much. Always follow your product’s manufacturer’s instructions.

As mentioned, some airless and HVLP sprayers are capable of blasting out unthinned materials with smaller spray tips. However, if you use too large of a spray tip, you increase your probability of experiencing drips, runs, and a general overabundance of paint being sprayed.

PRO TIP 7: Develop Your Spray Painting Technique

Man spray painting a concrete wall.

Now comes the fun: learning how to operate your paint sprayer like a pro!

Here are some tips to get you going:

  1. Practice using the sprayer on a scrap of drywall or plywood before actually beginning.
  2. Be confident. It’s just a paint sprayer and they are designed for simplistic operation.
  3. Keep the spray tip 6 -12 inches away from the surfaces you paint.
  4. Use up-and-down strokes for narrow surfaces like fence slats.
  5. Use side-to-side spray strokes on wide surfaces like walls.
  6. Think about long, fluent motions with each pass.
  7. Overlap each pass by about 40%.

Keep your strokes consistent and flowing. Get into a groove that works for you. You can always adjust the output of the sprayer if it is putting out too much or too little paint to accommodate your desired pace. In no time, you’ll be painting like a pro – and having a lot of fun too!

PRO TIP 8: Full Power Is NOT Always Best

It’s easy to make the mistake of leaving your power turned up too much on your paint sprayer. This is not good. It can cause a ton of overspray, dripping, and general over-application.

Many people mistakenly leave their sprayers at full power on every job because they feel that they will get the work done faster so that they can go drink beer. Beer is delicious.

However, paint spraying is already so much faster than brushing and rolling that you shouldn’t be so concerned about saving even more time. Slow down and enjoy the process. Set your paint output on your sprayer to accommodate the specifics of the project at hand.

You don’t want overly thick, drippy, runny, or uneven finishes. Get your pressure set correctly so that it’s putting out just the right amount of paint to give you effective, even coats. What you want is the smallest amount of pressure possible that can push the coating medium you’re using.

Again, it’s smart to practice on a scrap piece of drywall, plywood, or cardboard before you actually begin painting your intended target. Get your paint sprayer set the way that you want it to match your movement and your style.

PRO TIP 9: Clean Your Painting Equipment

Woman cleaning spray paint gun.

So many times, I have seen people finish painting, either with a paint sprayer, or brushes and rollers, and then leave their equipment “to be cleaned up later.” This is never a good idea! It’s important to maintain your equipment meticulously to extend its lifespan and protect its performance level.

Read the instruction manual that came with your paint sprayer for specific tips about how to clean it properly. Disassemble it as instructed and clean each part thoroughly. Look at this as just another step in the painting process because that’s what it is.

If you put your paint sprayer away dirty, or halfway clean, you’re very likely to encounter problems in the future. So, spend a little extra time and effort on cleanup, and it feels so nice when you’re done!

My Final Thoughts About How to Use a Paint Sprayer

So there you have it, 9 smart tips that will help you to become an excellent spray painter. It’s not that difficult, creates superior finishes, saves you loads of time and energy, and it truly is an enjoyable and artistic endeavor.

Of all of the tips listed above, I cannot overstress the importance of prepping the area that you will be spray painting in beforehand. Even with the most efficient paint sprayers, overspray is an issue. That’s just part of the game.

It’s a trade-off. You save time and effort and get a superior product, but there will be paint wasted. As your skills increase, the amount of overspray you lose paint to will diminish.

Thank you very much for reading along today and I truly hope that these tips will help you to jump into the efficient realm of spray painting relative to brushing and rolling. It really is a whole new world if you’ve never done it before, and one that I’m sure you’ll enjoy. Just remember to approach each move with confidence and a good plan – and you are going to do it excellently!