how to use a paint sprayer

How To Use A Paint Sprayer Like A Pro

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

This article looks at how to use the two most common types of paint sprayer: High Volume Low Pressure (HVLP) and Airless. We’ll begin with an overview of both types and how to choose between them, and then there is a step-by-step guide on how to use both.

Please note: cost and time are more subjective for this project as both will vary depending on which paint sprayer you choose and how big an area you need to paint.

Tools and Materials Required


  • Paint Sprayer: HVLP or Airless


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

Choose a Sprayer: HVLP or Airless?


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

HVLP sprayers are mainly used for interior decorating as they are great for detail work, and work with any paint or stain as long as it has been thinned. They don’t work with lacquers or varnishes.

When buying or hiring an HVLP, get the one with the highest wattage you can afford, as the higher the wattage, the more powerful the turbine and the better paint coverage you get as a result.


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 extra close attention when covering things in prep. For tips on avoiding a mess when painting, check out these 27 Top Tips on how to prepare 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 are covering an exceptionally large area, or using very thick paint, we would recommend choosing an HVLP. For more information on buying the right paint sprayer, take a look at our review of the Top 5 UK Paint Sprayers.

Step by Step Instructions

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

1. Prepare The Area

Prepare surfaces that you do not want the paint to adhere to by covering with dust sheets and masking off areas. Wear protective clothing and you might consider 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. You don’t want an angry neighbour showing up with a paint job bill!

2. Thin The Paint (Optional)

If your paint is too thick to go through the sprayer nozzle and achieve a fine, even coating, then it will need to be thinned. Water-based paints can be thinned with water, while solvent-based paints will 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 pattern:

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 (according to 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.

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.

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