Paint Sprayer, Paint Gun - How to Choose - Bob Vila

Choosing a Paint Sprayer

With little time to spare and a painting project to tackle, choose a paint sprayer with the right pump, tip and features to get the job done fast.



It’s estimated that a paint sprayer can apply a coating ten times faster than brushing and four times faster than rolling. Paint sprayers give a uniform finish and are easy use in tight areas. Some even offer a pressure roller attachment.

Consumer Sprayers
Heavy-duty professional sprayers are often used for whole-house interiors. These paint guns use high-pressure air from a compressor to atomize the paint or stain and provide a fine finish.

Consumer products, or “airless” sprayers, are electric- or gas-powered products that mechanically pump paint or stain into a sprayer. Fluid is pushed through the tip, causing it to atomize and become a spray. Spray tips vary and are chosen based on the type of fluid used, the surface to be sprayed, and the power of the spray gun.

It takes practice to develop an easy, effective painting motion, because you must spray side to side, overlapping on each pass. Sprayers are not intended to cover on the first stroke. A good way to practice is to spray water on a board to check how the machine performs and how effectively you cover the surface.

Selecting the Right Paint Sprayer
Choosing an airless sprayer means deciding which combinations of pump, gun, tip, and hose are right for you and your projects.

If speed is your priority, consider horsepower. “The larger the horsepower, the more gallons per minute and the faster the project gets done,” says Steve Mahacek, e-marketing/PR manager for Wagner Spray Tech Corp. But don’t get more power than you can reasonably handle.

The type of coatings you intend to use also plays a role in selecting a sprayer. Thicker coatings require a bigger tip. Sprayers are rated for the pressure they produce and the tip size they can support. Units with more pounds per square inch, gallons per minute, and horsepower can spray thicker coatings. A paint gun that does not have enough force to handle a larger tip may have problems with clogging.

Project size also determines how much power you need. A large project requires a broader spray pattern and more pressure behind it. A smaller project may only need a self-contained handheld unit.

Paint Sprayer Tips and Sizes
To select the right model and tip size, look at two things: the coating to be sprayed, and the sprayer’s maximum recommended tip size. Coatings can be thinner, like stains, or thicker, like exterior latex paint. Stains require smaller tip sizes and less pressure, but paints and heavier coatings need larger tip sizes and more pressure.

A sprayer’s tip size can refer just to the size of the opening, as in a .015 tip. It might also indicate the fan size in inches, along with the tip opening, such as a 515 tip. In this example, the spray pattern will cover 5 inches and the tip opening is .015. These are the numbers you use when matching the paint to the sprayer tip and determining how thick the coating you use can be. Typical exterior latex sprayers may come with a .015 tip and accommodate a 0.17 tip.

Each tip size comes in various spray-pattern widths. After deciding on the tip size needed for the paint, choose the pattern width required for the job. Widths can vary from about 6 inches to 14 inches wide. Smaller surfaces, like fence rails, use a smaller pattern width. Ceilings, walls, and larger surfaces use a larger pattern width.

Tips wear out, and when they do, the flow rate increases but the fan width decreases, which means more paint is spraying over less surface. Tips also come standard or reversible. A reversible tip can be unclogged easily by turning it around and blowing out the blockage.

Costs and Safety Concerns
For a project that can be done in one day, renting may be wise. Rental units are typically higher-production machines and won’t have to be stored after the project. The cost to rent a sprayer typically runs between $70 and $100 a day. A sprayer built for ongoing use costs from $225 to $400 or more.

Sprayers require respect. Always read and follow the manufacturer’s safety, setup, and operating instructions. Use a respirator mask and proper eye protection when spraying, and never spray at a person, animal, or window.

Cover or mask off anything in the vicinity of your project, including windows and trim, because vaporized paint gets into everything. If spraying outside, cover plants and avoid painting on windy days.

How to Pick the Right Sprayer

  • Sprayers with 25 feet or more of flexible hose or a long extension cord are best for jobs that require distance, like painting a fence. An extension cord makes cleanup even easier at the end of the job.
  • If you need to carry your paint supply a long distance, consider a unit with wheels or a backpack.
  • Determine your paint capacity and how often you’ll need to refill. You might opt for a larger hopper or a unit that draws straight from the can.
  • Think about cleanup and whether you want a unit that comes apart for easy cleaning. Smooth interior surfaces and units that draw from the can make cleaning easier, too.
  • Consider an adjustable pressure control with high, low, cleaning, or roller settings to help extend the life of your spray tips.
  • Check how loud the sprayer is when operating.
  • A sprayer that takes tip extensions is great for high ceilings, foyers, and hard-to-reach spaces.
  • Make sure replacement parts are available.
  • Ask if there are digital how-to manuals, online resources, or support lines for your product.

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