how to use a paint sprayer

How To Use a Paint Sprayer in 7 Easy Steps (DIY Guide)

Paint sprayers are recommended when painting a large area that requires a smooth, even finish. Sprayers are also great for covering objects with lots of detail, as the paint can be precisely sprayed into all the nooks and crannies.

In this article, we look at how to use a paint sprayer and the advantages & disadvantages of using them in various painting projects. We’ll also cover the two most common types of paint sprayers – High Volume, Low Pressure (HVLP) and Airless.

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Advantages of using Paint Sprayers instead of Rollers and Brushes

Paint sprayers are great for making large painting projects quick and easy. You can use them to paint anything from interior walls to furniture or fences.

Furthermore, a paint sprayer can save money if you use it correctly. I.e. When used efficiently, paint sprayers waste less paint than the traditional brush and roller methods. They’re also easier on the arm muscles!

Paint sprayers have several advantages over using a roller or brush to apply paint. These include:

  • The ability to cover large areas with speed and ease
  • It can be used to get into nooks and crannies
  • Applies with an even finish
  • Wastes less paint

By comparison, brushes and rollers leave visible marks on the paint surface and do not apply paint as evenly as sprayers. Also, you use more paint using the brush or roller method, and there is more to clean up at the end.

When Should You Use A Paint Sprayer?

Are you now sold on using a paint sprayer and ready to pull the trigger? Not so fast. Paint sprayers are not for every project.

When to Use Paint Sprayers

  • To paint a large area
  • To paint furniture
  • When you want to paint your walls, floor, ceiling and trims all at once

When NOT to Use Paint Sprayers

  • For small areas
  • Areas where lots of taping is required to protect items you don’t want to be painted
  • When the job is not worth the time and hassle of dismantling the sprayer for cleaning
  • If you only plan on using the sprayer once or twice and you can’t borrow or rent one

Choosing a Paint Sprayer: HVLP or Airless?

HVLP Paint Sprayers

parts of a HLVP paint sprayer

HVLP paint sprayers use pumped air to atomize paint and push it through a narrow nozzle. This results in a fine airborne mist directly hitting the target surface, creating an even finish. As more paint adheres during the first coat, less is wasted overall.

HVLP sprayers are mainly used for interior decorating as they’re great for detailing and work with any paint or stain as long as you thin it first. Note: they don’t work with lacquers or varnishes.

When buying/hiring an HVLP, purchase the most powerful model you can afford. The extra watts produce a more powerful turbine and better paint coverage.

Airless Paint Sprayers

parts of an airless paint sprayer

Airless paint sprayers use a piston to pressurize the paint and push it through a narrow outlet. The combination of high pressure and a tight squeeze shear the paint into tiny particles.

Airless sprayers are great for large areas as they can spray paint directly from their can or any large container. This saves time refiling a built-in canister which you find on HVLP models.

However, because airless sprayers spray a large quantity of paint in one go, they can be wasteful. It’s estimated that they lose 20-40% more paint per spray than HVLPs. This excess spray tends to settle on surrounding surfaces, so pay close attention when covering things in prep. For tips on avoiding a mess when painting, check out our top tips on preparing a room for painting.

Another benefit of airless sprayers is that they work with all kinds of paint, including thick liquids.

Be aware that airless sprayers cost much more than HVLPs, so unless you cover an exceptionally large area or use very thick paint; we recommend choosing an HVLP.

How to Use a Paint Sprayer – Step-by-Step Instructions

HVLP and airless sprayers are similar in how you use them, so we’ve included the differences under each step rather than setting out different instructions for each sprayer type.


  • Paint Sprayer: HVLP or Airless


  • Paint
  • Paint thinner (optional)
  • Dust sheets
  • Protective clothing
  • Masking tape

1. Prepare the Area

Prepare surfaces you don’t want the paint to adhere to by covering them with dust sheets and masking tape. Wear protective clothing, and consider wearing a mask.

Pro Tip: When painting outdoors using an airless sprayer, move cars and other large objects. Warn the neighbours if any of their things might get caught by flying paint.

2. Thin the Paint (Optional)

If your paint is too thick to go through the sprayer nozzle and achieve a fine, even coating, you must thin it. You can thin water-based paints with water, while solvent-based paints need a corresponding solvent thinner. A mixing cup is often provided with the sprayer along with thinning instructions.

Pro Tip: Mix in a ratio of 10 parts paint to one part thinner until desired consistency is reached.

3. Fill up the Sprayer

HVLP: Fill the canister in the sprayer with paint.

Airless: Attach the hose to the sprayer and put the other end into a paint can or large paint container.

4. Test the paint

Test paint consistency and coverage on a small piece of cardboard. Adjust the nozzle if necessary to change the spray pattern. Watch this video on HVLP spray gun basics to see different types of patterns:

YouTube player

5. Apply the First Coat

Hold the paint sprayer parallel to the surface, approximately 15cm-20cm away. Depress the trigger and spray the paint,  moving steadily over the surface. Aim for an overlap of 30% for each new painting area.

6. Dry and Recoat

Let the first coat of paint dry according to the manufacturer’s instructions before applying a second or third coat.

7. Clean Up

Remove all masking tape and the protective sheets.

Clean the sprayer by carefully dismantling it (according to the manufacturer’s instructions). Pour out any excess paint, then wipe the inside clean. Rinse in warm soapy water and roughly dry before reassembly.

HVLP: Fill the canister with clean water and flush through into a bucket.

Airless: Fill a bucket with clean water and flush through into a second bucket.

Pro Tip: If you’re looking for more tips on using paint sprayers, check out this guide on painting walls and ceilings with a paint sprayer.

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How To Use a Paint Sprayer — Final Thoughts

This article should give you a good idea of what a paint sprayer does and how to use one.

We’ve looked at the difference between HVLP and Airless sprayers and what type of project each sprayer is best suited for.

For more information, check out our reviews of the Top 5 UK paint sprayers and our guide on how they can be used to paint kitchen cabinets.