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Paint Sprayer Basics

Paint sprayers are an excellent choice for applying paint. Once you get the hang of using one, the speed of application and quality of the finish will have you wondering why you didn't start using one years ago.

There are three types of spray rigs: conventional sprayers, airless sprayers and High Volume, Low Pressure (HVLP) sprayers.

Conventional Sprayers

A conventional sprayer uses a compressor to force air out through a hand held spray nozzle. The paint is atomized and comes out with the air. The paint can be fed from an attached cup that is driven by siphon power or by gravity. A separate hose can be attached to a spray gun to draw paint out of a larger reservoir, such as a paint can or bucket.

A large amount of air is used to move the paint and requires a large compressor, capable of delivering enough continuous air at around 40 psi. Because of all the air used, a lot of the paint is lost to overspray. The surrounding area must be thoroughly covered to protect it from all the airborne paint.

Airless Sprayers

Airless sprayers use a compressor, but it pumps the paint out at high pressure and it is atomized by the spray tip. In this set up, the paint is not mixed with air before being sprayed. An airless rig is much more efficient at putting paint on the wall. This means less time is spent spraying and less paint is wasted.

Because the paint is under such high pressure, it poses some risk of injury. The paint can cut skin or be injected into the skin. The sprayer should never be pointed at any part of your body.

HVLP Sprayers

High Volume, Low Pressure sprayers are very efficient for getting paint right where you want it. There is very little overspray, and this sprayer is easy to use with great results.

HVLP is the most efficient at transferring paint, partly because you have to work only 6 to 8 inches from the surface. This type of sprayer is a good choice for fine detail, like the mullions on a divided light window or painting furniture. You could paint a wall with a HVLP sprayer, but it is too slow for painting a house.

Painting with a Sprayer

Painting with any of these sprayers is essentially the same. You hold the spray gun a specified distance from the surface (conventional sprayer 6-12 inches, airless sprayer 12-14 inches and HVLP 6-8 inches) and sweep your entire arm back and forth in a steady, smooth motion. Don't turn your wrist back and forth. If you do, you change the distance from the spray tip to the surface as you turn it to the left or the right. Keep the distance constant by moving your entire arm.

The only real trick to using a sprayer is learning what speed to work at. Spray too quickly, and you won't get adequate coverage. Spray too slowly and the paint will build up and drips will occur. After getting the speed right, maintaining the same distance and making steady strokes is all there is to it.

Clean Up

This is the only down side to a sprayer. You must be fastidious in its cleaning after every use. If you fail, even once, to thoroughly clean each and every part, paint may dry inside and become nearly impossible to clean out.

Furthermore, some sprayers require special cleaning fluids or must be filled with preservative fluids for the period they are in storage.

This isn't really all that bad, especially when you consider how much time a sprayer can save you. I just don't like doing clean-up. Although, I have to admit, I leave the sprayer in the garage for small jobs - it just isn't worth the trouble.

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