Airless paint sprayers have revolutionized the way we decorate, and not only in our homes. Professionals use them to great effect, and they can be used for outdoor work too.
The reasons why airless sprayers are the way to go are many, not least the fact that these machines are very easy to use, reliable, and cover a lot of ground very quickly, and they are generally low-maintenance and surprisingly affordable.
So, we’ve put together a quick guide to choosing the best airless paint sprayer for your particular requirements.
Why Choose Airless Spray Technology?
There was a time when using a sprayer meant also using a compressor such as those still used for automotive spraying for cars; heavy, expensive and large, these limited your mobility and meant you were stuck pretty much in one place when completing your job.
The beauty of the airless system is that they are reasonably portable and use their own internal piston to create the force that drives the paint out of the spray gun, meaning it does not require an external compressor.
Fewer components mean less to go wrong, so you get the beauty of added reliability as well as portability.
There are a ton of different airless sprayer models on the market, each designed for different usage, requirements and material types. Some are best for indoor painting, some are best for commercial exterior decorating.
But before we look at each, it’s important to know how they work.
How Does an Airless Paint Sprayer Work?
An airless paint sprayer works with a piston system, in which a piston is driven up and down by an electric motor within a cylinder (similar to how a combustion engine works) to build pressure internally to around the 3000psi mark.
Rather than the force of the piston driving gears as it would in a car, airless paint sprayers use a series of one-way valves which force pressure into the machine and hold it there, with each cycle adding more fluid and pressure into the closed system.
This pressure is closely monitored by sensors to ensure it’s always kept within safe limits, which is why an electric airless sprayer will stop making noise when it reaches its desired pressure (measured in PSI or bar).
When you pull the trigger on the spray gun, this high pressure is forced through a small spray tip and atomizes the paint into tiny particles (the spray).
Once the pressure starts the drop, the sensors detect the change and fire up the electric motor which drives the piston and works tirelessly to maintain the required amount of pressure for you to continuously spray.
This airless technology is what is used in smaller DIY airless sprayers, as well as large commercial airless texture sprayers such as the Graco Mark V, simply with bigger motors, pistons, and cylinders.
The Advantages of an Airless System
So, now that you know the basics of how an airless paint sprayer works, let’s look at things in more detail.
A professional sprayer system often consists of a base unit, a hose, a spray gun and a spray nozzle (or spray tip), and perhaps a frame with wheels for added portability.
These models are very popular as they can be moved around easily, and are preferred by contractors as they are perfect for use in large spaces.
Most semi-professional airless sprayers such as the Graco Magnum X7, and all professional airless spray systems are designed so that the paint is delivered directly from the container and these are among the most versatile of all.
Which Airless Paint Sprayer Do I Need?
How do you go about deciding which airless sprayer is the one for you?
Well, aside from the recommended annual litreage that most manufacturers provide for each model, there are typically 3 main categories of airless sprayers:
- DIY airless sprayers
- Semi-professional sprayers (great for those starting a painting business)
- Professional airless paint sprayers
If you need to tackle more comprehensive work and require a commercial sprayer, then, of course, you need to consider the bigger, more powerful models that can deal with thicker materials.
The Most Important Specs
The right airless sprayer for you boils down to three key performance indicators, they are:
- Maximum spray tip size (the single most important spec)
- Maximum hose length (are you spraying at height?)
- Annual usage (how many gallons you spray per year)
Most of the other technical specs are smoke and mirrors.
If you can find a machine that can support the tip size needed for the materials you’ll be spraying, can handle a hose long enough for the job at hand and a sprayer that fits your annual usage, the rest of the technical data and bells and whistles become less important.
Other Factors to Consider
As with all power tools and machines, there can be problems to look out for that come as part and parcel of the design.
This is not to say the machines are faulty or of poor design, but with paint – as with brushes and rollers – comes with its own set of problems.
If you need a sprayer that you will use on a regular basis you will need one that can be professionally serviced.
Some are more capable in this area than others, so it is worth checking customer reviews for more information.
Many models come with a built-in flush system, which allows you to simply flush the left over fluid out of the hose and nozzle in a few minutes.
This means you can change colors or types quickly and gives you a great deal of added versatility. These are very handy for using on smaller, regular jobs around the home, and are both popular and affordable but may be a bit gimmicky and not be the best for professional contractors.
There is also a range of paint sprayer accessories which can make your life a lot easier, both for using and cleaning your sprayer after use.
Size & Weight
The size and weight of the machine are obviously important considerations; you don’t want one that is too heavy for you to move around when required, so if a small, handheld sprayer will suffice for a one-off job, don’t go overkill with a large airless sprayer.
If however, you need greater capacity and power, be prepared to buy a machine that might take some moving around, or look for one with the best combination of hose and cord length.
The Short of It
Essentially, you need to consider how often you will be using it, what you will be using it, and where you need to get to in order to do the job, and then use our paint sprayer reviews to find the best model within your budget.
It is worth knowing in advance about the possible potential problems you may experience when you begin to use an airless spray gun, especially if you have not used one of these devices before.
They all do roughly the same thing – spray material – and hence the pitfalls you may experience should apply to most.
All airless sprayers need to be cleaned correctly, otherwise, they will stop working very quickly, but on the whole, sprayers are reliable machines as they have few moving parts, but you need to look out for the following when spraying:
Poor Spray Pattern
This can be noticeable when your tip is damaged or has become worn, and is easy to rectify by fitting a new tip. It can also be caused by not using enough pressure, which you can alter via the controls on your base unit.
Newcomers are advised to try the machine on a practice area before tackling the full job, to get used to the process.
Paint is often a thick substance, so it is not unusual for the spray channels to become clogged, especially if left unused and in need of cleaning.
This is often resolved by reversing the tip and expelling a jet into an empty bucket but your sprayer will come with a operators manual telling you how to quickly clean the machine and its various parts so you can get back to work very quickly.
Overheating & Burning Smells
if you find that your motor is getting very hot, it is most likely the fact that your nozzle is too small for the job you are tackling and the material you are using.
Changing to a slightly larger one should cure the problem.
Choosing a Brand
The popularity of spray guns means that many brands have entered the market, and each has an impressive choice of models that you need to consider.
Once you have worked out the size and power of the model you require, it is worth considering some of the brands.
Wagner is a popular make and one that offers a wide variety of different models such as the Wagner 890 turbine paint sprayer, and whilst not technically airless, these sprayers are often favored by homeowners for their affordable price point, capacity and reliability.
The Graco range is also a popular one and features a number of lower end interior sprayers such as featured in our Graco X5 review, as well as many professional grade machines such as the Graco V airless texture sprayer.
Titan is another brand you might want to consider, read our Titan 440 review and you’ll quickly discover that it’s one of the oldest and most developed airless sprayers money can buy. It’s suitable for semi-professional, professionals and homeowners with large projects that need completing.
Overall, an airless paint sprayer is an excellent device to have around the home and is now an essential piece of equipment for professional contractors.
Which one is right for you depends on your current and future needs, so pick carefully and make sure you future-proof yourself with a model that will handle the possible jobs it may encounter in the next 5-10 years.